Over the past four years, I have spent a great deal of time studying the ins and outs of the publishing industry. My interest in independent bookstores, digital reading, and eBooks has naturally led me down this path. There are a number of excellent sources of information online that present the views of publishers, authors, and the organizations that represent them. As I learned about the constant struggle against monopoly in the industry (first against the major publishing houses, then against Amazon), I couldn’t help but sympathize with the authors, booksellers, and small houses who had to struggle immensely, against a variety of changing currents, just to survive. I was shocked to learn that the fascinating technology that brought the world electronic books had the potential to ruin the print book market, or that I could be driving my local booksellers out of business because I liked to save a few bucks by shopping on Amazon.com. My eyes were opened to a whole movement of writers, book lovers, and readers who were honestly fighting to hold onto the time-honored and culturally beneficial traditions that coincided with the printed word. Independent bookstores help to bring independent ideas to consumers. University presses play a crucial part in the development of intellectual dialogue. Amazon.com really is attempting to put the entire literary world in a strangle hold under their domain. All of these things hit me hard, and I found myself agreeing with many of the arguments put forward.
Despite my feelings of support, I began to have some serious concerns with one of the major organizations supposedly looking out for the little guys.
The Author’s Guild has become a litigious, whiny group of copyright ambulance chasers. Every time I see an article with AG in its headline, it has to do with them suing someone or complaining about the harm of some technological advance. They have managed to publicly portray essential digital archiving projects as scurrilous pirating ventures, and they have intruded on the ownership rights of readers who purchase and own physical books. The AG muscled Google Books into a $125 million settlement that has since been recommended for review by the same federal anti-trust investigation that is in litigation the major (and monopolous) publishers. The Author’s Guild is constantly harassing and threatening digitization service companies, like 1DollarScan, for helping book owners create PDF copies of their purchased and paid for books (something that has long been established as FAIR USE under US copyright laws for music and other media). If I had an ultra-rare book that I wanted to chop and scan in order to preserve that text for my own personal and private use, I have every right to do so.
Members and the president of the Author’s Guild have flooded the U.S. Attorney General’s office and the courts with numerous letters in support of the Big Six publishers (corporations they have battled against in the past) and the greed-fueled agency pricing model. They have made it clear that they stand against technology, against affordable eBooks, and for as many restrictions on what buyers can do with their content as possible. While I sympathize with those in the book industry that are finding themselves unfairly wronged by the advanced made in eReading, I do not agree with the tactics used to overcompensate for their loss. Technology is moving forward, whether the Author’s Guild likes it or not. People will want digital access to books long out of print or ignored by their publishers. There are a few titles in my own library, published in the early 1990s, that I know won’t be released in eBook format anytime soon. I would like to find a service who would help me digitize these works, but if the Author’s Guild has their way, these volumes will just continue to collect dust on my shelf. I believe that the AG serves a purpose. They have every right to pursue legitimate copyright claims, but to parse the issue of PDF scanning and to constantly be the voice of whine in every digital media situation is just turning more reasonable people against your cause.
The real problem with today’s book industry might just be the reactionaries trying to protect it from progress. When people find out that instead of protecting the book industry from monopoly, the AG is working day and night to ensure that my eBooks cost more than they should, they will begin to lose sight of the greater picture.