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We have seen the enemy

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I spent the last three days in New York at Tools of Change, a book conference, talking with people in the publishing industry. I did this mostly in bars, which are the places you are most likely to hear the truth, especially late at night.

Only now, back home, do I realize: On the web, we have technology change what we do all the time. But other industries are not used to being threatened by it- having their whole business models be devoured by it.

Perfect example: The Kindle 2 is out, and it reads books out to you. “Sounds great,” you may say. But the Author’s Guild of America disagrees. It calls the technology illegal, a breach of copyright law. Follow the link to understand why this is insane, in case it isn’t clear.

Now, let’s say you and I are running a company on the web, and this happens to us: Google demolishes our business model, somehow. Would we resort to lawsuits? I suspect I would just roll over and go “ok, time to do something else,” because we knew this time would come, right?

We expect it to happen because we’ve adjusted to the rate of change of the modern world. It’s expected. But technology has not always done this to business; only recently is it starting to be felt, and companies are resorting to their usual tactics. But this time the enemy can’t be fought that way, because it isn’t another company. It’s something else.

Their enemy is progress.

Think about that.

* Filed by at 1:03 am under business


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10 Responses to “We have seen the enemy”

  1. CT Moore Says:

    At first I read that it was the ACTOR’s guild that was up in arms (not the author’s guild), and somehow that made more sense to me. Kind of like how blogs completely depreciated the written word by over-saturating the marketplace, I assumed that Kindle-2 could eventually end up doing things with scripts or books that become screenplays. Either way, the Author’s guild is insane.

    As for progress, what’s happening to mainstream business, especially the MSM, just underscores the import of the 48th Law of Power, Assume Formlessness:

    “Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.”

  2. CT Moore Says:

    At first I read that it was the ACTOR’s guild that was up in arms (not the author’s guild), and somehow that made more sense to me. Kind of like how blogs completely depreciated the written word by over-saturating the marketplace, I assumed that Kindle-2 could eventually end up doing things with scripts or books that become screenplays. Either way, the Author’s guild is insane.

    As for progress, what’s happening to mainstream business, especially the MSM, just underscores the import of the 48th Law of Power, Assume Formlessness: “Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.”

  3. Jon Lebensold Says:

    well put. I don’t think patents will stop anyone in the future either… e.g. It would be rediculous for Apple to be the only vendor of multitouch devices.

  4. Jay Moonah Says:

    Hah! It reminds me of the old arguments by musicians unions when the Mellotron (which is essentially an early analog sampler playback device, using tape loops) first came out, saying arrangers would use the Mellotron instead of hiring a string section. It retrospect it seems silly, but it was a serious controversy at the time. Now it’s simply a footnote in history.

    In the end, those who oppose progress usually end up looking foolish. I think this is probably one of those cases.

  5. Mark Rauterkus Says:

    In life, you are either playing offense or defense. Sorta like football. Each move either is to grow equity or to protect it.

    Well, sure… there are some times when you ‘punt’ or ‘cash in’ — or play special teams and gather in huddles. But that’s football too.

    Chris Brogan types are offensive wizards. You’ll take the field and figure out ways to grow, advance, roll with the sacks.

    Others, not so much. Perhaps they are on defense.

    Defense wins championships, so they say.

  6. Justin Kownacki Says:

    Progress is the enemy of any business that made a profit yesterday by doing nothing it wasn’t already doing. The moment it has to adjust anything, it must expend resources to find a new answer, and that threatens its survival. Unsexily lame, but true.

    Meanwhile, this entire argument could be transplanted to the world of copyright law. Like existing businesses, copyright holders are petrified of any suggestion that they may have to come up with a new idea or die. In the copyright holder’s case, that copyright is essentially a cloak of invulnerability against ever having to work again.

    Innovation is only sexy until you’ve done it; then, suddenly, you become a protectionist.

  7. brendan mitchell Says:

    I agree with you… I think Charles Darwin said it best
    “It’s not the strongest 
of the species that survive, 
nor the most intelligent, 
but the one most responsive to change.”

    So move with the times or move out of the way.

    As we said on twitter @nopaper The only problem with a talking Kindle 2, is the publishing industry actually believing it’s a problem! http://tinyurl.com/ahjezu

  8. Sheldon Rampton Says:

    This is a bogus argument. Web-based companies file lawsuits all the time on claims that someone else’s technology infringes on their rights. You’re taking one action by someone at the Author’s Guild and generalizing from that into a declaration that book authors in general are enemies of progress. That’s the equivalent of saying that the SCO vs. IBM lawsuit proves all software developers are opposed to open source.

  9. Julien Says:

    Huh Sheldon, nice comment. I appreciate your intellectual rigor. 🙂

    You’re right that in some cases it’s perfectly reasonable to file a lawsuit to be filed based on reasonable claims, but I suppose what I’m saying is that an increasing number of these lawsuits are grounded in giving precedent to the past rather than the present.

    I have no problem with reasonable lawsuits. My concern is that the legal department is replacing R&D.

  10. Evan Says:

    Welcome to the US state of mind. Too many lawyers passing the bar expect to make obscene salaries and are willing to leave their morals at the door to make it a reality.

    Sometimes I really wish I didn’t live in a service based economy. It’s painful to see businesses run by bean counters who want to see the line on their graph move up a little, so they sell out all of their human assets in favor of cheap foreign labor.

    For being from a country that created a lot of the great technologies that are common today (computers, internet, etc…) we’re going to a lot of effort to discourage people from creating newer, better tech.

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