domingo, 1 de enero de 2012

The Fifth Information Age and Publishing

This article was written in response to comments from Professor George Francis and others after my talk for The Imaging Technology Group at the Beckman Center at the University of Illinois, April 18, 2006.
Please forgive the U.S. perspective on prices and laws, I realize that other countries have more expensive gas, and haven't changed copyright laws nearly as much.   mh                  The Fifth Information Age  There Have Been 5 Technological Revolutions In Publishing   Each one of these "Information Ages" had potential to make the public domain available to the public masses as prices hundreds of times less expensive than publishers' prices.  Did you know that 50 years ago the price of paperbacks was about the same as the price of a gallon of gasoline?  25 cents!  Today the world media is FULL of reports of high prices in the oil world, with United States gasoline at $3 a gallon, some 12 times as much as that 25 cents I grew up with.  Yet there are no stories about how the same books I bought for the same 25 cents are today averaging $8 !!!!!!!  Don't believe me?  Just call Borders or Barnes & Noble and ask for mysteries, Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason mysteries to be exact-- and you will find that the cheapest one of these is around $7 and that there are many paperbacks at higher prices.  *  Introduction   We keep hearing about how we are in "The Information Age," but rarely is any reference made to any of four previously created Information Ages, and technology changes that were as powerful in the day as the Internet is today.   The First Information Age, 1450-1710, The Gutenberg Press, reduced the price of the average books four hundred times. Stifled by the first copyright laws that reduced the books in print in Great Britain from 6,000 to 600, overnight.  The Second Information Age, 1830-1831, Shortest By Far The High Speed Steam Powered Printing Press Patented in 1830, Stifled By Copyright Extension in 1831.  The Third Information Age, ~1900, Electric Printing Press Exemplified by The Sears Catalog, the first book owned by millions of Americans.  Reprint houses using such presses were stifled by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1909.  The Fourth Information Age, ~1970, The Xerox Machine made it possible for anyone to reprint anything. Responded to by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.  The Fifth Information Age, ~Today,~ The Internet and Web. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even a million, books from A to Z are available either free of charge or at pricing, "To Cheap To Meter" for download or via CD and DVD. Responded to by the "Mickey Mouse Copyright Act of 1998," The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, The Patriot Act and any number of other attempted restrictions/restructures.   ***   The First Information Age  1450-1710   The one Information Age that gets any references at all is the age of The Gutenberg Press, where more books were made in the first half century of The Gutenberg Press than in a whole previous history of civilization.  However, it should be equally important to point out facts about how The Stationers Company worked for 250 years from the invention of The Gutenberg Press to lobby in laws that would return to them the previous monopoly they had on the entire world of the publishing industry.  While failure on failure on failure befell their political machinations, it should be noted that they never gave up even after success was apparent in 1557 with the passage of what I called the "Statute of Mary" turned out to be the passage of laws the people and the state were both loathe to treat as law.  However, another 150 years of intense efforts, culminating in the "Statute of Anne" in 1709-1710, finally created the basis of modern copyright law, in which most of the powers granted were to the publishers, with only a few crumbs for the authors of the works they published.  The original law gave all rights to every word ever written in history to a business cartel known first as The Stationers Guild and in later times as The Stationers Company.  The new law gave a first copyright term of 14 years to The Stationers Company and a second copyright term to an author, but only if that author was still alive and only of value if the works were still selling well after the initial 14 years.  Needless to say that in the early 1700's, neither case was anything remotely approaching a certainty, and the authors got very little chance to benefit from such a copyright.   Thus The First Information Revolution Bit The Dust    The Second Information Age  The High Speed Steam Powered Printing Press  1830-1831  [The shortest Information Age on record]   While the 1700's were certainly The Age of Revolution from the point of view of nations such as The United States and soon after for France, they were not The Age of Revolution for either publishing or copyright; both The United States and France adopted the copyright terms provided to England by The Stationers Company.  Thus the de facto copyright term stood at 14 years with an extension possible for an additional 14 years.  American copyright started with the U.S. Copyright Act, in 1790, which meant that the first decade of a United States best seller list entered into the public domain on January 1, 1829, which prompted the invention of the very first of the high speed steam powered printing presses in 1830.  However, this second Information Age was destined to be so short as to never make it into most history books as there was such an intense effort by the American publisher lobby that the copyright law was extended in 1831, thus wiping a new Information Age out of existence, almost before it got got started, literally.  The American version of The Stationers Company was alive-- and well--even though it wasn't officially in existence.  It is hard to believe that a new copyright law should have been enacted to stifle the new high speed printing presses only a single year after the patent was issued.  