Book Distribution In America: A Legacy of Corruption With Incalculable Costs

In my last post I mentioned the Publisher’s Group West bankruptcy issue and linked to the New York Times article about it, the Mediabistro post that provided a little explanation, and the snarky parody site, Radio Free PGW. Then I had a long talk with my publisher on the phone, and realized how serious this all is. For anyone who writes, publishes and reads books. Bottom line: get ready to say goodbye to many indy/small book publishers.

The New York Times article quoted an “anonymous” (um, yeah) publishing executive, stating that “authors and readers were unlikely to be affected by the bankruptcy filing”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me explain, with what I’ve learned tonight. Publishers Group West is the largest book sales and distribution company in the US — it is the distributor that my publisher, Cleis Press, uses and PGW doesn’t just do indies but also their parent company AMS distributes biggies like Random House. Here’s their active list of publishers. PGW was founded as company on their own, and then in 2002 became part of a behemoth book distribution company called Advanced Marketing Services. AMS filed for bankruptcy, and as of December 29, 2006, all assets were frozen and are now held. So even though book sales were terrific last year and PGW (and all the publishers they distribute) had a great year, the book publishers’ money now belongs to the court.

The money, exactly, is from sales months September though December — the most profitable book sales months of the year. This is calculated as roughly a third of most publishers’ yearly income. For those months, publishers like Random House are now out to the tune of $43 million. Imagine what’s going on at all the small book publishers, where $20K is like a million dollars to them. Off the cuff legal advice tonight told me that it may be possible that some publishers *might* see about 70% of those funds by the end of the year, but that it will likely take longer, and making it to that point will be the question. I have now received emails on this topic from friends who run publishing companies who have laid off their entire staff. Happy New Year. Say goodbye to small publishers. Only the big boys are going to make it.

The effect this is about to have on the book culture is gruesome. Many small publishers live month to month as it is, and many bank on the holiday season to make it through the rest of the year. Small and indy publishers are valuable for culture and speech, essential in the face of corporate information distribution and represent the foundations of diversity within communications media. When they start dropping out, you better bet readers will feel it, and notice. Imagine a Good Vibrations with only books from Harper Collins in it, or a world without Cleis Press.

And us authors — well those of us who have chosen the path of indy publishing because it’s something we believe in and (most importantly) can say what we want to, even if the money is small change — we’re fucked. I get royalty payments, as do others: it’s the same calculations, none of us are getting the money from our book sales for the last four months. I pay rent month to month; I have just lost a third of my income, and hope that my publisher will recover. I’m out at least four months of rent, boom. Right now I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

Just what did AMS do to screw everyone over so royally? I’m not sure, but they are a dirty, dirty company. NYT tells us that AMS has “been looking for additional financing or a buyer for the last 18 months”, but in the beginning of December 2006 former AMS vice president of advertising Sandra Miller Christie was sentenced to 3 years in prison for her role in falsifying earnings, a scheme that occurred from 1999-2003. A closer look at AMS and it’s like Enron in there. Two other former AMS employees were sentenced earlier in 2006: Marcy Wilson Roke, the company’s former marketing director, was sentenced in June to five years’ probation, with 12 months to be served in a halfway house; Karyn Ann Larko, the company’s former director of advertising for customer accounts, got five years’ probation and a $2,500 fine. The SEC has been investigating AMS for a while: this litigation release from 2005 states that the investigation (beyond Christie) was continuing.

What the fuck is up with these greedy old ladies? More importantly, what is going to happen to the rest of us? The court has granted PGW permission to resume business, so book sales will continue for all publishers — at least, those who can stay afloat with a huge hole punched in their earnings, cashflow and ability to pay debts. What small publishers need now is survival cashflow for the next few months. So if you want to buy a book, buy it directly from the publisher whenever possible. Cleis Press and I are moving forward on all of our book projects and they feel confident that they can survive. But if you’ve ever loved a Cleis book, have ever wanted one, or appreciate what contribution this indy press has made on the world — from queer culture to sex-ed books to erotica — buy a book from their website this month. Or three — not surprisingly, Cleis is now having a sale, buy three get one free, with free shipping.

And what am I going to do?

I told myself I wouldn’t think about it until this blog post was finished.

Update: Felice Newman offers a minor correction, saying “One little correction: PGW doesn’t distribute Random House. AMS is a wholesaler of books from Random House, and all the other large publishers.”

