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5 9 R W H O O W N S T H E A R T ? R U T H B E R N A R D Y E A Z E L L When I first began to write about pictures two decades ago, I used to joke that the pain of acquiring reproduction rights, like that of giving birth, could be undergone twice only by someone who’d forgotten how much it hurt the first time. I still think there’s something to the analogy, but these days I’m more inclined to think about the costs of the operation and the arbitrary system that underlies them. The New York Times recently ran a series about medicine in the United States that documented, among other things, the vast discrepancies in charges for a variety of standard procedures not just in di√erent regions but within the same area: the cost of an echocardiogram in Philadelphia ranges from $700 to $12,000, for instance , while a minimally invasive gallbladder surgery will set you back $40,000 at one Florida hospital and $91,000 at another. Nor do such di√erences appear to have any discernible relation to measures of quality: the piece on echocardiograms told of a retired professor of mathematics in New Jersey who had two versions of the procedure, one at a local community hospital that lasted less than thirty minutes and cost $5,500, and a second at a teaching 6 0 Y E A Z E L L Y hospital in Boston that included a cardiologist, took three times as long, and was billed at a relatively modest $1,400. Acquiring images for a forthcoming book is hardly a matter of life and death, of course – though it can sometimes feel that way – and the individual sums involved are far smaller. But navigating what a recent report to the College Art Association calls ‘‘permissions culture’’ can be almost as challenging as figuring out what you’re likely to be charged for an uneventful delivery in a country without a National Health Service. And when the artists in question are covered by copyright, the total bills can mount into the tens of thousands more quickly than you might think. What both ‘‘markets’’ have in common is that they’re not really governed by competition and that the consumer is pretty much at the mercy of whoever sets the price. As many commentators on the U.S. scene have noted, a person in need of serious medical care is in no position to shop around, even if the comparative data were far more accessible than they are. Your local hospital may not have a monopoly on gallbladder operations, but for all intents and purposes it might as well be the only show in town. In the case of paintings, reproductions of some famous works are available from more than one licensing agent – Art Resource in New York, the Bridgeman Art Library in the United Kingdom, and Scala in Italy are the most prominent – but many others are under the control of a single vendor, whether one of these image banks or the museum that owns the original. If you’ve just written several pages (or an entire chapter) on a particular painting by J. M. W. Turner, it does you no good at all to learn that you can acquire the rights to another Turner more cheaply from a di√erent source. And even when the same image can be purchased from more than one source, comparison pricing is complicated by the fact that vendors don’t necessarily calculate costs in the same way. Some distinguish between color reproduction and black and white, or price according to the size of the image on the page, while others charge a flat fee no matter how the image will appear; there are di√erent prices for di√erent print runs, but not everyone agrees on where to draw the line between scholarship and commerce. Generally speaking, however, two thousand copies seems to mark the outer limit of a scholar’s purity: anticipate any more, and you’re apparently in it for the money. W H O O W N...