09 September 2004

Not Necessarily News

  • The NYT reports that Barnes & Noble's publishing operation is making the publishing industry nervous. Far be it from me to object to most things that make the publishing industry nervous—it's hard to think of a more-deserving target for competition—but I have serious doubts that B&N is the right party to do this. Leave aside one of my lesser pet peeves—antitrust—for a moment, and just consider the apparent conflict of interest.

    Anne Roman, a spokeswoman for Borders Group, said that once Sterling was purchased by Barnes & Noble, "we saw it as a fundamental business conflict." Rather than support a competitor financially, Borders stopped carrying Sterling books. (Borders is also expanding its own small publishing operation, introducing a new line of illustrated cookbooks and art books this month and a line of trade paperback classic novels next year.) Other publishing companies are generally circumspect in their public comments about Barnes & Noble, largely because the chain accounts for more than 15 per cent of the industry's sales.

    (fake paragraphing removed for clarity) Then consider the abusive contracting practices; I've tried to assist in removing Sterling Publishing's (which is in New York, and is not the vanity press in Pittsburgh) most-abusive and unnecessary provisions, and been told that those provisions are nonnegotiable.

  • On the other hand, some booksellers seem to have made the Internet a lifeline, and not an impediment. <SARCASM> Of course, this story comes from the UK, which is only the second-largest English-language book market at present, so it can't possibly have any relevance to Murikan practices. </SARCASM> But then, the pleasures of most used bookstores are somewhat overrated, considering how poorly arranged most of the collections are, particularly in serious nonfiction; then there is the problem of radically incompatible pricing schemes, which makes comparison-shopping difficult. And I like to comparison-shop when the used book I'm looking for runs from $60 to $110, and it's not even a rare item.
  • The NYT offers further proof that the lower the stakes, the more vicious the politics. I can't really comment on this story, primarily because it tells itself. As one individual quoted said, "'It's all so gossipy, nasty and malicious.'"
  • On the other hand, when the stakes really are high, the story reporting them tends to get buried. I don't think that the fact of registering a drug study could, in any reasonable way, be considered as "divulging proprietary information in clinical tests that are in very early phases," as a drug-industry spokesman is quoted as saying. The registration information requested is pretty minimal; and the registration itself could be treated as confidential until the study is completed, at which time secrecy is pretty much blown anyway. But expecting transparency in this kind of thing seems to be unrealistic.
  • Finally, in a disturbing development in Congress, the entertainment industries have proven yet again that they'd rather use a hammer than any other tool—even when the best tool is a screwdriver. The PDEA, a piece of legislation that is as badly conceived as the so-called INDUCE Act, was reported out of committee in the House. As I've noted before—at length—Prohibition isn't exactly a winning strategy when dealing with a broad-demand "addiction." Given that the entertainment industry has itself encouraged the "addiction," the real question is whether "getting a fix" must remain on its terms. Historically, the only effective means to combat piracy, whether in tangible goods (I'm thinking particularly of Korean "counterfeit" designer clothing in the 1980s) or otherwise, has been making the "real thing" available at a low enough cost and high enough quality that piracy become economically unrewarding.