TIPM Weekly Brief: Sunday, 6th October | Frankfurt, Goodreads, Damn Reports, Apple, Tate That and a Comparison Database!

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Contents
  • Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 is here! 
  • Coelho on his way to Frankfurt… NOT!
  • More on Goodreads Policy Change
  • Reports and Damn Reports – The Good!
  • Reports and Damn Reports – The Bad!
  • Amazon and Vive La France!
  • An Apple and A Cote!
  • Tate That!
  • Shall I Compare Thee to a Comparison Database or NOT?!


Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 is here! 

The publishing industry is already on route to Frankfurt, Germany for one of the biggest books fairs outside of BEA and London. The Frankfurt Book Fair officially commences this Wednesday, October 9th and runs until the 13th. Actually the event will kick off on the 8th with a new pre-conference academy think-tank called CONTEC, specifically created this year to examine the complexity and needs within today’s publishing industry.

“CONTEC Frankfurt features a global roster of over 60 speakers from more than 20 countries, and a programme that integrates the interests of the entire international publishing industry – trade and educational publishers, agents, techies, authors, librarians, and more. CONTEC reflects an industry in which publishing and technology have already been fully integrated. The one day conference will offer a look at how the publishing experience is changing now that these worlds have converged. CONTEC goes far beyond the talking head lectures of most publishing conferences: Sessions will be completely focused on dialogue and exchange. The goal is to allow everyone to learn from one another – and to create working relationships in the process.”

Coelho on his way to Frankfurt… NOT! 
In an interesting aside, Brazilian bestselling author, Paulo Coelho, has cancelled his appearance at Frankfurt over the Brazilian government’s failure to invite authors of popular genres, such as fantasy and science fiction, as part of its official Guest of Honour program at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. Publishing Perspectives ran more detail on this story as well as citing an interview did with German newspaper Die Welt. Coelho’s decision, while he states he has much respect for the Frankfurt Book Fair and personal friendships with the organisers, may be also motivated by his historical experiences of authority in Brazil when he was younger.
 
More on Goodreads Policy Change 
On our last TIPM Brief, we linked to a number of posts on the recent policy changes by writing and review community platform Goodreads. Just after this April Hamilton, founder of Publetariat, wrote this lucid and illuminating piece on the whole debate. I won’t rehash the whole debate here again, so you can take a look at the previous TIPM Brief – Heroes, Villains and Statistics of September 27th here if you want to catch up on what the whole rumpus is about, Hamilton’s piece is also well worth a read here.

“… while I agree it’s fair for reader-reviewers to share their personal opinions about matters other than a book’s specific content, due to the libel and false allegation issues, I think all such sharing should be handled more privately or entirely off-site from sites like Goodreads and Amazon. Some reader-reviewers have said they really want to know if there’s a suspicion of plagiarism or criminal author behavior, because such information truly can guide purchase decisions. However, given the enormous and somewhat anonymous nature of the internet, it’s unreasonable to expect site owners and administrators to fact-check every allegation made in any of the tens of thousands, or even millions, of posts on their sites. Yet if they do no fact-checking and let potentially libelous allegations remain in place on their sites, they can be held liable in a legal proceeding.”

Reports and Damn Reports – The Good!
Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting has published one of the most extensive reports on the global e-book market and it is well worth a read considering it is often so difficult to get hold of reliable e-book data that can be trusted and without some form of marketing spin attached to it. The report is 100 plus pages long so if you choose to download it, you can do it for free for a limited time (until November 1st), but do set aside some time! You can find the report’s download link here (PDF).

Reports and Damn Reports – The Bad!

