Thursday, June 12, 2014

Midsummer Maddness Book Royalties

Does anybody know where to find Raymond Buxton?

It must be Summer and the heat must be sending some barmy with thoughts of erecting new toll booths to collect money every time a book gets sold.

Yesterday the news that secondhand reseller Bookbarn had entered into some sort of convoluted pact with the Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Society (ALCS) to effectively pay a royalty to authors on the sale of the used books. Someone at ALCS was obviously dreaming of a huge new revenue stream and a potential new role in life, or some misguided people believed that there was any quick win and a pot of gold without thinking through the implications. Bookbarn‘s motive for doing it is not known.

The ALCS has always been actively looking at ways to increase their members’ earnings but the practicalities and economics of the scheme should be seriously questioned and its potential impact evaluated within the industry and across the value chain.

First of all can we define a secondhand or used book and when is a secondhand, thirdhand or even more? What is the difference between rare and antiquarian and used paperbacks? Are public domain works to be included or excluded and who will identify which qualify? What happens with foreign works and editions? Is the toll based on individual resale value or retailer’s revenues or some sort of honesty box? What happens with the sale of orphan works and how are these to be identified? Do charity shops and car boot sales have an exclusion or are they to be included? When a return is resold is that still mint or now deemed secondhand? Defining degrees of used is itself going to be a challenge.

ALCS may be good at collecting photocopying revenue but this is a different and far more complex world.
The book is still under the copyright ownership of the author but it has also been produced by the publisher who currently only earns on the initial sale. Unlike artworks, there are others who have been involved with the production and development of the book being resold. Should any collection agency succeed in collecting used sales revenues could the publishers also lay claim to some of the bounty? Should the agent who facilitated the original deal also be rewarded? Is the money collected to be shared just between ALCS members?

There are many more questions which we presume all have thought through and have answers for.
It is not clear whether the sales to be recorded like artworks as unit sales or managed as collective sales and revenues spread by percentage sold, like PLR lending’s across members? What is the administrative overhead of the operation and is the revenues exclusive to ALCS members and what happens with international authors who don’t belong to ALCS?

Anyone familiar with the music collection services such as Performing Rights Society (PRS) would appreciate that their approach to collecting money can sometimes be viewed by some as intimidating and somewhat arbitrary and that the administration costs of such collections can outweigh the benefits given to individuals.

The Artist’s Resale Right, or Droit de suite became an EU directive in 2001, and was enacted in the UK in 2006 but todate has delivered questionable benefits to artists and it is claimed that instead of tens of thousands of artists benefiting, only 1,104 artists benefited, of which only 568 were British”.

So instead of creating a questionable and some would say unworkable sledgehammer to crack a nut, why don’t we address the basics and first establish a rights registry and identify exactly who owns what.

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