10.01.2005

Google Print Redux

Before I forget to add these, Boing Boing (one of the few daily reads around here) has posted some more on the Author's Guild and Google Print.

Xeni's Op ed
Cory's comment from Sept. 27

But as an industry I think we're still back here.

Let's assume that all the royalties received by artists in every other field are equal and everyone is making the same percentage off their products (and these are not being split between members of the bands, and the producers are not taking a share, etc.). The argument is moot. Just because authors cannot make money on merchandise, touring, endorsements, and so forth, does not mean that used books should be treated differently than used CDs, DVDs, or even used cars and thrift shop clothing. It means the authors need to diversify. At least in the analogy of authors = musicians and other creators. It's absurd to claim that the world owes you more because you chose the wrong artistic profession for maximizing profits. If you want to make more money go be a musician and sell t-shirts, merchandise. Hell, be an author who sells t-shirts; go talk to Neil Pollack about it.

Publishing is a hard gig, and there are things wrong with it, but calling for the revoking of laws that affect several industries because publishing isn't happy is right up there with any other special interest group that feels persecuted because they can't compete in the free market.

4 Comments:

Blogger booksquare said...

As an industry, publishing needs to weigh the benefits of used book sales (a secondary market with no accrued benefit to the copyright holder) against the losses. Right now, used book sales comprise a relatively small piece of the revenue stream, but the numbers are increasing. At some point, the publishing industry is going to be forced to revisit its model.

Publishing served as the model for royalty accounting for subsequent entertainment industries. They have adapted over time while publishing's financial model has remained the same. Unlike the motion picture industry, publishing doesn't really have a lot of windows or secondary markets (though they could do better with those they have). Unlike music, the industry doesn't have mechanisms for paying authors above and beyond a single royalty on first sale (music, of course, has performance and songwriting possibilities). T-shirts are a great idea, but from a practical standpoint, I'm having a hard time seeing them as serious revenue.

If used book sales continue to grow -- and there's no reason to think they won't -- then the publishing industry will have to re-examine its business model, if only to retain the option to publish books for art's sake (one must be realistic about what books make money). I keep poking and prodding at this idea, and keep hoping someone will come up with an alternative that merges the wants of the consumer with the needs of authors and publishers.

12:02 AM  
Blogger john said...

I understand where you are coming from and have struggled with the idea that someone else is making money off of our work (both author and publisher), but once we look outside of the context of our industry it makes less sense to me. In order for this argument to work, it needs to be justfied with everything else that is resold. Does it make sense to force others to pay the original maker a percentage of sales on cars, clothes, houses, electronics, and anything else that has been made by one person and sold by their representative? And how are we going to police it? Do we want to follow the RIAA and start suing our customers becasue they are reselling our items?

By entering the resale market the consumer is leaving behind the different structures that dictate how the payments for the original sale are distributed. Once an obejct is sold to someone they have certain rights guaranteed by law. One of those is to resell that work.

I agree with you that once the idustry really becomes concerned about this trend then we need to do something about it. But that something isn't changing laws that work just because we don't think they are fair to us. It means thinking smarter about the problems and coming up with unique solutions. Why not take over the used book market and set it up differently? Or if publishers are intent on setting up boutiques for their books online why not create some kind of buyback program?

10:11 AM  
Blogger booksquare said...

Your point on durable goods is one I've wrestled with, but I keep circling back to the notion that a refrigerator has a multi-year lifespan. For most books, once they're read, they're gone. Some argue that price flexibility will solve the problem; I don't know. But I figure if there are many of us talking and discussing this issue, maybe we'll find a solution that works for everyone.

11:39 PM  
Blogger john said...

Ah, that's a comment that changes my way of understanding. I look at a book and a fridge and feel the book to have a longer (shelf)life than any appliance. If you start talking about the mass of books that aren't worth keeping; that are passed along or recommended by friends and turn out to be the "flavor of the month" then I can see the concerns. What happens when a book goes out-of-print but still has a life in second-hand stores?

I think this gets to a bigger problem in publishing and strikes at one of my main concerns- the actual value publishers place on their products. But that veers right into the ethics and theory of publishing and becomes a late-night college dorm room discussion.

I'm not sure if price flexibility is the answer either, but maybe multiple editions. I've been hoping for a rebirth of the limited edition market like Random had in the early days but the only one pursuing this is Easton Press.

9:07 PM  

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