Also, there is now a sizable collection of links to a variety of blogs on this topic over at Edward Champion’s blog. Includes this great quote from Paul Collins: “Innumerable small publishers working with AMS and their subsidiary PGW — just about every good small publisher you’ve ever heard of — woke up in the street on New Year’s morning with their clothes missing and a pair of black eyes.”

Update 1.8.07: Galleycat now has this post with a link to my post (and a quote, thank you), and adds a bit more info about the hyooge conference call PGW publishers had last friday (right before my call with Cleis), and notes that yes, everyone’s in dire straits, all the way to the UK.

Also: Boing Boing posted a link to my post (and quoted, thank you), this a new link and comment about AMS’ monopoly.

Update, reader comment 1.8.07: Adam Parfrey, publisher, Feral House / Process Media emails saying,

“The AMS/PGW bankruptcy will hurt those publishers the most who will
have trouble tiding themselves over without receiving due revenue for
at least a few months. Perhaps things will right themselves with PGW
after the bankruptcy paperwork is settled, but this is what I
understand to be the case. I’m not sure that the 70% repayment after
a year is true, either, since PGW is a separate operation from AMS,
and this book company would fail utterly if the company did not
continue to send out books and publishers were not paid for 12
months. There are people I know that are trying to right this ship,
like Charlie Winton, the same man who sold the company to AMS.

Feral House moved from PGW to Consortium distribution about a year
ago. It’s not an easy thing to move your distribution. PGW still has
thousands of our books in their warehouse, and now we can’t get our
hands on them until this bankruptcy thing is sorted out.

There were at least several big reasons for Feral House’s move, and
one of the biggest reasons was this: I met the AMS execs, and felt
that these people could not, would not understand or appreciate the
kind of books I publish. Got a bad feeling from them. They seemed
like 40 year old Bush-loving frat boys. This in contrast to the old
Charlie Winton, a post-hippie hipster of sorts. Then when I heard of
the SEC investigation of AMS, that was the convincer. Get the hell
out of there. I’m glad I did, no matter the difficulties of moving
your operation.”

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Wish list: Kevlar pasties

* Bra Slows Bullet Fired Into Air in Florida (sfgate) Snip:
“Bingham, who was in town from Atlanta, said she is thankful for the undergarment, which she said was ‘very cheap.’

‘I’d love to have a couple more of those bras,’ she said.”

* Viviane reminds us of the lack of sex blogs ever nominated for the Bloggies, which is now open for noms. Reading her post, I didn’t even know I was once nominated, wow. I never win anything (except the book that got the award) so I’m like, huh, back to blogging…

* Independent book distributor PGW is in bankruptcy (see also): this is a death sentence for many indy publishers. Of course, there is a satire blog about it…

* Gawker, again: Pubes Aid. Don’t you just hate it when a “priceless work of art” gets lodged in the back of your throat?

* I want this pink kettle.

* Beyonce’s boobs in dustruffle bondage (gofugyourself) It really is a hideous gown, but the girls look ready to spring into action. Snip:
“Now, I do understand that for a lot of people, the very promise of a one- or two-gun salute may be precisely why this is a “Best Dress” contender. But as a girl who loves gowns, all I can see is a bodice that looks in serious danger of making her mother cry. Does she want to make her mother cry?”

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O G-spot, where art thou?

Considering that I just turned in the final edits and rewrites on this book last night, reading the following headline produced an explosive, cat-terrifying cinema display coffee shower: Fox Admits G-Spot Not Worth the Trouble (Gawker).

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Best Women’s Erotica 2008: Call for submissions

345850150_46bdcc25af.jpgI’m so excited: I just put a call for submissions up on the Erotica readers and Writers Association for the next erotica anthology I’m editing, Best Women’s Erotica 2008. When I took over the series a couple of years ago, I didn’t expect it to be so much fun and so successful for me. I agreed to take over and edit the series for three years: 2006, 2007 and 2008. The 2006 edition won the Independent Publisher’s award for Best Erotica title of ’06, the 2007 edition is in the running for the same award. I get literally hundreds of submissions for this book, and there’s nothing more fun than reading though juicy piles of superlative women’s erotica for this series! I’m really looking forward to assembling the 2008 edition. The publisher was so pleased with the series’ success that we’re in contract negotiation for another year — it’s great news all around.

If you’re a female erotica writer, please consider my call for submissions pasted in this post, and send only to the cleisbook at gmail address I’ve indicated in the guidelines. Photo via mcdowell’s great “books” photoset on Flickr.

