June 27, 2012

America’s biggest indie publishers join together to criticize DOJ lawsuit


Nine of the country’s largest indie publishers have joined forces to criticize the Department of Justice lawsuit against Apple and five of New York’s Big Six publishers, and in particular the DOJ’s settlement terms with three of those publishers, saying it will “harm rather than enhance competition — allowing one large retailer (Amazon) to regain a monopoly or near monopoly position through below-cost pricing.”

According to a Publishers Weekly report, Abrams Books, Chronicle Books, Grove/Atlantic, the Chicago Review Press, New Directions, W. W. Norton & Company, the Perseus Books Group, the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, and Workman Publishing

… combined to file joint comments objecting to the pending settlements of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit with Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster related to e-book pricing. The publishers noted that while they continue to sell e-books under the wholesale model, they have “benefitted significantly” — along with authors, booksellers and consumers — from the ability of the Big Six publishers to adopt the agency pricing model with Amazon, since those arrangements, “contributed dramatically to increased competition and diversification in the distribution of e-books.”

The announcement comes just two days after America’s second largest retail chain, Books-A-Million, also announced it had filed a letter of complaint. As Jim Milliot reported in another PW story, BAM’s letter, from CEO Terry Finley ….

… strikes especially hard at the provisions in the settlement that would impose restrictions on how the publishers can do business with all third parties (including BAM) that were not involved in the lawsuit. Specifically, Finley argued that placing limits on the use of the agency model “will harm Books-A-Million by forcing it to terminate existing vertical distribution, or agency, agreements with [S&S, HC, Hachette] and by restricting its freedom to enter into such agreements post-settlement.”

To recap: Authors, agents, indie booksellers, the country’s biggest chain, and now the country’s second-biggest chain, as well as a group of indie publishers, have all come out in opposition to the DOJ’s lawsuit, each of them citing it as being too supportive of Amazon, which all of them discuss in their letters as a monopoly.

It seems to be the most unified stance ever in the fractious ecosystem that is the American book industry, with more joining every day. The New Yorker, as we mentioned in an earlier MobyLives report, may have managed to find legal experts to say the publishers’ case is unwinnable. But beyond that magazine’s pages, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows anything about the book business who would say the DOJ is doing anything other than the opposite of what it says it’s doing: It is, in fact, supporting the death of competition and propping up a monopoly.

The fact that more and more people have been compelled to say so — wimpy pacifistic publishing people who are afraid to complain about Amazon out loud, executives who haven’t been able to act in concert to correct fundamental problems like returns or discounting for decades, people who no matter what they say don’t believe in a literary ecosystem, especially if it involves thoughtful cooperation that may in turn impact the immediate bottom line, authors and agents and publishers who don’t really trust each other, indies and chains and conglomerates that don’t really trust each other, digital militants and print dinos who don’t really trust each other — the fact of their all agreeing to stand together against Amazon’s monopoly is something more than notable. It’s a damned stirring moment in the fight for literary culture.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives