There is much to interest students of publishing in the latest film adaptation of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women, directed by Greta Gerwig and currently playing in cinemas around the world.
The film’s first scenes take place in the offices of Roberts Brothers in Boston, the nineteenth century bookbinders founded in 1857 which would go on to publish Little Women in 1868 and which would be bought by Little, Brown in 1898. You can just read the publisher’s name, in reverse, on the windows.
This scene is some years before and sees Jo March, the novel’s central character, who is really Alcott herself, presenting a short story that she says a friend of hers has written. We all know, of course, that Jo herself is the friend.
Later in the film we see Jo meeting Mr Dashwood, the publisher from this earlier scene, again.. He has just accepted the novel that will become Little Women, and they are negotiating the contract. PublisHer members and anyone in the industry will enjoy the exchange. Here’s a flavour:
DASHWOOD: Now there is the question of the contract… I’m prepared to give you 5% of the royalties
JO: So I get 5% of the profit?
DASHWOOD: 5% of the net profits. After I recoup.
JO: What about a payment, upfront?
DASHWOOD (shaking his head): I’m taking the risk in printing this book.
JO: Yes, but, but it’s my book.
DASHWOOD: If it works, then we’ll both make money. If not, then I won’t go under.
JO: So I get nothing? If it fails?
DASHWOOD: No, I’ll give you $500 dollars right now to buy out the copyright
JOP: The copyright?
DASHWOOD: It’s the right for re-printing, that sort of thing, sequels, the characters for other stories.
JO: Might that be worth something?
DASHWOOD: Well, again, only if it’s a success.
JO: I see. It seems like something I would want to own….
There is more but it is best to see the film yourself. One final point to those who are wondering: the screenplay is widely available online from reputable, pro-copyright sites like Variety and provides a useful reference to fans of the film.