In the recent past I have been heavily critical of big-time publishers for (a) failing to be aware of the digital revolution, and/or (b), if they were aware of it, proceeding to reproduce all the mistakes made by the music industry in their response to it. Well, there are just a few hints that things may be changing. Sort of.
Try reading (link via booktrade.info) the BusinessWeek article about Random House's plans for moving into the twenty-first century. RH, it seems, is to set up an online facility which will allow readers to read pages of RH books at about 4 cents a time. And the process is being speeded up by the competition offered by the likes of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.
Among other things, Richard Sarnoff, president of RH's Corporate Development Unit, reckons that rapid breakthroughs in digital readers are about to occur. Sarnoff believes that, within 18 months, reading devices could be as easy to use for books as the Apple iPod is for music.
Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins, welcomes the RH initiative. 'Everybody now wants to digitize all intellectual property,' she says. "That's good for publishers because we control [it].'
Er, just a minute. Who's the 'we' here, darling? I thought authors had something to do with it.
Anyway, Friedman goes on to say 'Everything keeps changing, but this ultimately will be a healthy time for books. We just have to make sure [digital sales] get done right.' RH is, however, to discourage copying of the texts by delivering pages in low-resolution files. Ho hum. The usual paranoia. Any publisher who has something that people actually want to to copy for a friend should go down on his knees and thank the Lord. Discouraging the 'Wow, have you seen this?!' response is a Stone Age knee-jerk braindead piece of thinking.
And what do the punters make of all this? The BusinessWeek page allows comments to be made, and some of them are most revealing. A guy called Joe Blow, for instance, says this: 'When I buy a book it is my property. Just as when I buy a tv, car, cd, house, land, shirt, etc. it my property. Random House, Microsoft and the rest of then can KMA!'
Now what can that possibly mean?