Authors and publishers at odds over book shredding -- and broken contracts

The American Booksellers Association held its annual convention here earlier this week, but Alvah Bessie was not invited. While other authors hawked their books to the 17,000 attendees, Mr. Bessie stayed home, rueing the day he sold his novel to Holt, Rinehart & Winston Inc. The publisher shredded the last 3,000 copies, allegedly in violation of Bessie's contract.

Publishers shred books to keep down inventory and save money on taxes, says copyright lawyer Brad Bunnin. Problems arise when authors are not informed in time to buy copies of their books.

``I think there's a general tendency on the part of publishers to ignore contracts,'' he says.

But some authors are fighting back.

The National Writers Union, which went to bat for Bessie, has asked Holt to pay him $8,000, the estimated cost of reprinting the 3,000 books. This is the first time the union has tackled the issues of book shredding and contract breaking.

Bruce Hartford, president of the union's San Francisco Bay Area Local 3, says three of the 300 local members -- including Bessie -- have had their books shredded in violation of written contracts.

Mr. Bunnin, also a union member, attributes the problem to oversight rather than to malice. ``It's collective memory,'' he says. ``These are very large organizations with lots of parts, and the parts don't always coordinate.'' His advice to writers: Get everything in writing. -- 30 --

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