Monday, April 15, 2013

What's Happening to American Authors?

I made a decision a few months back to focus on reading and writing fiction, both for myself and for this blog, which translates into blog posts about writing itself.  But once in a while I can't help feeling that some of the stuff coming out in the press regarding the literary marketplace—our marketplace—is too important not to take notice of and put out there for additional attention. Below are three of the past  week's articles that raise important questions and demonstrate trends.

Different viewpoints reign among writers about the issues raised in these articles, so please, weigh in—leave a comment expressing what you think about them!

First, a couple of things from Scott Turow, President of the Author's Guild, bestselling author of legal suspense novels, and attorney.

Slow Death of the American Author: Turow's article in the New York Times last week:

Among other points in the article, Turow says:

—a recent Supreme Court decision to allow the import and resale of foreign editions of American works (previously prevented by copyright law) means:
  • cheap imports, and
  • no royalties for the authors on those sales 
—this is just the latest on how the e-market is "depleting authors' income streams . . . (a)lmost every player—publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates, and even some scholars—is vying for position at authors' expense."

—constitutional protection of copyrights is in play, in that "the value (of the copyrights) is quickly being depreciated."

—hardest hit by this depreciation: new authors and mid-list authors, not well-established authors

Lest you think this doesn't affect you, because you might be an indie-only author, give the article a read, particularly the bit about what happens when all those players mentioned above get their hands on indie newcomers; and also consider the implications of one of Turow's concerns, as explained in his analysis of Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads, below.

Amazon's Acquisition of Goodreads

The acquisition has many people up in arms and many others trying to cool the flames with level heads . . . but do the level heads see the long term big picture? Scott Turow's take is that this is a clear step toward monopoly through vertical integration (i.e. through owning all the pieces that go together to make an industry. Traditionally, in the pre-internet world, that meant owning companies: that have the raw materials; that manufacture the product; that have the 'software' like replacement parts or functional parts like toner for a copy machine, for example; that do the advertising and sales; and anything else involved in making and selling a product. As you know, monopoly, which by definition prevents competition through 'restraint of trade,' is illegal in our country and in many others. Vertical integration can allow major cost-cutting to production and sales, some or all of which is passed along to the consumer, creating a company that beats out all the competition so effectively that it's the only real game in town—a monopoly. Smaller companies typically just can't survive trying to compete against it.) 

It's a new form of monopoly that Turow is talking about—what he calls a 'modern monopoly.' My take on this is that this modern monopoly is based on a world of products (in this case, books) that incorporates the effects of the internet  revolution into the traditional model of monopoly.  This probably means the legal precedents that would normally be used to challenge monopoly are not sufficient now because they haven't caught up with the big changes in what constitutes production and software or services. I may be reading too much into Turow's statement, but I don't think so.

Here's the link to the article.

And then there's this:

Bestseller Lists for Print and Digital Are Very Different from Each Other

Finally, an article in this week's Publishers Weekly caught my eye. It's a report on the bestseller lists from the first quarter of 2013.

The Top 20 lists are taken from Nielsen Bookscan for print, and from Amazon Kindle for digital. Right there an issue arises, since we know neither of these sources represents a full picture of the market, given the constant changes and new efforts. But if we accept that these two sources represent the most significant sections of their respective markets, it is clear that there is a distinct parting of the ways for print and digital.

Print is the home of non-fiction bestsellers and also still includes adult fiction and children's fiction, while digital is pretty much all about fiction.

On the face of it, that doesn't seem alarming. If you dig in a bit, though, there are pieces of information that could be extrapolated to mean that there's a growing divide between the types of authors who can do well in print vs. digital, with only a few big names as crossover exceptions.

Here's the article, for your perusal.

What do you think? Are these issues of concern to you, and do you see opportunities that counteract the negative influences mentioned above?


  1. I'm still waiting to see what it means that Amazon bought Goodreads. We certainly don't want a monopoly. Especially since now's the first time that authors really have choices on getting published.

  2. Wow, Linda,

    There is A LOT to think about here. At first, I was not thrilled about Amazon acquiring Goodreads and i am still not. I don't think it will benefit the industry at all. Here's where a monopoly is forming.

    As for the other issues, I think ALL authors need to keep on top of what is going on in our industry. Sadly it is changing every second and it's so hard to keep up.

