The Apple-Publisher collusion lawsuit

In case you haven’t noticed, the Department of Justice has brought a federal lawsuit against Apple, MacMillan, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster over collusion to fix prices. Almost oversimplifying, they agreed to keep book prices high, forcing competitors (and in particular Amazon) to comply. There are lots of nuggets of interest. I’m only going to pick up a few in this post.

First, Hachette, HC, and S&S agreed to settle. MacMillan and Penguin – and Apple – decided to fight. They are fighting because they believe the terms too onerous, and they don’t think they were really wrong to fix the prices.

There are several articles and posts out there saying how even if you’re right, you’re wrong to fight suits like this. The reason is that the presence of all those investigating attorneys poring over not only your past but your present behavior and records dampens everything. It handicaps you, adding overhead (if not in dollars, in resistance) to everything you do.

Me, I’m going to say MM and Penguin are even worse off. Here’s the thing: they (and the others) have this really bad history of how they deal with authors. Talk to most authors with more than one book that’s dealt with these publishers and you’ll get the horror stories. Rounding errors and obscure practices that mysteriously cut how much money the author gets. Claims books aren’t being sold even as the author has checked local bookstores and seen books on the shelves and selling. Delays in publishing, decisions to not sell but not release the rights, and on and on.

And every single one of those is part of the record to be reviewed. Yes, they aren’t, specifically, about price fixing. They are, however, indicative of a legal depravity; of a willingness to ignore law and principle for a few more dollars. When the suit goes to court, they will be evidence for the gray areas, the areas where a practice or act only MIGHT be wrong.

If a known thief picks up someone’s wallet, are you really going to believe they intended to return it?

It is possible that this will spill back to the three settling companies as well. Actually I’m pretty certain it will as the terms of the agreement mean that DoJ is going to be picking through their records as well. They’re not going to find themselves eating the pain of the lawsuit, but they’re going to be exposed and embarrassed and quite likely subject to class action suits on behalf of numerous writers intent on getting the money that was kept from them.

Over the next two years, large press publishing as we know it in the US will end. The outlines will remain, the big houses will probably remain, but the habits and methods and practices of the past fifty years will end.

And this effect will hit a lot of the smaller publishers who operate the same way. Those who are different, who are fair and open with the writers, will get some hits too.

But in two years, if you’re using a “how to get published” guide written before 2013 you can be sure a large chunk is wrong.

Of course it’ll take five year before people realize this. (grin)


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