by Pat Holt
Friday, September 7, 2001
AOL TIME WARNER VS. WRITERS: TAKE THAT MEETING
Well, you have to hand it to the 45 contributing editors of Ski and Skiing magazine (see Letters, #258 and #260) who last week sent a tough-minded yet gracious letter to the top guys at AOL Time Warner subsidiaries - Norman Pearlstine at Time, Inc. and Mark P. Ford at Time4 Media.
It's very difficult for freelancers to stand up to a huge corporation like AOL Time Warner - too often they're told they are a dime a dozen and can instantly be replaced - but backing them with a similar letter to Pearlstine and Ford, also sent last week, is the Coalition of Freelance Organizations.
CoFO includes some powerful associations whose presidents signed the letter - The Authors Guild, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Writers Union, Graphic Artists Guild, Washington Independent Writers, American Society of Media Photographers and others.
The gist of the letters is that a new contract from Ski and Skiing - the first in what writers fear will be the standard for all AOL Time Warner magazines - unfairly requires writers to "hand over valuable secondary rights without any compensation."
In other words, instead of buying one-time use only, (or "First North American Serial Rights"), these AOL Time Warner magazines want to keep, for the same payment of first-time use, "complete copyright to the work without any additional pay" to the author.
This is called a "work-for-hire" contract, and it's already been the subject of a significant lawsuit [Tasini v. New York Times] that was finally decided by the Supreme Court.
On June 25, the Court ruled that the New York Times can't automatically resell "freelance newspaper and magazine articles, via electronic databases such as LexisNexis, without asking permission or making additional payments to the original authors," according to the National Writers Union. To do so would be a "copyright infringement."
You'd think the Times and other newspapers and magazines would back off, but no. The Times announced in a telephone message to writers that it "is 'obliged' to remove freelance articles from electronic archives" unless writers sign a contract "granting the Times' the rights to [the] articles, for no further compensation AND releasing the Times from any claims for compensation in the future," says the NWU (see "Don't Bow to New York Times Intimidation" at http://www.nwu.org ).
Now AOL Time Warner is following suit. Essentially it is saying, through the first two dominoes - Ski and Skiing - that if the company can't legally keep these rights, freelance writers should give them up voluntarily, or not be hired at all.
This is so dastardly that one would expect freelancers and their coalition to express outrage and perhaps belligerence in the letters. In fact, what impresses the reader is the tone of reconciliation and collegiality. We're all professionals here, say the Ski and Skiing contributors, and the Coalition that supports them. Let's act like it and work this out:
August 31, 2001
The Coalition letter also asks for a meeting.
Let's hope AOL Time Warner sees this request as a way out of a very dangerous trap it foolishly set for itself by using Ski and Skiing as bait. Otherwise, as was true with Tasini v. New York Times, the prospect of watching the predatory publisher become prey will be only too delectable for a great many observers.
MORE ON THE POD CONTROVERSY
So many letters came in over the holidays that I've separated those on the print-on-demand issue so readers can scroll through them more easily:
Dear Holt Uncensored:
A strange thing is happening with respect to the term "Print-on-Demand."
POD is a technology used by many regular print publishers, including my own company, Venture Press. It simply means that we don't have to print a 10,000 -copy run before we know whether a book is going to be successful or not. We print copies as needed though the Ingram subsidiary, Lightning Source.
iUniverse and other epublishers have appropriated the POD initials, apparently, and it has not come to mean "eBook publishing." Even this is unfair to serious eBook publishers, who are working hard to make this kind of publishing profitable and working to keep it respectable.
It is unfair because iUniverse (and others that live off the backs of unwary writers who pay them to publish their books) is not much more than the new breed of vanity press.
iUniverse invites writers to send in their books. iUniverse promises to "publish" these books, formatting the interior and designing a cover at an affordable price. These interior and cover designs are fit into standard templates. IUnivere is the publisher. It assigns an ISBN to the work published and has a contract with the author specifying royalties to be paid on retail sales and income sharing on sales of subsidiary rights - if any retail sales or rights sales do in fact occur.
iUniverse promises to make the author's book "available" in bookstores and other outlets. Note this does not mean that the books will actually sit on the shelf. It simply means that the author's book will be listed in the Books-in-Print database, and so is available for special order whenever a customer asks for such an order. However, there is not likely to be any promotion to make the reading public in general aware of the availability of the book. Because iUniverse is not selective in what it publishes, busy reviewers are not likely to give its books more than a glance, if that.
In the beginning, iUniverse did not own and still does not need to own any printing equipment. Farming its printing work out to such POD printers as Lightning Source, iUniverse does no marketing and does not derive its income from the trade sale of books. Such sales would be more of an annoyance than anything else.
