06 February 2007

It's Almost 265 Here!

Kelvin, that is. And it's snowing, and the roads are slicker than snail snot. The following heartwarming items might help... in a couple of cases, but raising both temperature and blood pressure.

  • The big noise these days is over "media format changes," whether newspapers, music, or online video broadcasting. In the middle of all this excitement over "new stuff" — bringing back too many memories, for me anyway, of the "cable revolution" and of the twenty-year-long battle over whether TV adapatations and film adaptations were distinct rights under the Copyright Act of 1909 — most observers are missing two obvious lessons. First, and perhaps most disturbingly, these battles call the most-common mistatement of Marshall McLuhan's position into question. The medium is not the message; it is a part of the message at most, and usually much less than that. Second, notice that the actual controversies concern neither content nor medium — only the commercial delivery channel. What that implies for the publishing industry is left as an exercise for...
  • nobody in particular, because nobody is paying much attention. On the one hand, we've got the question of "opting out" of the curriculum on religious grounds. I've experienced this battle first-hand in the local school district; a few years back, a misguided group of adults (most of whom were not even in the district!) objected to inclusion of some national-curriculum materials in AP classwork in the local public high school. Their arguments indicated that they had no understanding of the material, and probably had not even read it.1 The School Board partly stood up, but also allowed the student(s) to opt out of the particular work. Of course, this problem isn't limited to the US. Frankly, I can think of no better guarantee of bigotry than assiduously avoiding exposure to anything outside of one's parent's own bigotry. (And what that says about the substance of the bigotry is better left unmentioned.)
  • Media consolidation. Yeah, it's not much of a threat. Not even when two of the major media conglomerates are themselves drawing the attention of venture capitalists. All of which supports my belief that the publishing industry's historical whinging about unprofitability might be just a little bit overstated... at least in line with realistic accounting practices. (But then, one can make the draw the same conclusion about the insurance industry.)
  • Last, and far from least, certain elements of the publishing industry are starting to realize that books are like construction equipment. Although this might sound like a radical position at odds with the "pro-author" stance I ordinarily take, I am not ordinarily a fan of territorial publishing rights, particularly as national borders become less significant for copyright purposes. Frankly, the net income to the author over time would be higher in many — if not most — instances if all copies were sold on an identical royalty basis. This makes even more sense when a single conglomerate has other elements in many of the other viable markets for a particular work. On the other hand, it can also lead to abuses, such as a conglomerate's post hoc unilateral decision that it controls all territorial rights. But then, I'm in the midst of several disputes with that particular conglomerate for similar issues right now, so my skepticism shouldn't surprise anyone.

    In the long run, I believe that the author's best interest is ordinarily served by having the simplest accounting system possible. If nothing else, that will at least mean that he/she gets the pittance the publisher eventually pays in a more-timely fashion! However, it will also mean that it's harder to hide some of the shenanigans common in royalty statements — particularly for nonfiction — and will encourage publishers to actually pay attention to non-domestic markets when both editing and making acquisition decisions. As usual, the problem may well turn out to be surviving the short run to get to the long run... but, since authors are already doing pretty poorly at that, I'm not sure that it would make things much (if any) harder.

  1. For example, one "participant" insisted that this work of American literature "advocates" (his word) rape and bestiality... indicating that his reading skills probably would have been challenged by the Hardy Boys.