Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hello The World Is Not Flat - It's Digital

We will once again state the obvious, ‘Publishing is a Rights Business.’
This has always been the case, but as we move into the new digital age there is a clear need to review the rights that governed the business in the physical world and ask what needs to change.

Digital is different. Imposing the old rules in this new digital world, is like straight-jacketing the business and restricting its growth. It alienates authors and agents, it also alienates the consumer. Over and over we see publishing tectonic plates colliding as the new paradigm crashes into old one. We see many busy plastering up the fault lines and somehow pretending that they don’t exist. They do and pretending digital and physical are the same is madness. The consumer doesn’t care today and probably tomorrow about DRM, territorial rights, permission rights and we should realise that we need to make things simple and less complicated. The rules that exist in the physical book world have been honed and adjusted over many years but they don’t transpose themselves easily, if at all, to the new global and connected digital environment.

However, how do we separate the physical and digital paradigms and recognise the need to manage their associated rights both collectively, as well as separately? How do at one end will they relate to and support authors and at the other end serve consumers?

We spoke to an Australian friend in Frankfurt who had just bought an ebook in the US but couldn’t access it in Europe. We all know that this is an exception but highlights the consumer muddle we all create in trying to apply yesterday’s logic. How can ebooks by their nature not be world rights?

We have publishers who didn’t acquire digital ebook rights assuming them as volume rights. We have rights reversals written into contracts based on physical inventory and sales but now living in a print on demand world. We have the ability to fragment works and build multi media renditions but wrap these still in yesterday’s rights. We have orphan works which everyone wants to land grab but nobody knows who owns. We have illustrations and others rights associated in the original work but whose licence is often restricted or unclear. All this is without the issue of social reading and moral rights.

Today a digital sale happens in real time but the reporting and reconciliation and payment to all parties is still living in the physical world. Why can’t an author be rewarded instantly or at least see the digital counter? In a world where there is no physical inventory exchanged who can effectively audit who?

We now need to establish a rights framework fit for the digital world. We need to jettison the baggage from the old world that will not make the transition whilst still protecting the business and physical world. The question is who is going to step up to the challenge, apply fresh thinking and above all build solid consensus?

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