Ask The Editor

September 3, 2009

Before tomorrow’s opt-out deadline: What you need to know about the Google settlement

Tomorrow is the deadline for opting out of the Google settlement.

Here are some bits of information that may help people better understand the broad strokes — and why you’re better off opting out:

1- You are not shut out of the Google Book Search program if you opt out of the settlement. You are only shut out of the bad terms of the settlement. You can still participate in the Google Book Search program as an individual author, retain all your rights, and remove your books at any time.

2- You will not get 63 percent of the proceeds under the settlement for any use of your book by Google. That 63 percent goes to the Book Rights Registry which skims an unspecified and unknown amount off the top for expenses.

3- The remainder of that 63 percent, once the Book Rights Registry takes its unspecified and unknown share, goes to your publisher which sends a portion to you based on its interpretation of your contract. If it interprets your contract wrongly, your only recourse is binding arbitration, a process which favors major players, not little guys.

4- The settlement terms will obviously conflict with some book contract terms. It is unclear how this will be resolved. As the settlement is written, binding arbitration is your only option if you disagree with a publisher’s interpretation. This issue has some lawyers scratching their heads because of the uncertainty that’s bound to result.

5 – It’s a pretty good deal for large publishers, for the above and other reasons.

6- Based on published quotes from its leadership, the AG appears to have initiated this class action with the goal of negotiating a settlement that would result in Google getting rights to books that it otherwise could not get. (See author/attorney Scott Gant’s objection which is a pdf file).

7- The AG will control half the Book Rights Registry and will choose half the board members. The AAP will select the other half. This deal with Google gives these groups future security at a time when the future of publishing is anything but secure.

– Anita Bartholomew

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August 11, 2009

Authors Guild sends authors another misleading letter about Google settlement

You have to wonder why, if the Google settlement is as good a deal as the Authors Guild keeps insisting it is, the honchos over there keep misleading their members when attempting to gain support.

Any settlement worth signing onto doesn’t need to be spun, finessed, or made to appear something it isn’t. If it’s worth signing onto, you simply list the actual benefits. You don’t pretend authors will get benefits that the settlement doesn’t, can’t, and won’t give them.

Although I was once a member of the Authors Guild, I am no longer. But friends do forward the emails they get. And I found the text of that email, inviting all authors and agents to a free teleconference this coming Thursday, on the AG website.  I don’t have the time to fact-check everything, as it would require me to dig through the settlement agreement again, but here are some obvious whoppers I spotted that required no new research:
AG CLAIM: the only way to ensure that your book will not be completely removed from the database, and thus benefit from Google search, is not to opt-out.

AB RESPONSE: False. As I’ve written ad nauseum, just sign up for the Google Books Partner Program and you will be in Google search — but you won’t be locked into the settlement terms.

AG CLAIM: The settlement offers a 63/37 split** in your favor … It’s a good deal. For comparison: Amazon buys e-books at a 50% discount from publishers. If you’re a self-published author, the split is 35/65 — in Amazon’s favor. Newspapers face a 30/70 split — again in Amazon’s favor — for electronic distribution of their content.

AB RESPONSE: Misleading. Here’s what the AG isn’t telling you about the above “good deal.” You’re not getting 63%. The Book Rights Registry takes delivery of that 63 percent, and takes its cut off the top. The BRR’s cut is unknown, and unspecified in the settlement. Estimates are that it can be anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of that 63 percent. Whatever is left after the BRR takes its cut goes to the publisher which then parcels out your share to you. What will that share be? Whatever your contract says it is.

Not exactly sounding like a 63 percent share any longer, is it?

AG CLAIM: Want to negotiate a different deal with Google?  Turn off all display uses of your works and go for it.  At any time.

AB RESPONSE: Huh? You can’t re-negotiate the terms through the settlement, of course. Those terms are set in stone if/when the settlement is approved. Unchangeable. Approved settlement = done deal.

So, I wondered what on earth the AG was up to with the above claim.  As I keep saying, you certainly can get better terms through the Google Book Partners Program if for no other reason than you won’t have the BRR as a silent partner, skimming off the top. (Fun fact: 50 percent of the BRR will be appointed by the AG).

The Google Books Partner Program is the only current way to get a better deal from Google in its book search and scanning venture, to my knowledge. And you can be in both the program and the settlement. Here’s what the settlement FAQ says:

Can I participate in both the Partner Program and the settlement?
Yes. You can choose to participate in the settlement and its revenue models for one or more books even if you are already a participant in the Partner Program. The Partner Program agreement, if applicable to a particular book that is also included in the settlement, will govern Google’s treatment of that book to the extent the Partner Program offers the same uses or revenue models as the settlement and any prohibitions imposed by the Partner Program agreement on Google’s uses will apply.