We previously reported on this in our last TIPM Brief; The State of Independence 2014 Report, aimed at the changing face of publishing and, clearly, self-publishing authors, because it’s actually compiled by James O’Toole (some more of his background is here), founder of self-publishing service and soon-to-be new kid on the block – New Publisher House. As we previously stated the report (or rather the Executive Summary – because that’s all that is available of it to download) makes some pretty extraordinary claims on the surface about the ‘potential’ financial value of the independent publishing market. We questioned the reports claim that data was based on Google and Amazon and other online sources, considering Google and Amazon share so precious little real data of value, and Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware probed a little deeper and invited a response from the author of the report – James O’Toole – and this was the illuminating response:

“[The report] took a great deal of work. Unlike other industries, reliable data is scarce and a company like Amazon doesn’t provide detailed breakdowns in its financial filings or even earnings calls. So how was I able to do it? I’ve produced business cases and market reports for major corporations across a range of industries. I also co-managed the Rich 200 list for Australia’s leading business magazine, BRW – Australia’s equivalent to the Forbes 400. This required establishing valuations on assets for which there was little public data and required lateral approaches (I had wondered about those valuations until one of Australia’s richest people asked me how I was able to so accurately calculate their net worth).

“I decided to put the research into a report I’ve called State of Independence 2014 and share it because of the startling information I uncovered. Unlike most industry reports, I’ve actually gone into detail about the methodology so people understand the data and can assess for themselves their validity. This is the Executive Summary. It gives the key findings and table of contents. For those interested, the full report (which has sources and methodology) will be released with our crowdfunding campaign.” 

It seems Writer Beware and TIPM reached the same conclusion – until we actually see the real data behind the report, you can take it with a big fat grain of salt, because so far, it amounts to nothing more than marketing spin from a new self publishing provider.

 

Amazon and Vive La France!
Last week the French government approved a law preventing Amazon from shipping discounted books for free. The measure is designed to protect embattled independent bookstores. The Lang Law, to give it its proper name, applies only to new books and it will not regulate Amazon on other products. According to the New York Daily News, “it is likely to spark lawsuits later down the line.”


An Apple and A Cote!
Apple, not surprisingly, has appealed Judge Denise Cote’s ruling on September 6th in the e-book price-fixing case with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Publishers Weekly on Friday:

“The appeal comes as the legal battle over Apple’s potential monetary damages is growing more contentious. Apple attorneys are fighting to limit collateral estoppel—that is, the degree to which liability in Cote’s verdict in the July price-fixing trial translates into liability in the state and class action suits. Cote has ordered Apple and the states to confer and come up with a stipulation of liability, but those talks have gone nowhere. In September, Judge Cote put Apple’s damages trial on a swift schedule (which Apple attorneys strongly opposed) that could see a trial as early as May of 2014.

 

“The question now is whether Judge Cote will agree to stay the proceedings in her court while the appeal is sorted out. In August, Cote declined to grant Apple a stay, following a filing by Apple arguing that the judge made significant errors in the trial, and that it was likely to prevail on appeal.”


Tate That!

There is an interesting piece in thestar.com (US online edition) concerning a book published by Tate Publishing (a partnership publisher we reviewed on TIPM back in 2011) in July 2013. Barbara Coloroso, an expert in the area of parenting and bullying, has filed an injunction in Ontario’s Superior Court against former co-author, Andrew Faas. It seems the pair agreed to collaborate on a book, a companion piece to Coloroso’s 2002 international bestseller, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander. The book was submitted to HarperCollins and a contract was signed in 2011. However, Fass argues that the deal with HarperCollins was terminated because Coloroso failed to complete her part of the book on time. Time passes, and Fass submits a book to Tate Publishing this past summer called The Bully’s Trap.

“He sued her last year for $1.1 million, alleging in a statement of claim filed in Superior Court that she unilaterally terminated their agreement with HarperCollins, thereby breaching their contract.
 
“In a $1.5 million countersuit, Coloroso claims it was Faas who breached the contract by committing ‘blatant acts of plagiarism and copyright infringement’ from sources including Wikipedia. She says she ended her association with Faas when he refused to remove plagiarized text she discovered in his portions of their joint manuscript.”

The article in thestar.com goes on to state that the newspaper obtained a copy of Faas’s book published by Tate and ran it through a computer program that checks for plagiarism. The newspaper identified ‘more than two dozen passages that contain strong or word-for-word similarities with online sources such as Wikipedia.’

Faas has said that with the assistance of Tate Publishing that after the book was withdrawn from distribution, they have now revised the manuscript of The Bully’s Trap so that all concerns have been addressed. According to thestar.com article:
 

“[Faas] argues there is “no basis for injunctive relief,” because “I am willing to refrain from future publication of The Bully’s Trap pending advice from Coloroso as to any concerns she has with the revised manuscript.”
 
