In opening the 2018 annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers on September 20 in New York City, chairman and Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle greeted the roughly 200 attendees by exclaiming, “Welcome to the new AAP.” Dohle then spent a few minutes reviewing the changes that have taken place at the association over the past 18 months. He explained that when former AAP CEO Tom Allen announced he planned to retire in early 2017, the board felt it was the right time to evaluate where the association stood and what changes needed to be made to keep pace with shifts in publishing and the economy in general.
The board settled on two longtime AAP themes—copyright protection and the protection of freedom of expression—but added a new, more aggressive public policy position, through which the AAP plans to advocate about the value of publishing to the culture and to the economy, as well as to more actively support laws and regulations that, according to the AAP’s mission statement, “incentivize the publication of creative expression, professional content, and learning solutions.”
To achieve its new goals, the AAP has been “refined,” Dohle said—a process that involved, among other actions, closing its New York City and Philadelphia offices and centering its organization in Washington, D.C. He added that the board has been “energized” by the early results of the new approach.
That approach has been led by Maria Pallante, who was named CEO in January 2017. The shift in focus mandated by the board and executed by Pallante was reflected in the creation of a new AAP award. At this year’s meeting, the Award for Distinguished Publish Service was given to Doug Collins, a congressman from Georgia and cochair of the Creative Rights Caucus, which was formed to protect the rights of content creators. In presenting the award, Pallante cited Collins’s efforts sponsoring policies that respect “the value of original works” and that distinguish him as someone working “to improve the copyright system.”
The AAP’s focus on competing with tech giants was seen in the presentation by Benjamin Marks of Weil Gothsal & Manges, which was titled, “Competition and Consumer Protection: What Regulators Are Asking About Big Tech and What It Means for Publishing.” He spoke against the backdrop of government hearings being conducted to review antitrust laws and other consumer protection regulations. Marks noted that, under current antitrust laws, regulators are mostly concerned with “protecting competition, not competitors,” adding that they see nothing wrong with a new company offering products at lower prices, which has the effect of knocking out competitors. But with the new populist sentiment, he said, regulators are considering looking beyond pricing to examine such issues as whether the existence of some mammoth tech companies reduces consumer choice.
Marks said that it is reasonable to investigate whether certain technology platforms skew consumer choices, adding that it is “only natural” to ask whether Amazon favors the products of its publishing division and movie studio over those of competitors. He noted that the current hearings are a “golden opportunity” for publishers to bring what they see as anticompetitive behavior to the attention of regulators. He also said that the hearings present a chance for publishers to show that, in an era of widespread misinformation, they play an important role in the delivery of credible information.
AAP’s ongoing commitment to free speech was reflected in the presentation of its 16th International Freedom to Publish/Jeri Laber Award. Freedom to Publish chair Geoff Shandler said the need for the award persists as publishers are threatened in numerous parts of the world. This year’s award went to Azadeh Parsapour, the publisher of Nogaam Publishing. A native of Iran, Parsapour operates her digital publishing company from London, where she produces a range of books for readers back home that likely would be banned or censored there. Parsapour delivered her acceptance speech in a recorded video, since, being an Iranian citizen, she was prevented by Homeland Security from entering the U.S.