Lucy Knisley gets it just right: Books are precious and wonderful, but it’s the wrong idea to try to smother the digital baby in its crib — that only makes for vengeful survivor-adolescents, and it’s bad for the soul of the smotherer. Digital texts offer advantages that print media don’t. We should be concentrating on ways we can take full advantage of (and improve!) digital media, and those of us who still want books can by all means keep buying and collecting books.
Suw and I were tweeting back and forth yesterday about this general topic (tweets edited for format, not content):
Suw: still makes me cross that museums like V&A aren’t putting images of paintings they hold, e.g. from 1806, into public domain.
AKMA: @Suw There’s a great contribution to be made by some fndtn underwriting good, reproducible digital versions of pub[lic] dom[ain] texts/images/music.
Suw: @AKMA I could not agree more. I understand museums need to make £££ but they should be adding value, not charging for basic image.
AKMA: @Suw “Adding value, not restricting access” = FTW. Artificial scarcity is a losing tactic.
Suw: @AKMA absolutely! well, we’ll just have to show them how it’s done. 😀
Now, I already thought the world of Suw, both from converations in olden online times and from when she was so tremendously kind and attentive when I learned about my father’s impending death at Freedom To Connect last year (it seems so long ago!). I’m impressed with (and keeping an eye on) her start-up, Book Oven. And she too sees that the rearguard action of trying to prevent the future only costs the publishing industry money, delays its acclimatization to the present, and frustrates and alienates some of its pivotally-important customers (to wit, the digital natives who populate Scribd and other such havens of PDF-downloadable goodies).
There’s no way to come out ahead by resisting digital media — at least, not once you factor in the hidden costs of continuous on-going security r&d, lawyers, damage to reputation/good will, alienation from tomorrow’s mainstay buyers, and so on. I used to irritate students in my language classes by urging them to let Greek teach them Greek — that is, by reading along and observing what Greek authors actually do with the language rather than by ingesting a bookful of rules and definitions that the authors may never have heard of, and expecting the texts we read to be controlled by the rules. So too with digital media: sooner or later, the publishers and distributors will have to let digital media teach them how to prosper in digital publishing. Cory Doctorow and Radiohead have shown that freely-distributable works do not equal “no payment for creators.” Artistic creation didn’t begin ex nihilo when copyright was legislated, and it would continue (in different ways) if copyright were absolutely abolished. But since no one, so far as I know, is suggesting that copyright be abolished, why not step up and meet the future on the future’s terms? Why not use digital media for what they’re good for, print media for what they’re good for, copyright law for what it’s good for, and unleash a lot of imaginative energy that’s been pent-up by lawsuits, rootkits, nostalgic anxiety, self-protective lobbying and legislation (what Cory and Doc called the Anti-Mammal Dinosaurs’ Protection Act).