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Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Peak at the Future from the AAP Annual Meeting

I want to share some thoughts on what was a lively panel from the AAP annual meeting yesterday titled: The Future of the Copyright. Featured speakers included Marybeth Peter (Register of Copyrights, US Copyright Office) Pamela Samuelson (Distinguished Professor of Law) and Mark Halprin (author of Digital Barbarism: A Writers Manifesto). Macmillan CEO John Sargent smartly moderated.


Much of the panel discussion centered on the theme that the future of copyright laws are still being shaped, warning publishers not to idly assume their interests will be protected. The panel also dug into what is fair use of content, the ability to digitize content and where that content is then available. There are lots of valid reasons why free content is good and the benefits publishers or authors (links that sell books, free publicity...), but unless intellectual property protection can match the new technologies for consuming it, there will be nothing left to protect. Mr. Halprin made some insightful and funny analogies. One comparing the physical effort of lasik surgery (a few small incisions) vs. the labor required for shoveling. It is obvious that far more effort is expended to shovel - so is it more valuable?  An author spends years of his/her life writing what will ultimately be a book.  Likewise a surgeon invests years to acquire knowledge and skills to allows their  modest 'physical' effort to correct a person's vision.  The effort from that surgeon produces a value far greater than a snow free driveway. Content is not diminished because it is digitized and the cost of producing a physical book is eliminated. The value is the content - not how it is delivered. Mr. Halprin also theorized that the Google settlement was the first step on a path to extinction for publishers (I am paraphrasing). He offered that publishers could fight the Google settlement and they might lose or do nothing and they will certainly lose.

While it is not exclusive to publishing, what struck a chord with me in this discussion is technology is moving almost unimpeded against the need to protect intellectual property. The risk is entire industries like publishing, newspapers or magazines can totally evaporate. This is not trying to save 8-tracks, incandescent light bulbs or steam trains – technology is needed to advance any industry or that industry will perish. My point is that content is what has always been the value that people buy whether is on paper or on a screen and that will not change and that is what needs to be protected. New York Magazine’s cover story on Ruppert Murdoch is worth reading, although not so much for my points here, but he is swimming against the overwhelming current in the world of free content for the printed word as a strong proponent to stop giving content away and develop a pay model. The article does speak to his vision in parts.

I will now be a complete hypocrite and lift Penguin’s CEO John Makinson’s quotes from Publishers Lunch yesterday. I do so wanting to share his thinking on adopting new technologies that it is both brave and visionary for admitting to not knowing the future. Makinson freely admitted that "we don't understand at the moment what the consumer is prepared to pay for. We don't know whether the inclusion of a video introduction by an author will be of value to the consumer, and it may not be the same answer every time." He added, "we'll only find answers to these questions by trial and error." The point is, "we'll have to be innovative and take some risks. We'll have to, above all, listen to our readers to understand what they want, and what they'll pay for."

There was a related article in Newsweek by Futurist Andrew Zolli (who has a cooler title than that?). While he speaks broadly on how media companies will evolve from the battle of free content, the last paragraph of his article portends a future that content providers will survive. In the long run, the first decade of the Web could come to be seen as a momentary aberration—an echo of '60s free culture when we all took the bad, digital acid. So, media companies, on behalf of all misdirected Internet visionaries, I'm sorry. We like you—we really do—and we don't want a world without you. If you can hold on until we all have new kinds of screens, and new sets of expectations, you'll be fine. You'll be different, but fine. Just, please, don't take my word for it this time. Ask around.

A link to the whole Newsweek article The Future Won’t Be Free – support Newsweek & Andrew Zolli and buy the current issue or hire his firm:  http://www.newsweek.com/id/234123

2 comments:

  1. FOR SOMEONE READING YOUR BLOG FOR THE FIRST TIME WHAT DOES AAP INITIALS STAND FOR BECAUSE THOSE LETTERS ARE USED FOR MANY DIFFERENT THINGS. I AM NOT BEING SARCASTIC OR ANYTHING IT JUST WOUND HAVE BEEN GOOD FOR YOU TO INCLUDE THE MEANING OF THE LETTERS IN PARENTHESIS THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR THE NEXT TIME THIS ERROR MAY APPLY.

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  2. Sorry about that - AAP - Association of American Publishers

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