08 September 2008

Planet of Origin Not Guaranteed

A truly bizarre selection of miscellaneous sausages today. No guarantee of meat content, species content... or planetary-origin content. These links have not been approved by the USDA, or in fact anyone else, and NASA wants to determine their possible extraterrestrial origin.

  • On the political front, it looks like there's a challenger to the reds and the blues: the chromes. Which implicates Palin's record on book banning, which in turn reminds me of someone else: Tipper Gore c. 1985. What part of "make no law" can neither of you ladies understand? How about "It's an act, lady"? I wonder how many books on Phillip Pullman's recommended reading list they'd ban between them... On the flip side, we've got at least one nonpolitician that many people love to hate who seems, nonetheless, to have some understanding of noblesse oblige.
  • If songbirds fight with music, what does that imply about heavy metal... or the RIAA? And I really, really don't want to know what it implies about gangsta rap or its country counterparts!
  • Bill Clinton famously claimed — largely to himself — that "it's the economy, stupid!" He was a politician with a law degree, not a true counselor at law, but that nonetheless leads into Neil Buchanan's comments on economists v. lawyers, which neglects one critical difference. This difference also distinguishes between political scientists and lawyers: result v. process. Where behavioral economics fits in there, nobody knows... including behavioral economists.
  • My good buddy across the pond the IPKat muses about ending software patents, particularly in the last paragraph. Quite sensible ponderings for a feline, even if Merpel neglects to point out that nothing we ever do would be good enough for cats, either.
  • Maybe — just maybe — the purported shortage of movie screens is caused, at least in part, by the dearth of worthwhile films to put on them... and the miserable filmgoing experience one finds at the multiplex. This metro area of about 200,000 — which includes Roger Ebert's home town — is a prime example: We've got two multiplexes that almost always overlap their offerings, one "restored" single-screen theater with virtually no nearby parking that (aside from Ebert's own annual film festival) shows about eight films a year for three or four nights each, and a single-screen theater that is closing by the end of the year.
  • Sarah Weinman started an interesting series of posts on publishers/imprints as brands that, although not as bluntly as I would put it, points out just how goofy the received industry wisdom really is... especially when everyone is looking for publishing blockbusters as the only acceptable measure of publishing "success." But that's nothing compared to periodical distributors or, for that matter, book distributors.
  • Finally, it's time to get nasty with some grievous misstatements that were quoted over at GalleyCat. Andy at that blog quoted some complaints he had received, which drew ridiculous rejoinders excuses from the principals of the complained-of publisher. I don't have the time and energy to go through every factual misstatement in the respective rejoinders; I'll just hit a few lowlights (paragraphing is for clarity only and does not reflect the paragraphing shown on GalleyCat; external ellipses not shown).

    Publishers actually lose more than authors do. According to a similar report, publishers actually lose money on 94% of the books published each year.

    False. This depends upon a very elastic definition of both "publisher" (it must include self-publishers and authors working through vanity publishers) and "lose money" (that the book in question did not earn out its advance... which is most emphatically not a correct statement of when a book is profitable, even if one accepts publishers' accounting methods).

    Our collaborative approach is a win win for both the author and the publisher. We share in the profits and like most traditional publishers bear the bulk of the risk.

    False. There's that comparison to "traditional publishers" again. First of all, the phrase "traditional publisher" is frequently a marker for a vanity press that is trying to avoid admitting that it's a vanity press; the phrase really has no meaning... except in comparison to the first publishers who were not mere printers of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, who were unabashedly what we would now call vanity presses. Then there's that "collaborative approach" language, which is also a marker for vanity presses. Not having seen the contracts, I cannot confirm that this is, in fact, a vanity press; using this language, though, makes me quite suspicious that — whatever else this publisher is — it is not a commercial publisher using the ordinary stream of commerce under customary-to-the-industry terms to obtain its income and pay authors for the licensing of the authors' intellectual property. Then there's that all-too-common false assertion that the publisher bears "most" of the risk, which neglects both the opportunity cost to the author of producing the manuscript and the free-market value of the author's intellectual property. The obvious problem with this assertion is that it assumes that "risk" is necessarily quantifiable... which even a first-semester college student just starting microeconomics knows is at best fallacious.

    We do have a sales force and full bookstore distribution. It happens to be Ingram Publisher Services. The same company that sells for and distributes for publishers like Berrett-Koehler, Bloomberg, O'Reilly Media, and Severn House to name just a few.

    False. "Distribution" and "sales force" are two entirely distinct functions of a publisher, and these jerks bloody well know it. Ingram has no "sales force" as the term would be understood among commercial publishers; here's yet another shifting definition.

    We began referring business to [the other principal's publicity] firm in 2006. We didn't require it, but the work proves itself. We've actually doubled our book sales through the bookstores because of his work. It wasn't until January of 2008 that Rick came on as a partner and our publisher. Our author education model, which is designed to help the authors succeed as a business author, was in place from the beginning.

    False. Can y'all say "conflict of interest"? Apparently not. Note, too, that this does not refute the complaint: That the publisher "doesn't 'charge' a fee to publish the book, but they [sic] do require that the author 'enroll' in their [sic] $5,000 book publishing/marketing/pr 'seminar' which is all of [late-arriving principal's] info all rolled up into a webinar." As I've remarked before, the test for whether a publishing deal represents commercial publishing, vanity publishing, or self-publishing depends on two factors:

    1. Whether, on the day of publication, the guaranteed flow of financial capital as specified in the contract and through other binding documents is away from or toward the author, and
    2. Whether, as each copy comes off the press, the legal title to that copy rests with the author or the publisher.

    Authors buy books back for much less than (the big Guys). I have to buy my books back from my major publisher for 50% off of list.

    False. And this is, perhaps, the biggest marker that the publisher in question is probably a vanity press. Author "buyback price" (a term that is not customary among commercial publishers) simply is not a significant factor for commercial publishing, because the publisher does not expect to make its money from the authors, but from actual sales of the books. It is extraordinarily rare for a commercial publishing contract to have much, if any, negotiation over or significance attached to author purchases by either party — perhaps 1% or so, and even then it's usually concerned with whether the author has the right to resell copies she buys from the publisher, not the discount; even if the discount does get negotiated, such negotiations are directly linked to resale rights.

    I won't go on; suffice it to say that I find the purported refutations essentially deceptive and largely nonresponsive to the complaints originally made.