Fighting talk

In a “Newsnight” interview thriller writer Lee Child conducted in the middle of August, the bestselling author—and current UK Top 50 number one—was challenged about his view that the e-book market was flattening out.

“The verdict is in,“ Child said, “the Kindle is so 2012”. Presenter Kirsty Wark asked him whether, if something came along more like the “paperback experience”, it would kick on again. Child’s response is worth repeating: “We’ve already got the paperback experience; it’s called the paperback.”

The context of the Child interview was the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette USA. But there are other areas of the business where the logic put in play has resonance.

This week’s lead story, for example, looks at how the future of copyright remains in the balance as the European Commission prepares for its five-year switchover. The spring public consultation over copyright heralded such a “great diversity of views among stakeholders” that the expected EC white paper has been delayed, with insiders uncertain when, or even if, it will be published.

According to some reports, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes shelved the original draft after finding it “unambitious”. Kroes wants barriers that impede the flow of content between European Union countries lowered—and as those driving the lobbying on this suggests, it is not hard to work out who benefits the most commercially when digital content travels unfettered across borders and between devices.

Along with the change at the commission comes real concern that D G Connect (the division of the EC overseen by Kroes, which includes content and technology) could take the lead in reforming copyright, something Kroes feels the EU is “crying out for”. It is little wonder some trade voices are concerned. Rather like the paperback, copyright continues to meet the needs of the many—yet it has become a fashionable cause to throw under the wheels of reform. A digitally nuanced and harmonised version looks attractive insofar as it might remove complexity, but not if it comes at the cost of a weakened regime that fails to protect the creators. The worry is that an argument for simplicity is really a cloak for the latter.

In terms of lobbying, the book trade is not always advantageously placed. It lacks the money other sectors employ, its causes can often appear old-fashioned, and its manner protectionist. The bigger the big digital companies get, the more they will try to influence legislation that suits them first. Child’s put-down of an “experience” that may not improve on its antecedent was an important lesson and, like his famous character Jack Reacher, we may all have to come out swinging.