Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Abdication Crisis: UK Publishing Meekly Follows US Digital Marketing

We attended the London Book Fair this week and hence the lack of articles. Was this due to a lack of real digital news or the fact that many in the UK digital world appear on hold awaiting the US to lead or to settle GBS (Google Book Settlement)decision?

Whilst we ponder the future, we ask ourselves a number of questions, some we can answer or are confident to predict, others where we are far from the answers. The one think that is certain, is that UK publishers large and small now are taking digital seriously and many are taking their first tentative steps forward.

Some thoughts on the digital UK landscape:

Will the retail model still hold water over the library model? Free rental access has appeal over pay. Who seriously wants to own an ebook for life? The existing library model needs to be revisited and the UK needs to be wary of US suppliers dumping their library repository content into the UK market. This is not happening tomorrow but today.

The thoughts of repositories brings us to observe the current ‘aggregator’ bragging model – ‘mine’s bigger than yours’. In the physical book world size mattered, but in the virtual digital world size often marginalises the offer. When it comes to changing suppliers in the future we have to assume, or hope, that the encrypted licences can still be validated, however we have already seen the problems of changing distributors.

The major digital repositories are US controlled and focused and we are all aware that territorial rights are a challenge. Despite UK publishers public statements, privately they many still compromised.

Will digital be ceded to Google , Amazon, Adobe, Sony, Apple. These are an interesting group of technology companies and with the exception of ‘fortress Amazon’ are all from outside publishing.

Will Amazon break free of their wireless constraints and make it to the UK, or leave the market to the likes of Sony? Where do publishers place their bets?

The problem with the UK is its love of exclusive deals. Digital deals such as Sony/ Adobe, Overdrive/ Waterstones and Blackwells / Espresso may move the agenda forward but can also marginalise the competitive position against the real competitors.

Will UK copyright and deals be controlled and determined in the UK and subject to UK law or be effectively usurped by the back door and rail-roaded by the US interests. The impact of change is not restricted to the finished book but goes rights across the life cycle from acquisition and rights contracts, to what was once death but is now GBS (Google Book Settlement). Will the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) approach be adopted by all and will take down notices, reactive contention and copyright disputes be the norm tomorrow?

The UK market appears to be placing a great deal of trust in the US to sort out the digital landscape and for the UK to merely follow. After all, the precedent was set not many years ago by Bush and Blair, but one would hope that we have learnt from that abdication of independent leadership.

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