So, the only thing I can figure, re its re-negotiation claim,  is that the AG will suggest, during its free conference call on Thursday, that you opt in, tell Google not to display your book, then sign up for the Google Books Partner Program.  But, if I’m reading the FAQ right, the catch is that, once you’re in the settlement, you’re stuck with the same terms, or as the FAQ says, the same uses or revenue models as the settlement.”

If that’s the strategy AG plans to offer in its “go for it” re-negotiation recommendation, my brain hurts just thinking of the convoluted reasoning.

Why on earth would you give up your right to sue if Google oversteps, bring in a partner who’ll take an unknown percentage of the proceeds, sign a hundreds-pages long agreement you probably don’t understand  … just to seek the better deal that you can only get outside the settlement?

Can’t wait to hear what they say next.

– Anita Bartholomew

August 5, 2009

Why writers shouldn’t bet their careers on magazine writing, part II

Article fees are stagnating at best. Numerous magazines have lowered their per-word rates. I hear reports all the time from  writers that magazines assign an article at, say, 1,000 words but demand extra reporting that can require the writer to up the submitted word count by 50 percent or more, with no extra pay.

Writers, brace yourselves. This is your future if you continue to bank on magazines. Magazines were hurting before the economic downturn and you can’t assume that the situation will reverse once the economy stabilizes. See this article from Min on the prospects for consumer magazines — or simply read the following sobering excerpt:

Magazines did not come into the recession from a position of strength, with a [Compound Annual Growth Rate] at a meager 1.1% from 2003 to 2008.

Virtually all of the main revenue drivers for this industry are being depressed by a shifting media economy and digitization, such that magazine advertising will decline 15.6% in 2009 to $10.53 billion and a [Compound Annual Growth Rate] of -6.6% for the 2008-2013 period. This will leave the ad spend on magazines at $8.87 billion in 2013, the lowest level since 1995.

Ever-shrinking ad revenues mean that articles fees must also continue to shrink.

And for those who say, “no problem, I’ll write for the web,” I have to ask: haven’t you noticed that most websites pay less than even the struggling magazines? While some web publications pay at least something, too many are paying so little, the fee offered is an insult. And you can’t pay your bills with the proceeds  of insultingly low fees no matter how quickly you write.

So, what’s left?

My guess is that the writers who continue to make a living from writing will be writing books. Some will get traditional publishers. Some will publish their own books as book publishers also tighten their budgets.

The Espresso Book Machine, or something like it, if it catches on, will make any bookstore that has one a print-on-demand center. That will make it possible for good writers to become publishers without the overhead of warehousing and shipping, and with a lower per-book printing cost than current POD options. But only those who master marketing and publicity will earn enough to make a living.

I know this isn’t a cheery post but I read too many cheery proclamations from writers who keep doing what they’ve been doing while their incomes shrink. We all need to think ahead, not just to the end of the year but to five years from now. Where will publishing be? And where will you be in publishing?

– Anita Bartholomew

July 30, 2009

The exploited writers’ anthem; sing to the tune of “Born Free”

From my friend and colleague, Erik Sherman, a little ditty to remind writers where writing for nothing will get them:

Here’s a snippet. Sing along to the rest on his site at this link:

Write free
As free as the grass grows
Who cares where the cash goes?
Write free, and follow your heart

Work free, and readers surround you
Exposure astounds you
Although you live in a car …

How dumb do these “Dummies” think we are?

I’ve written before about companies that ask writers to write for free or nearly free. Add another would-be exploiter to the list: the ” … for Dummies” folks.

On a writers’ email listserv, someone posted the following forwarded email:


Date: July 21, 2009 1:21:07 PM PDT

Are you a subject area expert who would like to write for Dummies.com?

Because consumers look to Dummies.com for answers on nearly every part of their life, we’re looking for expert authors on all kinds of topics from iPhones to investing. If you’re a topic expert with excellent writing skills and would like to contribute articles to Dummies.com, please visit us.

We’ll review your credentials and writing sample. If there’s a match, we’ll contact you. Unfortunately, we can’t send feedback to everyone, so only the authors that we think are the best match for Dummies.com will be contacted.

I found it curious that Dummies.com mentioned nothing about pay. I know, from a number of writer friends who have authored Dummies books, that the company doesn’t pay well but the work is easy and some books earn out their advances and pay royalties. So I thought these authors might be interested in picking up gigs for the website if the pay were halfway decent. Checking further, here’s what I found:

[You] grant us and our parent, affiliates and licensees the right to use, reproduce, display, perform, adapt, modify, distribute, have distributed, and promote the content in any form, anywhere and for any purpose without compensation

There’s more but the above is all you need to know. Do not write for companies that want your labor and talent but offer nothing in return. This is a profit-making venture for them but it won’t be for you. Give away your knowledge and talent, and you’ve established its value at $0.

