Publishing News: Week in Review

The agency model may be illegal, copyright and the Supreme Court, and Flipboard sticks to content.

Here are the highlights of what caught my attention in publishing news this week. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

The European Commission requested ebook sales records, questioning the legality of the ebook agency model

Random House’s switch to the agency model for its ebook pricing structure delighted the American Booksellers Association and landed Random House in Apple’s iBookstore, but not everyone is pleased with the agency model Apple requires. In a comment for a story in the LA Times, Dennis Morin, partner at BeamItDown Software, said:

The economic damage that Apple has wreaked on small ebooksellers is enormous. It is all pocket change for Apple, but life and death for many. There is something fundamentally wrong when companies can wield such power.

(Indeed, John Naughton argued at the Guardian’s TheObserver, that Apple has ousted Google as the reigning evil enterprise.)

Agency pricing may not only be damaging to the little guy and helping to fund Apple’s evil empire — it may be illegal. Investigators in the UK are looking into the ebook agency pricing that most major publishers have adopted, in part, to put ebooks on Apple’s iBookstore shelves, as a possible cartel.

This story continues here.

HarperCollins may be on to something with its all-digital imprint

AvonImpulseLogo.pngAvon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, has launched an all-digital line, Avon Impulse. Matthew Flamm explained the publisher’s plans in a post for Crain’s New York Business:

The imprint will put out one original e-romance a week. There will be no shipping and printing costs, and authors will not be paid advances. Authors do better with e-books however, since they’re paid a royalty rate of 25% of the net sale. With paperbacks, they’re paid 8% to 10% of the list price, which works out to be considerably less.

Flamm pointed out that Amazon pays 70% royalty, but it is important to note that the 25% royalty Avon Impulse will pay is only for the first 10,000 copies — after 10,000, the royalty increases to 50%.

In an email interview, owner Kassia Krozser discussed this all-digital move and noted a couple of concerns.

What are your initial thoughts on an all-digital romance imprint?

Kassia KrozserKassia Krozser: This is a smart move by HarperCollins/Avon. A digital-first imprint allows them to experiment with content in a relatively inexpensive way. With a print program, there is less incentive to push the boundaries of genre and style, while, as proven in the past decade and a half, digital-first and digital-only presses have been able to explore new ideas. These smaller houses have frequently published books that authors are told readers don’t want, only to discover readers do want new story types, and they’re willing to pay for them.

If Avon plays this smart, they can become a trendsetter in romance fiction.

Read the rest of Krozser’s interview here.

The Golan v. Holder decision will weigh heavily either way

SCSeal.pngOn Monday, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the Golan v. Holder copyright case. In a post for Duke’s Scholarly Communications website, Kevin Smith — who also wrote about the original case in 2009 — provided a nice background summary:

Basically the problem is that a law passed to reconcile U.S. copyright law with the international treaties that we agreed to in 1988 and after had the effect of removing some works from the public domain. This had virtually never happened before; until the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) of 1994, things that were in the public domain stayed there, and users could safely depend on their availability for use and reuse. For a subset of materials, however, the URAA changed the rules pretty dramatically and, according to the petitioners, in a way that conflicts with the basic protection of free speech found in the US Constitution.

According to the official case file, the court agreed to hear the case on two issues: “(1) Does the Progress Clause of the United States Constitution, Article I, ยง 8, cl. 8, prohibit Congress from taking works out of the public domain? (2) Does Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution?”

In an email interview, Dana Newman, a transactional and intellectual property attorney, described the case and the nuts and bolts of the decision with which the Supreme Court is faced:

This is an important case because it tests Congress’ ability to extend the boundaries of copyright law. The Constitution gives Congress the power to secure exclusive rights for authors and inventors “for limited times.” Copyright terms have been lengthened under the Copyright Act to now protect most works for 95 years.

The Golan case challenges Congress’ ability to take works that are in the public domain in the U.S. (but still under copyright abroad), and restore their copyright status to comply with international treaties. The law at issue acts as another extension of copyright protection, by “recopyrighting” a large number of foreign works that had been in the public domain in the U.S. for decades.

The interview with Newman continues here.

Flipboard improves user experience by removing “sourciness”

This week’s Flipboard update sports increased speed, an improved design layout, a partnership with Instagram, and the ability for users to search across several social platforms, including Flickr, Twitter and Facebook.

The shiny new features are drawing plenty of attention, but the really cool thing here — and what likely will fuel Flipboard’s success — is the platform’s ability to seamlessly present the newly integrated social content without overly focusing on the original source or platform.

In a recent interview, Craig Mod, designer and publisher at Flipboard, stressed the importance of putting the content first. By making content the focus of the presentation, users can experience a seamless stream of information rather than jumping from platform to platform:

I think the thing that Flipboard is doing particularly well is that the integrations become seamless. One of the main goals at Flipboard that we really try to drive home is that [users] plug in these [integration] sources and we remove the “sourciness” from it.

When I’m reading stuff in Flipboard, it’s not like I’m engaging Twitter or engaging Facebook. I’m just aware of the great content that’s being micro-curated by my social groups. There’s an obfuscation of that social network layer — what we’re building is a comfortable consumption layer, as fed by human curation.

In the interview, Mod also discusses the most important elements of app design and how Flipboard is, at this point, a great big experiment. The full interview is available in the following video:

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