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 last 18 months. He said 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 not only publishing but the economy in general.
The board centered around two long-time 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 protectively 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. This process, he elaborated, meant resulted in in closing its New York City and Philadelphia offices and centering its organization in Washington, D.C. Dohle said the board has been “energized” by the early results of the new approach.
Since January 2017, the AAP has been led by Maria Pallante. The shift in focus mandated by the board and executed by Pallante was reflected in the creation of a new AAP award. The Award for Distinguished Publish Service was presented to Representative Doug Collins, a congressman from Georgia and the cochair of the Creative Rights Caucus, which was formed to protect the rights of content creators. In presenting the award to Collins, Pallante cited his work in sponsoring policies that respect “the value of original works” and distinguished him as someone working “to improve the copyright system.”
The AAP’s focus on dealing with new competition was seen in the presentation by Benjamin Marks of Weil Gothsal & Manges, whose subject was “Competition and Consumer Protection: What Regulators Are Asking About Big Tech and What It Means for Publishing.” Marks spoke against the backdrop of 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 a lower price, which would have the effect of knocking out competitors.
But with the new populist sentiment, regulators are considering looking beyond pricing to examine such issues as whether the presence of some of the new mammoth tech companies reduces consumer choice. He noted that it is reasonable to investigate if the different technology platforms that have been developed may skew choice. He said it is “only natural” to ask if Amazon, which has its own publishing division and movie studio, would favor those products over those of competitors.
He said the current government hearings are a “golden opportunity” for publishers to bring what they see as antitrust behavior to the attention of regulators. He also said the hearings may make the tech companies more willing to work with publishers on a more collaborative basis. He concluded his remarks by noting that the hearings present a chance for publishers to show that, in the era of misinformation, publishers play an important role in the delivery of credible information.
AAP’s ongoing commitment to free speech was reflected in the awarding 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 publishes a range of books for readers back home, that likely would be banned or censored in her home country. 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.