Of course, perhaps the more pertinent question is why Tate Publishing didn’t pick up on the parts of the book which included word for word similarities with online sources including Wikipedia, presumably without even acknowledging them.
 
Shall I Compare Thee to a Comparison Database or NOT?! 
On September 27th, TIPM reported that Bloomsbury, through its Writers’ and Artists’ resource website, had launched a comparison database for writers. On face value it looks useful, a way for authors to select the right fit for their self-publishing needs. But as I indicated in that post, ultimately, the comparison database has several issues, but specifically, it lacks any quality criteria for the companies listed in the database, everything from the good, the bad and the ugly. While Bloomsbury state in their FAQs that the comparison database is not a list of recommendations or endorsements of companies and services, it’s hard to know if the database does more harm than good. The information you get out is only as good as the choices you indicate on multiple choice ticked boxes, and crucially comes without the proviso of any guarantee of quality or reputation of a company. Sure, is it better than surfing Google if you are an author looking for an editorial service, printer or self-publishing service? – well, maybe, maybe not.
 
First some background
 
Authors from the USA, who have been following this story for the past week might be wondering what all them Brits over there are fussing about. Let me try and equate this for our USA based authors. Bloomsbury, one of the largest independent publishing houses in the UK (J. K. Rowling’s publisher) has for many years also published the UK’s most established and respected writers’ reference yearbook – The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. This is THE go-to book for career authors looking for a reputable agent or publisher, and includes many valuable articles on marketing, trends etc. It’s USA equivalent might be considered Writer’s Market.
 
The W&A Yearbook is a handbook I often recommend to authors, even those authors outside the UK, because it also includes extensive listings for the global publishing marketplace. Bloomsbury has been slowly expanding its gamut of resources for authors over the past couple of years, including writing courses and academies, conferences, and this has also been reflected through its W&A online website. Much of this expansion of resources has included a healthy embracing of the changing landscape of publishing, digital publishing, and the explosion in self-publishing.
 
All sounds pretty good so far, if you are prepared to park the fact that the W&A comparison database only lists publishing services based on selective criteria, not quality or reputation. What the comparison database does is then present a user-author with a list of companies/services as a best match. Having run a number of tests on the database, using multiple criteria, most of the lists present the author with a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. Some of the companies I would consider highly reputable sit right along side some of the most disreputable companies in the self-publishing service business. Combine that with the fact authors are invited to ”Request Personalised Quote’ from the companies listed. The company can then contact the author directly and that may result in an affiliated fee for Bloomsbury/W&A.
 
The Alliance of Independent Authors
 
Over last weekend, ALLi – The Alliance of Independent Authors, posted the following blog outlining why they could not endorse the W&A comparison database, also revealing that the organisation had worked with Bloomsbury on the development of the project earlier this year.
 
ALLi worked with Bloomsbury for some months on a potential rating system for this new comparison website. We were excited to think that Writers & Artists was producing a website that would be of value to authors and were pleased to be invited to rate the providers  and provide a system that would do that. 
A challenging task. 
Four members of our Watchdog team — Mick Rooney, Ben Galley, Philip Lynch and I — spent a great deal of time and thought working through a pilot trial, to ensure that the ratings provided would be robust and meaningful. 
We did come up with a system that we were proud of but in the end it became clear that service providers, not authors, were the focus of this endeavour. 
Feeling that authors were not being well served as the vision unfolded, we withdrew.

ALLi Watchdog Warning.

Writers should be aware that:
  • The suppliers on this comparison site pay to have the author’s contact details passed onto them as a “lead”.  ALLi asked that this would be made clear to authors using this service.  As far as we can see, this key information does not appear anywhere on the W&A website.
 
  • Good services like Silverwood books, Matador, Ingram, Amazon, Kobo, Mill City Press etc. appear beside some companies who are the worst in the business, without any way for an author to differentiate between those who serve writers well, and those who exploit.
ALLi is disappointed to find that none of its concerns have been taken on board by the team at Bloomsbury.