The fortunes of "ye olde boye networke" were preserved, at the expense of the public domain, and this time instead of a 250 year Information Age before copyright intervened for the sole purpose of preserving "ye olde boye networke," it was an Information Age lasting only a single year.   Thus The Second Information Revolution Bit The Dust    Footnote:  while some view the intervening period from the U.S. Copyright Act of 1831 to this U.S. 1909 Copyright Act as an interruption of copyright extensions due to the U.S. Civil War, others will point out that extensions WERE made to U.S. copyright law in terms of breadth if not length.  One example would be that the Civil War photographs by the likes of Matthew Brady instigated on behalf of publishers, not so much for Brady, himself, the extension of copyright to include photographs and other items previous thought to have been outside the scope of intellectual property.    The Third Information Age  The Electric Printing Press  Circa 1900   For millions upon millions of Americans, the first "books" they ever owned was The Sears Catalog, one true revolution in the history of printing.  The Sears Catalog was feasible for three reasons:  1.  Revolutions in Printing Technology  2.  Revolutions in Railroad Transportation  3.  Revolutions in Mail Delivery Standards  ***  1.  Revolutions in Printing Technology  All through the 1800's, in spite of the restrictive legal wrangling that wiped out the first high speed presses the moment they were patented, more and more advances were in the works making for better and better printing presses.  By the end of the century there was a wealth of printings of public domain materials, pretty much anything that had been published before 1858 was being reprinted by 1900 in various "home libraries."  You could buy a home library of hydraulics that contained nearly every great publication on the subject from before 1858 for $10, or on the subject of health, law, etc.  The age of truly mass consumption of public domain books, and you can still find these at you local used bookstore.  However, you won't find nearly as many AFTER 1909 as from BEFORE 1909, and here is why.   2.  Revolutions in Railroad Transportation  and  3.  Revolutions in Mail Delivery Standards   The combination of extremely inexpensive printing, plus a very efficient transcontinental railroad system, added to the new "Rural Federal Delivery" [RFD] of mail, created a new possibility never before considered:  "The Sears Catalog"  This was certainly one of the most revolutionary books in all of history.  A huge book, 768 pages, lavishly illustrated, and free to everyone Sears and Roebuck could give one to.  Apparently the most famous of these was the 1906 edition.   The problem?  The problem was that this made it totally obvious that it was possible to print and deliver millions of books for a price that was so low the books could be given away, free of any charges, just for the purposes of advertising.  This made everyone aware the changes in publishing prices and a new wave of "reprint houses" sprung up near lots of railroad stations where those high speed printing presses could literally fill up a boxcar overnight and have it on the rails to anywhere in the country the next morning.   "Boxcars full of extremely inexpensive books!"   NOT what "ye olde boye networke" wanted to hear.   The result was yet another round of intensive lobbying to create the U.S. Copyright Act of 1909.  Once again, just as in 1831, the new technologies were no match for the trump cards held by "ye olde boye networke" as had been previous used to stifle The Gutenberg Presses and the high speed steam presses.   Thus The Third Information Revolution Bit The Dust    The Fourth Information Age  The Xerox Machine   Pretty much everyone takes the xerox machine for granted, even in Third World countries there are plenty of xeroxes at least for those who can afford them.  What we do NOT take for granted is that along with xerox, came yet another copyright extension, once again trying a "reactionary politics" approach to stifle the advent of a new way of bringing information to the masses.  The oddest part, of course, is that the publishers claim, such as it is, is that the new technologies will harm the sales of their products, but the LAW they proposed is NOT a law to enforce the protection of their copyrights but a law to destroy the protection of the public domain!!!  Each one of these four revolutions in printing technology has been countered by a law that was not designed to make a system for the protection of private property, but that was designed rather for the destruction of public domain, so that no one but the publishers could benefit from each new revolutionary technology that COULD HAVE BROUGHT BOOK BENEFITS TO THE WORLD AT LARGE FOR A MINIMAL PRICE.  The reason for this unhealthy alliance between publishers and politicians is that the politician realize that their constituencies are much more easy to manipulate when kept in ignorance, that an educated public is the enemy of the corrupt political system, and what more corrupt politicos than those of U.S. President Nixon's terms in office.  Thus it was that the xerox machine was counteracted in an even more extreme case than previous copyright extensions with the elimination of copyright renewal requirements on copyrights that were never renewed 90% of the times, even though the process was trivial and the fee was nominal.  The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 was started during Nixon's time in office and carried out by his appointees after he left office in disgrace.  U.S. copyright had been extended from an average of about 30 years in 1900 to an average of 75 years in 1976, a far worse defeat for the public domain than ever before.   Thus The Fourth Information Revolution Bit The Dust     The Fifth Information Age  The Internet   I'm sure more of you are aware of The Computer Revolution than of The Xerox Revolution or The Steam and/or Electric Press Revolutions, and probably even more of you than are aware of the real impact of The Gutenberg Press; example:  Were you aware that we might well have never even heard a word about The 95 Theses of Martin Luther, if his friends hadn't taken them to the local Kinko's du jour and mailed the copies to other people in other countries?  