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In an open letter this month addressed to members of the Authors Guild, the organization’s vice president, the American author Richard Russo, has warned that tech companies’ operations in the content space may increasingly threaten writers’ livelihoods and recognition.

“Traditional publishers may have underpaid us,” Russo writes, “but at least to them we were poets and painters and songwriters, terms that implied both respect and ownership of what we made, at least until we’ve sold it to them.

“The tech ethos is different. To them, we’re often seen as mere hirelings. And since those who hire us are in the business of business, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to pay us as little as they can get away with and to make certain we understand that we’re mere workers, not partners in the enterprise.”

The commentary is a follow-up to Russo’s 2013 letter to the membership. In this message, he touches on favorite points of criticism, including “the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the ‘information wants to be free’ crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by Internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to online sites that sell pirated (read ‘stolen’) books.”

Clearly, there are many with whom to take umbrage.

Five years later, Russo writes to an author-advocacy trade organization that has grown past the 10,000-member mark and has become the lead response group in many issues authors are encountering, from inappropriate trademark efforts to contractual conflicts with publishers.

Most recently, for example, the guild has written letters in support of the writers of Slate and Thrillist, arguing that they should be allow to unionize. There’s probably a clue to the direction the guild itself is going in representing authors in its posting about the new letters: “Few individual writers have any true bargaining power, but collective bargaining gives writers greater leverage to negotiate the terms of their employment.

“The Authors Guild supports collective bargaining for all staff writers and hopes to one day attain similar benefits for freelance journalists and authors.”

Authors Are ‘Often Seen as Mere Hirelings’

Indeed, collective bargaining—one of modern labor’s oldest strategies—may hold value for authors in the future that Russo is predicting for writers.

“The tech ethos is different. To them, we’re often seen as mere hirelings. And since those who hire us are in the business of business, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to pay us as little as they can get away with.”Richard Russo Russo concedes that in some areas, the arrival of tech platforms as consumers of content holds opportunity or writers: “Tech Giants like Google and Facebook and Apple are all moving into the content business, which means (and what a bitter pill this must be for them to swallow!) they need us ‘content providers.’ That means more book options and, for those of us who want to make the pivot into TV and film writing, more opportunities there.” The sword, however, he writes, has two edges. “The conflict, of course, is as old as art and commerce,” he writes, “but today it’s playing out algorithmically and those algorithms have not been designed for our benefit.”

As part of his message to the membership–designed to encourage members to bring in more authors—Russo joins many in talking about a decline in recent years in author incomes, “here in the US, but also in Canada and much of Europe. … A tiny percentage can make a living through writing alone; the rest have to supplement their income by teaching or taking on other work or marrying people with more lucrative careers, strategies that have been known to lead in the end to exhaustion, writing less, and self-loathing (which many of us suffer from already).”

A Penguin Random House author, Russo doesn’t spare the trade in his criticisms: “Traditional publishing continues to consolidate and contract, and many of the largest houses are part of conglomerates that demand books yield the same profit margins as flat-screen TVs, in effect squeezing out important midlist books that were never designed to be bestsellers.

“Writers are often told that the success of their published books depends on their ability to promote themselves on social media. … Despite Guild efforts to spotlight the problem, some publishers continue to offer writers unfair contracts.”

As a summation of the current reality for authors, Russo writes, “Like our friends in the newspaper and music businesses, we’re still getting our asses kicked.”

His most pointed warning of vulnerability lies in his vision of tech content platforms absorbing huge volumes of writerly work without regard for proper protection of the author or journalist and without regard for the value of the human contribution involved.

“If we creators don’t fight, the massive transfer of wealth from the creative sector to the tech sector that we’ve been witnessing since 2013 will most certainly continue.”

Learn more about the Authors Guild here:https://www.authorsguild.org/member-services/

 

Feature Article in Publishers Perspective by Porter Anderson onJuly 23, 2018

The 2017 statistics of the new StatShot Annual Report from the Association of American Publishers show 2.7 billion units moving, and a mild, five-year decline in overall total revenue estimates.

Online Sales: 43.2 Percent Print, 27 Percent Ebook

Days after the UK’s Publishers Association released its 2017 “Yearbook” report on the British book publishing industry, the organization’s Stateside counterpart, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), released news to the press of its 2018 StatShot Annual Report which covers 2017 US book publishing industry statistics.

As in the case of the Publishers Association’s report, members of the organization receive a copy while others can buy it and will find information here (US$395.00).

The top line offered in press material is that in 2017, the US book publishing industry generated an estimated $26.23 billion in net revenue for 2017, representing 2.72 billion units.

Another key point: Publisher revenue for trade books (fiction, nonfiction and religious presses) were reported by survey respondents to be effectively flat at 0.3 percent, increasing by $45 million in 2017 over 2016. Since 2013, or in the past five years, publisher-reported revenue for trade books has increased by some $820 million.

And at Publishing Perspectives, we find this component of the newly released information on the American market interesting: “For the first time, publisher sales to physical and online retail channels were approximately equal at $7.6 billion and $7.5 billion respectively in 2017.

