Screen shot 2010-01-12 at 10.25.40 AM.pngThat is the title of a really "must read" article by Joseph Esposito on the controversy stirred up by editor Jonathan Galassi. Not only will you learn about how Galassi misses the mark, which other critics have mentioned as well, but you will learn a bit about how the Encyclopedia Britannica came to CD-ROM and, more importantly, to the Internet.

And this is what Galassi misses. He correctly notes that a publisher (in this case, Random House) will, among other things, introduce an author’s work to magazines and newspapers for publicity and rights sales, but doesn’t see the parallel universe that authors hope to participate in and e-books are ideally suited for. This is the online world, where not all of a publishers’ connections are the cozy ones around a midtown Manhattan lunch table. In an essay about digital editions of Styron’s work, there is not a single reference to Google or Twitter, though there is a plea that print will not die. An author or an estate may justly ask whether the publisher that worked so hard to bring a book into the world is the right entity to steward a book through cyberspace.

And so in the end Galassi’s argument rests on the high holy ground of moral rights, whereas authors and their heirs occupy the low ground of economic interest. We should not be surprised to see such an argument in the opinion pages of the New York Times, which increasingly has only its moral authority to rely on.

Prior TeleRead Coverage: Galassi’s essay; two other responses


  1. He is too polite.
    A more concise way of putting it is: “Whatever effort you put into selling the print book was put in to sell the print book. Now tell me what you are doing to sell the ebook.”
    And since most BPHs do nothing to sell ebooks beyond shipping a file or two to the retailer and moaning about the money *they* don’t make, it should be no surprise that (name) authors believe the BPHs aren’t serious about making *them* money via ebooks. And since it is blatantly obvious that there is at least a portion of the ebook business that does *not* overlap/compete/cannibalize print books, the author is compelled to address that new market by other channels.
    Hence the beginning of publisher disintermediation by the name authors.
    If the BPHs don’t get off their whiney horses the defections are only going to increase.

  2. Galassi is effectively arguing that copyright in a specific edition of a book should be shared by all those who made creative contributions to it, and since they were working for the publisher then then publisher should be the holder of this shared copyright. Since the ebook version will include at least the same editing as the printed version, he seems to reckon that the book publisher should be entitled to a share of the ebook money.

    Esposito seems to say that this argument is morally correct but that Galassi has not presented it in a way that will appeal to the ego of authors. I suggest that in both cases the ego of the publishers that’s the problem.

    In the original article Galassi himself talks about all of these contributions being “submitted to the author for approval”, which would seem to acknowledge that the final judgement on the shape of the finished work still belongs completely to the author.

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