 
You will note from the above ALLi blog post my involvement in the project. I disclosed this fact to readers of TIPM in last Friday’s post when the W&A service was formally launched, though a proper blog post to clarify the launch of the service did not appear until Monday, September 30th, and struck me more as a reaction to the ALLi post and a reaction to some of the negativity expressed. The W&A blog post at least went some way in attempting to address the points raised by the ALLi post and it makes reference to fees and also the expectation of feedback.
 


The next stage: 
We are, of course, expecting lots of feedback from writers using our service, and we’ve already planned how we’re going to put this to good use.  Once we’ve received sufficient data from writers, a second ratings section will be introduced in the results table.  This will allow authors the opportunity to filter results by both ‘Best Match’ and ‘User Reviews’, further strengthening the transparency of the platform and allowing freelancers to rank alongside established companies established within the industry.

A number of people representing ALLi worked on this project and our task was to come up with a robust assessment structure using raw data (supplied by Bloomsbury) from a questionnaire filled out by multiple providers. During the project, as we continued to develop and apply the assessment process, it appeared to the ALLi team that overall vision of where the project was leading was at odds with the Bloomsbury vision. On the surface the comparison database may appear to be author focussed, but we eventually reached an opinion that it was becoming more provider-driven, and would ultimately not include the quality assessment we had so impressed on Bloomsbury as being vital for our continued involvement. Looking at what the comparison database has now become only reinforces ALLi’s decision to withdraw from the project.
 
The Writers’ & Artists’ website, and its brand, is one authors have trusted for many years and for good reason. It’s a resource for authors who need guidance, as well as valid, worthwhile and trustworthy information. I can remember a time when the W&A Yearbook would not even include listings of publishers who charged fees for services. Indeed, the W&A Yearbook often included warnings about the pitfalls of self-publishing and how authors should be very cautious. Well, with the new publishing landscape, that caution seems to have been thrown to the wind along with the authors who go to it as a trustworthy resource.
 
I said on Friday 27th, when TIPM announced the Bloomsbury launch of the comparison database, that my biggest issue with this is its lack of quality assessment. That kind of assessment takes time and knowledge of the publishing service industry, the whole reason ALLi agreed to work with Bloomsbury, because we believed this was the strongest asset we brought to the project, and, yet, it’s the very thing Bloomsbury threw out with the bathwater. It simply isn’t good enough to argue that service reviews posted by authors who have used a company is an adequate replacement for proper professional assessment of a company and its services. Frankly, I suspect, in light of the ALLi response to the comparison database, that this is actually an afterthought. The real problem here is that Bloomsbury is attempting to approach their new service as if it were a book review website. Reviews of a publishing service are entirely arbitrary, subject to general opinion and personal likes and dislikes, and more to the point, every author using a publishing service has their own mark of satisfaction and quality – that may not be their neighbours mark of quality.
 
Let me expand this point a little further because it will lead me into how this news has developed over this week, and in particular, the thoughts and words of ALLi Watchdog, Ben Galley. I know many authors who have used publishing services run by Author Solutions (AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse etc), and, while I know of many horror stories and experiences of some authors, I also know there are also plenty of authors who are happy with having used these companies. And that’s fine, too, so long as they are happy with what they got.
 
The point I make here is that one author’s measure of value and quality of service may vastly differ to another author’s measure of it. I firmly believe that armed with all the knowledge I have from working in this industry over many years, and the aims and values ALLi hold, they probably would reach a different conclusion on the above mentioned companies had they been armed with all the information. That’s fundamentally why I believe using author reviews on a publishing service is NOT a clinical and core assessment of real quality – it’s simply an arbitrary opinion. The other issue I have with using author reviews of publishing services is that authors who have had a bad experience often don’t write reviews publicly because they feel foolish, duped, silly, embarrassed and ashamed that maybe in hindsight they should have known better. Those feelings can last a long time before frustration and anger take over. It’s privately that TIPM, Writer Beware and ALLi hear about many of these cases.
 
