Category Archives: E-books (business)

E-Reads Travels to Open Road

Richard Curtis and the E-Readsmobile Prepare to Take to the Open Road

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
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Dear Authors, Agents, Publishers and Friends of E-Reads:

As you know, E-Reads, the e-book publisher I founded in 1999, was recently acquired by Open Road, the largest independent e-book publisher in the English language. As of April 1, 2014 publication of our books will be taken over by Open Road, and the E-Reads website will be closed down. We have recently spent a great deal of time with the management and staff of Open Road and have every confidence that their superb publication and marketing machine will create a warm home for our books and greatly enhance their value.

I am very proud of the list that our superb team of artists and technicians has built in the fifteen years since I started the company, inspired by a vision of a digital publishing future that seemed remote at the end of the 90’s but has become the dominant force in books today. Though we created brilliant covers and a wonderfully robust website, our focus was always on the content itself. We loved books, we loved our books, and it gave us intense pleasure to bring them back to print and share their delights with old fans and a new generation of readers.

Although I’ve posted hundreds of blogs promoting E-Reads’ books, I’m somewhat at a loss for words as I convey my baby to its new home. So I’m going to let one of our most successful authors express what is in my heart.

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“E-Reads was a unique, precious, important thing in my life, and, I suspect, in the lives of many others. It was a joy to bring up the site and see what might be cooking on one day or another. I muchly enjoyed your blogs, or whatever they might be called. Too, it was nice to see the write-ups on one book or another. Too, your team was professional, effective, gifted, superb. The site was ample, well-organized, and well managed. It was also very attractive. The scroll arrangement, for example, was a marvelous device for pointing up and calling attention to offering after offering. Too, so many of your covers were marvelous. Of course, it was a pioneer project, too. It was original, and historical. What an amazing, and wonderful, fifteen years…

“E-Reads was an individual island, with its own trees, beasts, and scenery. It was a place where one could locate, and conveniently access, many books by many wonderful authors which were no longer generally available. Your rescue mission saved much that otherwise might have perished. It was a place where one could find such things. It designed for itself a needed role, and it played it splendidly.”
John Norman
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I will serve in a consultancy role with Open Road to assist in the transition. And of course my commitment to the clients of my literary agency, Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., remains as absolute as ever.

Richard Curtis

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With Amazon MatchBook Bundling One Big Step Closer to Reality

Publishers Weekly reports that “After years of false starts, bundling e-books with print books may have gotten the spark it needed Tuesday morning when Amazon announced an October launch date for Kindle MatchBook. Under the program, customers who buy—or have bought—print editions of titles can buy the e-book at prices ranging from $2.99 to free. At launch, Amazon expects to have over 10,000 books in the program, ranging from new books to books that Amazon began selling when it first opened in 1995.”

For background here’s a piece we published several years ago:

Bundling is an age-old merchandising technique in which customers are offered a discount if they purchase two related products. In the case of books, it’s a combo of two formats, print edition and e-book. Though the technical barriers to delivering both in one transaction are coming down, the real issue is how much to charge for the bundle. A little test we gave readers a few years ago will give you a sense of how challenging the concept is:

When you purchase a print book you should be able to get the e-book for…

a) the full combined retail prices of print and e-book editions
b) an additional 50% of the retail price of the print edition
c) an additional 25% of the retail price of the print edition
d) $1.00 more than the retail price of the print edition
e) free

The choices aren’t just economic but philosophical, reflecting just how aggressive a publisher wants to be and the various thresholds at which the publisher believes consumer resistance will melt. A good argument can be made for each, and as the bundling issue warms up you can expect to hear them all endlessly debated.

The time will soon come when publishers will have to choose one of the above strategies and put it into effect. Misjudging consumer attitudes could prove to be a big mistake and possibly a ruinous one. My own view? I strongly believe that the e-book version should be included free of charge with the purchase of the print edition. What do you think – and why?

Details in Bundling: Publishing’s Next Battleground.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World under the title Why Do We Have to Choose Between Print and Digital?

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Looking for Tedium? E-Books Are Your Medium

In his wrap-up remarks at the 2010 Tools of Change conference, host Tim O’Reilly urged attendees to focus on “the boring stuff” that needs to be done to realize their vision of the future of the e-book industry.

I found this statement puzzling. Despite the widespread impression that e-book people are the jet-setters of the publishing business, the truth is that just about every step in the creation and publication of e-books is excruciatingly boring. In fact, e-book publishing may be described as long stretches of stupefying tedium punctuated by moments of numbing monotony.

