25 July 2006


The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) has released its response to the British Library's Content Strategy. It's a wonderful demonstration that they don't really know what is going to hit them:

We believe that a shift towards the provision of online rather than physical access is appropriate. However, customer expectations of what is possible with online content are limited only by the capabilities of the technology, and not by realistic business considerations; at the extreme, every UK citizen might expect free online access, and unhindered re-use, at home or at work to everything in the Library’s collection, which would obviously destroy the market for publishers.

Obviously. Not.

Saying that online access will "obviously" destroy the market for publishers is akin to saying - as was said - that television will obviously kill the cinema, that the cinema will obviously kill the theatre etc. etc. Those who are the gatekeepers of older technologies always fear new ones that will reduce their powers. But what happens is that new technologies tend to create new opportunities even for the older ones they appear to threaten - at least to those who are open-minded enough.

Two classic examples: MP3s have created a huge demand for songs that are no longer in the catalogues, and P2P networks are full of videos of old television shows. Think how much money they owners of these materials could make if they decided to satisfy this demand themselves, instead of trying to stifle it.

It's the same with books. Providing online versions does not kill the need for books; indeed, it is likely to encourage people to buy more, for one very simple reason. The text that you read online is not the text you read in a book, even though the characters are similar: it lacks the physical experience of bookness. It is that - not the text - that book publishers are ultimately selling.

"Obviously", judging by the comments above, and by many others elsewhere, it's going to take a long hard battle to din this idea into the heads of those in the publishing industry. (Via Open Access News.)

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