So how does iUniverse make money? It sells printed books directly to its authors at discounts ranging from 25% to 46%. Let's say that the print version of your book retails for $19.95 and is sold to you as author at a 40% discount, or $11.97 cents. If this hypothetical book has 200 pages, Lightning Source charges iUniverse, at the very most, $3.90 for printing. Thus iUniverse nets a profit of $8.07 on books sold to its own authors.
Let's say, further, that iUniverse has 1000 authors each month, each of whom orders 25 copies of his or her book for friends, relatives and local reviewers; then the income is substantial. One thousand multiplied by 25 equals 25,000. This figure multiplied by $8.07 equals $201,750. This produces an annual income of $2,421,000. When you consider that iUniverse, since it is a POD publisher, has no investment in inventory, no need for warehousing or fulfillment services, and that the whole enterprise, once set up, can do business almost entirely in the thin air of hyperspace, the net profit is substantial.
The other eBook publishers are pretty much in the same business. Should they luck up and publish a book of real merit that really sells, they stand to make more money. But the income stream they need is guaranteed by the printing of "author copies."
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I enjoyed the spirited exchange between Catharine Bramkamp and Book Passage about print-on-demand (POD) books, and for what it's worth, I'd like to add a bit of additional information to their discussion.
For the past year, I've been instructing courses about the on-line publishing revolution and how authors can at long last... get published! So often the issue of POD is brought to the foreground as a love/hate relationship with authors. The thrill of holding a copy of their book is dashed only by the fact that they can't get it into bookstores.
The truth is, bookstores will carry it. My first book was in twenty stores when it first came out (in the San Diego and Newport, Oregon area). If you've got a good book (and do the necessary promotion), it will sell itself and bookstore managers know this. And if you aren't able to get it into bookstores then take heart! Only 35% of the American public buys in bookstores anyway - if you look around, I know you'll find a myriad of other options to consider.
The literary world takes a while to "catch on." When paperback books came out, no one thought they would last or even be accepted by the general public. Print-on-demand is no different. People assume that if you weren't published traditionally, your book must not be good enough. But because of diminishing budgets and the cyclic nature of the industry, we "insiders" know this is not true. Books like The One Minute Manager, The Christmas Box and The Celestine Prophecy (just to name a few) all found themselves on the rejection pile. Through sheer determination and despite the stigma that the self-published book carries with it, the authors prevailed.
One final note is that by the end of 2002 a return policy will be in place for POD books. I've heard this from several people in the industry, and demand for it has simply dictated nothing less.
Penny C. Sansevieri
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Re Bookstores vs. POD Authors: Neither side made the rules, so energy would be better served fixing up some pretty bad rules set by the POD "publishers." If I were an author, the first question I would ask of the POD publishing service is, "If it is not feasible for bookstores to sell POD books through your service, then how will they get sold?" If authors doesn't need the bookstores, they won't need the POD service either.
It is unrealistic for return privileges and trade discounts to be withheld from bookstores, and to expect those stores to support POD titles. If a bookstore can get regular terms on a Grisham novel, why not on a POD title?
If it is cheaper to reprint a POD title than return it, then create a policy that allows the cover to be stripped. It works for Mass Market.
And if POD is so much cheaper than normal print runs, why can't bookstores have a normal trade discount? If the authors are holding out for more than their fair share from the process, then those authors better ask themselves whether they are better off with a smaller share of something or a larger share of nothing. And if they are not getting more than their fair share, who is getting that share?
And who said the price of POD books can't be adjusted higher if need be to cover these added costs?
Dear Holt Uncensored:
All POD books are *NOT* non-returnable. The two I have out with Clocktower are returnable, and the three coming out soon with Atlantic Bridge will also be returnable. More and more of the independent publishers are adopting a return policy because of the difficulty of getting our books into bookstores.
True, iUniverse and XLibris books are non-returnable, but I know a lot of their authors, and their sales are moving just fine. Not nearly as fine as a traditional publisher's books, IF you can find a traditional pub to publish you, which is damn near impossible these days, but those who are willing to spend the money and take the time to make the Herculean effort it takes are doing well. As your article said today, they'd have to do that anyhow, because the traditional publishers only promote their heavy hitters or huge big names just on board. Sad but true. It's all about money.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
The exchange in HU #261 on the barriers to POD distribution (book at a time) between Catherine Bramkamp and Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage bookstore is instructive and challenging.
Before BookSense first launched its website, informal proposals were made to build bookstore access to browse and order capabilities for POD titles. Understandably there were enough functional issues they had to deal with, and probably few bookstores equipped to take advantage of it, so this idea didn't go anywhere.