Let me take you through a book’s conversion so you will understand what I mean. I urge you to have a strong cup of coffee to stay awake. Bear in mind that though this abstract will take but a minute for you to read, the actual operation requires dozens of man-hours per title. I say “man-hours” but “troll-hours” is more apposite, as the people who do it work in Stygian gloom, eat living things and snarl when poked with a stick.

A brief explanation is in order. Most books published by E-Reads are previously published works that went out of print and reverted to the author. In order to reissue them we scan the original printed volumes rather than use text documents furnished by the author, because the former have been copy-edited.

Scanning. The first task in the production of an e-book is scanning. The book’s cover and binding are stripped to facilitate the feeding of pages into the optical reader, and headers and page numbers sliced off to reduce garbage in the scanned document. Even if high-speed scanners are used the process must be overseen by a human. Monitoring a scanner has the allure of watching someone rake seaweed.

Proofreading. However state-of-the-art the scanner may be, a digitized document will invariably have errors due to misreading by the camera. The word “in” for instance may be interpreted by the scanner as “m”. Thus a proofreader must view and clean up the obvious glitches in the first-pass RTF (Rich Text Format) file created by the scanner. That process is called OCR – Optical Character Recognition. The RTF is then closely read and corrected by a proofreader who compares it word by word and line by line to the original published copy of the book. If you are ever given a choice between proofreading a text file and spending six months in a sensory deprivation chamber, take the chamber.

Final Review. The RTF – the basic building block of e-books – must then be reviewed page by page by a designer to make sure it reads seamlessly. “Once a book gets scanned,” explains Nathan Fernald, E-Reads’ production manager, “it tends to lose all of its formatting with the exception of single line breaks. And line breaks must be clearly delineated to prevent scene shifts within a chapter from running into each other. When we get a file back from scanning, I have to flip through the physical book page-by-page, comparing it with the file to see if there was any formatting lost such as centered text, indented text, extra line breaks, etc.”

The staggering monotony of this process will explain why I granted Nathan one day off every week. He was beginning to exhibit classic symptoms of going postal.

Formatting. Once we have a clean, error-free RTF we format it for various e-book platforms plus print on demand. For print editions, cover art must be sized precisely to the trim of the book using charts comparable to those used to navigate the waters off the Cape of Good Hope.

As if these labors were not excruciatingly demanding enough, we must then create…

Metadata. Metadata is vital book-related information required by retailers. It includes cover image, ISBN number, BISAC code, language, territorial rights, suggested retail price, publication date, brief description and other details and data. Retailers provide pages and pages of metadata definitions, specs and tolerances, all in fine print. And each retailer has different requirements or a different order of the same requirements. You can read about it in detail in Mastering the Mysteries of Metadata, but – long story short – it is comparable in complexity to the instructions for applying for a Fulbright grant, except that you can get away with lying on a Fulbright application.

ISBN Management. ISBNs are unique identifying numbers used in the book industry. They identify not just a book but every edition of a book. Publishing companies purchase a block of ISBNs and, after assigning them to each edition of each book, register them with R.R. Bowker, the official ISBN agency in the United States. (You can read more in Learning to Love your ISBN Number.) Of all the lassitude-inducing tasks performed by our staff, none compares to selecting, assigning, maintaining and registering ISBN numbers. It is like sorting jelly beans by color, except that when you are finished you are obliged to ship the jelly beans to a facility where someone else will eat them. Tales of woe abound. For instance, just when we had become resigned to the Sisyphean labors of managing 10-digit ISBNs the gods imposed 13-digit ones on us. Then Amazon informed us that none of our ISBN’s were suitable for the Kindle, and required us to produce unique Amazon identifier codes.

Royalty Management. Retailers furnish sales information in spreadsheets. In an ideal world the formats and information fields would be uniform. In reality royalty reporting is the Second Coming of the Tower of Babel. We have to reformat each and every retailer’s report so that our accounting system can read and process it. Though it is universally agreed that ISBN numbers are the key to successful royalty report generation, our filters constantly catch busted numbers requiring hours of sleuthing to set right. We find rogue data in other columns, too. All it takes is one misplaced article – “The” at the beginning of a title instead of at the end, for instance – to send our royalty tracker into paroxysms of indignation followed by stern instructions to mercilessly hunt and correct the offensive mistake.

There is much more that I haven’t reported, but I’m afraid it would make you suicidally depressed. I asked John Douglas, who manages our database, to tell us what is boring about his job. “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to tell you,” he replied. “I’m too busy doing a boring job.”

