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Industry News: Penguin Sues Authors; New Nooks; Libraries, Publishers Tangle on e-Books

September 29, 2012

Penguin Sues Authors Over Advanced for Books They Never Delivered

Blogger Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette) is one of several prominent authors being sued by Penguin group to recoup advances for books they never delivered. Cox is being sued for the return of an $81,250 advance, plus $50,000 in interest. Elizabeth Wurtzel (Prozac Nation), New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead, and Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat. The suits, filed in New York State Supreme Court (which, in New York, is an entry-level court, not an appellate court), totals almost $600,000 from a twelve authors. In spite of the contractual terms, many think Penguin is not justified in seeking the damages. In the greater scheme of things, though the total amount is large, the individual amounts are typically below $50,000, amounts publishers have traditionally written off. Trident Media Group president Robert Gottlieb hinted that if Penguin targeted its authors this way, he would not submit any of his authors’ books to Penguin.

What this means to you: Advances have been shrinking, and the publishing industry is looking to recoup money wherever it can. This probably means that you should deliver a book you took money to deliver–though in fairness, it’s not always the author’s fault a book is never delivered. Sometimes tastes change and book doesn’t happen. Personally, if I were a writer who delivered on what I received advance money for, barring extenuating circumstances, I might not see the problem with this.

B&N Releases New Nooks

The march of technological obsolescence continues unabated. That Nook Color you bought a couple years ago is not another generation older. Barnes and Noble has released two new Nooks–the 7″ Nook HD and the 9″ Nook HD+. The tablets have hardware improvements, as well as a sharper definition in their screens, and new Nook services, such as video purchase and rentals. The new tablets are slotted to compete with the iPad and Kindle Fire, but with a lower price point than the iPad. The 9″ tablet costs $269, and the 7″ tablet costs $199. Although sales have been constant, revenue from the devices has fallen as prices fall.

What this means to you: The Nook is one of the reasons B&N is still around and Borders isn’t. They are good products, but face steep competition from Amazon and Apple. Even if the products are good, an increasing number of niche books aren’t available for Nook. (Two recent books I’ve wanted to read, one by P90X guru Tony Horton, simply aren’t available as e-books, except through Amazon.) If the Nook fails, Barnes and Nobles’ future becomes more precarious.

American Library Association (ALA), Association of American Publishers (AAP) Face Off Over E-Book Prices

Last week the ALA released an open letter indicating their frustration with publishers over e-book pricing, licensing, and availability (three of the big six don’t currently offer e-books to libraries). The AAP fired back, indicating that there are still complex technical, financial, and operational challenges. When the two groups met this week, discussions were heated but cordial. In particular, there was discussion over whether libraries (and by extension, patrons) should have the same access to e-book as printed books, or equitable access. The same access indicates the same pricing model, while equitable process indicates the same availability. Three of the big six offer libraries e-books with a license that has a significantly higher price than those available to the public, with the assumption that the book will be loaned multiple times. HarperCollins limits the number of e-book loans in its licensing.

What this means to you: It means you’ll have to pay to read some books in digital format. Although libraries are frustrated with pricing, they’re more frustrated with availability. It seems that if half of your competition can resolve technical, financial, and operational issues, you might be able to do it, too. If you want to.


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