Scott Turow, who is president of the Authors' Guild, posted this astonishing bit bewailing the Department of Justice's likely upcoming lawsuit against some large publishers and Apple as a result of their collusion to fix prices in order to slow down the adoption of e-books.
Where to begin? Well, of course, I began over here with:
Aaaand I'm going to continue here with:
We have no way of knowing whether publishers colluded in adopting the agency model for e-book pricing.
Given that Steve Jobs bragged about it, I think it's pretty much public knowledge.
We do know that collusion wasn’t necessary: given the chance, any rational publisher would have leapt at Apple’s offer and clung to it like a life raft.
Gosh, did you know that collusion is a perfectly rational response to competition? Just like fraud is a perfectly rational response to the need to raise money! Of course, it doesn't make either activity any less illegal, because what is in the short-term interests of an individual company isn't always in the long-term interests of society at large.
In addition, Turow seems to think that colluding with Apple to fix prices somehow isn't collusion. I'm sorry, but when Apple invites you to do something illegal, it doesn't magically become legal because the offer came from the Wizard of Cupertino.
In addition to venting about Turow's chop-logic, I really wanted to talk about an analogy that Turow draws that I feel is very apt: He compares authors to musicians.
If you didn't know, once upon a time, a musician needed the support of a record label to become well-known. Record labels unquestionably abused their power, but they were the only real option, so musicians sucked it up and signed crappy contracts and took whatever they were given.
Then digital came along. Record labels did horribly, record stores shut down, and that was that.
What happened to the musicians? Well, artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber looked at something called YouTube and said, "I can make that work." And it wasn't just them: Ke$ha and Katy Perry and Adele and many others have found large audiences and certainly aren't hurting for money. They didn't just rely on a label, of course, they had to hustle and get creative: OK Go and Cee Lo Green have been very open about how they make money in this new world.
But according to Scott Turow, these commercially-successful artists just don't exist--Napster wiped out the music industry back in 1999, and no musician has made money ever since.
In Turow's mind, the fact that technological change was hard on record labels means that it necessarily hard on musicians. But they're not the same thing, and what hurts one doesn't have to hurt the other
Likewise, authors are not the same thing as publishers, or for that matter, bookstores. Since he seems to be unclear on this fact, I'll point out again that Turow is president of the Authors' Guild. Authors write books, and then they need to sell them.
Now, if he were a little more reality-oriented, Turow might throw himself into helping authors navigate the changes that are happening to publishers and bookstores, so that authors can still sell the books they write. Nowadays authors have to hustle and get creative and not expect everything to stay still, but they can indeed sell books and make a good living.
Think of Madonna: She's not still waiting around for Sire Records to recover; she's moved on.
Turow, on the other hand, is still with Farrar Strauss & Giroux, which published his first novel in 1987. I'm sure at this point that if anything bad happened to FSG, Turow would feel like a member of his family had just died. And unfortunately, he can't understand that not everyone is served by their publisher the way he has been served by his. He can't understand that what is in a publisher's interest isn't necessarily what is in an author's interest--in fact, screwing authors is a good short-term strategy for publishers to make money.
Worse yet, Turow doesn't even realize that publishers are capable of doing wrong. Yes, publishers might be worried about Amazon and unhappy with their bottom lines, and the executives involved may be desperate to save their jobs. They might have received a very tempting offer from that beguiling devil, Steve Jobs. That doesn't make what they did ethical or legal. They could have tried competing or adapting; instead they tried price fixing. When faced with adversity, they chose to break the law. That was their choice, freely made, and I will shed no tears when they pay for it.