In conclusion, be careful what you wish for when you wish for boring stuff.

The most exciting thing about being in the e-book space is telling people that we are in the e-book space. Showing off a cool e-book to a civilian? That’s exciting. But making the e-book you’re showing off? I think I’d rather watch paint dry.

Richard Curtis

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We Used to Dump E-Trash on the Asians. Now We Dump it on Americans.

Four years ago we issued this warning about the dumping of used e-books and other computer devices. At last the issue is receiving some front page attention (see the New York Times‘s story Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles).

The only difference between then and now is that the E-Trash isn’t just being dumped on Asia’s poor. It’s now being dumped on America’s.

Below is the original posting.

Richard Curtis

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When the next generation of laptops, tablets and e-readers arrives, what’s going to happen to the devices you replace?

If what’s happening in Europe is any guideline, it will end up in a toxic e-waste landfill in Asia and Africa where the destitute, many of them children, will scavenge it for scrap. These scavengers incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments from the plastics, metals and gases that go into discarded cell phones, televisions, computers, keyboards, monitors,cables and similar e-scrap. Elizabeth Rosenthal, covering the story for the New York Times, tells us that “Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, has unwittingly become Europe’s main external garbage chute, a gateway for trash bound for places like China, Indonesia, India and Africa.

“There, electronic waste and construction debris containing toxic chemicals are often dismantled by children at great cost to their health. Other garbage that is supposed to be recycled according to European law may be simply burned or left to rot, polluting air and water and releasing the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.”

Jessika Toothman, blogging on HowStuffWorks, describes how “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV. E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold.” In fact if you want to see what this “bouquet” of poisons is doing to your fellow man, woman and child, you can view this sickening video of a Chinese e-trash village.

One device not mentioned in Toothman’s list of e-waste is e-book readers. The obvious reason is that we are still in the first generation of e-book devices (or second if you count progenitors like the Rocket Book) and there haven’t been enough readers manufactured to make them a formidable source of trash like cell phones and TVs. But when the next generation of e-book readers floods us with Kindle and Sony rivals – better, cheaper, faster, more colorful, loaded with special features and options – will we simply add them to the tons of lethal junk earmarked for miserable dumps in China, Indonesia or Africa?

Because it is still young, the e-book industry has an unprecedented opportunity to exercise its social responsibility, as we recently pointed out.Here is a three-point program to make sure the e-books business remains green.

  • First, manufacturers must be compelled to disclose the chemical components of the e-book devices they produce so that we can evaluate environmental hazards.
  • Second, Amazon, Sony, Plastic logic, Philips and other developers must develop programs for either returning their devices for safe (and monitored) disassembly and recycling or for donation to students, armed services personnel and other charitable recipients.
  • And third, The cost of recycling and safely disassembling e-books must be built into the price structure of e-books.

Right now the hidden cost of computers and other electronic devices is human suffering. It is unacceptable for the e-book industry to boast about environmental advantages while secretly sticking the helpless poor with the bill or contributing to the poisoning of the world’s water and air. If safety measures and sensible recycling add $25 or $50 to the price of their devices, that is an acceptable tradeoff. Because it would be assessed equally on all manufacturers, none would have a competitive advantage over its rivals.

We expect the e-book industry to do the right thing.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.

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Authors: Is Your Website a Disaster Area?

For most authors the worst fate is to be ignored, and they spend long hours promoting themselves and their books on social media to make sure that doesn’t happen. Yet the biggest obstacle to discovery may be authors’ own Web sites, where visitors eager to learn more about their books and who are perhaps interested in buying them encounter a frustrating array of challenges.

This is particularly true in the case of authors who are putting their old books back into print. As a publisher specializing in reissues, I find that some authors seem to be doing everything they can to make it hard for readers to buy their books.

Below are some of the most commonly committed sins:

Covers of dead books: If your book is out of print, why are you displaying the old cover? And worse, why are you linking to the page on Amazon where the only copies sold are used ones (for which you make no money on sales)?

Covers to nowhere: It isn’t enough to paste the image of your cover onto your Web site; it must also be linked to retailers’ sites.

Links to only one retailer: Unless you have an exclusive relationship with Amazon, you should also have links to Barnes & Noble.com, Kobo, iBookstore, and all other sites where your book is offered.

Links to nowhere: If a link on your website only points to the homepage of your publisher instead of the page dedicated to your book, how is that going to help you sell it.

