Monday News Harper Collins fails to crush Open Road, Ed Park leaves Amazon for Penguin, oligopoly in the music industry, and hand-annotated books for charity
Open Road Dodges $1 Million Bullet in Copyright Case – In its bid to be awarded attorneys fees of more than $1M dollars, Harper Collins argued that Open Road’s contract to publish Julie of The Wolves as an ebook was “objectively unreasonable” — that is, so clearly wrong that Harper Collins should be compensated for everything it cost them to fight the smaller publisher. This is significant, in part because it suggests a more definitive victory for HC than the one they actually got. In fact,
“The mere fact that the Court was able to interpret the contract as a matter of law does not mean that [Open Road’s] argument was clearly unmeritorious or patently devoid of support,” Buchwald wrote, adding that the dispute “arose in the context of a developing, and still somewhat uncharted, area of copyright law.” . . .
The judge did award HarperCollins’ the statutory maximum of $30,000 in damages (plus $7,040 in costs) and issued a narrow final injunction barring Open Road from further exploiting its unauthorized e-book edition. In awarding damages, Buchwald noted Open Road’s total revenue from sales of Julie of the Wolves was just $39,207.76, “half of which was shared as a royalty with Ms. George and her estate.” –Publishers Weekly
Prominent Editor’s Exit Is Setback for Amazon Publishing Unit – This is pretty interesting, because Ed Park came to Amazon as a novelist, and as a first-time editor, he was given his own literary fiction imprint. Now he’s going to Penguin as an executive editor, and because his imprint was the only literary fiction home at Amazon’s publishing house, it creates a vacuum the reflects the tension between Amazon the publisher and (other) traditional publishers, between commercial fiction and literary fiction, and between Amazon and authors.
In an interview, Mr. Park said that the battle between Amazon and publishers was not the main reason for his departure, but he allowed that it was one of several factors that made the job difficult and ultimately led to his decision to leave.
And Mr. Park said that his pursuit of more literary fare sometimes felt out of kilter with the company’s largely commercial ambitions.
“There were times when I felt like what I was doing was a bit of an outlier,” Mr. Park said. “To Amazon Publishing’s credit, any book I felt strongly about, they let me pursue, and that kind of autonomy was rare in that climate.” –New York Times
In praise of oligopoly – A provocative argument that in the music market it’s beneficial to have fewer major players (three major record labels), rather than, for example, having many small, independent labels, some of which may be “controlled by capricious artists” who act unpredictably and, by implication, chaotically (there’s an assumption here that those are the same thing). I do think the point about how problematic it could be if major artists decided to become exclusive to one platform v. one label, but I’m not completely sold on the fewer big players model, since, well, it didn’t work so well with so-called Agency book pricing.
That’s why the fight between Taylor Swift and Spotify is worrying. It’s not because one of them is right and the other one is wrong; it’s because there’s no major record label capable of stepping into the fight and forcing these kids to play nice together. The fear is that this particular fight is only going to be a harbinger of things to come: more and more artists are going to want to take things into their own hands, rather than simply going along with what some big major label has agreed on their behalf.
There’s another fear, too: what happens when big artists start signing, not with major labels at all, or even with indie labels, but rather with individual streaming services? U2 might sign with Apple, Taylor Swift with Amazon, Jay-Z with Spotify, and so on. All of those services have both the ability and the desire to pay top dollar to lock up the artist in question for their own platform, much as Netflix is trying to do with its own TV shows. –Felix Salmon on Medium
Toni Morrison, Patti Smith hand-annotate books for PEN benefit – Authors and artists — 75 in all — have annotated their own “iconic” works to benefit the PEN American Center in New York. The works are being auctioned off via Christie’s, and while this is a very interesting form of artistic expressions (the collection is called “First Editions/Second Thoughts”), it does raise the question of how much the artist controls the interpretation of a work upon its publication. Of course, even saying that I’d love to see Louise Erdrich’s annotations on Love Medicine, or Joyce Carol Oates’s on Them (a book that I read in college and has stuck with me since). You can see some snippets here.
“For the first time in my life, I wrote what I felt was kind of an intimate letter to a stranger,” Paul Auster said in a statement. He annotated “City of Glass” (1985) for the auction. “I can say that it was probably the most bizarre act of writing I’ve ever been involved in. But I believe in PEN ardently, so anytime I have a chance to help, I want to.” –Los Angeles Times
Why should some industry heavyweight come down and demand that Taylor Swift “play nice” with Spotify? Maybe streaming services will sign up artists in exclusives (although I can’t see why any artist would limit their clientele this way), but if so, I suspect consumers will lose interest in streaming and be more interested in buying or pirating their music.
If Jay-Z claimed that he was unhappy with Spotify because the compensation was smaller than other services, would he have the same blow back? I wonder how much of the issue is that Taylor Swift is acting as a businesswoman and acting in her own interests and that’s not something that people are comfortable seeing. It’s so much easier to pigeon-hole her as that girl who gets dumped a lot and writes songs about it rather than as an intelligent woman capable of making decisions.
Thanks for the info on Ed Park exiting Amazon.
This part is interesting:
“Some literary agents say Amazon’s publishing operation seems to be retreating. Several other prominent editors have left. Jane Dystel, an agent who has done more than two dozen publishing deals with Amazon, said offers from the company — once generous, including even some six-figure deals — have largely fallen to the $10,000 to $20,000 range, and sometimes lower. Some of the writers she represents have returned to self-publishing. “It’s discouraging to those clients,” she said.
Other agents who have done deals with Amazon said their authors’ sales were hurt by bookstores’ ban on Amazon titles.”
I didn’t see this as being against Taylor Swift for being a woman. I see it as a commentary on how artists – who are known for being idiosyncratic – can possibly destroy a business model.
If Jay-Z decided to not use a streaming service it WOULD be a bigger deal – but Jay-Z is a bigger business than Swift: in addition to his personal music he also brings along the multiple big name artists he represents.
I almost posted this article that Kaetrin tweeted me on the Taylor Swift deal, but it turned out to be more about people paying artists for their work, rather than the gender analysis I expected from the title and the way Smith is often portrayed (also, my Norton security tagged it as a “caution” site). Anyway, here’s the link: http://electricliterature.com/taylor-swift-and-the-myth-of-the-mean-greedy-artist/.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Spotify pay the bulk of royalties directly to the record company and almost nothing to the artist? If that was the case, then it makes perfect sense for Taylor Swift to pull her music from Spotify.
@MrsJoseph: And also Taylor Swift being signed to a smaller label where she is practically the only marquee name (and her dad bought a stake in the label when she moved to Nashville to begin her career). Imagine other big name artists–or future big names–ending up in this situation where they have almost total control over their music and their label. Of course the mainstream reaction isn’t appreciative of Swift’s clout or actions. Jay-Z isn’t even comparable because his label/management company still relies upon major label distribution and funding.