Recognize the difference

From time to time I write, directly or tangentially, about the views offered by Scott Turow, now in his third year as president of the Authors Guild.

My first foray, written in 2010, was an open letter about his views on book piracy. I found them somewhat under-informed, and I offered my thoughts on how he could balance his fears of piracy with a call for more comprehensive research.

Mr. Turow never responded. I didn’t think he would, but it was nice to have hope for a while. Today, the Authors Guild views piracy the same way it did in 2010: it is a scourge, and it must be stopped.

These days, there’s no shortage of bogey men in publishing. A couple of weeks ago, Amazon bought Goodreads, prompting Turow to decry the loss of yet another author-friendly platform.

At the time of the purchase, Jason Boog of Galleycat reported that the Authors Guild saw the purchase as “a truly devastating act of vertical integration”. Mr. Turow added:

Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads is a textbook example of how modern Internet monopolies can be built … The key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat. With its 16 million subscribers, Goodreads could easily have become a competing on-line bookseller, or played a role in directing buyers to a site other than Amazon. Instead, Amazon has scuttled that potential and also squelched what was fast becoming the go-to venue for on-line reviews, attracting far more attention than Amazon for those seeking independent assessment and discussion of books. As those in advertising have long known, the key to driving sales is controlling information.

I have concerns with the purchase, but (as I explained last week) I am less worried about what Amazon might do than what publishers have not done.

There’s more than a little irony in a wildly successful author flaming Amazon, something that author J.A. Konrath picked up on in a comment on Boog’s post:

Grand Central’s acquisition of Scott Turow's latest novel is a textbook example of how modern publishing monopolies can be built… The key is to absorb writers before they can write for another publisher. With his millions of fans, Turow could have easily sold his novel to a competing publisher, or even published himself and made a better royalty percentage. Instead, Grand Central has scuttled that potential and also squelched the chance for other publishers to make money from Turow. As those in publishing have long known, the key to driving sales is controlling authors. This is a truly devastating act of vertical integration.

As I said in response, I wish I’d written it myself. Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads may be a threat to publishers, but it is not a threat to publishing. The Authors Guild, including Mr. Turow, should recognize the difference.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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