January 11, 2006

Readers offered refund for controversial memoir

By Mark Egan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Random House will offer a refund to
readers who bought James Frey's drug and alcohol memoir "A
Million Little Pieces" directly from the publisher, a move
believed to be unprecedented, after the author was accused of
exaggerating his story.

Readers calling Random House's customer service line to
complain on Wednesday were told that if the book was bought
directly from the publisher it could be returned for a full
refund. Those who bought the book at a bookstore were told to
try and return it to the store where it was bought.

"If the book was bought directly from us we will refund the
purchase price in full," one Random House customer service told
Reuters, adding that readers would have to return the book with
the original invoice. "If you bought it at a book store, we ask
that you return the book to the book store."

Asked why the publisher, which normally sells books
directly to consumers as non-refundable, would offer refunds,
the agent said, "because of the controversy surrounding it."

Several other Random House customer service agents called
by Reuters reporters also agreed to pay refunds.

Frey's memoir of alcohol and drug-induced mayhem sold 1.77
million copies last year after being chosen by Oprah Winfrey's
book club in September. But investigative Web site The Smoking
Gun on Sunday reported the book, published by Random House's
Doubleday division, was full of exaggeration and inaccuracies.

Frey, who will appear on Larry King Live to discuss the
controversy for the first time, has called the accusations "the
latest attempt to discredit me."

"I stand by my book, and my life, and I won't dignify this
bullshit with any sort of further response," Frey wrote this
week on his personal Web site, bigjimindustries.com.

Publishers Weekly Senior Editor Charlotte Abbott called the
Random House refunds unprecedented, and said neither she nor
her colleagues "had ever heard of something like this before."

Doubleday suggested on Tuesday it was unconcerned about the
book's accuracy. "Memoir is a personal history," the publisher
said in a statement. "By definition, it is highly personal.

"He represented to us that his version of events was true
to his recollections," Doubleday said.

Central to Frey's book, published in 2003, is his assertion
that he was charged with assaulting an Ohio police officer with
his car, with inciting a riot, with possession of crack cocaine
and felony drunk driving -- charges that he wrote resulted in a
three-month prison term.

The Smoking Gun, owned by Court TV, reported that most of
those claims were not borne out by police records or by
interviews with police and court officials. The Web site
published the police officer's report of the key 1992 incident
which shows Frey was found drunk in his car without a driver's
license but did not, as he wrote, serve time the incident or
behave in the outrageous manner portrayed in his book.

Smoking Gun editor William Bastone told Reuters, "In
off-the-record interviews with us, Frey admitted embellishing
facts in the book for dramatic impact."

Frey has since threatened to sue The Smoking Gun.

The flap is also having repercussions in Hollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter said that a planned film of Frey's
memoir could now need a rehab of its own. The controversy could
keep Hollywood "A" list talent away from the project so as not
to taint their careers, the paper said.

Warner Bros. is developing the project with a production
company owned by actor Brad Pitt and "ER" producer John Wells.

Frey's book was published in hardcover in 2003 and then in
trade paperback with the coveted Oprah's Book Club endorsement
in late September. Winfrey has not commented on the controversy
surrounding the book.

Frey's October appearance on Winfrey's chat show made him
an overnight literary sensation and his book sold more copies
in 2005 than any other non-fiction book. Only Harry Potter sold
more copies. Since the controversy, "A Million Little Pieces"
has remained the No. 1 selling book on Amazon.com.

Random House is owned by German media conglomerate
Bertelsmann AG.