‘To RIAA or Not to RIAA, That was the Question’, Authors’ Guild

Scriptorium monk at work

from Lacroix.

‘To RIAA or Not to RIAA, That was the Question’, according to this blogpost by the Authors’ Guild. Not to was their answer. I’m happy to read that. It is very sensible. And the reasons behind it are equally sensible. ‘One could fill a good-sized law-school classroom with copyright professors who believe that Google’s scanning of your books is a fair use’ the Guild argues. So if they lost such a case, scanning of all books would become legal. What if they won? ‘Copyright victories tend to be Pyrrhic in the digital age’, the Guild recognizes. Look at the RIAA. They won litigation after litigation. But did they ‘save’ the (record) industry? No. It didn’t work. Now musicians can always ‘perform’. Authors can’t (so the Guild): ‘Nearly all authors give away their performances, through book tours and readings, and are glad for any audience they can find.’

The Guild continues: ‘For most authors, markets created by copyright are all we’ve got.’ So in its logic, ‘timely harnessing of Google was the best way to do it.’ Maybe.

But what they have not solved yet, is to find the equivalent for authors to ‘perform’. It might in fact be the book itself. If, for a moment, we assume this, then it will be key for authors to make fans to buy their books, as it is key for musicians to attract fans to concerts. Kevin Kelly has a very nice and seminal article on how to trick the ‘copy machine’ that is called Internet. ‘When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied’ he argues. And then he goes on to list what cannot be copied: embodiment (think physical book) is one element, personalization another (think iPad), accessibility a third one (remember Amazon deleting copies of Orwell’s books from their customers’ kindles in July last year…).

It will be interesting to see, where book publishing goes from here, from denying itself the RIAA stance. The future could be bright if authors and publishers would be willing, and adept, to embrace the ubiquitous Internet technology. The Guild recognized that all the bad things that happened to the record industry could also happen to the book publishing industry: ‘Sure could. The technologies are out there.’ The Amazons and Apples of this world are only too keen to get their share of the book publishing market (their even bigger share in the case of Amazon, that is). The book world used to be quite efficient in distribution in the brick and mortar times. Why not in the bits and atoms era that is sure to come?