Leave the slave labor to a real dummy and keep looking for a paying gig. And, if you’re so inclined,  politely let the Dummies.com folks know that you don’t think much of companies that exploit writers.

– Anita Bartholomew

July 1, 2009

Is it worth publishing? Then it’s worth paying for.

Kim Komando, in her cyber speak column, chirps about sites where you can “sell” your writing:

“A growing number of sites will help you turn your writing into cash. You don’t need to be a professional writer to use these sites, but your writing skills should be above average.”

She then goes on to detail the sites she has in mind and points out that aspiring writers are paid about 50 cents at one of the sites, about $1 at another. No, that isn’t per word. These sites pay 50 cents for an entire article.

Why on earth would Komando promote “selling” your work for so little money, it won’t even buy you a Hershey’s bar?

Surely, she’d be insulted if someone offered her just 50 cents to write her USA Today column.

And you should feel insulted, too, when you read about sites that want you to provide your writing so cheaply, you might as well write for free.

Even if you’re an aspiring writer with no credits, you deserve more. If your work is publishable, it’s worth paying for at the going rate.

This is exploitation. Period. And Komando should know better than to promote the exploitation of other writers.

Apparently, though, she doesn’t know better — nor even, what she’s writing about. She includes Scribd in her list.

Scribd is a site where traditional and self-publishers can sell copies of their electronic documents and ebooks. In other words, it operates much like the Kindle store. There’s a big difference between selling copies of your work to consumers for $1 or more per copy, and giving away the rights to someone else to profit from your writing for $1, total.

Someone, please enlighten Komando.

– Anita Bartholomew

June 9, 2009

Pay the writer, damnit!

This, fair warning, is going to be more a rant than a typical post.

There are a number of “content providers” trolling the web, offering writing “opportunities” that are merely opportunities for the so-called content provider to exploit those who write.

Among these are Demand Studios, which had the audacity to send an acquaintance, who queried in response to their offer of writing work, a reply that included the following:

“As the articles get indexed by search engines and  build traffic, payouts increase. By the third month, average monthly payout per article is $1.24.”

Yes, average payout of $1.24 after three months. Amazingly enough, that means that writers may actually earn less than $1.24 per article.

And some writers are taking this!

Helium runs another of these exploitation rackets. My friend and colleague, Erik Sherman, decided to calculate what Helium may be paying its writers, based on the figures it makes public.

His estimates?

“The average story will make 80 cents.”

Do not write for these people. You are not doing yourself or your career any good and you’re actually making matters worse for other writers by driving down the perceived value of writing. I’m pretty sure most people could earn more begging on a busy city street than they would writing for one of these outfits and would earn about as much respect (because as soon as it comes out that you write for peanuts — hell, make that peanut, singular — you’ve established your value to future potential customers).

I don’t care if this is the first opportunity you’ve ever gotten to write anything for anybody. You’re worth more. Demand more. Don’t sell yourself or your talents so cheaply.

And this is for the cheapskates who are pulling this crap. Back in the 1840s, editors paid writers from $2 to $12 per page. How can you so shamelessly offer a fraction of what one could have earned about 170 years ago?

Listen to Harlan Ellison . And pay the writer, damnit!

Anita Bartholomew

May 26, 2009

If you’ve been turned down by publishers, should you beome a publisher yourself?

We live in interesting times.

Advances are half or even a third of what they were a year or two ago. I’ve heard reports from colleagues who are accustomed to high five-figure advances for their non-fiction narratives and how-to books getting offers in the mid or even low four figures. And that’s if an author can even get an offer.

Fiction seems to be particularly difficult to sell at any price right now.

Filmmaker John Sayles’ agent failed to get a single offer on his latest novel.  Sayles has previously published acclaimed novels and is among Hollywood’s most accomplished directors and screenwriters.

The rejection of his latest manuscript drives home just how depressed the market is.

“This is really astonishing,” says Ron Hogan, senior editor of Galleycat.com, a website devoted to publishing news. “I mean, this is John Sayles! You’d think there would be some editor who’d be proud to say, ‘I brought the new John Sayles novel to this house.’ ”

Anthony Arnove, Sayles’ literary agent, sent the novel out on a first round of submissions last fall, and recently sent it to another group of editors. His goal is to land a deal with a deep-pockets publisher who can promote the sprawling, epic tale about racism and the dawn of U.S. imperialism.

