09 May 2017

Fake (Publishing) News

Apparently, PW never learns, or just doesn't care about getting its facts straight before publishing party-line bullshit. I shouldn't be surprised, and probably shouldn't even be appalled, to see PW yet again trying to blame Amazon for everything that is wrong from the perspective of large commercial publishing conglomerates (and unsophisticated/agency-captured related organizations).

Today's example includes this turd:

Those objecting to this policy say it is allowing Amazon to deprive publishers of sales and authors of royalties. (Because re-sellers are not buying their copies from publishers, these sales will not be counted as sales, and money derived from them will not go to publishers or authors.)

with a mealymouthed noncorrection at the end (italics in original):

Update: After this story ran, we heard from Amazon that while the phrase "new condition" was used in a letter sent to resellers what Amazon defines as new is found in its guidelines as: "brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition. The dust cover and original protective wrapping, if any, is intact. All supplementary materials are included and all access codes for electronic material, if applicable, are valid and/or in working condition."

Amazon did acknowledge the letter may cause confusion and also noted that since resellers need to rate what shape the book is in they would use "new condition" rather than just "new."

Jim Milliot, "New Amazon Buy Button Program Draws Ire of Publishers, Authors" (09 May 2017).

This is fake news.

  1. That nature of "update" calls for an in-story correction and withdrawal.
  2. The reporting of speculation by mostly unnamed "industry figures" (the only ones named are the Authors' Guild, which doesn't exactly have a track record of reliability, and the author of a HuffPo article, which is a strange place for a for profit publisher) as "fact" is not dealt with by the update.
  3. In any event, the implication in that first paragraph — that authors and publishers get exactly zero from the unspecified "resellers" — is false as a matter of law and fact. On the initial transfer, the books (consistent with Amazon's definition stated in the "update," which I've known about in substance for years) are paid for. That means the publishers were paid and the authors are paid.

    Whether they are being paid fairly is a separate question entirely. In particular, the article never notes that for most books contracted for before approximately 2006, Amazon's current customary discount already makes any sale through Amazon a "cut-rate" sale: The discount falls under older "high discount" clauses, and perilously close to presently-being-imposed "high discount" clauses. Thus, this is at best an illusion… or, more to the point, should have been treated as an opportunity to actually inquire into the facts and their context.

  4. Kirtsaeng is the law. So is the First Sale Doctrine embedded in § 109. This entire article is based upon assuming that the First Sale Doctrine (which has been statutory law for a helluva long time) is somehow new or a surprise to publishers and authors or makes used book stores somehow inimical to publishing. Of course, the article can't be bothered to examine its assumptions.

I could go on, but I won't. I will, however, point out an undisclosed conflict of interest: PW's ultimate ownership has (and even under prior ownership also had) substantial interests in the textbook market — perhaps the most notorious "used books hurt new book sales" area of all.

The entire turd is an attack on Amazon made while ignoring existing bookselling custom and practices… with the unstated implication that no other vendor/seller/reseller/industry player is engaging in similar practices. Technically, every bookstore "listing" or "shelf" containing returnable books is subject to the same objection. Had the "new" "new book" policy actually been pointing at advance reader's copies and reviewer copies, or other used books being sold "like new (but not new)," there might have been grounds for further investigation. Of course, one must then wonder just how a reseller would have enough copies available to consistently "win" a "new book" button, if the source is ARCs and review copies (many of which, admittedly, are never read, but that's another issue entirely); and the same goes for any vendor of used books in "like new" condition. That, however, would have required actual investigation, exposure of dubious industry customs and practices that the major commercial publishers and booksellers would rather keep out of more-general awareness, and discussion of the mechanics and dubious legality of the returns system. It probably couldn't be done in an 800 word article that doesn't cite to facts, only to third-party whingeing.

Amazon is not an angel or savior (and certainly not when it comes to actually infringing material!). Neither is it the devil. Get over it.