Snapshot for 13 December 2019

Snapshot for 13 December 2019

The importance of copyright is being flagged up on both sides of the Atlantic, regardless of who is in power or what stage the impeachment process has reached (these words are being written on the eve of the UK General Election). In the UK the Publishers Association and the Society of Authors (SoA) welcomed intentions made by the major political parties before polling day to invest in the creative industries, but Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the SoA, said she was “disappointed” that none of the manifestos made “a commitment to enact the European Copyright Directive into UK law”.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Association of American Publishers is concerned by a ‘Restatement of Copyright’ from the American Law Institute (ALI), the Philadelphia-based independent organization that produces ‘scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law’. Broadly speaking, this ‘Restatement’ takes a libertarian stance and argues that existing copyright law isn’t fit for the digital age and that fears over piracy, for example, are misplaced.

Set against the ALI’s ‘Restatement’ is what you might term the traditional publishing industry who argue that without existing copyright law you will end up with no industry and no content to protect because no one will be being paid to create content because revenues will have been hit by a culture of ‘free’. That is a gross simplification, of course, but the US Content Creators Coalition, while understanding that the ALI is preparing a new Restatement of Copyright, “to explain the laws that give artists control over their work and protect their right to be paid for it”, adds crucially: “Google-funded academics have hijacked the process. [The ALI] aren’t summarizing the law – they are trying to change it to protect Google and take away artists’ rights. It’s no surprise – in the past, these authors (or “Reporters” as the ALI calls them) have called copyright “obsolete” and “a tax on culture”. They say internet piracy is just another form of “promotion” that “spurs innovation.”

With the size and power of the tech companies as yet unchecked, this is a debate that will rear its head more and more. One tough problem for the traditional book industry is that it can seem like it is arguing for the status quo, a stance that is often harder to make sound as alluring as the siren calls of ‘free’.

There was good news for 500 American indie booksellers who received $500 each from James ‘Santa’ Patterson in his Holiday Bookstore Bonus Program in partnership with the American Booksellers Association. Applicants had to answer one question: ‘Why does this bookseller deserve a holiday bonus?’ Patterson said: “Booksellers save lives. Children’s booksellers especially – they guide children to books they’ll genuinely enjoy and in turn create a new generation of readers.”

The calls for more diversity in the industry continue. One area that hithero has not been mentioned so much is agenting. Beth Marshea, owner of the Ladderbird agency in Worcester, Massachusetts, wrote in Publishers Weekly about the unconscious bias that takes place in the industry when recruiting staff. “Agents often look for people with whom they share a connection; they want those who will view books the same way they do. Unfortunately, that is often focused through a white, heterosexual, able-bodied lens. When agents are confronted with a work that is different, they may feel that they just don’t “connect” with it because it doesn’t reflect their personal experiences or perspectives, and thus an opportunity for more diversity is lost”.

Since this is the last trade – as opposed to academic – Snapshot of the year, a look back is traditional. In fact, let’s look back further and mark a poignant anniversary. It is ten years (22 December 2009) since the very last Borders stores closed their doors, following the last Books etc (Fulham Broadway) which closed on 19 December. On 21 December 2009 the two founders of Books etc, Richard Joseph and his father Philip, hosted a wake for staff in a pub in central London. At its peak there were nearly 70 Borders and Book etc stores in the UK and they are much missed. One of the last Books etcs to close was in London’s Victoria. It is good – and a little symbolic perhaps – that Waterstones has just opened in Victoria, the first bookshop to open there since Books etc left.

And on that happy note, it just remains (ha! That word!) to wish you all a bestselling Christmas – and see you on the other side.

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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