Thursday, November 15, 2007

The tide is turning

There was an interesting article in the newsletter this morning sent round by Jerry Simmons to those who subscribe to his website I felt compelled to post it here, as it shows how the tide is turning not just here in the UK, but in America also. Writers are tired of slogging their guts out for a pittance and want what should be rightfully theirs.

Conservative Authors Sue Publisher By MOTOKO RICH Published: 11/7/07

Five authors have sued the parent company of Regnery Publishing, a Washington imprint of conservative books, charging that the company deprives its writers of royalties by selling their books at a steep discount to book clubs and other organizations owned by the same parent company.

In a suit filed in United States District Court in Washington yesterday, the authors Jerome R. Corsi, Bill Gertz, Lt. Col. Robert (Buzz) Patterson, Joel Mowbray and Richard Miniter state that Eagle Publishing, which owns Regnery, “orchestrates and participates in a fraudulent, deceptively concealed and self-dealing scheme to divert book sales away from retail outlets and to wholly owned subsidiary organizations within the Eagle conglomerate.”

Some of the authors’ books have appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, including “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,” by Mr. Corsi and John E. O’Neill (who is not a plaintiff in the suit), Mr. Patterson’s “Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America’s National Security” and Mr. Miniter’s “Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror.” In the lawsuit the authors say that Eagle sells or gives away copies of their books to book clubs, newsletters and other organizations owned by Eagle “to avoid or substantially reduce royalty payments to authors.”

The authors argue that in reducing royalty payments, the publisher is maximizing its profits and the profits of its parent company at their expense. “They’ve structured their business essentially as a scam and are defrauding their writers,” Mr. Miniter said in an interview, “causing a tremendous rift inside the conservative community.”

Traditionally, authors receive a 15 percent royalty based on the cover price of a hardcover title after they have sold enough copies to cover the cost of the advance they receive upon signing a contract with a publisher. (Authors whose books are sold at steep discounts or to companies that handle remaindered copies receive lower royalties.)

In Regnery’s case, according to the lawsuit, the publisher sells books to sister companies, including the Conservative Book Club, which then sells the books to members at discounted prices, “at, below or only marginally above its own cost of publication.” In the lawsuit the authors say they receive “little or no royalty” on these sales because their contracts specify that the publisher pays only 10 percent of the amount received by the publisher, minus costs — as opposed to 15 percent of the cover price — for the book.

Mr. Miniter said that meant that although he received about $4.25 a copy when his books sold in a bookstore or through an online retailer, he only earned about 10 cents a copy when his books sold through the Conservative Book Club or other Eagle-owned channels. “The difference between 10 cents and $4.25 is pretty large when you multiply it by 20,000 to 30,000 books,” Mr. Miniter said. “It suddenly occurred to us that Regnery is making collectively jillions of dollars off of us and paying us a pittance.” He added: “Why is Regnery acting like a Marxist cartoon of a capitalist company?”

In an e-mail statement, Bruce W. Sanford, a lawyer with Baker Hostetler, a Washington firm representing Eagle and Regnery, said: “No publisher in America has a more acute marketing sense or successful track record at building promotional platforms for books than Regnery Publishing. These disgruntled authors object to marketing strategies used by all major book publishers that have proved successful time and again as witnessed by dozens of Regnery bestsellers.”

The authors also say in the lawsuit that Regnery donates books to nonprofit groups affiliated with Eagle Publishing and gives the books as incentives to subscribers to newsletters published by Eagle. The authors say they do not receive royalties for these books. “You get 10 per cent of nothing because they basically give them away,” Mr. Patterson said in an interview.

The authors argue that because at least a quarter and as much as half of their book sales are diverted to nonretail channels, sales figures of their books on Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales but does not reflect sales through book clubs and other outlets used by Eagle, are artificially low. Publishers use these figures when determining future book deals, and the authors argue that actions by Eagle and Regnery have long-term effects on their careers.

Mr. Miniter said that when he was negotiating a book deal with Threshold Editions, a conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster, he could have gotten a higher advance if BookScan reflected the true quantity of sales of his books. According to BookScan, Mr. Miniter’s “Shadow War” sold 46,000 copies in hardcover, and “Losing Bin Laden” sold 36,000 copies in hardback.

Mr. Miniter, who spearheaded the legal action, said he became aware of the discrepancies in royalty payments while defending a separate arbitration initiated by Regnery over a canceled contract. Mr. Miniter said that during the arbitration, which is pending, he saw royalty statements in which it appeared that about half his books’ sales had not gone through stores, and that his payments for those sales were much lower than the payments for bookstore sales. He contacted other Regnery authors and learned that they saw similar patterns on their royalty statements.

Joel Mowbray, author of “Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America’s Security,” said he was particularly disappointed in Regnery and Eagle because they had so championed conservative authors. “These guys created the conservative book market,” Mr. Mowbray said. “Before them, conservatives were having to fight, generally unsuccessfully, to get books published.”

The authors, who say in the lawsuit that Eagle has been “unjustly enriched well in excess of one million dollars,” are seeking unspecified damages. But Mr. Miniter said, “We’re not looking for a payoff; we’re looking for justice.”

Copyright Jerry Simmons 2007.

This will be one to watch I feel, as it could have interesting implications not just in America, but for the industry as a whole right across the world. Personally I say good luck to them ....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

78 book stores, 300 copies and counting ....

