Turncoat Turow: lawyer turned author defends Apple’s scheme to fix e-book prices.
Last Thursday the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was prepared to sue Apple and five of the largest publishing houses for colluding to fix e-book prices. While it comes as no surprise that wholesale books are sold underneath doctored prices what is shocking is that Scott Turow, President of the Author’s Guild, supports the publishers’ attempts to strong arm customers into buying overpriced books! In a letter that he publicly posted online via the Author’s Guild on March 9th, 2012, Turow defends the accused publishers, saying that “publishers had no real choice.”
“We have no way of knowing whether publishers colluded in adopting the agency model for e-book pricing…given the chance, any rational publisher would have leapt at Apple’s offer…Amazon was using e-book discounting to destroy bookselling, making it uneconomic for physical bookstores to keep their doors open.” (Turow, Scott online letter addressed to the members of the Author's Guild)
He goes on to blame Amazon for meting Border’s death blow and putting it “on it’s knees.” He attributes Amazon’s Kindle and rapidly growing electronic readership for the ruination of the publishing industry and big brand book sellers like Barnes & Noble and compares them to the all-but extinct record-stores.
Amazon’s competitive introduction of self-published and unknown, indie authors creates competition for brand-name mainstream like himself, something he’s keen to bemoan. “For those of us who have been fortunate enough to become familiar to large numbers of readers, the disappearance of bookstores is deeply troubling.”Although more and more data shows that readers more readily buy and upload electronic books, especially from unknown authors, Turow insists that bookstores are still the forefront to sell them,“Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more adventurous in their choice of books when in a bookstore than when shopping online. In bookstores, readers are open to trying new genres and new authors: it’s by far the best way for new works to be discovered.”
While he’s quick to blame Amazon for the disappearance of blockbuster bookstores, he also promotes Apple, claiming that Steve Jobs had introduced an equitable wholesale model that balances on-line publications and bookstores. The irony is that former chief executive of Apple, Steve Jobs is reported to have marked up prices for books which allowed Apple to take an additional 30% cut of the profit. He is quoted as saying to his biographer, Walter Issacson, “We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.” Jobs then went on to impose the model industry-wide, mandating that “You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books.” Jobs’ price-fixing marked the release of Apple’s iPad in 2010 and drastically changed the wholesale policy that book-publishers used to encourage readers to purchase electronic copies.
It turns out that Turow is one of Apple’s leading authors. He and other mega-title authors only benefit from Apple’s strong-arm price fix while the customer looses. New authors being groomed for publicity and success by the big-name publishing companies are threatened, according to Turow, by the independent publishers and self-publishing authors: “For new authors, however, a difficult profession is poised to become much more difficult. The high royalties of direct publishing, for most, are more than offset by drastically smaller markets. And publishers won’t risk capital where there’s no reasonable prospect for reward. They will necessarily focus their capital on what works in an online environment: familiar works by familiar authors.”
Turow’s rhetoric is effusive, but it barely conceals an elitist agenda hidden behind scapegoat logic. By colluding to fix the e-books and dealing a fatal blow to online booksellers and publishers like Amazon, big name publishers and authors protect their reign over the literary industry. Through Apple, Guild members like Turow will have effectively “unionized” what gets published, promoted and sold, thus maintaining their popularity and following as household names. In effect, Turow’s letter to warn the DOJ is nothing more than a sharks’ attempt to keep the minnows at bay. The Author’s Guild and Turow’s vested interest in seeing the DOJ drop the anti-trust charges against Apple leads one to wonder if the AG is backed by Apple’s money. Members of the exclusive Author’s Guild only stands to benefit from the collusion. Turow’s loyalty to Apple highlights the fact that he secures his spot as a national, bestselling author should Amazon lose its ability to play the free market and popularity among e-book readers who enjoy the options and diversity.
Turow’s logic is clear: ally with bullying corporations like Apple to monopolize the market in order to strong arm Amazon and Amazon’s readership with fixed prices, forcing readerships to go elsewhere (read here, Apple’s iBook, Barnes & Nobles’ Nook), thereby diverting them away from the real competition –a growing number of talented and self-published indie writers who are willing to sell their work for under five dollars.
Turow’s blatant support of Apple’s conspiracy sets a biting tone. While lesser known writers struggle to publish with independent companies and compete in a rapidly growing online market, Turow pretends to defend their interests while in fact, ensuring his own. Don’t let Turow’s pity act fool you. Deep down, Turow and other brand-name authors like him hear the reckoning bell in the distance. Before the explosion of online marketing they had an exclusive clutch on writing. The fact is Turow is as talentless as the set of commercial ghostwriters who poop out one sequel of Vampire Diaries after the other. The truth is that the industry is full of potential and ripe for the publishing. Crowd-pleasers like Turow are not rare, they are chosen, hand-picked and groomed by publishers who can stand to benefit from their celebrity. Turow’s letter exposes the Author’s Guild for what they really are- a group of academics and lawyers whose pockets are lined with the money of controlling corporations like Apple. In the end, Turow’s true profession’s won out and he’s proved himself a turncoat to the trade.