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You write several novels and transfer copyright to a publisher in exchange for royalty payment.  When you die your heirs have a legally granted option to negate the transfer of copyright.  This option limits how much your publisher will pay you for the copyright.  So you attempt to block your heirs by entering a second contract which pre-emptively regrants the copyright.

Eventually you die and your heirs ask the courts to declare your pre-emptive contract invalid.

You are (or were) John Steinbeck and your case is before the Supreme Court. If I am reading this right the appelate court decision went against the heirs.  And remarkably the Songwriter’s Guild of America filed an amicus brief in favor of the heirs. (ascot angle: scotusblog.)

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That’s a line from a crucial moment in the play Art by Yazmina Reza.  I saw the play at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago last week.  This was one of the best plays I have seen there in my 10 years as a subscriber (putting aside August: Osage County which is in another category altogether.)  Highly recommended.

But it is not for everybody.  Sandeep wouldn’t like it for example (then again as documented previously on this blog Sandeep has bad taste.)  I wanted to write a review to give a sense of who might like the play and I spent some time thinking about how to convey that, but a conventional review failed to materialize.  After a while I realized that the right way to review it is in the form of a dialog between the characters in the play.

There are three characters:  Serge, a dilettante who has created some buzz with a painting he just bought, Marc, a friend who is having a difficult time articulating his reaction to said painting, and Yvan who is helplessly caught in the middle.  Hit the link below for the review.

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Uber-twitterer and oenephile of the Proletariat Gary Vaynerchuck has just signed a million dollar deal with Harper Studio who will publish 10 (!) books by the hitherto unpublished, self-proclaimed non-reader.  As reported here (bowlerbow: EatMeDaily), this represents an experiment in the terms of book contracts by the fledgling division of Harper Collins which was built on the premise that contracts delivering massive advances to the author and retaining sales revenue for the publisher are no longer part of a viable business model.

Publishing contracts must solve a thorny bilateral incentive problem which arises as a result of the timing of investment by author and publisher.  The author commits effort up front writing the book and then the publisher is expected to commit resources editing and marketing the completed manuscript.  The problem is to provide incentives for one party without dampening the incentives for the other.  The traditional advance/residuals contract solves this problem because the residuals give the publisher incentive to market the book and maximize sales leaving the advance as the compensation for the author.  The accompanying shift of risk from author to publisher is efficient because the publisher handles many books simultaneously, effectively creating a diversified portfolio.

The book market has famously weakened and it is becoming rarer and rarer for sales to justify the large advances that were hallmarks of existing contracts.  This means that a larger fraction of the author’s compensation must come directly out of book royalties, undermining the incentive and risk-shifting benefits of the old structure.  To adapt, publishers are seeking authors who already have an established “platform” such as a blog or other online community.  Such authors are less averse to residuals because their ready-made audience makes the prospect less risky. Vaynerchuck would appear to fit the bill perfectly.  His video blog, winelibrarytv attracts more than 80,000 viewers per day and as of today he has 177,000 followers on Twitter.

But when authors receive a large share of sales revenue, how can publishers be motivated to do the footwork of marketing the book to generate those sales?  To some extent an author with a platform can do his own marketing but if word of mouth were all that was required to turn a book into a hit, there would be no reason for the publisher in the first place.  Here is where the second novelty in the Vaynerchuck deal comes in: the long-term relationship.  The contract marries Vaynerchuck and HarperStudio for 10 books.  If HarperStudio can make his first book into a hit, it makes Gary into a star and it stands to reap the benefits on not just the first book but the 9 more to come.

“On the back end” as Gary would put it.

Shiny, red, and guaranteed to please the ladies.  Yes, I turned 40 last year but no I didn’t buy a car.  I planted heirloom tomatoes.    And I am hooked.  I just bought this book.

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It has incredibly detailed flavor profiles, growing tips, seed sources, and recipes for hundreds of heirloom varieties.  The photographs are beautiful and the mini-histories are very entertaining:

Early members of Seed Savers Exchange worked themselves into a frenzy trying to find a Pruden’s Purple–one “so purple it looked black, about the color of the Black Beauty eggplant,”  fantasized Milan Rafayako of New Haven Kentucky in the 1981 yearbook.  Alas, such a creature never materialized.  Rare cultivated tomatoes, it turns out, don’t normally contain the purple pigment anthocyanin–although some of their wild relatives do.

If my calculations are correct, for the Chicago climate I need to germinate seeds in late April, transplant in late May, and pray that I have ripe tomatoes before I leave for San Diego in August.  But if things go like last year, that last week I will be making heavy use of the recipe (page 221) for Fried Green Tomatoes.

She is packing for a short trip and she bought a book for the plane ride.  Its a historical romance.  She asked me if it was a true story.  I said “You might as well pretend it is, you will enjoy it more.”

Jennie: “What did you say?”

Jeff:  “Yes it is a true story.”

Jennie: “Great, I like to read true stories.”

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