The same sort of thing just happened recently when a very highly placed newsman, Dan Rather, anchorman, head editor and who knows what else of CBS News, was forced to resign by true nobodies who brought his lack of attention to the form [but not the content] of the letter describing a lot of bad behavior by President Bush.  With every new medium comes a new class of people, not of "ye olde boye networke," who adopt that new medium before "ye olde boye networke" is even really aware of it.  Once ye olde boyes ARE aware they do their best to stifle the new medium to only include their paid representatives who toe the official party line.  Hence the latest movements to decrease the speech freedom on the Internet, to let the big boys decided who and what should be seen and heard.  The number of laws passed to stifle the Internet are more than could be listed in a short article such as this one, but I am sure most of you have heard of the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act], The Patriot Act, and even that new U.S. Copyright Act labeled various as The Sonny Bono, or The Mickey Mouse Copyright Act.  The only think preventing these various laws, and others, from totally stifling the Internet is the vary natures of the widely different networks that make up the Internet-- it's just about impossible to effectively police networks in well over 125 languages in nearly twice as many places around the world.  Don't believe me?  Google, alone, will provide information in 130 languages; Project Gutenberg's Consortia Center in over 100 languages, and 50 languages, at Project Gutenberg's original site, this very week.  However, if "ye olde boye networke" has its way, as their way has been in the past, The Fifth Information Age could likely be curtailed as effectively as the first four of a history of potential Information Ages.  Will this Information Age byte the dust as they have?   In Conclusion  In 1900 perhaps 50% of all copyrights ever issued expired by the turn of the century, leaving the public domain and copyright well balanced, and with the average copyright a period of about 30 years, the average person would live a long enough lifespan to plan to republish any books their lives included in the first half.  This provided for continuity between past and future that did not depend on "ye olde boye network" for permissions.  ANYONE could republish what they read early in life, with their own personal commentaries on how things had changed in the period since they first read those books.  When I was in grade school we studied slavery, and movies such as Gone With The Wind and Song Of The South were the required mandatory viewing of everyone in the school.  The copyright on Gone With The Wind was issued in 1939 so the longest it could have been kept under copyright laws, up until a 1976 rewrite of U.S. copyright law should have been through the end of the 56th year, or 1995.  Thus I should have been able to fully demonstrate what my schooling required 50 years ago, and how things changed a great deal in the treatment of the subject of slavery for modern school studies.  Disney's Song Of The South South has copyrights back from 2006 to 1944 according to various sources, but that movie I refer to above was apparently copyrighted in 1946, thus the 56 year copyright should have expired 2003.  However, due to the various extensions and other misusage of the copyright laws and their multiple extensions, I am not able to even FIND a copy of Song Of The South as this is no longer considered "politically correct" from Disney Corporation's point of view, so they have censored it out of the public eye.  The current expiration date for Gone With The Wind in the year 2041, and 2048 for Song Of The South, according to a few sources I researched, but those both seem a few years too long for what I understand is the current 95 years.  I would have said 2035 and 2042, respectively.  However, the point remains the same!  No one can expect to live long enough to republish what a person might have seen or read even in grade school.  The continuity of our history has become a discontinuity.  Only corporations can expect to "live" long enough for an untrammeled republication of anything that is copyrighted under our current copyright laws.  As I said in the opening paragraph of this conclusion:  In 1900 perhaps 50% of all copyrights ever issued expired by the turn of the century, leaving the public domain and copyright well balanced, and with the average copyright a period of about 30 years, the average person would live a long enough lifespan to plan to republish any books their lives included in the first half.  In 2100 about 99% of all copyrights ever issued should be expected to still be in force, leaving just 1% to the now threatened public domain, bordering on extinction.  Let's say you took your five year old child to see latest newly copyright movies.  Under the current copyright law, that child would have to live a couple years past 2100 before they could republish whatever it was they saw.  Even those with the longest life expectancies in the wide world can legitimately have such expectations, as to live long enough to republish under such a strict copyright.  Thus the only commentaries we will hear that include that original movie, presuming it will be found [unlike Disney and The Song Of The South], will be the voices of ye olde boye networke. . .voices that have made every effort over the last last 550 years to stifle the printing revolution started by Herr Gutenberg before Columbus was even born.   ***  Footnotes:  I would be remiss in this article that describes the Five Information Ages if I did not add in some prices, and the results of various revolutions in publishing technologies in terms of information affordable by the masses.  Most recently, in my own lifetime, I have see the average price for a paperback go through hyperinflationary spiral figures from 25 cents to $8, from 1955 to 2005.  Just think what the news media would be saying if gallons of gasoline had followed the same pricing, $8 a gallon!!!  *  I receive messages from publisher as famous as the top of Encyclopedia Britannica, constantly informing me of price hikes in paper, binding, shipping, storage and royalties. But the truth is, that the blank books I use for journals haven't changed price at all since I bought my first ones back in the 1960's, and with a vastly improved quality of binding that now includes a variety of cloth covers, with a choice of lined or unlined paper and two to three times as many pages at the same price for 396 pages today as we paid for 160 pages in a cardboard binding in the 1960's.  Each and every time these false statements are presented, my response is to personally go to the bookstore and buy, not just look at, these products available today so I can tell you about them.  Recently the prices for the blank hardback books dropped, perhaps on temporarily, but the last purchase I made from that shelf was 25% less than the price I paid previously, significantly less than I had ever paid before, and for a better quality binding and more pages, as mentioned.  Something is definitely wrong with the arguments made for prices going up for the raw materials and shipping, if it is a price NOT going up for blank books that require that same paper, binding, shipping, warehousing etc.  When I mentioned this to one of those using that logic, I was reminded that the "real" books paid for advertising-- placement--etc., but then my research showed that ye olde "Nothing Book" also paid for placement and ads, though it would appear new ones only pay for placement, as I didn't see any advertising, but did notice placement.  Perhaps a possible reason the price fell during my research.  I should add that the prices of these various blank books in hardback have remained between $5 and $10 during years and decades. . .my own person experience with them is for over four decades.  This includes various bindings, pages in lined and unlined formats, etc.  In addition, I usually price the Perry Mason mysteries we saw above, and a few other similar paperbacks, to compare with those I have stashed away from my youth, so I do NOT have to rely completely on the statistics from Bowker and others when they are pooh poohed by those who should deny that Bowker knows anything about book pricing.  Then I challenge our current readers to go up into attics all over the world and bring down boxes of books from the parents' collections to compare even more prices.  James Bond paperbacks were all once 50 cents as the price in the 1960's had already started doubling from the price in the 1950's, but look at the price of these that I call to Borders this very moment to confirm:  Here are some samples I just got from the mystery shelf:  Perry Mason:  The Case of the Deadly Toy, $6.99   James Bond Dr. No                  Trade Paperback Only $13 From Russia With Love   Trade Paperback Only $14 [All of the James Bond titles were $13-$14]  Murder She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher   $6.99 . . .Question of Murder [All the Murder She Wrote books were $6.99]   Agatha Christie And Then There Were None             $6.99 [All the Agatha Christie books were $5.99 or $6.99]   I don't know exactly how many books there are in each set, or how many such classics are ONLY available in the larger and more expensive trade editions so I made another call-- specifically designed to find out those differences.  Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged in the larger trade paperback   $20 Atlas Shrugged in the smaller mass paperback    $9 The Fountainhead in the smaller mass paperback  $9 The Fountainhead in the larger trade paperback $20  Interesting that The Fountainhead used to be less, because it was only 70% as long, but now the prices are the same.  The price ranges here probably include the mast majorities of all paperbacks in print, as the largest is 1,000+ pages and the smallest is hardly 200.  It is also interesting that it appears many of the classic paperbacks are no longer available in their original quite reasonably price mass market editions, but only in a trade paperback edition that is twice as expensive.  However, not even including the trade paperbacks at double the price of the mass market paperbacks, it would appear a price average of $8 is still a quite reasonable guess, and is 40 times the price of the average paperback in 1955.  By the way, when you look up the 1955 prices, don't forget that THAT price of 15 cents you may find is WHOLESALE, and the retail price was 25 cents.  40% markup is very common in the publishing industry.  As for those who say that increased royalties are a reason for increased prices, the average price of all the authors I have interviewed still remains at about 5%, though I can send you reports that say J.K. Rowling gets 8%.   In conclusion, it would appear that the majority of result factors from copyright extension has been to allow printer revolutions to be monopolized by the publishing industries and thus kept from being passed on to the public.  Obviously using computers to type, lay out, spellcheck and edit books, as well as to prepare the galleys allow saving upon saving to the publishing industry, savings that could have been passed on.  Every publisher I have interviewed, all up and down chains of command from authors to the top brass, have each denied that ANY of the 40 times as much as you pay for paperbacks today goes into their pockets.  Exxon just paid their CEO a billion dollars, half of those dollars in severance pay, so we know where their money was going and they make no attempt at denial.  So why the big denial in the publishing industry?  Hollywood makes a joke out of the fact that movies make no money on paper, so they don't have to pay off royalties to those who own a percentage after "break even."  The publishing industry reacts quite strongly when I ask a simple question about how their bookkeeping compares.  Nevertheless, the real question to ask when the book price goes from 25 cents to $8 for the same edition, while other prices get so much coverage for going from the same prices to $3. . .is. . ."Where Is The Money Going???  And Why???"  [Ask for separate articles on prices, etc]

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