Marketplace, September 2006

You can get your money back IF . . .

Marketplace Radio, September 7, 2006

by Ashley Milne-Tyte


KAI RYSSDAL: The book was called “A Million Little Pieces.” Might better have been “A Million Big Fat Lies.” It was billed as James Frey’s memoir. But back at the beginning of the year Frey confessed to having made up large chunks of the story. He did a mea culpa on Oprah and then we all forgot about him. Most of us, anyway. But some of the people who had shelled out good money for what they thought was nonfiction sued. They said Random House, the publisher, had committed fraud. Today, a tentative settlement. Frey and Random House will refund almost $2.5 million, if certain conditions are met. Ashley Milne-Tyte has the details from New York.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: The money is meant to cover lawyers’ fees for both sides and a donation to charity as well as refunds for disgruntled customers. But to get that refund you have to prove you bought the book before the scandal broke in January, by sending in a receipt. Not to mention an actual page from the book. Oh, and you’ll need to submit a sworn statement declaring you’d never have bought the book if you knew certain facts had been embellished. Jim Milliott of Publishers Weekly isn’t quite sure why such stringent requirements are in place — especially, he says, given reader apathy.

JIM MILLIOT:“I would find it hard to believe that they would be inundated with refunds. I think for most people, except for the people who sued, this is a dead issue.”

Neither Random House nor Frey is admitting guilt. And besides, literary agent Ted Weinstein says they’ve both made so much money from the 2.6 million copies sold, they’re easily able to afford this settlement.

TED WEINSTEIN:“And it’s a business decision, and when any of us in the business of selling anything have customers who feel aggrieved, then we need to figure out how do we rectify that.”

Weinstein says the settlement will affect the way publishers and agents handle future books. He only works with authors of nonfiction.

WEINSTEIN:“Already people are being much more rigorous in vetting works of putative nonfiction. Now we have a financial situation that makes all of us pay that much more attention to getting this kind of thing right.”

He hopes this case doesn’t open the door for readers to sue publishers for evermore subjective matters, such as not enjoying a book as much as the dust jacket promises.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.