The Velocity of Content podcast is produced by CCC, the global leader in content workflow and rights integration with 40+ years of experience providing solutions and copyright education for businesses and publishers.
Featuring breaking news and thoughtful analysis from across the dynamic global content industry, CCC’s Velocity of Content is a platform for thought leaders and industry experts operating at the speed of content to share new ideas, observations, and knowledge and stay on top of emerging industry trends and challenges.
Big 5 CEOs Testify in Antitrust Case
Testimony continued for a second week in Washington, DC, in the Department of Justice suit to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of rival Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster.
On Monday, Macmillan CEO Don Weisberg testified, joining the ranks of other Big 5 CEOs who have sat in the witness chair, including Michael Pietsch of Hachette Book Group and Penguin Random House chief Markus Dohle before him.
According to John Maher, Publishers Weekly news and digital editor, Weisberg shared his gloomy expectations for the industry if the merger were allowed to go through.
“Weisberg said that ‘less competition is going to change the dynamic. Two of the major players becoming one—the prices, the advances, the type of competition at the auctions—I think it’ll have impact across the board,’ he told the court,” Maher tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
In later testimony, also for the government, HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray expressed amazement at the $2.18 billion offer by PRH for S&S.
“On the stand, Murray said he was ‘shocked’ when he saw the size of the number, $2.18 billion, that Penguin Random House had offered to pay for the publisher,” Maher reports.
“Comparing it to other mergers and acquisition activity in the book business over the past few years Murray said he found the offer far outside the range of other acquisitions.”
Harper is, at present, the second biggest trade publisher in the U.S., and its parent, NewsCorp, was a serious bidder for S&S, PW’s Maher notes.
Copyright & Technology 2022 Preview
From the invention of the player piano to the creation of the smartphone, copyright and technology have played a seemingly endless game of capture-the-flag. The upcoming Copyright and Technology Conference in New York on Tuesday, September 13th, plants both those flags firmly at Fordham University School of Law.
The conference keynote speaker is Kris Ahrend, chief executive officer of the Mechanical Licensing Collective, according to Bill Rosenblatt, program chair and conference co-producer.
“The Mechanical Licensing Collective, or the MLC, was a result of the 2018 Music Modernization Act that updates copyright law to deal with streaming music,” Rosenblatt explains.
“The MLC’s job is to take data on playouts from all the streaming services, figure out whom to pay, and then pay those royalties. It collects rights ownership information from music publishers and songwriters [and] it collects the streaming data from the services providers. And the service providers all pay a fee into that entity which then gets disbursed in the form of royalty payments,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
“This giant database of musical composition and music publishing rights ownership information was built during a global pandemic and was done on time. And the intent of having Kris keynote the conference is to show everyone how this is working and discuss how it could apply to other types of rights administration scenarios.”
In addition to his role with the 2022 Copyright and Technology Conference, Bill Rosenblatt is founder of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, a management consultancy focused on the content industries; an Adjunct Professor in the Music and Performing Arts Professions department at New York University; and a trustee of the Copyright Society of the USA. He is co-author with Howie Singer of Key Changes: The Ten Times Technology Disrupted the Music Industry, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
Publishing “Trial of the Century” Opens
Parties in the Department of Justice suit to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of rival Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster converged on a federal courthouse this week.
On Monday, Michael Pietsch, Hachette Book Group CEO, took the stand first for the government. Pietsch gave a lecture in Publishing 101 with a concentration in the competition for book rights, according to Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer.
“Pietsch attempted to explain to the court how basic things like book advances and rights auctions work, and how publishers manage their bidding strategies,” says Albanese, who has reported from the DC courthouse all week.
On cross-examination, Pietsch admitted that he would like to see parent company Hachette Livre bid on S&S even though the company did not do so in 2020, Albanese tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
“Pietsch said that he was never concerned with a merger taking the Big Five down to a Big Four, but with the creation of one ‘super dominant publisher’ that is “so far out of scale” with the rest of the business. It’s a view shared by many industry insiders,” Albanese explains.
Day 2, Tuesday, the court also heard from “a freelance writer” – bestselling horror novelist Stephen King. As a witness for the government, King, in effect, was taking the stand against his own publisher. King has been published by Scribner, a S&S imprint, since 1998.
“King said, ‘I came because I think consolidation is bad for competition. That’s my understanding of the book business, and I’ve been around it for 50 years,” Albanese reports.
Announced in November 2020, the PRH/S&S merger immediately raised the possibility that the US Department of Justice would seek to block it on antitrust grounds. On November 2, 2021, the US Dept. of Justice indeed filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the proposed acquisition.
“If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said at the time.
That control, the government has asserted, would allow PRH to exert outsized influence over which books are published in the United States and how much authors are paid for their work.
The trial is expected to take three weeks.