A funny thing has been happening these past few days with regard to the number of books showing as in stock with Gardners. Last week when I checked it said they had 11 in stock, so having secured orders from a few more stores, I was bracing myself for another email from Richard informing me that they had ordered some more. Then I checked again on Monday and found the number in stock had risen to 19...

Had they had some returns already I asked myself? They shouldn't be coming back this early, since the book has only been on sale or return since August 13th, just over 3 months now. I wouldn't expect returns to start coming back until at least the New Year. Then this morning when I looked again, the figure had risen yet again, this time to 35. What is going on.

After tormenting myself all night about this and wondering what on earth is happening, I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to know was if I rang them. And so that is what I did. They were quite helpful as it happens, even though they could not tell me much (confidentiality and all that). One of the biggest draw backs of POD is that you cannot log into such systems yourself, since you are not the publisher. I wish I had known this when I signed on the dotted line, not that it would have made much difference anyway.

They confirmed though that the only returns they have had were for a few books damaged in transit - this always happens in small amounts, and it is around the figure you would expect so they told me. The sales woman told me in fact that based on the figures she could see in front of her, she would recommend the book to anyone who rang up as a popular title, so that has to be good. I am still no nearer then to knowing what is going on and what lies beneath the yo yoing figures, but at least I know they are not due to returns !

I have had a busy day today then - starting ringing round first thing this morning, since I had been told that this would be the best time to reach the manager at Waterstones in Cambridge. It turned out to be a good decision, since he agreed to order some, and so I rang some more shops and then some more again. By about 10.30, having secured orders from Enfield as well, and also ascertained that Bristol Galleries had some in stock that I didn't know about, off I went to Tescos to fill up our fridge.

Got back just after midday, unloaded and then dashed into town for lunch at our favourite tea shop, and for Coran to pay in some cheques, and then got back home around 2.30ish to make yet more calls. I managed to secure another order from Chester and also had some enlightening conversations with Same Day Books in Chertsey and Worthing respectively. The Manager at Chertsey asked me to email him the link to my website so that he can have a read of the sample chapter and Worthing will remind their Buyer to review the information that I posted to him at the end of October.

We had quite a long conversation as it happens, and they sound like a nice company to to business with and very local author friendly. Chertsey is a lot nearer than Worthing, but even they are only an hour away, so it is not outside the realms of possibility that I may be able to do an event there. I know at least one person who lives in the town, who also happens to be medium and I also have friends in Brighton as well , who as far as I am aware, are yet to get their own copy. We shall wait and see anyway, I am sure the universe will respond, as it usually does in its own inimitable way ....

78 book stores then, 300 copies and counting ....

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Trouble at Bloomsbury?

The publishing world is buzzing with the news at the moment that Bloomsbury Press are to make 8 people redundant, primarily in their marketing department. They claim that this has come about largely as a result of the demise of Harry Potter, although we all know, that as a public limited company it is more to do with keeping greedy share holders happy with their investment. Some are even saying that the company may be the subject of a takeover with Pearson the owners of Penguin, the most likely candidates.

Agents are questioning some of the company's more recent acquisitions - Publishing News mentions £1 million paid to Take That singer and songwriter Gary Barlow, and £400,000 for David Blunkett. Nice work if you can get it.

It seems to me then that if the company is in trouble, then this is the real cause of it all, and nothing to do with the demise of Harry Potter. I mean £1 million for a book detailing the memoirs of celebrity singer that will be off the shelves within 6 months of launch? £400,000 for the memoirs of an adulterous MP - is this really what these people are worth, and do their books really sell in these amounts. If so then it says an awful lot about the mentality (or lack of) of the great British public. If you want my honest opinion, it is all just a flush in the pan. The future does not lie with these pile em high and sell em cheap celebrity memoirs, but with the slow and steady sales that come from back list titles that can be relied upon from year to year. There does seem to a change going on in the industry at the moment and a move towards acknowledging the importance of these titles and that is a good thing too.

Don't get me wrong, we do need fresh new blood in the form of new and interesting books, but that is my point. Most of these books may be new, but to the majority of the reading populace they are just not interesting at all. People have better things to do with their time than sit around and read celebrity memoirs and other such rubbish. They may appeal to a certain brand of 20 something Heat magazine reading blondes, but these readers are very much in the minority. It is the baby boomers of my age (40 somethings) that they should be catering for much more, as not only do we have the spending power to buy many more books, but there are also far more of us ....

Everything though today seems to be aimed at the young - I hear it all the time - young people this, young people that, well most of them wouldn't be here if it wasn't for their slightly more middle aged parents - and we don't get a look in ! Our time though will come, as everything moves in circles.

On a personal note, I have been offered a job ! Before you get too excited I am not going to be the Acquisitions Editor at some big publishing house, but a part time sales consultant for a local retailer.

The job is not particularly well paid (the basic salary is just above minimum wage), but with bonuses the opportunity is there to earn a lot more. Apparently their top people can earn bonuses of several thousand pounds (perhaps I will be able to afford an ad in the Bookseller!).

The hours are 10am to 3pm 4 days a week (Monday to Friday), which means that I will still be home in time to carry on my telemarketing campaign. The best time to make these calls I have discovered is late afternoon, as Managers tend to have meetings with reps in the morning and then have late lunches. I start on Monday 19th November. Wish me luck!