We Davids have some work to do

One of my favorite books is Glenn Reynold’s An Army of Davids which shows how we the people have used technology as an empowerment tool to build our own businesses and force change to legacy industries like music, publishing, news and even politics. We all got a good taste of that empowerment this week with the online protest against SOPA/PIPA. The politicians and entertainment industry stepped back, but they haven’t given up. From Tim O’Reilly:

These legislative attacks are not motivated by clear thinking about the future of the Internet or the global economy, but instead seek to protect entrenched companies with outdated business models. Rather than adapting and competing with new and better services, these organizations are asking Congress for cover.

Any forward-looking country must encourage its emerging industries, not protect its laggards. Yet, in a time when the American economy needs to catalyze domestic innovation to succeed in a hyper-competitive global marketplace, members of the United States Congress have advanced legislation that could damage the industries of the future.

Advances in technology require new work processes and marketing plans. As the entertainment and publishing industry is discovering, we the people no longer have to go through them.

They aren’t the only problem we face. The companies that have developed new and revolutionary technologies are also trying to influence opportunities to best suit themselves. We are seeing a retail war being waged between Amazon and Apple over books and other media that will have a significant impact on the future of publishing. Once again, it’s time for us to pay attention and make our opinions known. Here are some of the issues to be addressed:

  • Apple requires every company selling something (books, music, etc.) from inside an app installed on one of their devices to pay a 30% commission on each sale. This often means the items must be sold at a loss. It’s true purpose is to stifle competition.
  • Amazon has a new publishing program – KDP Select – that allows authors to include new works in the Kindle Lending Library program and receive a commission based on the book’s lending performance. The catch? You must agree that your new book will be exclusive to Amazon for the first 90 days.
  • Digital rights management “locks” are attached to most electronic books to “prevent piracy”. Although any pirate worth his salt has long ago learned how to break these locks, we – the honest buyers of these books – can’t so much as move the book from one e-reader to another.

Yesterday Apple introduced a platform for interactive ebooks that is absolutely stunning. Although designed for textbooks, it is just what I’ve wanted to see for family history publishing. The iBooks Author app is very impressive – easy to use and available at no cost. Unfortunately the devil is in the details and in this case the details are quite egregious. Here’s the clause in the app’s licensing agreement:

If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.

Requirements like this will only stand if we allow it. I would like nothing more than to take advantage of this software to build stories my family would love, but this limit would mean many of them would be left out. I can also see great potential for profit with interactive books like this but only when they are available from any bookseller.

Competition spurs innovation. Amazon took Apple’s app limits challenge and built the most amazing web-based reader that will even download books to your computer/device for offline reading. Soon, someone will build an interactive authoring app without limits and I will be able to build the books I want and share them with everyone. I can wait.

Thanks Apple, but no thanks.

  • Martin Tolley

    Eloquently said.