May 30, 2011

Not satisfied with crippling book publishers, Amazon is taking on the magazines with the Kindle Single. “Amazon is commissioning writers to write thirty or forty pages for them,” Turow warned. “The author gets seventy percent of the proceeds, Amazon thirty percent. It’s a better deal than any author is going to get writing for an American magazine. But see what happens to the magazine business if this catches on.” And see what Amazon pays when it is the only employer of freelance talent left. Add to that the Googlization of libraries without authors’ permission and the ease with which anyone can read portions of books via Google without paying anyone anything.

Turow predicted the demise of publishers, which meant that “there won’t be advances for writers and books won’t be written and read.” For those of us who make a living from the written word as publishers, writers, or booksellers, this was a bitter after-dinner potion. It was time for a drink, and nothing short of hemlock seemed right.

In Paris shortly after Turow gave us the bad news, President Nicolas Sarkozy staged his eG8 forum in advance of the G8 summit at Deauville. In a way, the Tuileries Internet conference of media moguls from Google’s Eric Schmidt to Rupert Murdoch was the real summit, after which Deauville was a supper of leftovers for the servants. The moguls, even those who’ve facilitated the theft of intellectual property, issued a statement calling for “respect for privacy and intellectual property…cybersecurity, and protection from crime….”

Putting the principles into practice may be difficult, especially in countries such as Russia and China where kleptomania is regarded as a necessary survival condition rather than a mental aberration. Eric Schmidt rushed to defend Internet giants such as his corporation from state interference, saying, “Before we decide there is a regulatory solution, let’s ask if there’s a technological solution.”

He is asking a question he should be answering. The monopolization of the Internet, and thus of electronic publishing, is a condition for which he is part of the cause rather than the way out. In societies that value their written, visual, and musical cultures, the law must protect the creators. The Internet thieves who put our books up for free downloading should be treated just like the shoplifters they are. Those who advertise on sites that sell or give away stolen goods are accomplices in criminal activity and should suffer the penalty. Guarding the Internet against theft, as against the sexual exploitation of children, is no more a violation of freedom of expression than policing the streets against muggers and murderers is a bar to free behavior.

Despite the thieves and the Internet monopolies, writing and publishing may survive. After all, when the pill and the sexual revolution saw most women giving away their favors, the hookers didn’t give up. From the evidence along the Rue Saint-Denis, the bar of the Plaza Athénée, and the alleys of Pigalle, they are thriving.

In the meantime, don’t post this article on your site without paying



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