Thursday, February 12, 2009

They just don't get it

You'd think book publishers would have learned something.  After seeing the recording industry ignore then dig in and fight new technology to the extent that now they're struggling to maintain their current business model, one would guess that book publishers and authors would see the folly and strive to avoid repeating it.

Not so much.

Before the floor of the Morgan Library in NY had even cleared after the press conference heralding the coming of Kindle 2.0, some in the business were already proving that they would not go gently into the good e-book night.

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, raged against the Kindle's new "Read to me" feature.  ""They don't have the right to read a book out loud,"  Aiken told the Wall Street Journal.  "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law" (Fowler). 

Attaboy, Paul!  Cling to that vague copyright language!  Even if it means alienating a growing percentage of your customer base.  Who cares that it's only a "GPS voice," as Stephen King called it at the press conference, and not a true reading of the text?

Meanwhile Carolyn K. Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster, was crying to the New York Times about the pricing of e-books.  “We do not agree with their pricing strategy.  I don’t believe that a new book by an author should ipso facto be less expensive electronically than it is in paper format" (Stone). 

As the young'uns today say:  "O RLY?"  The fact that there is no paper, no ink, no electricity to run the presses, no packaging, no shipping, and no money paid to retailers when unsold books are returned should have no effect on price?  Interesting.  Ipso facto indeed.

As John Siricusa at ars technica observes in his excellent (albeit too cozy with Apple for my taste) essay, "The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age,"

In short, the terms [of e-books] are unbelievably favorable for publishers. It essentially moves them from print publishing margins to software publishing margins: pay once for the creation of the content, sell an infinite number of times with no additional per-unit cost.

So why do some publishers and authors continue to fight against the future?  Fear?  Greed? 

They certainly should take some time to study the recent history of technology and media distribution.  Maybe even have a lunch date or two with some record executives before they, too, learn too late and grieve their industry on its way.

The future is coming, with or without you. 



Fowler, Geoffrey A. and Jeffrey Trachtenberg.  "New Kindle Audio Feature Causes a Stir." Wall Street Journal.  February 10, 2009.

Stone, Brad and Motoko Rich.  "Amazon in Big Push for New Kindle Model."  New York Times.  February 9, 2009. 


Henry Mittlethwaite said...

Paul Aiken, head of the Author's Guild, was also a driving force in the law suit that was taken out against the Google Library project in 2005, and which has since resulted in a hundred million dollar out of court settlement and a lose-lose for readers. It restricts the availability of samples of hard to find books for all except for those publishers that "opt-in", meaning that material released by small publishers and those that no longer exist (Such as calder and boyars, a personal favorite) is proportionally less likely to be made available, even in excerpts that would allow me to identify and buy out-of-print texts that I'm interested in.

To make it worse, the three named appellants in the "class action" the AG undertook consisted of a minor children's book author (Betsy Miles) and two octogenarians (Daniel Hoffman and Herbert Mitgang, born in 1920, for God's sake) who between them would have had *nil* idea of the importance of digital publishing to today's students. It made me bilious to imagine those three setting themselves up as spokespeople "on behalf" of all authors, everywhere. Presumably they were patsies enlisted by the AG administration. I've spent the last two hours digging up stuff on this case on the web, and the more I look, the more cynical and duplicitous the AG's pronouncements appear to be.