21 July 2010

Highly Theoretical Link Sausages

... but not so theoretical that they're meaningless. At least, I hope not.

  • Two seemingly unrelated pieces that actually concern the same thing: the increasing ease of making copies, b/w Disney now demands merchandiseability as a condition of filmmaking. Ultimately, these concern the continued viability of the IP Clause as a foundation for creativity:

    To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

    The problem is not with "individual profit motive for the creators," but with the barriers between an individual creator realizing profit and with the dominance of investment return over return to the creator. In this instance, the dominance of large players with specific investment objectives can act to suppress art; under the purported new Disney policy, can you imagine Disney giving a green light to Inception — despite its financial success? How about Apocalypse Now... or Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? And let's not even think about applying this conception to books... It's one thing to demand a return on one's investment; it's another, entirely, to block creation of art because outside investors might not be satisfied with the particular, unpredictable return. After all, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? had bankable stars attached; consider an even-farther-down-the-investment-food-chain work by a first-time writer... like Juno. Yeah, I can just see WalMart carrying the amazing Juno action figure with user-adjustable state of pregnancy.

    Maybe — just maybe — that means that investment return is only "supposed" to be part of the decisionmaking in the arts. Maybe the arts are part of what serves the nonmonetary values inherent in the First Amendment. And maybe I'm just a radical idealist. OK, strike all of those "maybes." Instead, consider this: The meme that all investment opportunities must have reasonably comparable returns assumes both that all investment objectives are comparable and that investment capital requirements vastly outweigh investment capital availability. Neither is true, but intermediaries — those who are responsible for making particular decisions and act simultaneously as both sources and consumers of investment capital — act as if it is. I hate to break the news to you, guys, but this is no longer a preindustrial economy with substantial mercantilist elements that is dominated by direct short-term, partially renewable exploitation of landownership: That is, our economy is not the one that gave rise to Adam Smith and the First Amendment (at about the same time, for many of the same reasons).

  • Amazon is now claiming that Kindle "sales" are greater than casebound books... but this means much, much less than the headlines. For one thing, the "Kindle sales" in question were not limited to comparable titles — that is, titles only available otherwise in a casebound format. Similarly, the round figures quoted in the various articles (I've chosen to link to the NYT version just because the alternatives with the same data are harder to link to) hide the nature of what a casebound book is... because they don't engage with the price differential at all. It would be very interesting indeed to see a comparison of revenue (asking for profit margin is, of course, right out!) on these items.

    On the other hand, this does point out one aspect of publishing that has been broken since the early 1980s: The pricing model and insistance on setting price based solely upon the package in which the words are made available to the reader. Now compare that problem to the preceding sausage...

  • Speaking of pricing problems, consider the numeric value of a brand... and remember that the best legal framework for a lot of franchises is either branding or its next-door-neighbor unfair competition. So, then, Star Trek is worth how much?
  • Professor Crouch hosts a three part series on "Patenting by Entrepreneurs." Leaving aside everything else, this represents a fun-house-mirror reflection of the first sausage above... especially after taking into account some of the procedural differences between patent and copyright practice.