Literature and the Market
Within research cluster A (materiality), which focuses on law in literature and literature in law, the PIs in this project understand ‘literature’ as comprising books, newspapers and magazines, the latter more generally referred to as news media. Markets produce and publish literature, so literature becomes a subject of legal processes of regulation. At the same time, market regulations have an influence on the content and form of literary texts. Based on these assumptions about such processes of impact and transformation, the project focuses on representations and argumentative structures that either support or subvert literature’s right of maintaining a special status in competition law. The project investigates whether literature’s special status concerning competition can continue to be justified, especially with respect to the ongoing processes of digitalization.
Many countries tend to assign a special status to literature as an economic good as is evident in the famous 1962 precedent at the Restrictive Practices Court of the United Kingdom: “Books are different.” Similarly, news media have gained the questionable byname “Fourth Estate.” It is this special status of literature that serves as a justification for protecting literature in the market by partly acquitting it from competition law when it comes to a fixed book price, news media distribution, publishers’ cooperations or controlling the fusion of news media. The reason for literature’s special status in the market has not actually been laid down properly and the conditions tend to change. The question must be probed again, whether or not literature should maintain its special status as a protected object and what the goals of such protection are, in order to determine what exceptions from competition law are reasonable and adequate.
The project picks up this topic at a moment in time when the literary market changes fundamentally due to globalization and digitalization. These dynamics have created a new kind of market, which means that there is new ground to tackle for competition law. At the same time, both literature and literariness are equally prone to change due to such developments. More recent legal and economic research has begun to focus on these developments, but the debate on the most profound level objects and goals of protection still leaves open questions. The same is true for the current context of privileges through competition law and their influence on the market. In literary studies, numerous scholars have picked up the developments of the literary market and its 18th-century origins, the market and economics as a subject of literature and the marketing of both literary texts and their authors, but those studies rarely include considerations of competition law and the regulations of the market.
This is the starting point for this project, which foregrounds the question of whether literature has a special status in the market and if so, why? The project further aims at investigating literature as a good, the aims of protection and the diversity of news media. We discuss three main lines of argument: literary diversity requires a counter subvention of minor works through bestsellers; literature has to be distributed through far-reaching physical networks; literature depends on specific market structures. Part of the premise in this project refers back to the historical idea that literature and literary practice are non-commercial, not market-related, and reconsiders literature’s value as a good. A special focus lies on international comparisons, as the United Kingdom dispensed with the fixed book price in 1995, for instance, and has since then maintained very different regulations for news media.