24 February 2012

Home Sick (But Not Homesick) Blue Link Sausages

The last two days have been wonderful. Back spasms usually mean laying about waiting for the mind-altering muscle relaxants to work. Except when one simultaneously has the flu and insists on puking up the muscle relaxants. And then gets dehydrated. In any event:

  • As further proof of the insanity of publishing, consider this tale of the quasiforced pseudonym and compare it to publisher attempts to control brand names. What it really demonstrates is that the publishers themselves don't think the imprint or publisher designation or anything other than the author's name matters as a brand name... because if it did, Ms O'Brien would have been able to license her new novel to a different imprint or publisher without difficulty, as the author name would not have been the critical designation of origin of the goods. That she could not merely demonstrates that publishers have no legal ground to insist on exclusivity-of-publishing clauses for authors... unless they're willing to pay damages to the author for tarnishing the author's mark with inept sales and publicity.
  • Publishers' Lunch is an incredibly useful resource for anyone watching the industry. Sometimes, though, it gets caught out by telling only part of the story: like Amazon's latest antitrust violation. Basically, Amazon is trying to use its own size as a non-item-specific bargaining tool to obtain a better price. This is, in effect, a tying arrangement — similar to the 1960s-era requirement that if you leased or owned photocopier brand X, you also had to get service from brand X and all of your consumables from brand X without the right to shop around for a better deal. (That inkjet printer manufacturers are trying to accomplish the same thing for ink refills using misstatements of copyright and trademark law should tell you just how lucrative these arrangements are.)

    Mr Cader's reporting is fine as far as it goes; there's little question that Amazon's behavior is inappropriate, only whether lawyers could make smacking it down too delayed and expensive (do you really have to ask?). The hidden problem, though, is the very existence of the other side in this dispute: The distributorship. I have little sympathy for IPG in this situation because it is no longer a necessary part of the stream of commerce, and especially concerning e-books. It is, instead, an unnecessary drag on revenue to both publishers and authors. Once upon a time, shipping orders required industry contacts and expertise not available to many small publishers. But for antitrust violations by further-down-the-chain vendors (and ill-considered acquisition policies in the library segment), that's no longer necessary at all... and even when it is de facto necessary for a particular large sale, should be handled as a transaction rather than a semiexclusive relationship. Further, it adds another reporting layer to tracking sales, which in turn means more opportunities for bad and delayed data.

  • But then, there are worse things than the publishing industry. As a colleague/client of mine has remarked, "The sole justification for the music industry is that it makes the publishing industry look honest." Exhibit A: A preliminary analysis of the royalty payment shortfall for electronic downloads from one not-top-of-the-heap artist (specifically, Eminem). But there aren't any live antitrust problems in recorded music, are there, Reaganites?
  • Once again, I'm reduced to relying upon a cat across the Pond, because the decision isn't yet available (although it should be in the next few days). Remember a while back when I commented on a European case regarding territorial rights in copyrighted material? The case was sent back down for reconsideration... and the court in London has now ruled in favor of the pub-owner. This is even stronger demonstration that the European Union is a common market for identical goods... and that a work can be licensed only once per language there.