08 February 2011

It's Better With Chunks

Just two great big link sausages today, each made from multiple varieties of meats (please don't ask about the fillers).

  • I've been predicting this for almost a decade now: A major name in publishing is abolishing territorial divisions and going over to product-line imprints. At least within Europe, this change has been inevitable for years — ever since a decision on grey-market construction equipment within the EU made clear that territorial rights are a dead letter for identical products. That is, if you license the French-language rights to a work anywhere within the EU, you've just licensed the French-language rights throughout the EU. A recent decision on decoder cards for satellite dishes only confirms that territorial rights within the EU are, in a word, dead.

    But this can actually be good for authors. Really. Particularly for English-language works, the accounting tricks involved in foreign-rights transactions — even when handled by the author instead of a publisher — always operate to the author's disadvantage. So, for that matter, do the tax considerations (just ask anyone who has tried to get money out of Germany or Italy since an EU ruling in January 2009 forced a substantial change in tax paperwork!). It will be a lot harder to engage in some kinds of common chicanery if one company is producing a consolidated royalty statement with everything in one place. That's not to say that nobody will figure out a way to do so... but only that when caught, the consequences will be a lot more enforceable.

    This does have two important implications for contract negotiations by authors, though. First, and most obvious, is that authors need to ensure that their contracts are absolutely clear on the relationship between territory (if mentioned at all) and language... and ensure that, for existing contracts, they actually pay attention to what the publisher is doing. A certain NY conglomerate is probably still smarting from being caught with its hand in the cookie jar over purported "export sales," and that sort of thing is just going to get worse. Second, and more important, authors need to ensure that their warranties will be judged under United States law. If I go to the effort of ensuring that there's no Arabic-language edition of my hypothetical English-language novel that hypothetically impugns the integrity of Mohammed, I shouldn't then get a surprise when some court in Ireland sanctions me for blasphemy (look it up, it's on the books, and it's not limited to Christianity) and my publisher then claims I breached the warranty for something that the First Amendment guarantees me the right to do in this country. And I only wish this was entirely hypothetical; cf., e.g., Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, 518 F.3d 102 (2d Cir. 2008), abrogated by SPEECH Act, Pub. L. No. 111–223, 124 Stat. 2480, to be codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 4101–05 (that particular publisher did not, to my knowledge, claim that as a breach of the author's warranties... that time).

  • It's really amusing watching the publishing industry struggle with how to handle e-books. The preceding sausage is an example of one of the necessary changes, true enough... and it's one that actually makes some sense. That said, there are a lot of other things that have to change, in particular marketing (and the lack thereof) and publicity (and the accelerating delegation of publicity responsibilities to the author). Sisters in Crime attended a recent conference and blogged their impressions in five parts: A1 A2 B1 B2 B3. It's a fascinating view of the shortsightedness of s&m dorks in the publishing industry, because nowhere can one find acknowledgement of the historical Godzilla in the room that's going to eat commercial publishing's lunch (and dinner, and probably underwear). I can invoke that city-destroying movie monster with one word:


    Some parts of the entertainment industry learned their lessons from the VHS v. Betamax battle; consider the widespread ability of DVD players and computers to handle both the DVD+ and DVD- writeable/rewriteable formats, which are more different than it might otherwise seem. Imagine, for a moment, trying to rethread a Betamax tape onto a VHS spool and play the result in a VHS player; today's DVD players accomplish that task with such ease that nobody ever really notices. They didn't learn quite all the way (remember HD-DVD?); but now imagine, for a moment, trying to read that PDF-image journal article for class (an increasingly common event thanks to JSTOR and professor frustration with textbook publishers) on your Kindle. Oops.

    Of course, things aren't going to get better for a while... and the publishers (who are organized and have trade organizations to lobby for them) and e-device manufacturers (ditto) are going to use that time to steamroller authors (cats are more organized, and authors are too busy misusing the word "professional" for their subtrades to form trade associations with the ability, let alone will, to lobby).

Oh, the title of this post? A common (sarcastic) remark from instructor pilots after the orientation flight for Air Force officer candidates... you can fill in the blanks. Or your oxygen mask.