However, between BookSense, BookSite and BookZone, et al -- competitive resources are now available for independent bookstores interested in dipping their toes in, and with the time and space to explore it, to bring browsing terminals and credit card order entry to their customers. Whatever the short discount situation may be the case at the moment, I have no doubt that aggregating portals such as the foregoing would be able to negotiate favorable discounts with the POD publishers for retailers connecting to a POD browsing and ordering system.
This would also make it possible for the bookseller's on-the-shelf hand-selling tradition to find its metaphor in an electronic browsing metaphor -- including even incorporation into the staff recommendation cards fixed to the store shelves.
While I hesitate to mention it at the risk of being laughed off the stage, this functionality will enable electronic book ordering -- whenever that gets off the ground -- through the bookstore as well, without any further technology.
Dear Holt Uncensored,
For the past several years, the online journal "The Book & The Computer: The Future of the Printed Word" (http//: www.honco.net) has examined how digital technologies are influencing what we call "the culture of the book." We do this from a perspective that is international in scope and, generally, critically optimistic in tenor.
For many of our contributors, the development and spread of POD technology is something with tremendous potential. But POD publishers such as those discussed in the recent exchange between Catharine Bramkamp and Bill Petrocelli--iUniverse and Xlibris--are, it seems, a rather small part of the picture.
Far more significant, for example, is POD's potential for revitalizing backlist publishing in North America, Europe, and Japan; combating censorship in Chile or Iran; or making books available in languages that can promise only modest sales, in, say, Africa or Eastern Europe.
As for how POD will effect independent booksellers, that is a tough call to make at this point. One of our contributors, the publishing veteran Jason Epstein, thinks POD (in combination with a universal, multilingual catalog) could make retail selling obsolete. To which another contributor, Cody's Books owner Andy Ross, says such a view ignores the role played by booksellers in separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, a job that only becomes more important as the quantity of books and book- related information expands.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
We've worked with Ingram for many years. As wholesalers go, they're the most predictable, and they can move a lot of books for us. However, I've been more and more annoyed with them over the last 6 months: changes in warehouses, closing warehouses, related returns, the Borders/Amazon debacle, a 6+-week pile-up at the TN "super" warehouse, oddities in the ipage PO system, and as of this month, a complete change in when/how they order.
According to our buyer, they purchased their new ordering system from another company, E3, rather than creating it themselves (which they did with Title Review and Millennium). The old systems tracked demand and reacted accordingly. The buyer interpreted the information, learned to recognize unusual spikes in demand and to spot trends in a title's behavior. The new system automates much of this process.
Ingram will no longer review publishers on a weekly basis. Instead, E3 "judges" when enough orders have come in to make the order profitable and prompts sending them at that time. The orders are placed with the publisher "when the need for the books and the cost of acquiring them balances out to the most profitable level."
My bookseller friends are complaining more about Ingram, too. One is ready to give up working with them altogether because of odd order consolidation practices which make it impossible for him to tell a customer when a special order will arrive. "It used to take just a few days, now it could be two weeks, but because there's no consistency, I have no clear information for my customers."
When I asked Tony Miksak, owner of Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle's Children's Books in Mendocino, about his thoughts on Ingram, he responded with the following:
"We still use Ingram in our 3-distrib cascade. They come at the end, because, actually and really, they STILL have the best stock, best fulfillment, most efficient back order system. So they get orders from us for all the books not fulfilled by BPeople or B&Taylor. On that level, we haven't suffered anything through Ingram's recent changes
There are many myths and misconceptions extant about book distribution. Authors and one-two book publishers are more confused than ever. Some believe that direct mail to bookstores will get their books distributed (wrong); that XLibris works (wrong); that anyone cares to read ebooks (wrong); etc.... It used to be cigar chomping vanity presses that took advantage of authors... now the scams are more disguised and more widespread.
And people who say "you can get my book from Amazon" think that individual bookstores will stock their book that way? Huh?
It's a mess... and it feels like a deteriorating mess. And we just keep keeping on, running sometimes on fumes, sometimes on inspiration. As one thing falls apart, we put a patch over it... Good example: Ingram decided to cease its relationship with Bowker which provided stores with a weekly CD-ROM BIP blended with Ingram's warehouse stock. That is gone. In its place is a MUCH more clunky, harder to use, less well integrated, and down-featured simalcrum of BIP provided by (gulp) Baker and Taylor. We don't like it, are searching for a better alternative, but in the meantime, that's what we use to answer the questions "is it in print?" and "can we get it for the customer, and when?"
Most of the stuff you have to go through to get your books out into the world is blissfully invisible to us, and for that I must be thankful, while understanding your job is at LEAST as difficult as any bookstore's."