The Content Authenticity Initiative
Traditional journalism organizations and digital-native social media networks alike face a formidable challenge – breaking through the cloud of misinformation and overcoming doubt and suspicion.
In 2019, Adobe, with its partners Twitter and The New York Times, announced the Content Authenticity Initiative to provide consumers with more information about the content they’re seeing and to help them become more discerning about media.
The CAI now collaborates with hundreds of representatives from software, publishing, and social media companies, human rights organizations, photojournalism, and academic researchers to develop content attribution standards and tools. In June, The Wall Street Journal and Reuters became the latest members of the CAI community.
“It’s becoming an increasingly confusing digital media landscape out there, and consumers often have difficulty understanding where content comes from, whether it’s been manipulated – and if it has, to what degree?” explains Santiago Lyon, head of advocacy and education for the Adobe-led Content Authenticity Initiative.
“Traditionally, the approach to these problems has been detection, which is to say uploading suspect digital files to programs that look for telltale signs of manipulation,” he says.
“Instead of trying to detect what’s false, we decided to look at it from the other end of the argument, which is proving what’s real. To that end, we are working to establish the provenance of digital file types – the basic trustworthy facts about the origins of a piece of digital content,” Lyon tells CCC’s Christopher Kenneally.
E-Book Price Suit Is “Implausible” Say Amazon, Publishers
In New York this week, Judge Valerie Figueredo heard oral arguments on motions to dismiss a consumer class action lawsuit that alleges the Big Five publishers, together with Amazon, have colluded to eliminate price competition from the e-book market.
In 2013, in the so-called “Apple e-books case,” Amazon was the alleged victim of a conspiracy by the major publishers.
Now, Amazon and the Big Five are named as co-conspirators in a suit brought by Hagens Berman, the same firm that first sued Apple.
“The allegations are that Amazon and the Big Five publishers have conspired to eliminate retail price competition for e-books, specifically through use of Amazon’s Most Favored Nation (MFN) clauses in it contracts with each of the publishers,” reports Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer.
“The allegation is that the publishers each agreed to allow Amazon an MFN, which guarantees that Amazon can’t be underpriced, and in return Amazon’s MFN ensures that none of the publishers will underprice the others,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
“Judge Figueredo seemed very much on point in probing both sides over three hours of arguments,” Albanese says. “I’m sure the publishers and Amazon are quite eager to dispatch with a case that they’ve called illogical and implausible from the outset.”
Do Book Consumers Discriminate Against Black, Female, or Young Authors?
At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, sociologist Dana Weinberg collaborated on a complex survey looking for patterns of discrimination among book readers.
A Queens College City University of New York professor and a crime novelist, Weinberg created an inconspicuous market research survey for Amazon’s MTurk crowdsourcing marketplace – answer some questions for a book publisher. “We will ask you to examine book covers and book descriptions and then to offer your opinions about the book.”
The study by Professor Weinberg and her Queens College collaborator Adam Kapelner collected ratings of more than 25,000 book surveys across over 9,000 subjects, making the effort the largest experimental study of the book market to date. PLOS One has now published the results.
Subjects were presented with mocked-up book covers and descriptions from fiction and nonfiction genres. Using author names and photographs, the researchers signaled authors’ race, gender, and age, and randomly assigned these combinations to each book presented. Subjects noted their interest in purchasing the book, their evaluation of the authors’ credentials, and the amount they were willing to pay for the book.
“When you look at the history of publishing, we do see a lot of whitewashing,” Prof. Weinberg notes. “We see that the employees of publishers are mostly white. So there’s not a lot of diversity in the workforce itself in terms of who’s making the decisions and who’s doing the marketing.
“But also, there has been a history of a lack of diversity in who is getting published. And when publishers have historically decided that they want to highlight voices of people of color, it’s often been in niche markets – writing about racism, for example, or writing about the lives of Black people.”
As publishing has become increasingly profit-focused, suspicions also arise that a book by a Black authors won’t be acquired by an editor for fear it won’t make money.
“At the very least, we find that there’s no basis for publishers to discriminate against different kinds of authors,” Prof. Weinberg tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “Readers really weren’t sensitive to the identities of the authors. They were welcoming of this diversity of voices, especially ones that had been underrepresented.
“So the economic arguments, just don’t hold. In fact, it looks like there is an opportunity for greater profitability.”
Here for Andrew Albanese, not lobbyists covering up abusive practices
Velocity of Content’s Friday episodes with Andrew Albanese are fascinating and a must-listen for me, human, grounded, hopeful, and realistic. But then when they’re done it seems like half the time there is some lobbyist interview next, like the most recent “diversity” episode in which the guest talks about invasive data collection and elearning companies— two of the worst perpetuators of systemic racism and the erosion of an educated public— as if they are the gold standard in DEI. Yuck. I will be careful not to listen to anything but the Friday episodes in the future. Enjoy, but take with a spoonful of salt!