Monday, May 28, 2012

Joe's Letter to the DOJ

United States v. Apple, Inc. et al., No. 12-CV-2826(DLC) (S.D.N.Y.) – Comments on Proposed Final Judgment as to Defendants Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster

John R. Read
Chief, Litigation III Section
Antitrust Division
United States Department of Justice
450 5th St NW
Suite 4000
Washington DC 20530


May 28, 2012

Dear Mr. Read,

I’m writing to you as the author of forty-six books--eight legacy published, two Amazon published (with three more on the way), and thirty-six self-published, all of which inform the views I express in this letter.

As you doubtless recognize from the mail you’re receiving, there is currently underway a letter-writing campaign coordinated by the Association of Authors’ Representatives, the Authors Guild, and other parts of the publishing establishment attempting to persuade you that the DOJ’s suit against five of the Big Six and Apple is without merit, and that the Agency model is, at best, good for everyone, at worst, harmless. 

I’m writing to tell you that these organizations did not solicit the views of their members, that they in no way speak on behalf of all or even most of their members, and that (as I imagine is obvious) they are motivated not by what’s best for consumers, but by what they see as best for themselves.

I recognize that the heart of the DOJ’s suit is collusion, not high prices. But it’s clear that the legacy publishing industry’s strategy is to keep the prices of ebooks high so as not to cannibalize high-margin hardback sales. If the prices of legacy published books are kept artificially high it could be argued that my lower-priced self-published books are made more attractive by comparison, but I believe that a regime of higher-priced books is bad for the industry overall because it slows the growth of the global book market, which indeed hurts all sales. I also believe it’s obviously bad for consumers, especially lower-income consumers, who could buy more of the books they loved if those books weren’t priced so high.


When prices of media are high, they’re a barrier to entry. Many are avoiding buying an ereader because the ebooks they most want are $9.99 - $14.99. If prices came down, more Kindles (and Kobo readers and Nooks and Sony readers) would be sold. That widens the market, which leads to more ebook sales. This is good for authors, and for readers who can get more for their money. 

I write a popular blog, notable in the industry for its contrary opinions, called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing http://jakonrath.blogspot.com and I'm including four recent blog posts to underscore some of the points I make above, and the structural problems in the publishing industry as they relate to the DOJ suit.

The first, written by Barry Eisler (a former attorney and author of eight legacy-published books, two with Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint, and four self-published titles), succinctly explains how big publishers function as a cartel (or, as it was recently revealed they refer to themselves, a “club”).

The second explains how the agency publishing model harms authors and consumers. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/04/agency-model-sucks.html

The third and fourth are direct refutations of two letters sent to you--one by the Association of Authors’ Representatives http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/aar-fail.html, and one by agent Simon Lipskar http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/simon-says.html, president of a literary agency called Writers House. I have done my best to show how poorly thought-out, disingenuous, misleading, and sometimes outright deceitful these letters are.

The language I've used to rebuke these agents is the language I use on my blog, which is casual, coarse, and accusatory. I mention this just so you’ll know that despite what I think is justifiable anger at the industry practices which I believe betray authors and harm readers, I recognize there’s a difference in the kind of tone one can use in a blog and the kind one ought to use in a letter like this one.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read these posts. Though it is my understanding that the goal of the DOJ's suit is to protect consumers, it is my belief that the group most harmed by the actions of the publishing cartel is writers, who have been forced to accept onerous, often unconscionable contract terms without recourse. The Association of Authors' Representatives, and the Authors Guild, which purportedly defend the rights of writers, in fact work for the publishers. For decades, thousands of writers have been exploited by a powerful industry that universally offers nonnegotiable, one-sided terms, which have gone unchallenged. To that end I offer three more links to posts I have written,  http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/pricing-books-and-ebooks.htmlhttp://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/exploited-writers-in-unfair-industry.html, and
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/unconscionability.html.

Also, I should mention a point that was brought up in the comments to one of these posts (the comments are a great place to read what writers and readers really feel about this issue). I'll paraphrase: "Why is it the Big 6 had no problems with Amazon when they were drastically discounting hardcover book prices, but when Amazon does the same thing with ebooks it is suddenly the end of competition?"

These blog posts show that Amazon has not destroyed competition. In fact, it is the only company encouraging it. 

Sincerely yours,

Joe Konrath



(the mailed and emailed letters contain the referenced blog posts in their entirety)