We're used to shipping 200-500 books to Ingram on a weekly basis via about 3 purchase orders. Our first E3 order delayed matters by 5 working days, then spat out an order for a total of 7 books. We had to call our buyer and say, "Gee, you know that hot little title of ours back east, the one that's #4 on the paperback nonfiction list for Barnes and Noble in Massachusetts? There's no stock in the CT or TN warehouses." (Baker & Taylor, Bookazine and Partners/West all had stock, thank heavens.) I love automation. Orders have finally come in, but they don't make much sense, and we're spending more time on-line with iPage to check stock in all warehouses on each of our 65 titles. A real time-saver, this new software. At least it doesn't cost us $2000 a year (which is what Baker & Taylor charges for a publisher to access their warehouse/title source database).
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Thank you for the two-part article about Bill Wong's book, "Yellow Journalist," Regarding the question about why Asian American males are rarely if ever chosen as TV-News anchors:
Like Bill, I have been following the Asian males on TV news - anchors and reporters as well -- for a long time, at least since November, 1970, when I became the first Asian American hired as an on-air TV news reporter by a major network-affiliated commercial station, KPIX, Channel 5 (CBS), in San Francisco.
At this year's 14th annual national convention of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), there was a panel entitled "Front and Center: Asian Male Anchors." Among the anchors attending were Kent Ninomiya of KCOP (Los Angeles) and formerly of the morning news on KGO-TV (San Francisco); Dalton Tanaoka of CNBC, formerly of Honolulu and NHK Japan; Hari Sreenivasan of CNET; Dale Yurong of Fresno; Curtiss Kim of KFYT Santa Rosa; These were the featured speakers.
Fred Katayama of CNN was around but not on the panel. James Hattori, now a reporter for CNN and former KRON-TV weekend co-anchor with Catherine Heenan, was on KOOL-TV Phoenix and later the KTTV Channel 11 news in Los Angeles. Ken also anchored the KABC Channel 7 news in LA as well as in Honolulu.
Of further interest is Sam Chu Lin, who currently reports for KTTV Fox 11 in Los Angeles and Pacific Time on KQED, and contributes to Asian Week, Rafu Shimpo (a Japanese American daily out of Los Angeles), Nichie Bei Times (one of two Japanese American dailies in San Francisco) and other print and broadcast outlets. He recently moderated the panel, "When National Security Is At Risk: Covering the Spy Story" at the AAJA national convention.
He is also a former CBS News reporter out of New York and a former KRON-TV news reporter in the late 1970s to early 1980s. He founded the corporate television department at Hewlett-Packard.
FYI, below is an excerpt from my article "Casting Our Voices: Chinese American Broadcast Pioneers", written for the Chinese Historical Society of America gala benefit in 1999, a version of which is posted at http://www.asianconnections.com/community/people.
First On Air
When Mario Machado first went on the air as a news reporter in Los Angeles (KHJ, 1967), some people presumed he was Mexican, not knowing he was born in China, his father Portuguese and his mother Chinese. Yet he was good enough to be hired in 1968 as a CBS network sports commentator.
For Sam Chu Lin, breaking into radio was made possible by his own wits - he used signed petitions from fellow students and the presence of Chinese American stores along the river to convince his hometown station WJPR of Greenville, Mississippi to let him get sponsors and host his own radio show while in high school (1956). He Anglicized his name to Sam Lin and went on the air. To get into television, he had helped put a new public television station on air as an announcer (KCET Los Angeles, 1965). While he was at it, he helped launch KFWB as one of the nation's first all-news radio station as an anchor/reporter.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I have been reading with keen interest your discussion of manuscript consultants in Holt Uncensored. Manuscript consultants perform a vital service for writers and for literature in general. For one thing, the basics of good writing are no longer taught in schools, so that even writers with great innate talent and much to say often need help before their works can be published. Also, the publishing establishment, as you've commented, doesn't spend much time on editing at any level- copy editing, line editing or developmental editing. (This is especially true of POD publishers, I understand.) That's why we free-lance editors (manuscript consultants) have work to do.
My client list is confidential, but I can tell you that I have done copy editing for Hewlett Packard, developmental editing for Wadsworth Publishing Company, and line editing for the Stanford University Press. And although many of the following authors did not need a great deal of editing, I have had the pleasure of acquiring, editing, and publishing books by a great meany very good writers, including Mary Jane Moffat, Janet Lewis, Hildegarde Flanner, Charles Champlin, Jeff Greenwald, Jess Mowry, E.S. Goldman, Pete Fromm, Nancy Packer, John Espey, Carolyn See, Artie Shaw, Al Capp (posthumously), and Joan Baez Sr.
Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.
"Holt Uncensored" is an online column by Pat Holt
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