Unlike some of our writers, I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to attend BookExpo America, so I end up having to learn about it second-hand. But I happened across a blog post that led me to another that led me to some interesting articles, which in turn led me to wonder, are the Big Six (soon to be Big Five?) publishers completely out of touch with the consumer side of their industry?

Taking it in chronological order (the reverse of how I found it), it started with a Q&A by Macmillan CEO John Sargent, and a panel on library e-books as reported on by Tempest Bradford. Sargent talked about “overcoming ‘the victim effect,’ where ‘everybody in the industry is afraid of the Department of Justice or legal things’” (seriously, isn’t that great? Publishers were found by a court of law to have fixed prices, thereby harming consumers—we’re not talking about suspects who are “innocent until proven guilty” here, we’re talking about transgressors that have been legally proven guilty and/or have effectively admitted their guilt in settlements [well, all right, technically they settled without admitting guilt, but it’s doubtful they would have done it if they hadn’t known they would lose in court]—and they’re the ones who are the “victims” here?) and the representatives of publishers on the library panel expressed their fears that the “frictionless” ability to check out e-books from the library was leading to piracy. (Frictionless? As Tempest points out, have any of them tried to check out a library e-book? And far more e-books people buy are pirated than library copies.)

I found these stories via a Dreamwidth journal post by user “coffeeandink,” which I found via another by Dreamwidth user “snarp”. coffeeandink points out:

Libraries are not a necessary evil. They are one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. I don’t care if you think they’re cutting into your bottom line (you are wrong about this, by the way), if you don’t love libraries, I don’t know what you’re doing in a career related to books.

And snarp notes that, for all publishers claim to have learned the lessons of the music industry’s failure, they’re repeating the same sorts of mistakes—forcing libraries to use needlessly-complicated downloading processes or else making it impossible for them to get the e-books in the first place, forcing e-book stores to use restrictive DRM, which means that consumers who want to be able to use the media are resorting to piracy just because that’s the only way they can get a version of the e-book they can actually use:

Maybe what publishers feel that they learned is this: Becoming passionately loathed is a natural part of the life cycle of a media industry. There is clearly no way for English-language publishing to avoid this, so they’re going big! Step two will be a redux of the RIAA’s relentless campaign of lawsuits against frightened thirteen-year-olds and their parents’ rent money.

We’ve already seen some of that sort of thing start, when you get right down to it.

Really, I don’t know what to say. It seems pretty clear publishers haven’t learned from their mistakes. How dare those uppity consumers get the Department of Justice on our case? They obviously can’t be trusted; we have to lock down everything we let them have, and if they don’t like that, tough. It kind of reminds me of that line from Star Wars about how the more the Empire tightens its grasp, the more star systems will slip through its fingers.

The music industry’s restrictive DRM and obnoxious attitude made piracy the default way of getting music for a generation. It looks like the publishers may be primed to do the same for e-books.


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