I’m home, as of 12 hours ago. My days in London sped by, and the fact that I had such good Internet access meant that I was working–reviewing the final version of my preface to Patterns to Global Terrorism and our letter inviting Oprah to join the Advisory Board for our book about libraries, for example–instead of blogging, I’m afraid. And, as ever, answering email (remember life without email?).
My last day in London was especially busy. I first went to Tunbridge Wells to visit Andrew Durnell, the agent who is going to represent us on the continent (Iceland to Greece). I mentioned that I used to go to Tunbridge Wells a lot to do martial arts. “Not with David Passmore?” said Andrew. The small world principle really applied here: it’s not exactly obvious that two publishing people who live on different continents would find that they might well have thrown each other around in budokan (aikido/karate/kendo) classes 20 years ago.
And that we both knew, and were taught by, Julie Tullis, a British mountain climber who died on K2. (We’ve quoted from Julie’s biography in several of our sports publications; I especially like what she wrote about the relationship between climbing and martial arts.)
The evening was a more glittery affair, starting with a book launch party for John Simpson at the Ritz. The current business buzz in UK publishing is the proposed purchase of Ottakar’s, a relatively new book chain, by Waterstone’s. Publishers are planning to fight this further consolidation of the book trade. When I told someone I’d read that Ottakar’s was a nice chain, he said, “Too nice.” Too nice for the tough business world we all face today. Publishers, and booksellers of course, are being squeezed by supermarket sales.
What worries me a little is that the publishing industry also needs to find common ground to respond to generalized threats, like the proposed scanning of books by Google and Amazon. That’s the other story of the moment, which you can read about at Google Debate.
I missed the Society of Authors annual general meeting that evening, but I did find myself thinking that although authors and publishers often don’t see eye to eye, and publishers, booksellers, and distributors are at odds on various issues, we all need to work together to come up with fresh ways to inform people outside the industry about what we do.
This is especially important when it comes to Google, which has such a warm and cuddly image (did you see the cute pieces of birthday cake celebrating their 7th year?). I like Google, and admire much about it, but I don’t think they grasp that books are not the same thing as a website, and that authors and publishers are not grateful to them for announcing plans (in concert with major libraries) to scan all our books (or all the ones they can get hold of).
We in the publishing indsutry have a lot of talking to do about creativity, originality, and the ownership of intellectual property (a bad name, really, to use in public discourse: maybe we should call it creative property)–to the public, and also to our friends at libraries.
The US Authors Guild is suing Google for “massive copyright infringement,” and more lawsuits are no doubt on the way.