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Publishing News: The piracy debate may well be irrelevant in the future of publishing

"Artisan authors" move beyond the piracy "problem," libraries of books become libraries of knowledge, and newspapers have space for rent.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Authors may leave publishers behind to wallow in piracy concerns

The publishing industry’s issues with piracy may become a problem of the past, Damien Walter observed at The Guardian this week. Walter looks at a newly emerging “artisan author,” an author for whom “self-publishing is a preference and file-sharing is an opportunity.”

chained by Colin-47, on FlickrHe points to a few high-profile early adopters — Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross and Neil Gaiman — who operate beyond the constraints of piracy concerns and notes that it’s easy to write off these examples as the exception not the rule, but says to do so would be to miss the fundamentals of the argument. Walter writes:

“Successful writers understand the marketplace they are working within, and they understand that digital copying and file-sharing, like all disruptive changes wrought by technology, create as many opportunities as problems. The digital economy operates on the model of the long tail, and copying is part of how a book or any digital creation moves up the tail. Copying and file-sharing are the Internet’s word of mouth — and as all good booksellers know, it’s word of mouth that really sells books.”

These “artisan authors” also embrace creative control, Walter notes, and are more nimble and flexible than traditional authors tied to a traditional publisher. “If the artisan authors are right, then file-sharing is the least of the problems traditional authors face,” he writes. “They are tied to a publishing ecosystem that may simply be too big and too slow to adapt to the extinction-level event of digital technology.”

In a loosely related post, Brian O’Leary looked at the “Competing With Free: How Piracy Impacts Sales and Strategies to Fight It” keynote presented recently at Digital Book World and the subsequent coverage by Jeremy Greenfield. O’Leary writes:

“Michael D. Smith, a Carnegie Mellon professor of information technology and marketing, was asked to present his findings, described in the session overview as “piracy clearly hurts media sales.” The talk was covered by Jeremy Greenfield in a post titled, “Does piracy hurt digital content sales? Yes.” No doubt the headline generated some traffic. While Smith may have said it, the claim is neither accurate nor complete.”

O’Leary laments — still and again — the lack of solid data to support claims that piracy affects the publishing industry in either direction. He points to his prior attempt to recruit publishers to participate in a piracy impact study looking at real numbers, real sales — real data — noting that O’Reilly was the only publisher to join the study. “Five years later,” O’Leary writes, “we’re continuing to debate whether piracy is a problem without any basis for understanding what we even mean by ‘problem.’” You can read O’Leary’s complete post at his Magellan Media blog.

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Future libraries will be portals for knowledge, not just books

A new Pew Internet report released this week showed some positive news for libraries: 91% of participants in the national survey said public libraries are important to their communities. The survey reviewed how participants felt about library services in the digital era.

Taylor Soper at GeekWire took a look at some of the desired technologies, which range from an “ask a librarian” online service to mobile apps for library services to ebook readers pre-loaded with ebooks. Soper notes that “69% said they would be interested in a ‘technology petting zoo,’ which is essentially a demo station that allows people to test out the newest tech devices or applications,” and that “64% of those surveyed said they would be interested in personalized online accounts that provide customized recommendations for books and services based on their past library activity” — ala Amazon recommendations, for instance.

PewLibrarySurveyScreenshot

Source: Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project Library Services survey. October 15-November 10, 2012. N=2,252 Americans ages 16 and older. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and on landline and cell phones. You can access the complete report here (PDF).

Nathaniel Mott at PandoDaily reviewed Pew’s survey report as well and noted that “[p]erhaps it’s better to think of libraries as a place dedicated to knowledge, rather than a place where people borrow books. … Libraries have been in the technology business for thousands of years, embracing and preserving knowledge via physical books, and now they’re expected to do the same with other, more modern technologies as well.” Mott also highlighted other institutions experiencing similar technological growth, such as Drexel University, which offers 24-hour kiosks that dispense MacBooks that students can use and, Mott reports, may expand into iPad offerings as well.

You can read Soper’s full report at GeekWire, Mott’s at PandoDaily, and you can access the full Pew Internet report, including a section of quoted comments from a panel of library staff members, at Pew Internet (PDF).

Need office space? Check with your local newspaper

It’s no secret that newspapers are struggling to survive, to replace lost print revenues with new digital ad sales, reader paywalls and bundled subscriptions. Now, some of them are turning to their more tangible assets for financial leverage. Christine Haughney reports at the New York Times that the Boston Globe, in a search for creative ways to use — and monetize — empty office space, has “turned its empty offices into a public community space, bringing in start-up technology companies, bands visiting to perform for the company’s Internet station RadioBDC and special events like the programming code marathon it held for technology enthusiasts.”

Haughney reports that the amount of revenue the newspaper will bring in is unclear, but publisher Christopher M. Mayer pointed out that the new relationships help energize the workplace and help keep readers engaged and connected with the newspaper. Jeff Moriarty, The Globe’s vice president for digital products also noted the synergistic opportunities that arise with resident startups and entrepreneurs — app developer TapWalk, for instance, is making an app for the newspaper’s upcoming travel show.

Haughney points to other newspapers trying out similar strategies, such as the Los Angeles Times, which has been leasing office space not only to other companies, but to filmmakers — offices have been used for such films as “Argo,” “Moneyball,” and “Frost/Nixon.”

In related news, Jim Romenesko reports that more than 70 newspapers responded to an NBC casting call for a new reality show about a small-town newspaper. Producer Cara Biega told Romenesko she was impressed with the amazing stories being submitted by interested newspapers.

Photo: chained by Colin-47, on Flickr

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