18 July 2011

Lifelike Link Sausages

Life has again intervened... Anybody want a couple of remoras?

  • I'm meaner than Andrew Wylie. And I'm going to prove it.

    An article at The Bookseller recounts, sans details of any kind, what HarperCollins — the bound-volume-publishing outpost of Mordor NewsCorp — claims is a "crude attempt to link a business disagreement with more serious matters." Well, I'm not as circumspect as is Mr Wylie for a very simple reason: My involvement with HC of late has been as a consultant to people trying to bridge the gap between a sale in principle and a contract, not as a sales agent implicitly dependent upon HC as a substantial part of the market (an oligopsonist, if you will). And, therefore, I will name two (of several) issues in HC's more-recent trade fiction contract offers and negotiation postures that justify a substantial inquiry into HC:

    1. Inferable collusion in electronic publishing demands and terms. It's absolutely amazing that the major trade publishers — and even the minor trade publishers — have all rushed toward a nice-round-number 25% royalty based on net for e-books (which are now an essentially non-negotiable part of a print publication offer). Given the vastly different cost structures, distribution strengths, subject matter involved, etc., it defies belief that there has been such a rapid convergence — not to mention refusal to compete on price — among publishers absent collusion beyond mere "conscious parallelism" (except, perhaps, the kind of competition that Harlequin is offering). That's ordinarily a per se antitrust violation. Combine this with refusal to even respond to inquiries and demands for reversion for books signed before electronic rights were explicitly included in contracts, and there's sufficient justification in hand for an antitrust inquiry.
    2. Strong-arm demands for turnover of authors' intellectual property. In substance, one of HC's increasingly restrictive demands of late has been that authors not publish under their own names (or other choices of marks) with other publishers during the term of any contract with HC. This essentially forces turnover of the goodwill in the author's mark (his/her authorial name) to HC for no additional compensation. Further, it also acts to unfairly and unduly restrict competition for an author's services in a way reminiscent of, albeit not so formal as, the old H'wood "studio system" for actors and screenwriters. Given that the operative features of the "studio system" were ruled a per se antitrust violation, my perspective on this being transferred to the inherently less-collaboration-necessary print publishing industry shouldn't surprise anyone.

    Over to you, minions of Sauron.

  • In some news from publishing that brings me substantial schadenfreude, there are more than hypothetical rumblings that textbook publishing as we know it is under threat. The only surprise is that this is coming from a unit of Holtzbrinck (the ultimate parent of Nature)... given the malign influence of the entrenched textbook-publishing management there upon trade contracts offered by other units of Holtzbrinck.
  • Here's an alternate view of A Dance With Dragons. Don't blame me for your keyboard or screen damage. Or hiccuping fits.
  • The UK casualties of NewsCorp keep increasing (see item 1): The Superintendent of Scotland Yard and a senior assistant; the arrest of Rebekah Brooks; a dead reporter; probably a lot more that we haven't heard about. It's rather ironic, though, that the Murdoch family seems to be entitled to so much power without having demonstrated the capability to wield it at all — let alone appropriately — given Rupert Murdoch's own continuous lashings-out against inherited privilege, particularly during his early days (again, see item 1).