Digital devolution: book publishing in the 21st Century

The book publishing business is having a debate that the music business solved half a decade ago. They'd do well to learn from the music business.

Digital devolution: book publishing in the 21st Century

Some of the most interesting responses to the digital revolution: publishing in the 21st century conference in Sydney this week were from the non-publisher perspective.

Tim Coronel on the new B+P blog Fancy Goods urged the publishing biz to think like a reader, while indie bookseller Jon Page argued that the local industry was even further behind the ebook curve than he feared.

Page wrote: ‘There still remain significant impediments to any Australian retailer wanting to get into the ebook market. This issue was barely raised and in fact the retail side of the digital future was hardly discussed at all.’

Sadly, Coronel noted, ‘There was a real need for a contrary voice on the program, someone with radically different opinions on digital rights management (DRM); the future of copyright; and the rapidly changing relationships between creators, publishers, retailers and readers.’

I have blogged about the issues Tim raised many times before – on this site, on music industry blogs and in my first publishing venture Entertainment & Media.

Here’s a synopsis of my world view vis Tim’s comments:

  • Digital Rights Management. As currently implemented, pure insanity. Rights management as a means of restricting trade is entirely contrary to how content is used and how people interact on the internet.
    [Red Hill Publishing’s parent company Acute Communication P/L is developing a technology that uses rights management to facilitate trade rather than crush it. Stay tuned.]
  • Copyright. Creative Commons is the future, and it’s here now. Certainly there needs to be a gentle transition to CC and in fairness some publishers are already very open to mixed copyright models. I wonder whether it is authors who are more reluctant to release their works under a CC license than publishers?
  • Creators, publishers, retailers and readers. What’s changed is that an individual can be all four, at once. That ought be plenty scary for those publishers who laughed out loud at the notion during the conference. A good publisher can deliver scalable advantages that an individual will find very hard to match, but hubris is a dangerous thing.

What really amazes me though is that the book publishing biz is having a debate that the music biz had nearly a decade ago. Thus far I am yet to hear an argument from a publisher or book retailer that I didn’t hear at least five years ago while working in the music industry. I accept that there is no equivalent corporate memory, so why not employ or consult with ex-music biz pros?