19 July 2015

The Beat of a Different Doldrummer

Two weeks of unexpected travel plus a sore back plus July is not a recipe for lots of blawgging...

  • Kris Rusch penned a balanced excoriation of the "Authors United" call for an antitrust investigation of Amazon that is both correct as far as it goes and goes the wrong direction — for much the same reason.

    The key thing to remember about "Authors United" is that it is composed of "bestselling authors," and mostly of trade fiction writers. Neither represents a majority — and perhaps not even a significant element — of authors, of book-length print publishing, of author compensation from sales of books, or of anything else; it's akin to a call for inquiry into NFL ticket pricing by a group of long-term luxury-box ticketholders (especially when it turns out that most of them don't buy their own tickets, but rely upon others to buy them for them... such as the almost-inevitably bestselling authors of film novelizations, and the authors whose sales were mediocre until some media adaptation raised their profiles). The factual disclosures and analysis that these "bestselling authors" expect/hope will result from a government-led antitrust inquiry into Amazon's practices will, in all probability, be meaningless to the unwashed masses in the bleacher seats at Wrigley Field — or, more to the point, attendees at college football games.

    There does need to be significantly more information made available on pricing, sales, and everything else in publishing. Publishing's culture of secrecy harms everyone whom the industry is supposed to benefit, and benefits only financial investors who might as well be investing in a widget factory in Pocatello, but for the rent they're refusing to allow for in their calculations of what they're "due" as a "fair return on investment". But that information should not be limited to what might seemingly be relevant to a few privileged vendors. I agree with a call for factual inquiry into Amazon's sales practices... and that of the rest of the publishing industries and the distribution arms of the publishing industries. Into the facts, mind you: Antitrust analysis will lead precisely nowhere, due to ideological distortion of "antitrust" and "unfair competition" over the last four decades and to the inescapable fact that there is no single publishing industry to which all of this applies. That inquiry cannot be limited to financial terms of a single endpoint if it is to be meaningful at all; the rapid convergence on "25% of net is the appropriate royalty for e-books," for example, needs at least equal scrutiny, as do nonfinancial anticompetitive terms demanded by publishers.

  • Senator McCain may have been a naval aviator, and a graduate of the US Naval Academy — both of which severely limit his strategic understanding and thinking, and his ability to comprehend and allow for fundamental changes in circumstances. He did, however, serve. Neither The Donald nor the thing on his head, however, did so — nor did the vast majority of other aspirants to the Presidency.