Royalties: Virtual States

Posted by jerry on May 6th, 2004 — Posted in New media, Technology, Writing

Well I’m skipping around the place – it’s that time of year again – another royalties cheque from my publisher Routledge (UK). The book is called: Virtual States: The Internet and the boundaries of the nation-state – and yes it’s about the impact of the internet on society.

But the word “royalties” is a curious word. There are of course all the prosaic definitions but I wondered about the royal connection, so I went to my trusty Compact Oxford and found a raft of references. The relevant one appears to be that of a “royal prerogative granted by the sovereign to an individual or corporation” granting jurisdiction or rights over something, such as mining rights, or rights over an invention or work of art or book. It dates back to at least 1483 where there is a reference in the Rolls of the UK Parliament to the siezing of, among other things, the royalties belonging to a hapless lordship and manor of Coverton. It seems somehow strange and anachronistic that even in the staunchly Republican US, there is so much litigation over “royalties” where there is clearly no regal sovereign to grant such rights…

And amidst all the clamour about internet piracy, there seems to be at least some evidence that piracy on the internet does not harm CD sales. According to research published in New Scientist, researchers from the Harvard business School and the University of North Carolina have found that in a statistical study tracking millions of music files downloaded over the internet, and comparing them with sales of the same music on CDs, the study found that the most heavily downloaded titles suffered no decrease in CD sales. In fact among the most popular, those that sold more than 600,000 copies over the study period appeared to sell better when downloaded more heavily.

Moreover, unless the work is selling fabulously, my own experience suggests that the authorial benefits are derived more from externalities, such as paid trips to speak at conferences and experts forums in the US and UK – that and the great people I’ve met as a consequence, than from the actual money earned by sales. I reckon we could all learn a lot from the Clue-train Manifesto philosophy. It still holds true regardless of the dot com tech wreck!


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