“Excuse me, which murder are we talking about?”
— Alphonse D’Arco, Lucchese crime family capo
There are so many unsavory messes in the publishing world lately that, when discussing them, I invariably
wind up feeling a bit like Alphonse D’Arco, a New York mob boss who was involved in so many murders
that he famously lost track of which one he was being questioned about when turning state’s evidence in a
US district court in 1992.
I mean... which recent publishing-world lawsuit of truly gothic wickedness are you referring to?
The one where writers filed suit against a major house for excessively creative accounting practices that
involved the publisher funneling money through a foreign shell company in order to avoid paying a fair royalty
rate to its authors? Or the lawsuit wherein, through magical thinking, a major house claims it holds publishing
rights that it never actually licensed? Or do you mean the Department of Justice’s case against five major
houses (who’ve all chosen to settle out of court) for antitrust violations and collusive price fixing? Oh, wait, I
know! Are you referring to the class action suit filed against those same houses by more than 30 U.S. states?
Or am I mistaken, and you’re talking about the lawsuit recently filed by independent booksellers against Amazon
and six major houses?
Sorry, I just have so much trouble keeping track!
(And apparently I’m not alone. A Publishers Weekly article noted in March: “If you’re getting weary of publishing-
related lawsuits dragging on in the Southern District of New York, you have company.”)
Or, to give another example... which publisher’s recent financial mess wherein the authors got shafted are
you talking about?
The one where the publisher that was going bankrupt started selling off publishing rights it didn’t actually
own? Or the mess where a major house’s releases haven’t been distributed through the biggest bookstore
chain in the US, due to negotiations going badly between the two corporations, thus ensuring a nosedive of
print sales and earnings for the authors? Or are you referring to the recent mess wherein a small house in
financial trouble may be acquired by a bigger house and the contracted authors have been advised to sign a
document accepting new, unfavorable terms or else see their publishing rights embroiled in the quicksand of
I get so confused! Who can keep all this straight?
When reviewing these messes, I am reminded of an episode of MI-5, a British TV show to which I am
slightly addicted, called “Legitimate Targets,” in which a frightened dupe who got into ill-advised business
transactions with the wrong people asks his stern interrogators at MI-5, “What’s going to happen to me
now?” And one of the spooks replies, “Bad things.” Yep.
Of course, unless you’re directly involved in or damaged by one (or more) of these publisher messes—
and many of you are, in fact—you don’t need to remember the specifics of any of these incidents or to keep
them straight. (However, I find them all so appalling that, despite my confusion, the details tend to be seared
TOC -> Page 19 ->