14 January 2008

Return of the Monday Miscellany

In honor — dubious as it is — of yesterday's thirty-minute-long Golden Globes ceremony, there's really only one thing to say about the Monday Miscellany: "It's baaaaaack!"

  • Markets are/can be wonderful solutions to many problems. However, there's this little flaw called a "market failure" that advocates of markets simply refuse to consider when they are busy trying to dismantle all regulation of markets. That's sort of like saying that market forces are not only necessary, but sufficient, to determine not just what the speed limit is, but whether we'll even have speed limits... or predetermined traffic signals, or lane markings, or... Here are two examples: The "market" system establishes that each individual must be directly responsible for health-care costs, leading an elderly skier to sue a seven-year-old for medical bills. Then there's the conflict between markets and the arts, which bears a disturbing resemblance to the conflict between markets and science: The lack of certainty of returns means that only excess capital will end up in that market, and completely ignores monopoly effects.
  • Publishing continues to operate in a culture of secrecy. Just ask Penguin how many copies it sold of its most-recent NYT best-seller, and see if you get an answer... and then take the same question to the film and music industries. Compare the nature of the answers. And that's one of the easier questions, because there's something resembling actual data to back it up. On the other hand, the acquisition process has nothing even remotely objective to it, let alone actual data. Consider, for example, authors who have money to burn using self-publishing to prove market-readiness of their works. As Lee Goldberg aptly points out,

    [I]t took major-league, movie industry connections that they already had and an investment of tens of thousands of dollars from their own pockets to score that jackpot. It's not going to happen for the vast majority of people... most of whom don't have Hollywood connections or $50,000 to spend. Even Barry realizes it. She told the Boston Globe that had they known at outset how much time and money was involved in true self-publishing, they might not have tried it.

    (paragraph break omitted) And, considering the item above, remember that markets operate efficiently only when all market participants have relatively equal and adequate access to fundamental information about those markets.

  • Then, on the other hand, there's the long history of authors who try to maintain some non-celebrity, or even anonymity. Obvious contemporary examples include Pynchon and Salinger. Less-obvious contemporary examples include many, many authors who have been forced to adopt a pseudonym by their publishers, due to the way books get ordered these days. (I will not — at this time — get into a theoretical discussion of what this says about "brand ownership"; I'm saving that for academic work, if only because if nobody is going to read it I might as well have that intent at that beginning!)
  • Finally for this morning, there's a rather interesting — particularly if one reads between the lines — piece in WaPo about Leonard Slatkin, the soon-departing leader of the National Symphony Orchestra (and former leader of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, at the time I was in college there).