“Within online retail channels, 43.2 percent were print formats, 27 percent were eBooks, 16.3 percent were instructional materials, 10.5 percent were downloaded audio, and 3.1 percent were physical audio or a different format.” Keep in mind that the digital revenues reported by publishers can’t include such revenues that are not reported by online retailers. So the entirety of the market picture isn’t available here, but the comparison of publishers’ reported sales levels to brick-and-mortar and online outlets is interesting.

Publisher Revenue in Billions, 2013 to 2017

 

Year

Trade

Higher Ed

PreK-12

Professional

University

Other

Total

2013

$15.13

$4.81

$3.84

$2.97

$0.30

$0.02

$27.07

2014

$15.43

$4.85

$4.27

$3.09

$0.30

$0.00

$27.96

2015

$15.82

$4.53

$4.11

$3.05

$0.29

$0.00

$27.80

2016

$15.90

$3.96

$3.73

$2.37

$0.28

$0.04

$26.27

2017

$15.95

$3.98

$3.62

$2.35

$0.29

$0.04

$26.23

 

From: 2018 StatShot Annual Report, Association of American Publishers

By Porter Anderson, for Publishing Perspective on July 3, 2018

Built on the site of Madrid’s former industrial slaughterhouse complex, today’s Casa del Lector is filled with the joyous yelps of children meeting storytellers and the reading public encountering exhibitions on reading’s past and future.

Original Idea: Reading Research

During last month’s Readmagine conference in Madrid, produced by José Manuel Anta of the International Publishing Distribution Association, participants had a chance to walk through the Casa del Lector (House of Reading) facility on a late afternoon when the facility was buzzing with family activities.

Commentary was provided by Luis González, director general with the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, which has created Casa del Lector as a nonprofit place of experimentation and habit-building in reading. The physical complex, which adjoins the foundation’s home offices, was created as a cultural center in 1981 and designed by the architectural Ensemble Studio led by Antón Garcia-Abril in Madrid’s Matadero district—once a 48-building complex of livestock markets and slaughterhouses, which closed in 1996.

The Casa del Lector, González told Publishing Perspectives and other visitors, is a hub of activity and community programs particularly for the parents of young children interested in exposing them as early as possible to reading with a goal of building the reading habit into young minds.

“We want to see,” González said, “if these kids are going to be different from others in eight years’ time” because they were exposed to reading at an early age.

He pointed to a large room in which a storytelling program for children was underway. A section of the space had been turned into what looked like a parking lot for strollers, parents lining up the buggies as they brought their children in for the event.

At another point, a kid went sailing down a stairway bannister as the group led by González moved upstairs to look at several exhibition spaces. Making the center fun for kids as well as instructive, clearly is an element of its success.

The building has many flexible spaces that can provide larger or more constrained areas for activities.

“We designed this place for a different purpose,” González said, as he showed the group a beautiful, airy elevated crossover with study desks. “We wanted to have researchers here. We have 40,000 books on readership from our research center. But there aren’t so many researchers” into reading,” he said they discovered.

“So we transformed this place into a self-use, self-service place for the neighborhood.”

Exhibitions and Events in Reading

In addition to its emphasis on reading for children and families, there’s also a strong program in Web design and user experience going on at the Casa del Lector, with workshops and courses on readability and other elements of best practices in online presentation.

And there are exhibitions. Many parts of the colorful, rambling space are given to explorations of digital book formats, historical timelines about the development of literature, and steeply raked seating areas for programming and presentations, in warm, natural wood. A number of the displays are interactive, meant to capture visitors’ imaginations and lead them through inquiries into reading and the place of words in our lives today.

Given special recognition by Spain’s ministry of culture, the installation includes a restaurant and bar area—in what once was a leather tannery—and outdoor spaces for performances in warm weather. And everything, from the emphasis on reading to the foundation’s barrel-ceiling conference center, is connected by long, cobble-stoned walkways and promenades, creating the idea of spaciousness and cohesion.

The total area of Madrid’s Casa del Lector comprises some 8,000 square meters. Technically known as the International Center for Research, Development, and Innovation in Reading, the center was opened in late 2012 and took some seven years to create on the foundation’s plan, as Luis González explained.

He pointed at one point to Gutenberg on a glowing timeline display, and somehow, the Casa del Lector seemed not so far from our most personal understandings of what reading means to us, on that afternoon, slightly overcast, in Madrid.

And in its programmatic materials, the center’s information reads:

“In this space the meeting of the general public and the professional world is favored.

“The adult, the young person, and the child. The word, the image, the art.

“There is no cultural manifestation that, for your knowledge and enjoyment, does not require a full exercise of reading.”

Built in intriguing patterns of red brick and heavy stone, the complex is at once both welcoming and compelling: you can enjoy a stroll down its wide, main avenue, but not without being constantly aware that reading is expected of you—and of all of us.

Maybe the research mission wasn’t such a loss, after all. Some day, Madrid’s Casa del Lector may be the inspiration for deeply programmed and facilitated literary programming in “houses of reading” in other parts of the world.

About

Texas Authors, Inc. is an organization designed to help Texas Authors learn how to better market and sell their books.

We work closely with our partners DEAR Texas, Inc., and Texas Authors Institute of History, Inc., both nonprofits that have created additional programs and events for Authors.

Texas Authors is a subsidiary of Bourgeois Media & Consulting