14 September 2009

Chunky Monday Sausage Links

It's better with chunks... or so instructor pilots claim when taking cadets up on "orientation rides"... (I may be joking, but they really do.)

  • Sarah Weinstein muses on the 17-book deal just signed by James Patterson with Hachette... all for publication in the next two years' worth of production. As I've remarked before, this raises interesting issues of what it takes to be a coauthor — in the copyright sense, in the trademark sense, in the consumer-protection sense — and questions a great deal about publishing and entertainment industry's concepts of "branding." More to the point here, it also raises substantial questions about the propriety of some of Hachette's negotiation tactics and objectives for contracts with author/brands less prominent than Patterson. On another tentacle, consider whether bestselling authors really are "branded like a cow" (and whether that might be a good thing to have happen to, say, the initial meat-donor to this sausage... or to a cookbook).

    And meanwhile, The Independent demonstrates its inability to let facts or alternative views get in the way of a good ideological predisposition by whingeing about "unjustified" discounting of bestsellers, without reflecting on the substitution conundrum in entertainment and intellectual property: Fungibility can be measured only post hoc and with reference to actual, not theoretical, price points and availability.

  • Industry rumors indicate that Amazon may "require" participation in Search Inside the Book — yet another one of those "kewl ideas" that falls apart when one looks at it. Leaving aside whether Amazon has the right — under the Copyright Act, or indeed any of a variety of other provisions... such as the Sherman and Clayton Acts — to demand the creation of derivative works as a condition of carrying those works, this is essentially a demand to enable e-piracy of texts. I suspect that it is more an internal effort to force publishers to take steps that will make it easier to force works onto the Kindle than it is an endorsement of SITB itself; unfortunately, that runs into the same problems, only more so.

    This is less a problem for new contracts going forward — since publishers have, in general, committed to a nonnegotiable "we will own the e-book rights" position — than for older contracts. That doesn't just mean older books; as the preceding sausage, and the dubious history of publishing, demonstrate, there's a not-insignificant delay between the contract for a trade book and its availability for public purchase. And so, we're going to end up with the same problem as in the GBS settlement: Distributors presuming that publishers have rights that the publishers don't have, and using strictly economic forces to make it impossible for authors to enforce their rights.

    Or perhaps this vision of the future is more a prediction than just fiction.

  • Speaking of the Kindle, a piece at Slate asserts that the age of the single-use device is waning. I certainly hope so; the problem is that it may leave us with camels in our pockets ("horses designed by committee"). Consider, for example, the cell phone. If I want to replace my four-year-old phone, I will have no choice but to get one that sacrifices what matters to me (long battery life, clear communications) for power- (and money-) hogging features like built-in wireless 'net connectivity (that cannot be turned off), pathetic cameras, a music system that ties me to a particular vendor, etc. The problem isn't multifunction devices per se; it's the choice of what function belongs with what from the user's perspective (not the marketing dork's perspective that "we can sell this to suckers our customer base").
  • Just because it's a fascinating reflection of problems of contemporary government — that ultimate "nonprofit" (except, of course, if you're a politician), here's a piece on the perils for nonprofits of ignorning infrastructure. Please note that, although not intentionally an attack on advocacy organizations that aren't, it certainly functions that way.