traditional publishing

Prometheus Unbound Podcast

In episode three of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and I have a fantastic interview with the wonderful Jeffrey Tucker, editor of Laissez Faire Books. It’s a long one, about an hour and fifteen minutes, and we knew you’d be eager to listen to Jeffrey, so we wasted no time with chit-chat and got right down to business. We covered a number of topics ranging from LFB, intellectual property, and Jeffrey’s favorite fiction.

We started off by asking Jeffrey Tucker what it’s been like working for a commercial publisher and bookseller after having worked for a nonprofit educational institution, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where he was editorial vice president, for so long.

Then we went on to talk about the business model of Laissez Faire Books and the role of the publisher in the digital age as a curator and service provider (curation as a service); the compatibility of open source and business; intellectual property; the nature of competition; how many entrepreneurs and businesses misidentify the source of their profitability and don’t understand why people buy their goods or services; how copyright has held back the publishing industry; and markets as institutions of teaching and learning.

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Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of . He is the author, most recently, of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo (2010) and It’s a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes (2011). The former editorial vice president of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, he is an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research fellow with the Acton Institute, and a faculty member of Acton University.

Allen Mendenhall: Jeff, this interview is exciting for me. It’s something of a reversal of the interview that we did together in January 2011. This time, I’m interviewing you. I’d like to start off by asking about your two recent books, Bourbon for Breakfast and It’s a Jetsons World. Tell the readers of this site a little about both books.

Jeffrey Tucker: Both books cover the unconventional side of private life as governed by the market and human volition. I guess you could say that this is my beat. I’m interested in the myriad ways in which the government’s central plan — and there is such a thing — has distorted and changed our lives, and also interested in the ways we can get around this plan and still live fulfilling lives. I take it as a given that everything that government does is either useless or destructive or both. The government does a tremendous number of things, so this is a huge area. Bourbon is more focused on the rottenness of the state and its harm, while Jetsons is more the marvelous things that markets do for us. Neither subject gets the attention they deserve.

AM: These books are available for free online in PDF and EPUB formats. Explain why you’ve chosen to make your work freely and widely available.

JT: Every writer wants to be read, so it only makes sense for all writers to post their material. Of course publishers tend to intervene here with promises of royalties in exchange for which you become their slave for the rest of your life plus 70 years (that’s when they dance on your grave). This is the essence of copyright. It is a bad deal for writers. Those who go along with it these days nearly always regret it later. If they actually earn royalties — and very few actually do — it is likely they would have earned more had the material not been withheld pending payment. The bestselling books of 2012 — the Hunger Games series — are posted by pirates everywhere, even against publisher wishes. But, you know, this is starting to change. Publishers are gradually seeing the point to posting material online. Sadly, they aren’t budging on the copyright issue, which is really pathetic. No libertarian should ever publish anything with any institution that is not willing to embrace a very liberal policy on reprints, and one that is likely enforceable such as Creative Commons — Attribution. Meanwhile, the government is using copyright, a phony form of property rights, to step up its despotic control over the digital age. The situation is extremely dangerous. One hundred years from now, they will be laughing at our times and poking fun at how the anachronistic state tried its best to thwart progress.

AM: You strike me as an optimist. Is that true?

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The Lorax

Anyone who read Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax as a kid might dread the movie version. No one really needs another moralizing, hectoring lecture from environmentalists on the need to save the trees from extinction, especially since that once-fashionable cause seems ridiculously overwrought today. There is no shortage of trees and this is due not to nationalization so much as the privatization and cultivation of forest land.

And yet, even so, the movie is stunning and beautiful in every way, with a message that taps into something important, something with economic and political relevance for us today. In fact, the movie improves on the book with the important addition of “Thneed-Ville,” a community of people who live in a completely artificial world lorded over by a mayor who also owns the monopoly on oxygen.

This complicates the relatively simple narrative of the book, which offers a story of a depleted environment that doesn’t actually make much sense. The original posits an entrepreneur who discovers that he can make a “Thneed” — a kind of all-purpose cloth — out of the tufts of the “Truffula Tree,” and that this product is highly marketable.

Now, in real life, any capitalist in this setting would know exactly what to do: immediately get to work planting and cultivating more Truffula trees. This is essential capital that makes the business possible and sustainable through time. You want more rather than less capital. An egg producer doesn’t kill his chickens; he breeds more. But in the book (and the movie), the capitalist does the opposite. He cuts down all the trees and, surprise, his business goes bust.

The book ends with the aging capitalist regretting his life and passing on the last Truffula seed to the next generation. The end. However, the movie introduces us to the town that is founded after this depletion occurs. It is shielded off from the poisoned and depleted world outside, and oxygen is pumped in by the mayor who holds the monopoly on air and builds Lenin-like statues to himself. The people eventually rise up when they discover that “air is free” and thereby overthrow the despot, chopping off the statue’s head.

It was this line about how air is free that clued me in to the movie’s possible subtext. You only need to add one metaphor to see how this movie can be the most important and relevant political-economic drama of the season.

The metaphorical substitution is this: The Trees are Ideas.

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In my last news roundup, I briefly discussed the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction being put online for free by Gollancz. At the time, I speculated: “Why [put it online for free]? Oh, I don’t know, maybe reading through the encyclopedia will tempt people into buying more books and ebooks of and about the stories and authors described within it.” This was before I had heard about Gollancz’s new SF Gateway imprint.

SF Gateway will be publishing online in ebook form a catalog numbering in the thousands of out-of-print backlist books from its authors. Including “the classic SF pulp writers of the Golden Age right through to modern award-winning authors,” SF Gateway purports to be “the largest library of digital Science Fiction and Fantasy ever assembled.” All of these titles will naturally be directly interlinked with author and title entries in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, so the encyclopedia will serve as a handy way to spur sales. The SF Gateway site will also serve in part as a social network, which is another clever idea — build up an online community around the encyclopedia and that large library of sf&f ebooks. You can read more about it in the pdf press release.

Also in the last news roundup, I mentioned some innovations in publishing. Here is some more info on a couple of them:

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