Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Open Letter from the President of ALA Maureen Sullivan to book publishers

As a founder of, I was delighted to see Ms. Sullivan take on the publishers for their refusal to make e-books available to libraries. The same publishers created a wall which prevents self-published authors to be displayed on library shelves. It is my hope that librarians all over will start accepting books with the Seal, ascertaining that they were "vetted" by our standards, We trust that the libraries will open the gates which the traditional publishing system put in the path of new authors.  Jasha M. Levi

CHICAGO — The following open letter was released by American Library Association (ALA) President Maureen Sullivan regarding Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin refusal to provide access to their e-books in U.S. libraries. 
The open letter states:
It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is “no good here.” Surprisingly, after centuries of enthusiastically supporting publishers’ products, libraries find themselves in just that position with purchasing e-books from three of the largest publishers in the world. Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their e-books for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users.
Let’s be clear on what this means: If our libraries’ digital bookshelves mirrored the New York Times fiction best-seller list, we would be missing half of our collection any given week due to these publishers’ policies. The popular “Bared to You” and “The Glass Castle” are not available in libraries because libraries cannot purchase them at any price. Today’s teens also will not find the digital copy of Judy Blume’s seminal “Forever,” nor today’s blockbuster “Hunger Games” series.
Not all publishers are following the path of these three publishers. In fact, hundreds of publishers of e-books have embraced the opportunity to create new sales and reach readers through our nation’s libraries. One recent innovation allows library patrons to immediately purchase an e-book if the library doesn’t have a copy or if there is a wait list they would like to avoid. This offers a win-win relationship for both publishers and library users since recent research from the Pew Internet Project tells us that library users are more than twice as likely to have bought their most recent book as to have borrowed it from a library.
Libraries around the country are developing mobile applications and online discovery systems that make it easier to explore books and authors on the go. Seventy-six percent of public libraries now offer e-books — double the number from only five years ago — and 39 percent of libraries have purchased and circulate e-readers. Public libraries alone spend more than $1.3 billion annually on their collections of print, audio, video, and electronic materials. They are investing not only in access to content and devices, but also in teaching the skills needed to navigate and utilize digital content successfully.
Librarians understand that publishing is not just another industry. It has special and important significance to society. Libraries complement and, in fact, actively support this industry by supporting literacy and seeking to spread an infectious and lifelong love of reading and learning. Library lending encourages patrons to experiment by sampling new authors, topics and genres. This experimentation stimulates the market for books, with the library serving as a de facto discovery, promotion and awareness service for authors and publishers.
Publishers, libraries and other entities have worked together for centuries to sustain a healthy reading ecosystem — celebrating our society’s access to the complete marketplace of ideas. Given the obvious value of libraries to publishers, it simply does not add up that any publisher would continue to lock out libraries. It doesn’t add up for me, it doesn’t add up for ALA’s 60,000 members, and it definitely doesn’t add up for the millions of people who use our libraries every month.
America’s libraries have always served as the “people’s university” by providing access to reading materials and educational opportunity for the millions who want to read and learn but cannot afford to buy the books they need. Librarians have a particular concern for vulnerable populations that may not have any other access to books and electronic content, including individuals and families who are homebound or low-income. To deny these library users access to e-books that are available to others — and which libraries are eager to purchase on their behalf — is discriminatory.
We have met and talked sincerely with many of these publishers. We have sought common ground by exploring new business models and library lending practices. But these conversations only matter if they are followed by action: Simon & Schuster must sell to libraries. Macmillan must implement its proposed pilot. Penguin must accelerate and expand its pilots beyond two urban New York libraries.
We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s — and tomorrow’s — readers.The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to e-books as they have to printed books.
So, which side will you be on? Will you join us in a future of liberating literature for all? Libraries stand with readers, thinkers, writers, dreamers and inventors. Books and knowledge — in all their forms — are essential. Access to them must not be denied.

Monday, September 3, 2012

How can the indie cause become known?

With an increasing frequency lately, The New York Times has been printing  articles dealing with the technology, economics and marketing of self published books. The latest was about the newly sprung shady business of "review mills." 

Literature is being treated as a commodity and it will continue to be until independent authors accept that it is in their common interest to speak with a common voice and, as an Australian member of the organization suggested, "go on strike". They should start to speak as individuals to their radio stations and to their local press against marketplace pressures which keep their work in fact discriminated against, censored and hidden from the public. The writers are not marketers; and the readers are not sheep who can't be trusted to make a choice of books for themselves.

As founders of The, Julia Petrakis and I have sent the paper the following op-ed article which they have not acknowledged nor printed. 

The readers aren’t given the choice of books to buy

As your Sunday, August 26 article, "The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy" describes, some self-published authors are purchasing literary reviews as if they were car dealers purchasing advertising for Summer Clearance Events.  Forced to become marketers of their own work, their books now treated not as literature but as commodities, many authors have resorted to asking other authors to write favorable reviews on Amazon or to “like” them on Facebook or even, according to the article, to paying as much as $499 for 20 reviews, $999 for 50 reviews.

In today's literary world, independent authors are denied access to the market of ideas simply because libraries and bookstores will not display and sell books that are not produced by “legitimate” publishers. These publishing houses have shrunk from being talent scouts and have been absorbed into multinational conglomerates.  Shy of introducing unproven new authors, they opt for celebrity writers and proven moneymakers, such as respectable porn like 50 Shades of Grey.

Independent authors, finding the gates to mainstream publishing closed to them, are now enabled by technology to readily self publish, resulting in a flood of titles in print and an equal number of writers seeking ways to make readers aware of their existence. However, the playing field isn’t simply uneven; it is closed to these writers and to their potential readers, who are not given the opportunity to choose for themselves which books to buy. 

This is why the two of us, separated by 2914 miles on opposite sides of the country but close by in cyber-discussions among lovers of literature, decided last December to start The in order to stop the ostracizing of self-published authors and to help gain recognition for them and their work. We formed a Working Group of members that developed standards of good writing by which we now offer to review, for free, self-published books submitted to our panels of volunteer reviewers. Those titles that meet the standards receive an award of the indiePENdents Seal of Good Writing, which can then be displayed on the titles. We have already awarded half a dozen Seals and have at least two dozen texts in the pipeline. Our goal is to assure booksellers and libraries that the titles with our Seal are grammatically and structurally worthy of being put out for the public to read and to decide how they rate. 

The current publishing business model is in turmoil. New talent is hidden from readers. We hope that soon authors will no longer have to resort to ruses to offer their works to public scrutiny, and that the readers will finally be given the chance to make a real, not a discriminatory, censored  choice which books to buy.  In the tidal flood of self published titles, there must be some written by a future James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, or even Beatrix Potter, all self-published authors before they were discovered as worthy of a place in American literature and on the shelves of our neighborhood bookstores.