Wednesday, April 23, 2008

John Maynard Keynes' Publishing Deals

I'm reading John Maynard Keynes: An Economist's Biography by D.E. Moggridge, and this little fact jumped out at me:
On 26 July he offered the book, which he called The Economic Consequences of the Peace, to Macmillan, who accepted it two days later, although the terms changed over the ensuing weeks as Keynes was more optimistic than his publisher over the book's sales. Eventually he retained the American rights and published the book in England on a commission basis. He was to pay all the costs involved in producing, distributing and advertising the book and to keep all the profits after paying Macmillan a royalty. He was to publish on this basis for the rest of his life.
This is, of course, the opposite of the usual publishing arrangement, wherein the publisher takes the risk on production and marketing, and in exchange pays the author a royalty for the right to use his or her content. But the fact that the latter is the normal agreement shows mainly how inflexible publishing is. In the early 90s, when Dark Horse Comics was experiencing some tight times, an editor there, Jerry Prosser, suggested offering this arrangement--in which Dark Horse would be, in effect, an a la carte provider of publishing services--to selected artists and writers. When the idea was rejected by management, he attempted to institute it on his own, secretly, which ultimately got him fired. I was a young editor at Dark Horse then, and I thought it was a very interesting, innovative notion. Little did I know that Keynes had published under the same arrangement more than 70 years earlier.



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