Post #3: You can’t tell which way the train goes by looking at the tracks

I recently returned from NYC, where I was fortunate to attend this year’s BookExpo America industry get together. I’ve started a post about it several times now, and there are certainly quite a few stories to tell, but focusing on something substantial is oddly difficult.

I am not exactly a power player but I have attended more than a few of these events, beginning with SEBA (South Eastern Bookseller Association) sponsored shows. BookExpo is always a thrill, as I get to gossip with old time book reps, and say hello to authors I met years before, who taught me that jet-lag can be a lifestyle.

As a long time bookseller, it’s possible for me to track the seasons of the book world just as one might with weather, or movie releases. Summer is good for embarrassing confessionals or literary weepies, and in the fall travel narratives, to whet your appetite for a winter getaway in the warmth of Asia. Far more interesting to me, however, are the unspoken associations that emerge; narrative rivers which collect in liquid eddies, and mirror human insecurities, dreams and unconscious concerns.

Some themes converge inescapably. Each year business at large continues to value a culture of information, and this economic focus is reflected in sidelines, seminars and most obviously keynote speakers. In 2004 we had Bill Clinton, and this year brought Alan Greenspan. Along with a growing courtship of library professionals, speakers and events, (we even had our own Expo lounge, as well as dedicated hotel this year!) there is also an almost exponential focus on tech professionals. I saw at least 6 vendors of eBook platforms, sharing the floor with Google, Microsoft, Apple and International Digital Rights pavilions.

“Print will be the last media to be read on a device….and we shouldn’t be proud of that” said Shatzkin, as quoted on Michael Cairns’ industry blog PersonaNonData, posted during the Expo itself. (His blog has a number of interesting links and opinions as well; it’s worth checking out. Especially his May 28th post about why publishing professionals must blog, featuring advice that I think any librarian could make use of) Reading Shatzkin’s quote made me think right away of a product I saw at the event: the Espresso Book Machine, a print-on-demand device that prints mass market quality books for consumers in 5 to 10 minutes. Think of the possibilities for libraries!

Perhaps books will be around for a little while longer. No digital reader is emerging as a leader yet, and I don’t think people are yet comfortable enough with existing technologies to make the switch. As expected, the rights are proving to be a nightmare, and it is growing copyright tensions that inspired one of the silliest moments of the whole Exposition.

Richard Charkin, Chief Executive of Macmillan (a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck) took a stand against the Google book scanning project by “stealing” two laptops from their display during BookExpo. Well, he didn’t quite steal them, which would’ve been too strong a statement, or he was afraid to really follow through on his feeling. Instead, as you can read on his own blog, he and a friend picked up the computers and then waited a short distance away to see if anyone would notice.

On Boing Boing’s June 8th blog post, they quote Larry Lessig who very astutely points out the poor logic of Charkin’s act, and perhaps will help others develop more effective, reasoned pranks. Or perhaps litigation is the answer, as the American Association of Publishers are hoping, who are currently suing Google over the project. (France may be following their lead, it seems.)

So far, though, Google is scanning out of print works presumably in the public domain, and a large part of the agitation about their activities centers around the argument that Google should be seeking out rights holders. I must admit I am still conflicted about the project overall, in large part because of a lack of an honest end-goal on Google’s part. (not to mention Google’s nomination for being the “most invasive company” of 2006 by Privacy International, who has some alarming points to make about Google’s over-arching business practices) Ultimately though I feel that, regarding the book scanning project, publishers are asking Google to perform the work that they should be doing themselves, if they are genuinely interested in renewing a copyright on something, and any contested work is either not made publicly available online or quickly removed.

Copyright protections have escalated to absurd proportions, and DRM systems, as I’ve previously noted, are generally demonstrating corporate desire to expand copyright and to monitor end-user practices rather than just reinforce existing copyright protections. DRM is absolutely necessary, no one can reasonably debate that point, but as Edward Felten has noted in several outstanding articles, it needs real-world limitations before such software packages freely provide monopolistic and/or big-brother type business-end advantages.

Anyhow, hopefully soon I can post the fun stories from BookExpo, especially one about how the kindness of wonderful Long Island librarian helped me score a free, signed copy of a Robert Sabuda pop-up masterpiece. If you can attend an Expo I highly recommend it, if only to take part in an integral facet of our information dependent society.



2 Responses to Post #3: You can’t tell which way the train goes by looking at the tracks

  1. sara g says:

    As I may have said to you before, Google is well on its way to becoming more frightening and monolithic than Microsoft.
    They still have the best search engine out there, alas, and they’re an interesting company that still at least gives lip service to higher values. But it is worrying,t the way their dominance of internet search and advertising is expanding.

    I have tried reading books on a Palm Pilot and on my computer, and I just didn’t enjoy the experience. Perhaps if the price of paper shoots up enough to make an actual book uneconomic, we will all be forced to make the leap, but until then, no one seems to have really found a better interface than the existing low tech one.

  2. Bill says:

    Sounds like a great event!

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