Libraries, copyright and piracy were officially the big topics of the just-concluded Association of American Publishers (AAP) annual meeting, themed “Copyright & Content: Ownership and Access in a Knowledge Economy.”
New York Public Library president Dr Anthony Marx generated the most drama with a declaration of willingness to throw open the doors of the NYPL for publishers “to explore pilot schemes” in tandem with the library to discover and develop mechanisms for a future where nothing less than “our informed society, democracy, and economy are at stake".
Marx also asserted that he doesn’t believe the library should focus on maximising the free circulation of bestsellers: “I don’t believe in stupid metrics of success.”
Two unofficial topics were on everyone's lips. One was the Department of Justice and the suit it is contemplating against five of the big six and Apple, whom the DoJ accuses of colluding to cause unfair competition by selling e-books via the agency model. The second was Amazon, which many believe should be the real subject of any DoJ investigation.
Publishers involved were adamant that there is no way they can opine individually, let alone collectively, in public that the DoJ has got it backward. They do not see anything changing, at least not until after the next election. They admit, as one executive put it, that in the interim, “things are going to get ugly”. What they would wish for is that authors, unconstrained by DoJ shackles, follow Authors Guild president Scott Turow’s lead and speak out loud and clear, as Turow did several days ago.
Nobody would disagree with AAP president Tom Allen’s general statement about “how hard it is for members of the public to see the contribution made by publishers.”
The problem is that in some respects, publishers have not done a good job of making their case or being proactive.
Keynote speaker Maria Pallante, the Library of Congress Register of Copyrights, looked through the long-term lens at copyright, currently “caught up in a social tidal wave".
"Most concerning is the apparent disregard by ordinary citizens," she said. "How to obtain buy-in from the public is the single most critical element in a democracy. Far too few see the investment of the author and publisher as part of the public interest equation.”
If this misapprehension is not addressed, Pallante warned, then “pressure for Congress to alter copyright law and flawed notions will be irresistible".
Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, in a closing talk (a parting gift from his publisher, Hachette boss David Young, outgoing AAP chair), proved a rousing advocate for the editorial function of publishing. Gladwell posited that Steve Jobs was not inventor but “editor,” and for our flood-of-information future, “nothing is more important than this issue of editing".
"What will sustain this industry is someone to act as gatekeeper and tastemaker. Don’t give me more. Give me less and make it good, and you’ll be in business forever.”