Monday, December 11, 2006

They call it Stormy Monday

Good sense on copyright from the FT

Last week saw the publication in the UK of the Gowers report on Intellectual Property (IP), of which more in a moment. And on Saturday the Financial Times ran an editorial which was full of good sense. Headlined 'Intellectual Propriety', the sub-head ran 'The term of copyrights and patents should not be extended'. Here is an extract:

This week, as part of a welter of documents accompanying a budget report, the Treasury published a review of the rules on intellectual property. Written by Andrew Gowers, a former editor of this newspaper, it argues against extending the term of copyright for music, but for reforms that would make intellectual property cheaper to protect and easier to enforce.

That is consistent with the purpose of copyrights, patents and trademarks: they exist to encourage the creation of knowledge, by providing the creator with a period of exclusive use, and to persuade people to make their discoveries public, so others can build on them.

If the revenue from a temporary monopoly is more than the cost of writing, recording or inventing then a financial incentive exists. But because that monopoly has a cost to society - the drug or film or book costs more than it would if it could be freely copied - the term of the intellectual property should be the minimum possible.

The FT (which I think we can assume speaks for its former editor) thus takes the same line as Macaulay in 1841. Macaulay argued that copyright was a form of temporary monopoly, and that monopolies were, in principle, against the public interest. For a fuller discussion, see my post of 6 February 2006.

I fear that 4500 musicians are going to be rather disappointed.

Full details of the Gowers report are on the HM Treasury web site.

The Frontlist

The Frontlist is the subject of a brief article in the International Herald Tribune, a newspaper which chooses, for its own good reasons, no doubt, to refer to it as The Front List.

The Frontlist was described here on 18 July 2006. It is a web site which offers you the opportunity to submit a sample of your novel, whereupon said extract is read and scored by five other people who have also submitted samples. Those bits of amazing prose which score highly are then read by agents and/or publishers who thus hope to avoid having to do their own elimination of the not very impressive by wading through the slush pile.

I had reservations, but I thought people should suck it and see. Scott Pack is quoted as having some reservations too.

The IHT adds little new, but as I said before, 'this entire operation is being run by thoughtful and well-intentioned people -- idealists, even -- who are going to be doing a great deal of work for close to zero money, and it would therefore be churlish to be unkind about it.'

It's early days yet to expect the scheme to have thrown up a winner, but, if you're an eager young hopeful, it's a site to explore. (Link from

Richard in bidding war

Galleycat says that Richard Madeley, male half of the UK's formidable TV pair Richard and Judy, is working on a book about fathers and sons, and that the auction is getting excitable. (The proposed novel has been put aside.)

Meanwhile, everyone continues to rave about the value and importance, to the UK book world, of the Richard and Judy show.

Prizes that no one wants

There is much uproar in blogoland over the prizes that no one wants. Well, not many people. It's all very boring, but if you read Galleycat's posts of 6 December and 7 December you will see that Sobol launched a prize for fiction writers and expected 50,000 entries; so far they've got 1,000 or so, probably because you have to pay $85 to enter.

Anyway, the only reason for mentioning it here is because it reminds me of an article which appeared in Esquire at least forty years ago. That told the tale of a competition (run by a publisher, I think) to find a really great novel. The prize was huge (I seem to remember $200,000), and included sale of film rights to some Hollywood household name. In the end the entries were so poor that the publisher had to commission a professional to write the 'winner'.

I am also reminded of a competition run in 1983 by the Sunday Express, to find a new romantic writer. Over 10 million words were submitted (perhaps 200 novels), but unfortunately only one entry conformed with the requirements of the competition.


Bookslut reports that an audience in New York was stunned (gobsmacked, as we say in England) by the following statement from Milton Glaser:

Glaser, designer of the iconic "I Love New York" design, had an unfortunate Larry Summers moment when he said that the reason there are so few female rock star graphic designers is that "women get pregnant, have children, go home and take care of their children. And those essential years that men are building their careers and becoming visible are basically denied to women who choose to be at home." He continued: "Unless something very dramatic happens to the nature of the human experience then it's never going to change." About day care and nannies, he said, "None of them are good solutions."
The crowd fell silent, says Bookslut, apart from a hiss or two. Curious, isn't it, how a crowd can be silenced by a statement of the blindingly obvious.

