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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline


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November 7, 2011

Two More Modern Business Copyfight Models

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Time again for me to tie together two things that start out looking different but that I see through the same lenses.

First, an article published last month on Boingboing by new novelist Bill Barol. In his piece, Barol describes how he came to give away his first novel, Thanks for Killing Me. He discovered that regular publishers didn't want it, and self-publishing isn't all it's cracked up to be. For example, CreateSpace sets a minimum price - he could self-publish there for about USD 8 and take home 30 cents per copy sold.

The discrepancy is interesting. You can go to Amazon and think you're paying eight dollars for a book that its author feels he is essentially giving away, not to mention all of the work he has to do in promotion and marketing, since he has no major publishing house to handle that. Barol talks of the book as a "loss leader" - shades of Megan Lisa Jones - but unlike Ms Jones he doesn't seem to have a plan for follow-on work. His goal is just to get noticed. It is, as he admits, a pretty crazy plan but in an era when traditional business models are collapsing, one worth trying.
(Edit: Barol noted in a comment response that he does have a follow-on plan, which I failed to parse correctly from the Boingboing piece. Mea culpa.)

The second story appeared on NPR this morning, and describes a program at Arena Stage to foster new playwrights. The Copyfight-interesting thing about this program is that it's using a grant for new plays in a wholly different way. Instead of making one-off work-for-hire items that would then be owned by Arena Stage, the facility is instead using the grant money to pay playwrights like employees. They get a salary of about USD 40,000/year, housing assistance, benefits (including all-important medical insurance), and some money to do research for their new works.

In return the playwrights produce plays that are performed at Arena Stage, but can also be produced at any other theater around the country. The story doesn't describe the precise rights arrangement, but the director of the program, called American Voices New Play Institute, is quite clear about it being a different ownership model:

Normally, you commission a writer, you own that writer's play to a certain degree. And we're trying really a very different model.

In a way, this is still a patronage model, since the program uses money from a large grant. And I still think that patronage is not a scalable model. But it's interesting to me to see this mash-up of patronage and employee models, with a more liberal set of ownership and use permissions on top. The long-term goal of the project is to nurture new playwrights, a creative type we haven't talked much about on this blog. I will try to keep track and see how their model-bending works out.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use


1. Bill Barol on November 8, 2011 12:55 PM writes...

Thanks for your comments on my Boing Boing piece. I don't think it's quite accurate to say I don't have a follow-up plan; the overall marketing strategy, of which low pricing is a tactical part, is explained in the post. Can I also point out that if readers want to search Amazon for the book, the correct spelling of my last name is Barol. Thanks.

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2. Alan Wexelblat on November 9, 2011 2:22 PM writes...

Both fair points. I will fix.

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3. Megan Lisa Jones on November 9, 2011 11:04 PM writes...

Been traveling...

But I did want to comment.

Increasingly I'm focused on ownership of rights. Making money is an important point as no one can continue creating if they can't make some (at least some) money from their content in the long run. Then we must ask the hobby versus profession/business question.

But when must that money come in? For a play, can't it come in over time?

I'm increasingly looking at monetization models...and not just for myself but to answer follow up questions I've been asked.

Where are the sites that aggregate quality non-major publisher literary works that people like and read? I'm curious.

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4. Alan Wexelblat on November 12, 2011 2:48 PM writes...

@Megan: I'm not sure the two are precisely correlated. I wrote a little mini-rant on this blog back in January about how "Artists should get paid" ( But see Cory's column for Locus a few years ago on how giving his things away was resulting in "selling the hell out of" his material:

On the gripping hand, there's good evidence that people who can't control their own creative output get screwed - see most recording musicians, for example, in the past half-century.

Your question about aggregation sites is not a bad one, but I think the answer is "nowhere" or "your neighborhood book store". Neither of which are particularly great answers, I admit.

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