Bio? Reviews? Blurbs?: Biographical information and reviews can be long and tedious. Who has time to read them? Display only the short version.

Remember that fans have limited time and patience. Their goal might be described as Veni, Vidi, Emi (I came, I saw, I purchased). They want to promptly see what they came to see, and if their impulse is to buy it, they should be able to do so in one or two clicks. If there is any impediment to satisfying that impulse on your site, you will have no one to blame but yourself for being ignored.

Richard Curtis

The above suggestions are condensed from an article entitled Discovery Begins on Authors’ Homepages published in the March 4, 2013 issue of Publishers Weekly.  It can be read in its entirety here.

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Psst. Wanna Buy a Used E-Book?

No no. I said used E-BOOKS!

It takes a lot to leave me speechless but when I read that Amazon was contemplating selling used e-books I was too flabbergasted to make sense of it.  Luckily Brian Merchant, a freelance writer, editor and blogger (http://www.treehugger.com/author/brian-merchant/) expressed his dismay, in a posting on Motherboard, better than I could ever hope to.  So, with his kind permission, I reproduce his piece in full below.

Richard Curtis

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Used Ebooks, the Ridiculous Idea that Could Also Destroy the Publishing Industry

By Brian Merchant

Amazon has a patent to sell used ebooks. When I first scanned that headline, I thought it must be some Onion-esque gag, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. Used e-books? As in, rumpled up, dog-eared pdfs? Faded black-and-white Kindle cover art, Calibri notes typed in the margins that you can’t erase?

Barely-amusing image aside, used ebooks are for real. Or at least have a very real potential to become real. See, Amazon just cleared a patent for technology that would allow it to create an online marketplace for used ebooks–essentially, if you own an ebook, you would theoretically be able to put it up for sale on a secondary market.

The approved patent describes the process:

Digital objects including e-books, audio, video, computer applications, etc., purchased from an original vendor by a user are stored in a user’s personalized data store … When the user no longer desires to retain the right to access the now-used digital content, the user may move the used digital content to another user’s personalized data store when permissible and the used digital content is deleted from the originating user’s personalized data store.

Used ebook shoppers could buy your digital copy, directly from you, and Amazon would facilitate the transfer of files–and it would pocket a fee.

It’s a fascinating concept, really, but it could ultimately be devastating to the publishing industry and, potentially, to authors. First, the elephant-sized absurdity in the room: a “used ebook” is identical to a new one. It is a precise digital reproduction. The file does not age, it cannot be damaged, it cannot be altered–therefore, it is worth no less than any other copy, and the only premium purchasers of “new” ebooks would be paying for would be the right to read it first.

And that’s where we start running into problems. Nobody, besides die-hard fans of a given author on a big release date, would ever care enough to pay extra for digital dibs. Used ebooks would eliminate nearly all the incentive to buy “new” ebooks. And Amazon could be banking on that, even though at first blush it might appear to undercut its own business.

Bill Rosenblatt, a copyright expert and witness in numerous digital content patent cases, argues that the online retail giant may be angling to push publishers out for good with such a move. He explained his case to Wired:

Rosenblatt believes that a digital resale marketplace wouldn’t ultimately make Amazon a lot more money on books or music, at least not at first. But he thinks it would move much more of Amazon’s digital content business beyond the interference of publishers, just as publishers can’t dictate the terms of, for example, the sale of used physical books on Amazon. Just as with physical books, publishers would only have a say — or get a cut — the first time a customer buys a copy of an e-book. The second, third and fourth sales of that “same” e-book would be purely under Amazon’s control.

“If Amazon is allowed to get away with doing resale transactions without compensating publishers, then what they can do is say, ‘hey authors, sign with us and we’ll give you a piece of the resale,’” he says. “That could attract authors who might otherwise sign with traditional publishers.”

It would be an exceedingly brazen move on Amazon’s part, and would likely require the combined strength of every copyright lawyer its side of the Mississippi, but it’s entirely possible. And it’s bad news for authors too.

Because, what if they don’t sign on? Well, on the grounds that publishers and authors don’t get a cut of physical used books, Amazon could easily seek to justify refusing to pay writers for secondhand transactions. That’s what worries John Scalzi, the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

“I’m awfully suspicious that it means nothing good for writers who want to get paid for their work using the current compensation model,” he writes on his blog. Scalzi foresees writer-led class action lawsuits aplenty should Amazon ever try to cut out author royalties on ebook resales. And Scalzi agrees that it’s trouble for the traditional publishing industry, too: “if I were a publisher I really wouldn’t have any doubt Amazon wants me dead,” he writes.

