My Letter to the Dept. of Justice in the Agency Model Ebook Case

With Monday June 25 as the last day for public comment in the Agency Model and ebook pricing case now before the DOJ I submitted a comment today. This is what I sent in an email to John Read at the Dept. of Justice:

June 23, 2012

Mr. John Read
United States Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Dear John Read,

I believe a competitive book market for authors, publishers, and readers is essential to the cultural and commercial well-being of our country. Because of the public good that a competitive marketplace conveys, I urge you to turn away from any course of action in this matter that would have the perverse effect of boosting and permitting them to continue predatory conduct that they have shown a predilection to practice.

While I know that the government’s investigation has been about allegedly improper conduct on the part of some publishers, I hope you can find a remedy here that does not deliver a new competitive advantage for, one that, given current trends, could surely lead to a less healthy, less competitive book and publishing marketplace, one that would over time lead to fewer titles coming from publishers; less income for creators; and less choice for consumers.

I write with respect for the difficulties you and your office must face in dealing with this matter. But as a longtime retail bookseller, editor and publisher, I know that our industry is balanced on a perilous edge where your decision could lead to a more competitive and fairer book marketplace, or when where a very few players dominate the commercial and cultural space. I hope you will not let that occur.

Sincerely, Philip Turner
Philip Turner Book Productions
New York, NY

Click through to see screenshot of my email to the DOJ

Anticipating a New Way to Sell the Books I Write About to Readers of My Blogs

For book industry pals like me, who’d read and wondered this week about the import of national book distributor Ingram’s acquisition of the digital company, I was excited tonight to read this analysis by friend and industry observer Mike Shatzkin, which anticipates potentially a very dynamic platform, one that could provide thousands of website managers and Internet publishers tools to help them sell books—print and digital editions—directly to their visitors. For my part, I see that it could provide bloggers who write about books, including me, the ability to sell titles directly from our websites to our readers and visitors. I currently affiliate with Powell’s Books of Portland, OR, but that arrangement has long been limited to print copies, with no prospect for selling ebooks, which is the format more likely to be preferred by blog readers, with rapid availability of digital content, and no shipping involved. As a retail bookseller before I was an editor and blogger, with a career-long penchant for sharing my enthusiasms, I’m eager to learn about these new options, and from an industry perspective, I anticipate significant interest from bloggers like me.
Shatzkin speculates that the new platform, combining’s tools with Ingram’s capacity, has the potential to dramatically increase the sheer volume of online bookselling, with the potential to bring along many new types of Web publishers; it could also represent competition for Amazon, hence the title, “Can crowd-sourced retailing give Amazon a run for its money?”
Here you’ll find 1) a screenshot of Ingram’s announcement; 2) a portion of founder Ron Martinez’s optimistic interview with The Bookseller, explaining what the platform provides now, and what it may offer in the future; and 3) some paragraphs from Shatzkin’s cogent analysis. You can read these screenshots by clicking Pause at the upper right corner, and read them in their entirety on the respective websites:  1)  /  2)  /  3).  Ron Martinez

Ebook as Gifts?

When I began my career in the book biz as a retail bookseller, among our busiest months were May and June–graduation season–when young people were often gifted with dictionaries, atlases, books of quotations, and other works of popular reference. The gift book buyers at this time of year seemed to want to say by their selections, “I want you to have a useful book, a pragmatic book of practical instruction that will aid you as you embark on your life’s journey.” To me, this was one of the most ennobling duties of being a bookseller–helping a gift purchaser pay an implicit compliment to their recipient, investing them with an expectation that they would soon be going places in their still-young lives. At Undercover Books, when we gift-wrapped and shipped out or hand-delivered a book selected as a result of this process, I felt it was forcefully communicated to the recipient that their benefactor really cared about them, and believed they would amount to something. Here on the first day of June in 2012, thirty-four years after opening that bookstore–and twenty-six after I became an editor and publisher–I find that while my new vocation yielded many new and unexpected satisfactions, the sacred exchange of helping customers choose gift books like this was one of the things I still miss most.

As e-reading has taken hold, with new models of digital publishing emerging every month, I have often wondered how, and whether, booksellers can find some way to lend the presentation of a free download some of the nobility of the process I always relished. Music doesn’t offer much of a model, where say the presentation of an ITunes gift card lacks appeal. It may well be that giving something insubstantial like a download is just not the same as a gift that has some heft.

I thought of all this today after reading an article at which reports as in so many things related to e-commerce, has already spent some time and corporate brainpower thinking about the gift-buying process, even going to the extent of filing for and now receiving “a patent on what has become a common method of giving presents—a system for selecting digital gifts such as movies, music or e-books, sending an electronic notification to a recipient, and allowing them to download the gift.”

Well, Amazon has the patent they sought, but there’s no sign in the article that they’ve discovered any way of imbuing the purchase and presentation of a download with any special significance. For that, we’ll have to wait for another day, if indeed it ever arrives at all.

Putting Printed Books and Ebooks on Equal Footing

With indie record labels now routinely making downloads of music available to buyers of vinyl LPs, I’m heartened to see a similar strategy taking hold among indie publishers too, with regard to ebooks and printed books. . . . With the print book and ebook initiative announced today, Coach House has demonstrated their continuing relevance, if it were needed–and that of publishers like them– in the burgeoning digital age that publishing has entered. I wonder how long it will be before big, commercial houses are also routinely making ebooks available, or some digital product, available with purchase of a new book. Meantime, congratulations to Coach House Books for leading the way. // more. . .

Chabon’s Hyperbole Undermines his Fair Critique

I suggest that the book industry view the cost savings from the diminishment of print as a kind of “peace dividend” for authors and publishers and other stakeholders like retail booksellers. Parties should share fairly in whatever windfall is to come. I would accuse the major publishers of being shortsighted and dumb and in thrall to old ways, but I fear that hyperbole like Chabon’s will only further degrade the debate and discussion that must proceed between publishers and authors, lest Amazon eventually become the monopoly publisher and bookseller many bookpeople nowadays fear is looming in our collective future. //more

Why Vinyl is Today’s Most Dynamic Music Medium

Consider this remark from Dave W. of Wax Tracks Records in Denver: “I have noticed that at least two or three times a week some father or mother comes in saying that their kid asked for a turntable for their birthday or Christmas present. So it’s not a case of the older generation just giving their turntables to their kids and saying ‘Here’s what we used to play music on,’ but rather the kids saying ‘This is what’s cool and happening right now and I want in on it.'”

Richard Nash Tells All–Or At Least Quite A Lot

Richard Nash is a very smart publishing person, and plenty smart enough to know when an experimental direction he’s taken isn’t working out. As a result, he gave a talk this week at the Books into Browsers conference in San Francisco conceding that Cursor, the enterprise he announced with great anticipation in 2010, hasn’t really […]