Open Letter to The Department Of Justice

Keywords: Amazon. Cats on a Keyboard. Civil society. Books.

So you’ve heard that major publishers colluded to fix ebook prices. I say the related DoJ ruling misses the whole point and will turn more American brains to mush (in the long run) than Moonshiners and Glee combined.

Anyway, here’s  the settlement.  Now is the time to write the Department of Justice.  The AAR wrote a great letter, not yet public.  Simon Lipskar of  Writers House wrote such a fantasic letter I’m linking to him and the letter in a couple places–check it out at Digital Book World, also reprinted on the AAR website.

My own letter is here.  Your comments appreciated.  Reprint if you think it helps.

John R. Read
Chief, Litigation III Section
United States Department of Justice
450 5th St NW
Suite 4000
Washington DC 20530                                                                                       May 8, 2012   


Dear Mr. Read:


The Board of the Association of Authors’ Representatives recently sent you a letter regarding the proposed settlement between the Justice Department and three publishers with respect to e-book pricing.


In that letter, the AAR board urged you to “reject the proposed settlement” and “allow the market to return to one that protects the value of our clients’ intellectual property from unfair and predatory discounting.”


I also urge you to reject this settlement. I am a former executive editor (for both Morrow/Avon, which is now a division of HarperCollins, and Bantam/Doubleday/Dell, which is now a division of Random House), and am currently a literary agent and publishing consultant.


If you accept this settlement, you will, I believe, abet in the destruction of thoughtful intellectual discourse in America. Well-researched nonfiction books are the optimal vehicles for the dissemination of new ideas. Well-written novels inspire other writers, and encourage imagination, organization, creativity and the pursuit of everything that goes along with intellectual advancement.


Such books fortify a civil society.


The current system of traditional publishing is not a business with high profit margins, and it is far from perfect. But it does enable multiple companies to pay a variety of editors, writers, designers, and marketers to discover, perfect and promote a broad mix of written works that merit publication. The money that supports this system comes through the individual purchase of commendable books, reasonably priced. It is not a business sustained by advertising revenues, by the sales of other vehicles (such as e-readers), or by a system of patronage.


In other words, the book publishing business relies on reasonably priced individual products, sold to individual readers, for its survival.


Amazon is a behemoth. If it is able to set any price it wants for the products it distributes–books published by companies with whom it is competing, through the Amazon Publishing Division–Amazon will drive book prices so low reputable publishers will go out of business.


Book prices have been consistent for many years; standards have evolved through natural and real market forces weighed against the actual costs of doing business, whether or not [Read more…]

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Does that seem crazy obvious to you?  Maybe–but think about what it means.  People buy e-readers  to read, at least initially, bestsellers like The Hunger Games Trilogy, Game of ThronesThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  It’s the big and the beloved books that drive e-reader sales.   Books that have been acquired, edited, designed, published and promoted by traditional houses.

Think about that the next time you see an ad for an e-reader–I do.

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I love this story!

We are all guilty of bemoaning the state of book publishing today, often to the point of conflict.  In the past few days, two heartfelt essays promoting what is best in both old-school corporate publishing (Adrian Zackheim in his Portfolio blog) and what is wonderful about printed books (Aaron Gilbreath in the Chicago Tribune) stood out.  I scanned through the comments after each essay–so many people, so vehement, sometimes disrespectful, so convinced that both print and publishing are on the way out. The rancor is unnecessary; the issue not black and white.

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