04 February 2008

Post-Groundhog Monday Miscellany

It's Monday. I need caffeine.

  • A couple of strange (that is, "normal" in this context) items from the world of commercialized music. On the one hand, Norman Lebrecht lets loose yet another misdirected broadside at arts organization governance, this time asserting that the problem is not that fans don't have a say on arts boards, but that nobody listens to the fans. Really, Norman, why do you think that many symphonies only play "warhorses," and it's so bloody hard for noncommissioned new work to get played after its debut? Is it because the purported insiders on the boards haven't ever heard any music from after the three Bs? And maybe, just maybe, you should think a bit about what is happening to the Grammys without blockbusters this year before you go too far the other direction.

    The real problem is that "arts" and "governance" are not so much mutually exclusive as orthogonal interests... and one of the two (guess which one?) simply defies measurement in the first place. Thus, expecting a board with a fiduciary duty of measurable impact to actively consider the immeasurable imponderables of a "representative" fan or three's input is just a little bit unrealistic. Not to mention silly, like so much in the world of music.

  • WaPo has an interesting article on a feedback cycle between "entertainment production" and "law" revolving around GITMO hearings. Of course, the article raises far more questions than it answers... just like the hearings themselves.
  • One of the real issues in any publishing-industry dispute — and it's a hard, and probably insoluble, one — is "What, exactly, is the truth here?" One one hand, there's the recent manufactured controversy over the truthiness (or not) of Beah's autobiographical account (N.B. this is a representative article, not one I hold out as, itself, a paragon of truthiness).

    On the other hand, there are the underplayed allegations of improper self-dealing by wingnut publisher Regnery to cut royalty payments, which is now going to arbitration. The real problem with arbitration — particularly in the publishing industry — is that it is a remarkably poor mechanism for resolving factual disputes. It can work reasonably well when everyone agrees on all, or almost all, of the relevant facts; for example, that the Kobayashi Maru was forced to jettison its cargo of gas-guzzling suburban assault vehicles by monster waves in the Pacific, leaving only the question of who bears the risk of loss. Arbitration does not work well, though, when there is any real possibility of incomplete data, let alone "innocent" deception or outright lying. I find it quite interesting that draft (and, for that matter, signed) publishing contracts I encounter are most likely to include mandatory arbitration in those contexts most likely to result in later disputes revolving around incomplete data.

  • So, then, why does it take so long to publish a book when technology is streamlining so many aspects of the process? The traditional, academia-oriented answer is that the technology thus far applied to publishing does not do much for the critical path: the sales/marketing/publicity efforts. (Of course, that assumes both that there are any for most books, and that what efforts there are make a predictable — or, indeed, any — difference.) That's what this article concludes. However, the article is looking at the wrong critical path. Editing, revision, copyediting, and proofreading are still human-bound processes. (In fact, there's a rather nasty word for publishers that rely exclusively on technological "improvements" for these steps: vanity press.) So, then, if the publishing industry really wanted to get books out more quickly... it would stop putting noneditorial tasks on editors and let them edit. It doesn't; so, then, one can only conclude that faster publication isn't a priority. And untangling the many reasons that it isn't is far, far too complex for this blawg.
  • Those familiar with the vastly overrated A Chorus Line are probably aware that many of the character studies that form its unstructured core came from "workshopping" with dancers. Those dancers have now reached a deal ensuring that they will get a cut of the profits. Leaving aside the definition of "profits" for the moment, New York law made this substantially harder than it really needed to be... in contrast to that of most other states. That, however, is an argument for another time.
  • Last, and far from least (coffee-spew warning): My son proposes that the next time Hannity and Colmes need a vacation, Fox should replace them with this commentator and this one. He's not sure anyone will be able to tell the difference, given the reality orientation of the guys on vacation. Neither am I.