Still, the whole phantom of a secondhand ebook marketplace might not ever amount to much. As Marcus Wohlsen notes, Amazon may have secured the patent simply to bury it, to eliminate any possible threat of a secondhand ebook market to its standard business. It may deem the legal threats too great and deign not to push on. Or it may realize that if it ever admits to boxing out authors, consumers may revolt and just download pirated files or directly from author sites.

If Amazon does try this stunt, however, it will be attempting to seize on our nostalgic understanding of physical secondhand marketplaces: many readers love used bookstores and swapping well-worn paperbacks. Thanks to the cloud and increasingly bottomless RAM, the bookshelves of the future are near-infinite–we have no need to “swap” files. We can copy and forward them. Amazon would be relying on the notion that our habits of buying and selling tangible goods are deeply inculcated enough that we’d overlook the absurdity and potential exploitation of a secondhand ebook market.

Used ebooks are a paradoxical anachronism, a cannily capitalistic construct whose only aim is to squeeze authors and publishers. Again, it’s fascinating–but it’s also complete bullshit.

 

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Here Come E-Kiosks!

For years we’ve been forecasting e-book kiosks, brick and mortar showrooms for e-books.  You walk into a store, browse descriptions and sample texts from some two or three million books, point your smart phone at the ones you want, buy and download them. The great thing is that these shops don’t have to be bookstores.  Someone could set one up in a drug store, supermarket, or even a deli (See I’ll have Four Sesames, Four Poppy Seeds, and a Copy of War and Peace).

Virtual kiosks are no longer theoretical.  According to a report in L’Atelier, EBay recently created a couple over the recent holidays dedicated to a variety of products and services.  “The online auction and sales platform provider recently opened pop-up stores in London and Berlin, where customers were able to make purchases using smartphones and also obtain advice and training on how to sell on eBay.” Though the stock in trade was hard goods, there’s no reason why the concept cannot be applied to e-books. Bookstores are (unfortunately) already being used as showrooms for book browsers, so this just legitimizes the process.

E-kiosks were envisioned some years ago by Joe Esposito, a management consultant in the digital media and publishing field. He coined the term “Medadatarium”, a concept that falls somewhere between a mega-bookstore and an e-book kiosk. “We need a utopian solution” to the crisis of our disappearing bookstores,” Esposito says. “We need our bookstores,” he wrote, “but we also need Amazon’s inventory. We need libraries–and we need a way to pay for them. We need analog tools for discovery and digital modes of delivery. We need a Third Place for community and a Cloud-based infrastructure to deliver all information to anyone anywhere anytime. And I need a place to kill some time on Saturday afternoons.”  Esposito crackles with good (and entertaining) ideas and you can read up on his Metadatarium here.

See you at the kiosk!

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World under the title Virtual E-Book Kiosks One Giant Step Closer.

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Going Backwards from Digital to Tangible

We’d suspected it all along, but the New York Times confirmed it: retail stores are not just fighting back, they’re coming back.

“A Manhattan retail real estate broker reports an increase in inquiries from online-only retailers about opening shops, particularly in smaller spaces.” The piece went on to say that “Customers want to feel the merchandise.” “They see shopping as a social event,” said a retailer. “Think of the store as a showroom,” said another. Yet another said “They’ll show them a few products, lure them in and hopefully have them hooked. They feel that, yes, people are online, people have apps, but there’s nothing like the spontaneous face-to-face.”

One online retailer, inspired by his customers’ desire to feel the merchandise, opened a physical store and was thrilled to report that “‘the average in-store transaction was $360, double what it is online, and first-time store visitors buy again in 58 days, versus waiting 85 days between Web site purchases. And, he said, he has cut Web marketing expenses in half as in-store purchases have increased.'”

The product these people were talking about was apparel. But it could just as well have been books. Not just print books but books in all formats and domains. For some time we have been predicting that after an intoxicating decade of growth, readers would revisit print books and the brick and mortar stores that sell them.

Bookstore sales over the recent holidays suggest the trend in hard copies may be paralleling the trend in other hard goods like clothing. And for the same reasons: people like to browse, feel the merchandize, sample the goods, discover surprises, speak to an informed and friendly human salesperson. “The owner of The Book Cellar in Chicago, which saw 2011 sales rise 38% in the wake of Borders’s closing, was pleased to have last year’s increase stick,” Publishers Weekly reports. “‘Holiday sales for 2012 were “terrific,”’ the owner said, “’up a whisker.’” And Michael Boggs, co-owner of Carmichael’s Bookstore, with two stores in Louisville, Ky., was satisfied with being down 6% at one store and 4% at the other. “Both were up 38% from the year before. The new level is 30% more than pre-Borders. It’s an enormously big figure for a store that’s 35 years old to have.’”