Best Women’s Erotica 2008
Editor: Violet Blue
Publisher: Cleis Press
Deadline: April 1st, 2007.

Please note: Publisher has final right of refusal on all submissions. Payment is upon publication, plus 2 copies of the book; pub date is November 2007.

Best Women’s Erotica is a legendary and groundbreaking yearly series, and is the best-selling women’s erotica collection. Every year BWE raises the bar for explicit erotica written for women, penned by the most exciting female authors, from around the world.

This edition (BWE 2008) is selected and edited by Violet Blue. In this edition, we are looking for fictional stories that seek to push the boundaries of female sexuality, present realistic fantasies and situations, and break taboos. The sex acts depicted must be explicit and realistic in detail. A strong focus on character, predicament, and compelling situations is desired — smart, literate erotic fiction. The desired orientation within the main sexual element of the stories is primarily heterosexual, yet bisexuality and lesbian encounters are also encouraged. The primary focus of the sexual activity must be on the female experience; female pleasure is the main element. A playful, clever approach is welcome, as are intense scenarios.

BWE 06 won the Independent Publisher award for Best Erotica Book of 2006. Both BWE 06 and 07 edited by Violet Blue are very different from past editions — please read a few stories from either book or the introductions for examples of tone. Dark themes (such as breakup, jealousy, infidelity and death) must be exceptional in content for acceptance and are least desired. Do not send sci-fi or fantasy fiction.

Established authors and newcomers alike are welcome.

Desired themes include: Women’s sexual fantasies of all kinds, such as those that feature taboos, fantasies, bondage, fetishes, male anal penetration (such as strap-on play), light S/M, exhibitionism, power-play, voyeurism, seduction, role-play, spontaneous sex, spanking, erotic punishment, sexual surprise, emotional honesty, desire, longing, lust, passion, female fierceness, power (and power struggles), deviousness, meaning, modern themes that involve the Internet and technology, and sublime humor. Above all, include explicit sex.

Paste your pieces into emails and send to: cleisbook at

Editor’s notes: If you send an attachment, I will delete your email immediately. I am not accepting paper submissions. Only three submissions per author. Word count: 2500 to 4500 words is the desired range. Include your name, a short bio, mailing address and main contact email address with your submission. No simultaneous submissions (you will be disqualified), and no reprints. Excerpts from full-length books will be considered. Authors must be female; sorry, no male authors writing under pseudonym. Because of the volume of submissions last year (literally hundreds), I likely won’t be able to respond to your submissions until May. I appreciate your patience in advance.

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In PBS’ Mediashift column by Mark Glaser

Wow — take a quick look at PBS’ MediaShift column by Mark Glaser, where my google is broken post is listed as #3 in The Week’s Top Five “People, Trends And Tech On Our Radar”. What a great thing, to be mentioned in his column like this. It’s interesting to see what my post is on the list with (below Saddam, higher than Ted Turner and The Long Tail). (Thanks, Tony!)

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Google’s apology

On New Year’s Eve, I got an email from Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team. I waited to post this (unedited) excerpt because I wanted to check in with him before doing so. Needless to say, I don’t think Matt had that night off — he emailed me pretty much right after it went up, and it was a full apology. The subject line read, “greetings and apology”:

“I read your most recent post at
and wanted to try to explain a little bit about what’s been going on.
Let me start with last week though and work up to today. I’ve been
digging into what happened with Our algorithms do
know that your site is a high-quality resource, but a chain of several
bad circumstances, including at least one bug, caused your site’s
ranking to drop (as far as I can tell) starting around Dec. 23rd. I
believe fixed data started going out the morning of the 28th, and I’m
sorry that it took that long to put things right.”

A few days later I was also contacted by a different faction at Google, letting me know that they were keeping an eye on me. And that someone there had even ordered a few of my books!

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We’ll miss you, Gabe


A dear friend of mine is getting ready to go serve his sentence in federal prison for two years; he surrenders himself in four days. I’ve known him through the Extra Action Marching Band for many years, and he’s a hottie trumpet player loved by all. He is, in fact, the main character I based my erotic story The Boys In The Band on. A while back he was in a situation that went from bad to worse and he ran from the police; he wound up with a boot on the back of his neck and resisting arrest charges. He’s a sweet, if sometimes naughty, boy and he’s a tech geek — so he set himself up a very cool, slick, simple website to keep him connected with the outside world, complete with an Amazon wish list. What a great idea. We’ll see you in no time, Gabe.

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