Ansible items

There are ghosts, and ghosts. Ansible reports that Arthur C. Clarke feels he's too old for the writing game, and has asked dynamic 'young' author Frederik Pohl (born two years after ACC) to finish his new novel.

Ansible also quotes the ever-modest James Ellroy: "I am a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music." (New York Times Magazine interview, 5 Nov.)

And a lot more besides. Go take a look.

While you're at it, go look at David Langford's The End of Harry Potter.

The Writers Ink

There are more ways than one to make a living as a writer, as The Writers Ink shows. And no, they don't bother with an apostrophe. This gang not only have an office in the USA, they have one in Seoul, South Korea, too. Link from my son Jon who met Peter at a party.

Kathy O'Beirne story

If you are keeping half an eye on the Kathy O'Beirne story, you may wish to note that some passionate supporters of that lady continue to post comments on my post of 20 September 2006. One of the latest is a 'counselling psychologist'.

Culture on Sunday

The Sunday Times culture section contained several items of note.

If you have ever wondered what an English pantomime is all about, the review of Dick Whittington at the Barbican gives you a pretty good idea.

There's a discussion of how the television industry hopes to avoid making the same mistakes that the music business made when it comes to permitting downloading. (And copying? See the Gowers report.)

Then there's a discussion of how classical music fans like to download stuff too (who would have guessed?), and can they have a more sophisticated service please.

John Doyle has written a book about the impact of television on Irish society. The Irish didn't get their own TV service until 1961, and at the official opening both President de Valera and Cardinal Dalton warned of the evil influence that TV could have. Well, it sure as hell reduced respect for both politicians and the church. You might like to read this before or after Christine Falls.

A chap called Pynchon has a book out. Apparently.

And the bestseller list shows that Marina Lewycka is still in the top ten (after 23 weeks) with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, of which 557,350 copies have been sold. So far. Thumpy eck, Mavis, that's a lot of books. But she deserves it.

Director of People wanted

The Sunday Times appointments (jobs) section has an advert from HarperCollins for a 'Director of People', which is, presumably, the new name for Human Resources aka Personnel.

The ad describes HC as 'well positioned to embrace the transformation of publishing in the new digital environment'. The Director will be expected to 'enable the company to thrive in a rapidly developing publishing sector that will place increasing emphasis on direct relationships with the consumer'. W.H. Smith et al are going to love that bit, aren't they?

And, above all, the Director needs the 'ambition to play a pivotal role in taking an established and high profile organisation through substantial change to ensure it maintains its competitive edge in a dynamic publishing market.'

Well, it's taken a while, and this isn't the first sign of it, but at last UK publishers seem to have got the message that we're in the digital age and things cannot remain the same, even if you want them to.

Gessen on blogs

Finally, Maud Newton drew my attention to some comments about blogs which were made by Keith Gessen, editor of n+1. Here's part of what Gessen said:

The trouble with [literary] blogs arises when they go from being diaries (very private expressions, telling us something only that person knows) to being basically attention-grabbing mechanisms.... Back in the day, you would occasionally stumble upon some person blogging about their very private reading, what it was like, what their reactions were. Those people still exist, but they're drowned out by people who are just purveyors of literary gossip -- who comment on books they haven't even read, who, as Marco likes to say, are just basically freelance publicists.
Now the man has a point, and it has bothered me for some time. When I first started this blog it consisted almost entirely of stuff that was unique to me, i.e. it was about books that I'd read and enjoyed, and about my ideas on the best way to write fiction, and so forth.

Gradually, and I'm not sure quite how it happened, I drifted into providing (at least part of the time) what a friend of mine used to call tragic gossip -- i.e. snippets of news about the book world. Today's post is an example.

Now the tragic gossip approach has its uses. As a retired person I do have rather more time available to read newspapers and web pages than has someone who has a full-time job (and, often, is trying to write a novel as well). So a kind of filtering process and a bit of reader's-digesting can serve a useful purpose.

