Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Scott Turow Says Technology is Killing Writers

On Monday the New Work Times published an Op-Ed piece
by the distinguished author of legal thrillers, Scott Turow. His premise is simple: the professional American author is dying. Every market force and even the Supreme Court are unintentionally and intentionally destroying the business of making a living as a published author. Book prices and royalties are being driven into the ground, whether through cheap e-book prices, low royalties on both e-books and traditional books, and an overall general contempt for the writer and their copyrights. Killing the goose that produces golden eggs comes to mind. Here is another comment by the Guardian (Article)
Sure the current best seller list of top selling guys and gals can set their royalties and percentages, this is the power of the cash register. In fact some publishers desperately cling to the sales of just a few of their writers to even stay alive – witness E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Grey – the sales of her books was the only reason that Random House employees received a bonus last year. “Bondage equals bonus” – kind of poetic I think. But for the rest of us full and part time writers the pickings are thin – no matter the quality of the product.
I’ve published six books, fiction and non-fiction. The production of ebooks costs almost nothing other than time, a manuscript can be converted to an ebook in less than an hour – and don’t let the publishers tell you different. Throw in editing (story and copy) and I would think you would be hard pressed to get to $2,000, book cover another $500. For one of Mr. Turow’s books, probably less, he turns in a better product to his publisher than most authors (I’m also sure his publisher charges a lot more than $2500 against the account). So to cut him a 25% deal is just theft. I can easily understand why some successful writers have migrated to their own publishing houses and are now self-publishing. Outside of distribution, who needs the traditional NYC publisher?

We authors continue to hope to find a publisher for our work, it’s all about validation. And yet, when I think about it, why should they get 90 or 80 or even 50 percent – I did all the work. What do they offer? Marketing? Production? Secret handshakes? Mystic hands passing over my words? PLEEEASE! I’m coming to the conclusion that their days are limited and it’s not sour grapes – it’s simply that if we self-publishers are being screwed by the distributors for the few dollars we make – the big boys are even more in trouble.

Example: Google in their efforts to flatten every aspect of the real world has stomped on the copyright for my non-fiction book published in 2000. GI Town was a limited success and was my first foray into the world of publishing, my agent found Johns Hopkins University Press and a good home. They did a fine job of printing the book and even brought out a trade paperback in 2003 – these were pre-ebook days. All for the good. I asked for and received my rights back in 2009 and brought out a new edition – print and ebook. All mine, even better. But when I “googled” my name and GI Town I found that Google had found a copy of my book, scanned it, and now offers it for “FREE” through their Google Books and they put advertising all over the page – all for them and their coffers – none for me. My product was reproduced and used to sell their products, all without my permission. And we are concerned about the government – hell, what we have are successful businesses acting criminally and throwing lawyers at you when you have a beef. I am competing with myself to sell a book that they sell for free. Theft by any name is still the same. If I tried to subvert Google by hacking its sites I would feel the weight of not only their hand but the justice department as well. I’m just one author – thousands have been maligned and abused. (And I use Google to power this blog - yes, I have no shame)

It takes nothing to pirate ebooks (they are just bytes and bytes). Buy one copy and distribute it for free to your friends – I ask you, when was someone prosecuted for selling an ebook that had been pirated. Sure if you’re Steven Spielberg and there are billions of dollars at stake you would chase DVD pirates to edge of the world. Google wouldn’t even think about pirating his work and offering it free – yet here we are. Ah to be Steven Spielberg.

Mr. Turow talks about libraries as well, authors have given these great institutions an historic pass, they are integral to the writing profession and to the public. Yet when they distribute an ebook it too can be stolen and the writer gets nothing.

We are in an exciting period where anyone can publish their work – no gatekeepers, none. But we are also in a sad age for writers. Our stories are cheapened to almost no value, in fact the more popular the book the more it’s pirated. Even Amazon wants to resell second hand ebooks (whatever that means) without paying the author anything. It’s equated as a secondhand paper paperback. But unless you drop a few letters and pixels, just to rough it up a bit, it’s as fresh as the day it was made. Sure there are digital rights protections out there but there are easy ways to break through them.

Turow has stirred up a tough and now nasty debate – the haves (NYC published) and the have nots (everyone else). Even a few newly successful writers, such as Hugh Howey, take issue with Turow. But are they taking issue with the industry or Turow? Howey demanded and kept control of his ebook rights. 

We writers need these portals, Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, Google, iBooks, and others that allow our works to reach the public. Yet there is an implicit promise that must be met that you will do no harm to the author. Our products are real and sacred, you must respect the work and the copyright. It is the honorable thing to do.

More later . . . . . .

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