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Concerns over copyright, the opportunities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the need for publishing to advocate for itself were among the themes of the first day at the London Book Fair.
Speaking at a session on the Global Outlook and Value of Publishing, Maria Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said the threats to copyright took two different forms. “There are those who say that everything should be free and any pirate can advocate that is good for the public. Then there are those who say ‘we’ll pay you as little as we can for your content – and then we’ll sell it much better than you can.’ There are also those who harness this free content to tech.
She said that publishing is “the original copyright industry” and that the value of copyright “needs to be clear for everyone. We know how this industry works; we are a legacy industry and there are times when we have to stand up and say this is an existential threat”.
Like Pallanate, Bloomsbury UK’s CEO Nigel Newton, said that the pandemic had been good for book sales “with many people rediscovering the joy of reading novels”. On the question of AI, he is positive. “It will be fantastic for the industry – it will help in marketing, in academic research and in the supply chain.”
Pallante said that AI represents “a challenge and an opportunity. Publishing and technology have always run separately – this may be an opportunity to bring them together. This AI moment is like 1994 and the start of the Internet. But we can’t trade what we’ve achieved for the next shiny new development. We have to be quite clear of the value of what we do”.
Karine Pansa, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), stressed the importance of copyright and freedom of expression in the IPA’s work. “The value of copyright has to be clear for everyone,” she said, with the industry acting as its own advocate”.
Earlier in the morning, Brian Murray, worldwide CEO of HarperCollins, had also said that the pandemic had been good for book sales, and then spoke about the lessons learned from the strike which affected the New York office for many weeks earlier this year. “We’re happy that is behind us. We strive to have good relationships and I think what we’ve learned from the strike is the importance of communication, particularly with so much change happening in the industry.”
Asked whether HarperCollins might be interested in buying Simon & Schuster he said that door was not closed, “but it has got harder. Who knows the dark arts of the anti-trust laws – they are very hard to predict”.