Thursday, June 15, 2006

Problems for Publishers-

I was cataloging a very interesting Ben Franklin item last night, which gives amusing insight into just how far back price-comparing and complaints about high publisher's prices go. The booklet is titled "A Letter from Benjamin Franklin, Passy, April 21, 1785, to Benjamin Vaughan, containing some observations on the prodigal practices of publishers". It was published in Princeton by the Friends of the Princeton Library in 1949, and is a facsimile of Franklin’s famous letter denouncing the practices of English publishers. Franklin begins by writing of the controversy over cheap Irish goods in the English marketplace, and eventually gets around to books-

"If Books can be had much cheaper from Ireland, (which I believe for I bought Blackstone there for 24s when it was sold in England at 4 Guineas) is not this an Advantage, not to English Booksellers indeed, but to English Readers and Learning? And of all the Complainants perhaps these Booksellers are least worthy of Consideration. The Catalogue you last sent me amazes me by the high Prices, (said to be the lowest) affix’d to every Article. And one can scarce see a new Book, without observing the excessive Artifices made use of to puff up a Paper of Verses into a Pamphlet, a Pamphlet into an Octavo Volume, and an Octavo into a Quarto, with Scab-boardings, white Lines, sparse Titles of Chapters, & exorbitant Margins, to such a degree, that the Selling of Paper seems now the Object, and Printing on it only a Pretence".

We put the booklet up for auction on Ebay. For more information click the "Our Ebay Auctions" link in the right-hand column.

Speaking of problems for publishers, a judge has just given the copyright to ten early John Steinbeck novels back to the family, even though Steinbeck's will specifically left them to someone else. The judge cited the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998 which not only extended the period of original copyright, but granted an author's descendants the right to "reclaim" copyright. According to this judge, copyright law now reads that "blood heirs" have rights that cannot even be altered by things like the author's will.

Now correct me if I'm wrong but... that's just nuts. When you leave something to someone in your will, I find it creepy that decades later your family can sue to get it back, but that's exactly what can now happen. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the courts as the case is appealed. What's Hedy Lamarr got to do with John Steinbeck? Bonus points for the right answer!


catalyst said...

Tortilla Flat.

Colonel Colonel said...

1942, with Spencer Tracy and Frank Morgan; Victor Fleming, Director. Give the man a gold star!

Phoebe Fay said...

Hedy Lamarr wasn't flat!