And it may be that I, and Keith Gessen, underestimate the usefulness of that. However, I do retain a slightly guilty feeling that the true value (if any) of this blog lies in such original comment and guidance as I can provide in the form of some of my better essays and book reviews. Most of the gossip you can, in fact, get elsewhere.

The trouble is, of course, that the extended essays take rather a long time to do. For weeks now, I have been thinking of doing at least a couple more items on Victorian pornography (parts one and two appeared some time ago), some more about emotion and decision-making for writers, and the literature of transgender, and a lot more. But it is all too easy, I'm afraid, to get distracted.

Note to self: must work on the balance thing.


Anonymous said...

You didn't mention your own mention on Ansible Michael.

Anonymous said...

Don't hesitate a moment over the integrity and value of your blog. You have maintained a long and steady balance of both.

Regarding the Mighty Ansible ("I am also the greatest crime novelist...), may I safely assume he is in the child prodigy group?

And as far as the O'Beirne silliness, isn't it amazing how desperate authors today find, anonymous or fabricated "people"...that speak up so vociferously--and increase the author's web presence in so doing. I'd love to go around comparing typewriters. (Yes, Virginia, when I was a child, they had typewriters.)

Anonymous said...

Yet you always give your spin and your opinion on the tragic gossip: we get personality and the digest.

Anonymous said...

"The TROUBLE with" . . . "JUST purveyors of literary gossip" . . . Gessen misses the point. Blogs of GOB's kind are, as you suggest, partly digests that steer readers to sites they might not otherwise find. And GOB does add value. The other day, when he gave a site I run a mention, I emailed him privately: "Nicely done with just the right dry touch! GOB scores, as always on his varied literary topics. Many thanks." Does Gessen believe publicity has to be reprehensible?

Elberry said...

i came across GOB's blog via Google, running a search for info on SAS author Frank Collins - at the time i was also trying to get a novel published, and so read the whole blog illictly at work (the best way to read on-line). Even though i've now given up trying to be published, i still enjoy reading the blog, more for GOB's prose & intelligence than any specific subject matter.

On Frontlist or whatever it's called, i've experience of 2 such sites: and triggerstreet. The first is for novels, the second for screenplays. Both are valuable for the range of feedback you receive. The trouble is that most of the reviewers (in my experience) have no idea how to be objective, so many criticisms boil down to "you haven't written the kind of book/screenplay that I would! How dare you!" Some reviewers, despite having apparently written full-length novels, can barely write coherent English, and can't understand anything but flat, "these are the facts with no adverbs, and VERY few adjectives" prose, sadly. For many people, being called upon to review someone else's work seems to bring out the sniffy schoolma'am in them.

Another problem is that, with novels featuring only your first few chapters, a slow or thoughtful start will be shot down in flames. The Neal Stephenson book i'm reading now, Quicksilver, would get ripped to shreds, as would many other good but slow-starting novels.

As for the ratings system - i put a script on Triggerstreet, which got 3 excellent reviews, and 3 very very bad reviews. It came out average. The system favours the compromise work, that which no one will dislike. Most of my favourite novels or films would probably get enough terrible reviews to come out just above average, i suspect.

They're worth trying, however, just to get an idea of how people will react to your work.

Anonymous said...

This bookseller does not think that R&J are that important to other than the mainstream booktrade. Their Christmas long-list seemed to be highly influenced by what might be called commercial considerations : quite a few of my customers yesterday voiced the opinion that the latest show was just an opportunity for celebrity bonding.

The winners with R&J are the supermarkets and major sales outlets : most indie bookshops would have a far more exciting and thought provoking stock range to offer their (discerning) customers than the rather obvious selections made by this over-hyped programme during the last 2 years.

Anonymous said...

Hi am very new to all this blogging and would like to ask a question, seeing as you all seem to know about books. I have to write an essay on the man booker prize and I have chosen the topic of the author as a brand. It would be great to hear what you lot think of this?!

Dick Headley said...

I don't care why you do it GOB. I've learned a lot from your blog and I don't have time to go scouring the internet. Keep up the good work.

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