The Knowledge Economy

A recent article on the Google Library Project in the Globe and Mail caught my eye the other day. It explained a recent US court settlement between Google and both the Authors Guild and five US publishers, related to copyright infringement issues and the Google Library Project. The hope is that this settlement will protect authors and publishers and ensure that they receive financial benefits from their intellectual property.

For those of you, like me, who had no idea what the Google Library project is, Google has digitized roughly seven million books and made them accessible on-line, with the expectation that they will sell access to libraries and the general public for these books.

At the same time, Amazon is in the process of launching the second generation of the Kindle, an eBook reader that has the book world abuzz.  There are over 70,000 digital titles available for sale in the US, and the system has an ability for authors to self publish, being paid on the number of downloads they capture. With the rise of the Kindle and the ability to self publish, book publishers should be starting to reconsider their business model. Hopefully they will come to their senses more quickly than the RIAA did with regard to on-line digital music. 

The implications are startling. The business model for the communication of knowledge and intellectual property has been shifting ever more quickly over the past five years or so. With the advent of the web in the mid 90s, consumers have been able to quickly research anything they wish online. And with the advent of self publishing online (including blogs, tweets and other forms of self expression), significant competition for traditional media has arisen. The era of professional journalists, researchers and “experts” has been overtaken by the rise of the amateur.

At the same time, “infopreneurs” have also risen, often with an intriguing business model, offering some content for free, while other content requires a paid subscription. My favourite infopreneurs these days are Marketing Sherpa and Marketing Profs, who provide solid research, interesting communities and helpful articles. 

Major newspaper publishers, such as the New York Times Company are about to go under. Having lost readership to blogs and other online media, and advertising revenues from streams such as job classifieds to online services, newspapers no longer have a viable business model. 

With so much “free” knowledge available, the question then becomes, why pay for knowledge? The reality is that you get what you pay for.  Large, professional news gathering organizations provide journalistic standards. So do large magazine and book publishers. They ensure some quality standard. Academic journals provide “peer review” to ensure the quality of the knowledge that is being communicated. I’m not sure that other forms of information available today have the same kind of rigourous validation.

Going forward, I don’t know what the new business model will be for authors. It will certainly be different than the current relationship with agents, publishers and book stores. And I know that as a book lover, I’m seeing the beginning of the end of print as a medium.


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