Buried in the Times‘s report was this even more intriguing item: “An eBay pop-up store in London that opened this holiday season has no actual merchandise, just scannable screens displaying gift suggestions.” The idea of a physical kiosk selling virtual books is an idea whose time may at last be realized in the year to come, and if there is any breakthrough event we can predict for 2013, it’s that one. We’ll have more to say about kiosks before long.

Details in Once Proudly Web Only, Shopping Sites Hang Out Real Shingles by Stephanie Clifford.

Richard Curtis

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Long Before E-Book Revolution, War for Control of E-Rights Was Lost

In 1989 Ben Bova published a science fiction novel entitled Cyberbooks describing an electronic reading device almost identical to the Kindle: “…A gray oblong box about five inches by nine and less than an inch thick. Its front was almost entirely a dark display screen. There was a row of fingertip-sized touchpads beneath the screen.”

Bova’s gadget was very much like the one that had flashed into my mind the moment I laid eyes on a CD-ROM disc in the late 1980s. “What if,” I speculated, “you could insert CD-ROMs containing book texts into a portable light-box and read them on it?”

My concept was laughably crude, for the means of delivering those texts, the Internet, had not yet swept into dominance over worldwide communications. So, I was in the right church but the wrong pew. Still, the vision gripped me and I began to think about the practical aspects of digital technology.

I wasn’t the only one. One day around that time I received a Putnam contract and came across language I had never seen: the publisher had reserved something called “display” rights. I called Phyllis Grann, the head of the company, and asked her what it meant. She said she’d gone to an electronics show and seen the Franklin Bookman, a portable device that contained an electronic edition of the Bible. “I want that,” she told me.

That was the first shot fired by publishers in the battle to seize the e-rights high ground, and it occasioned the article I posted in the Association of Authors’ Representatives Newsletter in spring of 1993. Rereading it, it’s clear that I had as good a handle on what was to come as it was possible given how little we knew at that time. When I served as president of AAR in the mid-‘90s I tried to alert agents to the coming revolution and implement a few safeguards such as a new definition of “out of print,” for the new technology offered an opportunity to draw a precise line below which a publisher’s rights were terminable.

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“With a Heavy Heart,” US Slaps Internet Conference Partners in Face

“It is clear that the world community is a crossroads in its view of the Internet and its relationship to society in the coming century,” said Terry Kramer, leader of the American delegation to a global treaty conference on telecommunications held in Dubai.  Then, after uttering this lofty declaration, Kramer refused to sign the treaty and his delegation boycotted the closing ceremony.  We don’t know what was served at the ceremony but the Americans left the other attendees with generous portions of egg on their faces.

The Americans bolted because they perceived that the conference’s resolutions, approved by 89 of the 144 nations, represented a threat to Internet freedom.  Yet, as the New York Times‘s Eric Pfanner points out, “Anyone reading the treaty… might be puzzled by these assertions. ‘Internet’ does not appear anywhere in the 10-page text, which deals mostly with matters like the fees that telecommunications networks should charge one another for connecting calls across borders. After being excised from the pact at United States insistence, the I-word was consigned to a soft-pedaled resolution that is attached to the treaty.

“The first paragraph of the treaty,” Pfanner writes, states that  “’These regulations do not address the content-related aspects of telecommunications.’ That convoluted phrasing was understood by all parties to refer to the Internet, delegates said, but without referring to it by name so no one could call it an Internet treaty.”  The stated goal of the conference was to “narrow the digital divide” and make the Internet available to “more of the 4.5 billion people around the world who remain offline,” says Pfanner.

With unctuous hypocrisy Kramer delivered this slap in the face “with a heavy heart,” but to some it was more like a heavy hand, and though Pfanner doesn’t say so in so many words, it’s clear that the strings controlling that hand were manipulated by big media companies whose paranoid terror of censorship overrides every consideration of regulation, good will or good faith.

Once again – we’re thinking of our refusal to ratify the Kyoto environmental protocol – the United States has blown a huge opportunity to be a light unto the nations.  Shame!

Details in Message, if Murky, From U.S. to the World by Eric Pfanner

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published in Digital World as US Plays TeleTreaty Partners for Suckers

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