Click here to read PART ONE.
As I opened my mouth over the microphone, I thought, Trouble’s my name, danger’s my game. First things first. I was about to say No to Power. All while surrounded by powerful people who could legislate. I figured what I was about to say would be a sort of conference suicide and that I’d be burning up any future dance cards to the EU. But I had squirmed enough, and those fidgety movements had corkscrewed right up into my brain. Listening to people with one quarter of the story speak as though they knew knew the whole story pushed me to open my mouth.
I began saying there seemed, unkindly, to be a lot of 19th thinking, but to be generous changed this to 20th century thinking going on in the room. I hadn’t heard a single positive comment or view on who these people, these thieves, these consumers, who these ungrateful readers were. Or any ideas on why this was thieving was going on. I trotted out the obvious. That a lot of the internet was about manuevering around institutional power and multinational breakwaters. In fact, much indie digital publishing was going around what was going on in that room.
I continued. Saying that that while they were setting up conferences to discuss and figure out what to do about This Digital Publishing thing, whole online societies and communities had formed and were forming that were not and would not pay attention to much of what they did or had to say. That as soon as MEPs instituted any control, those in the online world would find ways around it.
Mention by the Head Guy had been made of the music industry that had suffered a financial “catastrophe” when illegal downloading began, and that that Must Not Happen to the Publishing Industry. I explained in my most mild, vaguely rabble-rousing mode (where no rabble existed to be roused) that these folks, these citizens, were busy demanding from publishers How They Wanted The Books They Wanted to Read to be Delivered. Stale news that needed repeating here: The Internet was not top down management of product, services and customers, but bottom up: people told manufacturers how they wanted their books (music, whatever).
An official photographer who had been lazily snapping photos of one and all, got excited and pointed his lens in my face. Snap, whirl, snap, whirl. One by one, big wide faces turned from their pens and paper and toward me. Who’s This? expressions hijacking their shiny faces. The most gratifying sight I witnessed, I willingly confess, was when I saw the Head Guy up there on the dais with his head in hands, rubbing his bald patch over and over while I continued speaking. (That’s your lesson here, Big Guy. Never call on someone who’s not a MEP and whose cheek you have not kissed.)
I had a lot more to say, but did not want security men to come tap me on the shoulder and whisper, “Come with us quietly, please.” So I ended replying to the “sharing” question that had gathered such nodding support. Said most publishers simply weren’t engaging with the readers (while acknowledging that yes, there are thieves out there—gasp, horror—as there were everywhere for everything). Gave them a personal example. I “share” all the time. I give away stories, videos, book chapters, and what happens? Some people out there in Internet Land who liked them would blog about my writing, review some of it, and in turn their readers seek and purchase some my books. I “shared” and they shared right back at me. (Here’s an author who has sold 100 million books and is sharing big time.) It was all about engagement with real live people not benighted with the term consumers on a one to one basis. Not mass media. This is not something multinational publishing organizations are built for. Large companies and institutions aren’t constructed for listening to those outside the building Then you get surprised when they take matters into their own hands.
I had three other subjects in my mind, but finished with, “What I have heard here reminds me of what Marshall McLuhan said, ‘We go into the future looking in a rear view mirror.” (Actually, got it wrong. It’s: We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.) I sat back and let the rest of my thoughts fade gently into my gray matter. There was so much more to address but the Head Guy had rubbed his head raw.
Hearing my sudden silence, he looked up, this Head Guy, the man of “Let’s debate, let’s dialogue” and said, “Well we won’t re-open that debate and yes, sir, you wanted to say something?” He pointed out the lone guy from Google in the room, and the Google Guy and Head Guy and the Author-Publisher and MEP people bantered, power-to-power, and the circle re-closed.
While the final French Author-Publisher team had their speaking moments, quickly moving minions came round to each and every MEP, and only to the MEPs, to place free books from each author before these vote possessing people, sealing the deal on the lobby party masquerading as a digital environment dialogue.
The Head Guy had left before the French began speaking, saying he had to catch a train to Paris because he was on the Board of Something Really Important and He Had a Busy Schedule. I shuffled my few papers together while the French spoke. When they finished, no further question session occurred, an MEP wound up the conference and people applauded. I was ready to stand and go, leper-like, through the dispersing crowd. When one person approached.
Then another person.
Then a third.
They came to where I sat and looked at me, and I looked at them.
(Click her to read Part Three)