Digital Book World 2016, scheduled for March 7-9 at the New York Hilton, opened the same week that the Supreme Court declined to hear Apple’s appeal of its conviction in the 2012 e-book price fixing case, putting an end to the long running legal battle.
In the wake of that decision (which included settlements with the Big Five), Jon Taplin, director of University of Southern California's Innovation Lab, kicked off this year’s DBW with a keynote presentation called “Sleeping Through the Revolution.” In it, he suggested that although this particular legal battle has ended, cultural and moral objections to the ways giant tech companies do business will only continue. (A version of Taplin’s talk is available on Vimeo.)
Taplin, a former media producer and digital entrepreneur, has produced concerts for Bob Dylan and films for Martin Scorsese. Having worked as a digital entrepreneur in the early days of broadband video on demand, he believes the digital transition we’re now living through "lacks a moral framework."
He claimed the founders of the internet are appalled at the ways that big tech firms—Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google—have used it to destroy government regulation and build dominant market shares, “if prices are low, it’s not an illegal monopoly." They have, he went on to claim, destroyed privacy “by monitoring people 24/7 to sell stuff,” and undermined copyright by making it easy to find and download pirated content. “Google search is the great piracy enabler," Taplin said.
“I’m worried that we live in a time when platform is king, not content,” Taplin said. He then closed his presentation with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King from 1968 that Taplin said seems applicable today: “Our scientific power has outrun our moral power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
DBW co-organizer Mike Shatzkin also spoke, delivering a survey of the changes in the book industry since the first DBW in 2010. He cited the loss of Borders, the continuing downsizing of B&N, agency pricing, the aforementioned e-book price-fixing case, and the rise of a “massive community" of self-published indie authors. This last group, he noted, includes hundreds of authors that "are making a living” publishing and selling books without traditional publishers.
Shatzkin said one of the biggest problems in the book business now is that publishers are not improving their authors' "digital footprint," or increasing "reader engagement and book discoverability.” He called for more collaboration between publishers and authors to “identify a complete list of marketing opportunities,” at a time when “big publisher e-book sales are declining, even though the e-book market is growing.”