Ben Galley – I shall not compare thee … 
 
This takes me to ALLi Watchdog, Ben Galley, who holds a strong and principled view on this. Galley was asked by Bloomsbury this week to write a piece for their author Learning Centre and replied in a blog piece – WHY I DISAGREE WITH WRITERS’ & ARTISTS’ NEW COMPARISON SERVICE:

“So when W&A recently approached me, asking for content for their learning centre, I was interested to see if they had taken the advice of ALLi on board. It was extremely saddening to see that they hadn’t. Inviting me to contribute an article may be a good effort to counteract recommending these providers in the first place. However, given that W&A were made aware by ALLi of just how damaging these providers can truly be, such an article feels like too little, too late.”
In fact, I’d go further here. Bloomsbury is playing silly games. The request to Ben to provide content, in light of his position at ALLi and his views, wasn’t just cheeky, it was downright cynical and a two fingers up to all the authors who have been caught up with damaging publishing services. In Galley’s blog piece, he says:
 


“When our test-run rankings were handed over to W&A for consideration, naturally the ASI companies were ranked poorly, which rather scuppered the commission model. After lengthy discussions, W&A and ALLi parted ways. 


“Now the service has launched, and lo and behold it actively commends these poor providers to authors. In some cases, AuthorHouse and Xlibris actually rank higher trusted providers like Kindle Direct Publishing, and Kobo Writing Life. 


“Why are ASI companies so bad for authors? Surely these multi-million dollar business must be doing something right? At first glance, these companies might seem pro-author. They seem to make it easy for authors, offering all-in-one packages that can take you all the way from manuscript to royalty cheque. Sounds great, until you learn that the price tags of these packages can range from $1,000 to $15,000. (To put this in perspective I spend around £400 publishing my books.)
 
“But under the skin, these packages result in a lack of overall quality, costly investments, and a shackling of the author where prices and agility is concerned. 


“What they are good at, however, is treating authors like items on a conveyor belt. Authors are herded in by zealous salesmen, charged and serviced without any real concern for what the author needs or is about, and then left to their own devices.”

 
 
I’d add a few caveats to the above piece Ben has written, and I think at least some of them are important.
 
  • This is not and should not be a them and us issue (Bloomsbury, ALLi). I think there is a danger of it being construed in this manner, especially from those attempting to see this subjectively. This should be about providing a selection and resource tool to authors on publishing service providers, which is dependable, unbiased, and based on some form of quality assessment.
  • Too often self-publishing advisors can overemphasis Author Solutions (ASI) imprints in the conversation, as if the only poor publishing services out there were all run by ASI. Sadly, that’s simply not true. I understand and appreciate ASI imprints are an easy example to use all the time, but there are other non-ASI companies showing in the W&A comparison database and I would consider some of them less than average or poor.
  • I personally don’t have any issue with ASI imprints being listed in the comparison database, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s a free market world. I do have a problem if by participating in an affiliated fee program, it gets them ranked higher on page listings (Bloomsbury, I might add, deny this is the case and that it is based on user-selected criteria). Some might argue, because of their poor reputation with the savvy author community, that ASI imprints should not be listed at all. That’s as dumb as contacting the Yellow Pages and complaining that you used the services of a car repair company in its listings, and you want them removed because they carried out a poor job on your car before you discovered they also had a dodgy reputation.
  • I believe any watchdog, advisory organisation in this area should have as its aim to guide, inform, engage and improve poor companies/services, and not set out to solely ridicule or destroy a company or reputation as a means to an end. TIPM lists ASI imprints, but the difference here is that all companies are reviewed and stringently rated. Sure, TIPM could ignore any company with a poor reputation, but that’s not going to stop authors using their services. All that would do is actually increase the chances of some author falling foul of the company.
  • ASI imprints SHOULD be listed in the comparison database, but with proper quality assessment, and on that basis, no company should be barred. If you are going to have a worthy comparison database, it can’t be selective on entry.
  • Once you introduce affiliated fees, whether before or after the selection is made, and a company is commended to a potential author, you introduce a financial hierarchy making the comparison database provider-centric, not author-centric. If Bloomsbury need financial backing to run this tool, then either it charges authors on a subscription basis for a quality compiled and assessed database, or it offers advertising space outside of the database pages.
 
If you are looking for further coverage of this story, Porter Anderson has also written a fair and balanced piece on Jane Friedman’s website – Writing on the Ether: Oil, Water, Publishers, Self-Publishers.
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