By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Comments were made at the Association of American Publishers’ annual meeting by US Senator and author Amy Klobuchar, anchor and CNN author Don Lemon, and journalist and author Brad Stone. Read about those remarks here.
Publishing as ‘a Catalyst and a Driver’A goal of a service organization’s annual general meeting, of course, is to make members feel good about themselves and their work. This is true not only in publishing but in almost every industry’s service organizations. “AGMs,” as annual general meetings are known, are motivational moments.
Wednesday’s (June 2) Association of American Publishers‘ digital annual meeting lived right up to that objective, president and CEO Maria A. Pallante telling the gathering in her opening remarks, “As publishers, you document the past, inform the future, and, yes, you change lives.”
During the challenges of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, she said, “Amidst a raging virus, public emergencies, business lockdowns, and social unrest, we discovered this invincible truth: people of every age wanted the knowledge, inspiration, and connectivity that comes from both fiction and nonfiction publications. We were reminded that publishing is essential to human empowerment, and, moreover, that it is a catalyst and driver for other essential businesses like authorship, research enterprises, bookstores, public libraries, and, yes, tech platforms. And we saw very clearly that publishing drives political accountability.”
While those words may look a bit more self-aggrandizing on the part of the industry than they sounded as she read them—the staff hummed the The Battle Hymn of the Republic only very softly behind her—Pallante was doing something more than congratulating the book business she serves and reminding it of the efforts made on its behalf by the association: she was restating the organization’s mission and reminding a remarkably healthy business that what’s ahead on the other side of the contagion’s concerns may be no stroll through the park.
“For more than 50 years,” she said, “the AAP’s mission has been to advance legislative and regulatory policies—as well as judicial outcomes—that incentivize publishers to publish.” And in a time of unanticipated social and economic difficulty, that’s what they did.
As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the American publishing industry has fared extremely well since the June 2020 AAP annual meeting. The Audio Publishers Association has just reported a 39-percent jump in audiobook titles published in 2020 over 2019 and a 12-percent gain in revenues last year, hitting US$1.3 billion.
AAP’s StatShot analysis for March showed a year-over-year gain for the industry overall of 40.2 percent. NPD has reported a Q1 gain of 29 percent this year in the volume of print sales over Q1 2019–205 million units this year over 158 million in the first quarter of last year–giving credence to Pallante’s point that forward movement has persisted in this year of transition since the pathogen was at full force.
Pallante noted that ebooks in 2020 “reversed a slow decline that began in 2014, with revenue up 16 percent at year’s end.” Her figure for the advance of downloaded audiobooks, “already wildly popular,” as she said, is higher than the APA’s, coming in at +16.5 percent for the year. It’s always left to journalists, of course, to point out that March’s StatShot puts downloaded audiobooks at a comparatively small 7.9 percent of the American market, albeit with nine robust years of double-digit gains. Pallante is certainly right that it’s a “wildly popular” 7.9 percent of the whole, and its enthusiasts are faithful to their format.
It’s also good to be reminded that for all the jolts, uncertainties, upheaval, and undeniable stresses confronted by book publishing in the pandemic, the industry proved to be uniquely–and luckily–suited to quick adjustment to tough conditions. Many other industries could not send their employees out to work safely from home. Indeed, some publishing employees may stay there, executives having seen that productivity is fully possible in such a scenario–and so are lower office space expenses.
What’s more, the crisis in the States played out in a market already primed, as it were, in e-commerce. As other nations’ industries have reported, where the business and its consumers weren’t so online-ready, the damage has been serious.
Brian Napack: ‘Those Who Target Publishing’
Pallante’s comments had been led by an introduction from current AAP board chairman, Wiley president and CEO Brian Napack, who had deftly prefaced her most cogent comments by referencing “those who target publishing” these days.
“They’re actively working to chip away at freedom of expression,” he said, “which is the basis of the knowledge ecosystem; working to erode strong copyright policies we all depend on; working to undermine the free marketplace of ideas; and working to commoditize intellectual property, the fundamental work of our authors our poets, our scientists, our educators.
“By standing up to the loudest voices,” Napack said, “the AAP ensures that we can continue to do what we have done for centuries–advance authorship, science, education, enable human creativity and encourage innovation.”
Maria Pallante: ‘Rearranging the Value Chain’
To that end, Pallante laid out a set of three over-arching policy areas on which the business and association need to spend a lot of effort going forward because, as she said, “Many publishers have been subjected of late to ever heightened rhetoric and strategies designed to hijack the public interest. This is not about balancing equities, it’s about rearranging the value chain.”
Her chief areas of concern as we clear the health crisis and transition forward:
- “The exclusive rights delineated in the copyright act are under assault. These rights are the basis of all business models for books, journals, and educational materials in both print and digital formats. Copyrights are how you make works available to the public—whether you do so through the sale of copies, digital licenses and downloads, subscriptions, collective licensing, or open-access models.
- “An effective enforcement framework is under assault–one that would hold pirates accountable wherever they are located, and reform the DMCA that governs the removal of infringing content on websites—which is badly in need of updating.
- “A transparent and competitive marketplace remains elusive, one in which authors can be discovered, publishers can compete fairly and vigorously, and new innovators can serve the public without unfair control or manipulation from dominant tech giants.”
Specifically, Pallante mentioned tariffs “imposed by the Trump administration on books printed in China [which] remain in place under the Biden Administration–with the exception of the Bibles, religious books, and children’s books we helped to except. President Biden’s top-to-bottom review of US-China policy is progressing slowly, and it’s too soon to know if he’ll remove the tariffs on goods such as books, which have nothing to do with forced technology transfer, the subject of the Section 301 investigation.”
“To advance and protect the publishing industry, we work with all policymakers, liberal and conservative, and with all administrations, Democrat and Republican.”Maria A. Pallante, AAP
Pallante referred here to the joint lawsuit AAP has filed against the US Trade Representatives’ office and Customs and Border Protection, “challenging the legality of the tariffs on books and seeking a refund of all tariffs paid by the plaintiff-publishers on books imported from China.”
She also referred to a Maryland case in particular, speaking of the AAP “unexpectedly responding to a coordinated strategy from library lobbyists, as well as tech-funded special-interest groups, to divert copyright policy away from Congress—where there are rigorous precedents and deliberations—to a variety of state assemblies. These efforts, she said, “which target ebooks and audiobooks and, in some cases, broader digital materials, are clearly preempted by the express language of the federal copyright act, but more fundamentally, they spin a false narrative.
“Are libraries important to the publishing ecosystem? Yes, they most certainly are, which is why publishers across the country license thousands of digital works to libraries across the country every day. But authors, publishers, and bookstores also have policy equities, which is why Congress enacted a singular cohesive federal copyright system that has addressed the ownership and sale of books since 1790.”
Pallante mentioned the lawsuit, discussed at last year’s annual meeting, filed against the Internet Archive, “which has brazenly reproduced some 1.3 million bootleg scans of print books, including recent works, commercial fiction and non-fiction, thrillers, and children’s books.” The case still is pending in US district court in the Southern District of New York, “as counsel works through discovery,” she said.
And in mentioning AAP filings of amicus briefs in Donald Trump’s efforts to stop publication of John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough, both from Simon & Schuster, Pallante added, “I want to stress that AAP is and always has been bipartisan.
“To advance and protect the publishing industry, we work with all policymakers, liberal and conservative, both chairs and ranking members, and with all administrations, Democrat and Republican.”
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.