    1. So true, Michael. I have faith that it will all shake out nicely in the end and there will be a reliable, workable paradigm in place for authors that allows us to do what we love (at least for a while until everything changes again), but I'm afraid that the amount of time it will take to get there is MANY more years.

  3. All fascinating. Thanks for keeping me up to date on the pub world, Linda!

  4. Linda, a great post. Thank you for highlighting these issues. Amazon seems to be an unstoppable force who will be able to put the screws on authors everywhere. Oz went through that import business last year. Thankfully we have a still flourishing bookshop businesses who have stayed in the game by being very innovative and giving us an alternative to Amazon.


    1. That's something we could learn from, Denise. Can you tell us more about how your bookshop businesses have innovated? There's been a lot of talk and effort that direction here, too, and that's where my secret hope (well, not so secret) lies, but Amazon does seem like a steamroller. If you have any info on what makes booksellers successful in your market I'd love to hear it!

  5. Linda, thank you for sharing these articles. This is how far out of it I am, I did not know Amazon bought Goodreads! Yes, we need to keep abreast of the industry, but I'm thinking there are so many like myself who get caught up in life and lose track. It takes superstars like yourself to keep us informed. Thank you.

    I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe Indie authors can form another avenue to sell their books? Not sure. But we do have the power to cut Amazon's commissions. That might be the answer.

    Thanks for the information.

    1. That's interesting, Karlene. How does that work? Would it be easy for Amazon to counter the decision to reduce their commissions, or could it become an authors' marketing tool?

  6. While I sincerely despise Turow's point of view and biased arguments (and I'm not alone in this), the prospect of a monopoly which you discuss here would indeed be detrimental to all who challenge the profits of the monopoly holder. Yet... I wonder if that's what's really happening. I see this whole segment of literary industry history in a more Darwinian way. Amazon was the first and best to adapt to the new technology, to the new demands of the public (which are largely influence by the emergence of social media and instant feedback) and thus, Amazon totally dominates the other "animals" right now, forcing them to keep up in order to survive. That's how progress happens, IMO, and all those who've embraced the new medium have also started to use it to their benefits. Amazon is large indeed, but it's FAR from a monopoly anywhere in the near future.

    This is not new, other industries (pharmaceutical, electronic, automobile, etc.) have gone through it already and the result was always an increased availability of products and a decrease in costs & prices. I think that's a good thing. Even if Amazon would one day be the only publisher & distributor of fiction, we'd be able to reach billions with our e-books in an instant. At least that's how I see it, but I'm no expert. Just an opportunist. :)

  7. Thank you so much, Vero! I've been hoping someone would comment with this sort of viewpoint. Its valid and strong and I think a lot of writers agree with you.

    The fly in the ointment, in my opinion, is this issue of vertical integration. If Amazon completes a vertical integration of its book business, it will be more akin to U.S. Steel under J.P. Morgan than to the car or pharmaceutical industries. When Morgan bought up all the iron ore he starved out his competitors, and had a monopoly. The U.S. government went after him, but he prevailed. Eventually it worked out fine as strong enough competitors began to emerge again to create a more balanced industry, but that took a LONG time. This actually supports your argument, but while Morgan had a monopoly everyone had to play by his rules.

    Which brings up my other quibble with Amazon. I don't think their business model is a good match for the literary world. They are sales driven rather than content driven, and strongly so. There's been a lot of discussion about Big Data as the new market driver for all industries, including books. (There's a post on it under News & Views in the topic menus above--its' the first one) Big Data is not only sales-driven, but seems to be set up to support uniformity and discard variety. I think Amazon is a company that is strongly drawn to Big Data, but that's my opinion, and I'm no expert, either. :)

  8. They concern me greatly, both as an indie author and as one who hopes to be traditional one day. Amazon is swiftly becoming a monopoly and that concerns me greatly. And I agree with you Linda, I don't think their business model is good for the literary world at all.

    1. I'm with you, Heather. Jane Friedman just published her blog partner, Porter Anderson's, take on the paidContentLive conference ( in which the trend toward a powerful focus on getting paid rather than writing well, especially in the digital publishing world, is identified and discussed.

  9. Interesting information. Thanks for keeping all of us updated with current issues. Still waiting to see how Amazon and Goodreads marriage works out.


    1. Me, too, Nas. Will the legions of writers and readers who use Goodreads see it stay an open forum without corporate influence, or will the mighty ZON change Goodreads to suit its bottom line purposes?