Lefty websites are having a field day with this story, particularly Richard Miniter’s whine, “Why is Regnery acting like a Marxist cartoon of a capitalist company?” Miniter, Joel Mowbray, Bill Gertz, Jerome “Swift Boat” Corsi, and Buzz Patterson are suing their former publisher, claiming that Eagle Publishing’s self-dealing — Eagle owns publisher Regnery, as well as the Conservative Book Club, Human Events, The Evans-Novak Report, and various other operations — has cost them significant royalties. The authors receive fewer royalties on book-club sales, no royalties at all on copies that are given away as promotions for Eagle’s other projects, and their sales to book clubs (including the Conservative Book Club) don’t count toward the Nielson BookScan sales figures, which discounts their bargaining power with other publishers.
Now, I work in publishing, and ISI Books, like many publishers, is diversified into other things. We even have our own book club of sorts. So I do theoretically have a financial stake somewhere in this dispute. I also interned a decade ago for one of the litigants, surprisingly enough. I mention all that just for the sake of full disclosure, because none of it affects my opinion of this case: it doesn’t have an ounce of merit, not unless Eagle was actually sabotaging its own publishing arm in order to be able to give away books as premiums for newsletters and whatnot and to subsidize the Conservative Book Club. That isn’t very likely: I’m sure Eagle makes more money from a full-price book sale through an outside vendor than it does from giving away books or selling them at a steep, steep discount through CBC.
The complaint about BookScan is utter tripe, since BookScan doesn’t count any book-club sales. Moreover, given the ideological nature of their work, if any of these authors had published their books with another company, I’m quite sure they still would have been picked up by CBC. That undercuts the authors’ claims about lost full-price sales, too, since again they still would have sold a lot of books through book clubs, including CBC itself, even if they had signed with another publisher. I know just what a hard bargain CBC drives with other publishers: they don’t take a book unless the discounts are extraordinary, to the point where smaller publishers can barely make a profit through such sales, assuming they can make a profit at all.
As for the free copies given away as premiums, I suspect that’s what happens when Eagle finds itself stuck with overstock of some poorly selling or vastly overprinted title. It’s true that there’s a huge amount of self-dealing involved in Eagle’s activities, but some of that redounds to authors’ benefit — selling books that otherwise would not have sold and, if not explicitly promoting these books through Eagle’s other arms, at least creating an environment (not to mention a wide network of contacts and associations) in which these books can flourish.
The lefty blogs are jeering at the hypocrisy of presumably fat-cat loving right-wing authors complaining about their capitalist master. But there’s no hypocrisy here, just pure piracy: these authors are out to pad their incomes, which I’m sure were quite healthy already, by any means possible, including a trumped-up lawsuit. You’ll notice that the Times story reports that Miniter, who started this litigation, is already involved in “a separate arbitration initiated by Regnery over a canceled contract.” That suggests to me that this fight is a front in a larger battle with Regnery.
If the authors won, the precedent could create shockwaves in the publishing industry far beyond Regnery–just think about all the diversified concerns that Bertelsmann AG, which owns Random House, is involved in. But precisely because these kinds of arrangements are not so unusual, I don’t think this case any merit. These authors can’t even claim ignorance in their defense: they knew full well how diverse Eagle’s projects were when they signed their contracts with Regnery, which I’m sure pointed out in detail exactly what kind of royalties authors would receive for different kinds of sales.
This seems like as good a place as any for me to make a crack about the Hollywood writers’ strike. I think it’s great. What we really need, though, are some old-fashioned Pinkerton rent-a-cop strikebreakers to come in and club the picketing writers. Film it, release it as a documentary, or a reality TV show, and it’ll be a massive hit. Remember folks, these writers, who churn out the crap that infests multiplexes and flatscreens near you, are striking because they want to raise the price of DVDs and on-line content.
Update 2: The left has been spinning this as a big corporation taking unfair advantage of the little guys, albeit little guys who formerly did the corporation’s bidding. Well, the realities of the publishing industry are otherwise: big corporations or not (and Regnery / Eagle is a minnow next to a behemoth like Bertelsmann), publishers tend to have rather delicate bottom lines. They gamble every time they decide on a print run or accept a manuscript. (And for that reason, they are extremely conservative in the worst sense of the word, to the extent that most publishers are only keen to accept books by established “brands” or that fit neatly into a high-selling genre — like Da Vinci Code knock-offs or, say, right-wing screeds.) Just as it’s wrong to assume that these authors are homeless urchins, it’s not a safe bet that Regnery is just sitting on piles of windfall profits.