Sayles’ 1977 novel, “Union Dues,” was nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. “The Anarchists’ Convention,” his comic short story about aging Jewish lefties, has become an American classic.

But Sayles’ earlier novels weren’t bestsellers and traditional publishers are looking for sure things. Nevermind that, as anyone who has ever browsed a remainder table knows, the sure thing doesn’t exist.

So, what should an author who has a good manuscript do? In my opinion, as traditional publishing opportunities shrink, and non-traditional opportunities expand, the best thing an author who is willing to bet on his or her own prose can do is become a publisher. I don’t mean that authors should send their manuscripts off to iUniverse or Lulu, pay a few hundred bucks, and keep their fingers crossed. That may seem an inexpensive option but it’s probably going to get you exactly nowhere. The cheap solution is actually an expensive one if nobody knows your book exists or wants to buy it.

Become a real publisher, if you have the time, money, marketing understanding, and willingness to work as you never have before for your book’s success.

More on what this means in terms of budget, planning, and everything else, in subsequent posts.

– Anita Bartholomew

May 13, 2009

Is Amazon becoming a publisher — or simply promoting its self-publishing options?

From its press release, announcing the new venture:

Amazon customers raved over “Legacy,” a self-published novel by 16-year-old Cayla Kluver, with customer review titles such as “loved it, loved it,” “rich lyrical tapestry and story” and “breathtaking in scope and execution!” Despite winning several prizes from literary groups and accolades like this from readers, Kluver’s debut novel achieved only modest sales. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced a new program, “AmazonEncore,” to help readers discover exceptional books from emerging authors, such as the program’s first book, “Legacy.”

AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon uses information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales. Amazon then partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers. This summer “Legacy” will be revised by the author and re-issued as an AmazonEncore edition in print on Amazon websites around the world, in physical bookstores, as a digital download from the Kindle Store in less than 60 seconds, and via spoken-word audio download on Audible.com.

There’s no word on what Amazon means when it says it “partners” with authors. Amazon may, indeed be acting like a traditional publisher and offering advances, royalties, etc. But AmazonEncore may, instead, be a re-branding or expansion of Amazon’s current self-publishing tools. It’s not clear yet. But, what if Amazon is merely selecting certain self-published books for more favorable design, distribution and marketing treatment? And what if it’s using this as a marketing tool to promote its self-publishing arm?

That seems more likely to me — and, if so, appears to be a smart marketing move.

I hate to be a cynic but, stay tuned for the details.

– Anita Bartholomew

April 30, 2009

Authors Guild’s latest misleading statement on the Google settlement

Here’s what the Authors Guild sent to its members after Judge Chin granted an extension:

The court overseeing Authors Guild v. Google extended the time for authors and publishers to opt out of the settlement by four months, to September 4th (Judge Chin’s order). The fairness hearing will be on October 7th.

We don’t recommend opting out — this settlement is a good deal for authors, bringing their out-of-print books back to commercial life (while leaving the marketplace for in-print books alone, unless you and your publisher want to take advantage of the settlement’s programs for in-print books) — so this shouldn’t affect most authors. If you haven’t yet filed your claim, now is a fine time to do so. Go to www.googlebooksettlement.com and create an account to get started.

Let’s parse the above:

“We don’t recommend opting out — this settlement is a good deal for authors,”

No, it’s not. For past infringement, it pays authors a fraction of what they are entitled to under copyright law. For future use, it’s at best, a worse deal than authors can get on their own from Google. At worst, who knows? Most experts say that the terms aren’t clear.

“… bringing their out-of-print books back to commercial life”

You can both opt out and bring your out-of-print books back to commercial life via the Google Books Partner Program. You’ll get better terms (and probably more money) and, unlike those who stay in the settlement class,  you won’t give up any rights you now have under copyright.

“… (while leaving the marketplace for in-print books alone, unless you and your publisher want to take advantage of the settlement’s programs for in-print books) — so this shouldn’t affect most authors.”

The above is a false and misleading statement. The settlement will, indeed, affect most authors. If you are the author of a book that is still in copyright, and was published on or before Jan 5, 2009, you are subject to all the provisions of the settlement. Don’t take my word against the Authors Guild’s. The above link takes you to the FAQ at the Google settlement website. Being subject to the provisions of the settlement means, if you don’t opt out, several of the rights you now have under copyright law when dealing with Google will be erased.

The obvious questions are:

Why is the Authors Guild spinning the terms of the settlement — claiming that those whose books are in-print won’t be affected? And why won’t it acknowledge that authors can opt out and get a better deal from Google outside the settlement?

– Anita Bartholomew

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