16 November 2012

Pre-Turkey-Day Link Sausage Platter

A nasty head cold with explosive sneezing turned into a minor sinus infection. I promise that none of the following link sausages were sneezed on, though. Trust me. Really.

  • I've seldom seen a more self-serving set of mid hoc rationalizations trying to sell a proposed merger than those spewed forth by the top guy at Cobblethwait a couple of days ago. Bluntly, on a per-product basis, there will be less of the resources available for all those innovative "things" he hints at after moving away from the non-trade behemoth that is Pearson and into the arms of another trade behemoth. Of course, it'll be easier to hide such things, too, because Pearson is a PLC, and thus must reveal more (and — at least in theory — more reliable and audited) information than the "new" parent Bertselsmann AG. That will at least make challenging royalty statements — especially those based on "net receipts" instead of "list price" — somewhat more entertaining. Combine that with the increasing hostility to libraries — which have long been the single most-effective locus for growing writer audiences and I don't like where this is going. At all. And not just due to my loyalty to authors, either; allowing this kind of behavior to stand sets a very bad antitrust precedent that could be much worse if applied to, say, medical supplies... oops, I guess I'm a bit late with that comparison. As Sarah Weinman notes, it's the contracts, stupid — because they're what determines the economics... and too few authors turn down the bad ones (specifically including, I might add, those currently on offer from both of the prospective merger partners).
  • There's a nasty fight brewing over royalty rates for 'net-streamed music that — as usual for anything in the music segment of the entertainment industry — is already a lost cause for the actual musicians (both performers and composers/songwriters/whateverwe'recallingthemnow). There are two fundamental problems that get in the way of any resolution of the issues. The more-obvious one concerns the ever-dwindling slice of the pie left for the musicians after the accounting shenanigans between the musician and the listener, no matter what "royalty rate" is imposed by various actors along that path. The less-obvious one concerns the fundamentally unfair (indeed, indefensible) formulae and methods for allocating income to the musicians that have been adopted by the various "rights clearance" behemoths — formulae and methods that fail to apply to the listening profile on the 'net, and particularly that in the Pandora model. There must be a formula for allocating royalties to artists; this is a formula; therefore, this is the formula that must be used, even if it is the equivalent of determining the boiling point of an unknown compound without first checking ambient atmospheric pressure.

    Authors, you're next. Don't just snicker at the problems the musicians are having now; in a decade or a little less, you'll be fighting the same damned battle.

  • I hereby call upon my fellow cartilaginous ichthyoids to boycott (or at least sniff at disdainfully) this airline that makes it hard for us to have our customary entrance music. The relationship to the preceding item is far less coincidental than anything you'll find anywhere in Dickens.
  • This blawg's only feline friend the IPKat remarks on the self-defeating nature of online newspaper paywalls. This is a big hint for "breaking news" sites, whether newspapers or otherwise (e.g., Drudge), and in particular how they demonstrate that copyright is not the be-all and end-all of content distribution.

    Several years ago, we argued that a paywall arrangement works best (or at all) only when there is a strong brand behind the contents. The New York Times and The Economist are two such brands. If so, if it is the strength of the brand that ultimately drives the success of the paywall model, this bodes poorly for brands of lesser strength. Indeed, if the effect of paywalls is to exchange copyright concerns for the centrality of trade marks, do we face the spectre of a few mega-brands dominating the online world of newspaper contents? That might be good for the business model of those entities that survive, but less good, far less good, for the quality and diversity of public discourse.

    This leads to an interesting issue in longer-form electronic publishing, whether online or downloadable: Which marks matter? My current hypothesis — and there simply isn't enough verifiable, publicly available data to do more than hypothesize — is that which marks matter for a particular work, or class of works, is a complex function encompassing the author (and well-known subordinate-to-the-author marks such as series identifiers), the length of the work, the time-sensitivity of the work, the venue of the work, the nature of the work, and probably other factors that I've been unable to tease out (primarily due to the pervasive culture of secrecy in publishing). The key point is that only one of those factors really "belongs" to the publisher: The venue of the work. Even that is at least in part influenced by the author's choices.