27 July 2010

An Unremarkable Platter

... unless, of course, you're a USDA inspector of internet link sausages, in which case I'm unavailable and in a meeting.

  • Publisher overdiversification, like that at Pearson (corporate parent of Penguin), has some interesting, odd, and on the whole negative effects. The critical point is this: Advancement to management at the top level of the company will be determined, at least in part, by comparative performance, and there's no way for contemporary accounting practices to compare the actual performance at a publisher to anything else without driving the publisher toward just-in-time inventory and short-term cost minimization. Since long-term profit in publishing requires the opposite by definition, this kind of bad comparison attracts fewer great (or even competent) CEOs than short-term profit maximizers who are incapable of dealing with adversityor even invite adversity. That's not just apples and oranges; it's apples and orangutans.
  • The long list (semifinalists) for the Man Booker Prize has just been announced. This £50k annual prize for a book-length work of fiction published in the UK in English is also, amusingly enough, a fairly popular subject of wagering every year, and I'd bet that less than 5% of the wagers come from people who've read more than a third of the books on the longlist. On the other hand, there aren't a lot of bets on the Kentucky Derby from people who've ever been on a horse, let alone raced one...

    ... which leads, in a particularly sick and twisted way (not, on this blawg, unexpectedly so), to Cat Rambo's musings on the future of publishing, which are both plausible and implausible. They are plausible within one relatively narrow portion of publishing: Category fiction (sometimes called "commercial fiction," but that's both too broad and too narrow due to that outlier "literary fiction"). That's the tail, however. In prestige terms, it's a Labrador's tail, fully capable of sweeping everything — the TV remote, the wineglasses, the scattering of magazines and books — off the virtual coffee table onto the carpet. In economic terms, though, it's a Rottweiler's tail, fully capable of annoying the owner without having one damned thing to do with the rest of the dog; all of book-length fiction is (in purely publishing terms) less than 15% of the publishing industry, whether by titles published or revenues. Rambo's musings bear some consideration, and point out a possible path; I suspect, however, that reality will prove far stranger.

  • The horror of copyediting can be avoided by choosing copyeditors with more than a modicum of educational attainment... which, of course, means that they probably don't play nicely enough with others to get off the bottom rung in publishing. And that's a really low rung, one that these days is probably poorly paid freelance work to boot.
  • The libel law problems in the UK continue in front of its (still new) Supreme Court. Just like in criminal law, though, the real problem with many of the cases that actually make law (and anyone who says that judges just "clarify" or "discover" existing law probably believes that the internet is just a series of tubes, too) is that so often, that defendant whose rights a just must ultimately decide to uphold is at best an utter sleazebag. Taking one's revenge on one's former client on one's blog is more than a little bit sleazy, Mr Spiller — no matter how valid your feelings, the way you went about it was inappropriate (and unEnglish), even if it should be outside of libel liability.
  • Speaking of developments in UK law, a current case discussed by my prolific colleague Dr Phillips at the 1709 Blog reveals that the UK may (or may not) be edging closer to embracing the formal distinction between copyrightable expression and uncopyrightable recitation of facts in a case about reverse-engineering a programming language and programs. OK, I'm an IP nerd; I find these things inherently of interest by themselves. But they're also relevant to authors... and, potentially, to the so-called "hot news" doctrine that provides quasicopyright protection to facts that are not otherwise protectable as sufficiently original to merit copyright.
  • An interesting procedural side note in another matter indicates I may have been too hasty in assuming that "normal practice" would be following in the Google Book Search matter. "Normal practice" is that when a federal judge is elevated from the district court to the circuit court of appeals, that judge leaves all of his/her district court cases behind for reassignment — particularly when the circuit court is short on judges even after his/her arrival. Ordinarily, circuit court judges do not handle trial matters by designation for at least two years after their arrival at the circuit court. Judge Chin, however, just issued an internet-related opinion (discussed by Professor Grimmelmann) by designation. What is puzzling to me is that neither a reassignment nor a designation order has yet been issued in the GBS matter, so we just don't know. Perhaps the parties "know," or at least have been told, what is planned.

    That longwinded preface aside, we're now getting into the most-probable period for Judge Chin to issue a decision on the class settlement, if he's going to be the one to do so. There's a strong impetus to have one's current clerks finalize everything possible, and particularly everything possible that is based on a large record, before the semiofficial changeover in late September/early October. That's why there's always a flurry of long opinions from federal district and appellate courts beginning in early August and running up through mid-September. I won't say "watch this space," but still...

  • Worry less about free (or even expensive) broadband for everyone and more about library access... if only because any decent reference librarian has access to, and knows how to get at, material that is not now (and probably never will be) in a queriable database.