27 February 2005

Over in England at the moment, antitrust considerations in the publishing industry are really starting to raise their profile. The OFT is, of course, completely silent on the issue. Unfortunately, almost all of the source material available as of yet that has any real chance of being reliable is on pay sites—as a matter of principle and convenience, I don't link to pay sites on this blawg—so you'll just have to settle for my summary.

Over the last several weeks, WH Smith—see, there is a US connection!—has established and begun making threatening noises concerning a rather harsh policy on late shipment of books. (In England, unlike the US, most orders from bookstores still go directly to the publisher.) Needless to say, smaller publishers—many of which are at the mercy of printers who can or do reschedule jobs when paid bonuses by bigger fish, just like in the US—are shrieking that this is unfair, and that it will harm them.

What I find most interesting about this argument is that it is just as loud as is the OFT on the other two bits of traditional lateness that are at issue. The obvious one is lateness of payment from outlets (distributors and bookstores) to the publishers, which is if anything worse than in the US. As you can imagine, that's against some pretty stiff competition! WH Smith certainly doesn't want this discussed. Neither, for that matter, do the publishers, because that might lead to discussion of the even-worse lateness (and accuracy) record of publishers in paying authors and illustrators.

The only winners in this dispute are the printers—the one set of parties that doesn't actually manage books as intellectual property. Printers will be in a position to demand a premium for timeliness on tightly scheduled books (or books otherwise delayed at the publisher). You're an awfully trusting soul if you don't think this is going to happen. By the way, would you care to buy this original letter from somebody named "Edward de Vere" to Christopher Marlowe that discusses "my news't play"? I don't know of any playwrights of that era named "de Vere"…