While there were lots of discussions on the impact of technology on the future of publishing at the March 3 annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers, as well as at the annual meeting of the school division held that morning, there were also numerous calls for the publishing industry to begin to do a better job of communicating to the public and to the government the importance of copyright and the value of books as well as the role publishers play in developing quality materials. Those topics were touched on in opening remarks by Tom Allen, AAP CEO and president, and Pearson Education's Will Ethridge, AAP chairman. The title given to the annual meeting—“The Value of Publishing in Education, Culture, and Commerce”—reflected the growing sense that something needs to be done to offset the idea that the publishing industry comprises nothing more than greedy old media conglomerates.
“The claim that information wants to be free is absurd,” said longtime publishing industry analyst Peter Appert, of Piper Jaffray, who was on a panel during the school division meeting. In the first panel at the general annual meeting, “The 21st Century Landscape of Academic Learning,”Alan Brinkley, former provost and Allan Nevins professor of history at Columbia University, said the notion that “information wants to be free is the most fatuous idea I've ever heard.” Brinkley said while publishers should do what they can to make books as affordable as possible, “they do need to be paid for.” In the case of the school market, Appert noted, the development of quality educational materials is expensive, and those costs need to be recouped. Michael Meltz, executive director of J.P. Morgan, and on a panel with Appert, said an advocacy effort is needed to show government officials and the public what goes into the production of materials. “It's hard work,” Meltz noted. He advised publishers to get some testimonials from customers attesting to the value and importance of materials in the teaching process.
School publishers are faced with growing calls in some states—fueled by the lobbying efforts of technology companies—to broaden the definition of instructional materials to include the purchase of hardware, a move that would mean fewer funds for the purchase of textbooks and related materials. Appert noted that the budget for instructional materials in the current year represents less than 1% of total educational spending and on a per capita basis is at its lowest level in years. Other states are talking about developing open source materials that schools could use for free. And California is dealing with the second phase in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's much publicized effort to replace (expensive) textbooks with laptops and other (cheaper) digital alternatives for students. AAP California lobbyist Dale Shimasaki explained that Schwarzenegger's initial program dealt only with high school math and science courses and so far has resulted only in the development of student editions, not any support materials. The initiative has been broadened to include all high school subjects, and Shimasaki said there is a belief in California that Schwarzenegger would like to make creating more advanced-technology schools his legacy and that he will continue to press the issue. But a number of panelists during the school division meeting, including two Wall Street analysts, were skeptical that schools have the necessary infrastructure in place to support more digital teaching. In colleges the cost of developing such an infrastructure has been passed to students, Piper Jaffray's Appert noted.
During his keynote, however, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made it clear that incorporating more technology into the classroom is a top priority for the Obama administration. Becoming familiar with and using technology is the only way students will learn 21st-century skills, Duncan said. “Schools must keep pace with the new century,” he told publishers. Duncan said that on behalf of President Obama, he is urging publishers to help lead the movement of educational trends by updating their products and business models.
All the panelists at an afternoon session looking at the current status of copyright agreed publishers were losing the battle in the court of public opinion. “Copyright is in the crosshairs of those who think information wants to be free,” said Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights. She said publishers need to switch the public perception that copyright is a barrier to the new things they want to get, to the message that it is copyright that enables them to get new products. Author Mark Helprin said publishers were engaged in a war over copyright with technology companies and other parties, and while he urged publishers to take aggressive measures in the battle—selective prosecution is one idea—he also said a series of ads featuring authors and how violating copyrights makes it impossible for them to care for their families might resonate with the public. On the other hand, publishers will never again enjoy the type of control they have had over copyright and their products, said Pamela Samuelson, director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at the University of California at Berkeley. The public is playing with content in new ways, she said, and rather than treat consumers as enemies, publishers should provide them with more options to acquire content.