27 June 2005

Following the Money

No, I haven't forgotten about Grokster—I've just done all the "advance" work I can. The world isn't stopping for it, though.

Even if it appears that editorial consistency and self-awareness has.

I'm going to pick on the NYT today, but it's far from the only (or worst) offender. And I'm going to restrict my comments for the moment to something that I like to think I know fairly well: shenanigans in the publishing industry. Today's NYT contains several related stories that obstinately refuse to follow through on their own implications, let alone the implications of reading them together.

  • Geraldine Fabrikant tells of yet another instance of nepotism in publishing and entertainment: McGraw-Hill. In this instance, at first blush anyway, the nepotism has supported fairly good company financial results. We'll leave aside for the moment whether "innovations" like the digitatization of McGraw-Hill's educational titles was consistent with the contracts with the authors, or is consistent with the contracts it continues to offer to authors (particularly in periodicals). OK, I didn't leave it aside, but still… Then, too, there's the question of McGraw-Hill's involvement in the No Child Left Behind morass, both from an ethical and an educational quality standpoint. The real problem, though, is Ms. Fabrikant's unstated assumption that stock-market performance is an accurate measure of company success. I think I recall a Business Week article or three on problems with that assumption… care to guess who publishes that magazine?
  • Next, Brian Montopoli describes the "innovative" approach that Doubleday is taking toward a "science-fiction tinged novel" that has a priceless—or, perhaps, all too expensive, rather than just priceless—money quote from a publishing-industry figure at the end:

    There are all kinds of marketing gimmicks that go around. But I'm convinced this is not a gimmick.

    No, convincing the nearly clueless "publishing news" staff at the NYT that your gimmicky marketing campaign—one that tries, like a bad show from off-off-off Broadway that compares favorably only to the sixth-grade play at some anonymous suburban elementary school, to build word-of-mouth without any hint of the actual performance—is not a gimmick is not itself a gimmick. Really. And nothing concerning Dan Brown's piece of garbage was a gimmick, either; not even the book itself. (Did I really need to mark this paragraph as "sarcasm"?)

  • Finally, Ross Johnson tells us that—gasp shock horror—even the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood just might have inaccurate accounting, conflicts of interest, and attempts to screw the lowly "talent." What a shock.

    Of course, the biggest shock is the sheer ignorance reflected in other comments in the article. At one point, for example, Johnson remarks that "the Rings book trilogy remains with Houghton Mifflin, which is not a Time Warner subsidiary." It's much, much more complicated than that… and somehow assumes that the film is the primary property at issue, and that everything "should" (in somebody's opinion, anyway) be aligned with the film producer's bank account. It also ignores the ugly story of the competing Ace and Ballentine editions in the 1960s that was set off by trade protectionism enshrined in the 1909 Copyright Act—an irony that should have resonated with the remainder of the story, which sounds remarkably like the consolidation of paperback and hardback rights under a single banner that has been going on in the publishing industry since the 1970s. Or, for that matter, of the consolidation of the "study-aids" industry. Remember all those Schaum's Outlines? Care to take a guess who publishes them (hint: already named in one of these bullet points), and wonder why that publisher didn't just make better textbooks?