Traditional Book Publishers Don't Own The Future

One of the "perks" of running a moderately popular blog is that sometimes people send you stuff. I've been sent wine, phones, apps, and all sorts to review - usually by PR people who realise that engagement with bloggers is a little different that their regular way of doing business.

Yesterday, I received this delightful email from the publishers Simon and Schuster.

NEW book by the "Prophet of Silicon Valley", Jaron Lanier, available for your review!

Dear Mr. Vogels,

I'm writing today to let you know of a new book from Simon & Schuster that I think your readers will be interested in — WHO OWNS THE FUTURE? By Jaron Lanier (available 5/7/13).

Jaron Lanier is the bestselling author of You Are Not a Gadget, the father of virtual reality, and one of the most influential thinkers of our time.

[Snip a load of marketing fluff]

I'd like to send you a copy of the book to review.

Well, let's ignore the fact that I am not "Mr Vogels". PR is a hard job and getting people's names right isn't a fundamental part of relationship building.

So, as the book sounded interesting, I asked to be emailed a copy.

I'm happy to send you a hardcover copy. If you might provide a mailing address, I'll put one in the mail today.

As regular readers know, last year I burned all my paper books and switched exclusively to ebooks. I related that fact, and mentioned that it would be much quicker than international shipping - surely a priority if you want advanced reviews.

Unfortunately, I'm not able to send ebooks as review copies at this time. Many thanks for your interest.

So, the "Prophet of Silicon Valley" wants his words stamped on to bits of dead tree, then air shipped at great expense across the Atlantic - as opposed to emailing me a few MB?

How very futuristic.

Don't Copy That Floppy!

I don't know if this is Simon and Schuster police on ebooks - or Jaron Lanier's. Given Jaron's stance on DRM and his publisher's ongoing DRM law-suit it could be either.

What I do know is this:

  • Regional release dates are antithetical to the Internet. The UK edition of "Who Owns The Future" went on sale in the UK on 7th March - it goes on sale on May 7 in the US/Canada and May 22 in Australia/NZ
  • 1 minute of Googling found an eBook copy, without DRM, nestling on a Russian server. Along with the usual polarity of Magnet links.

It just goes to show, even the most influential futurist, and his publishers, are still struggling with the reality of the Internet and the ongoing eBook revolution.

The book certainly sound very interesting. To quote from the preface:

The very action of reading makes you the hero of the story I am telling. Maybe you bought, or stole, a physical copy, paid to read this on your tablet, or pirated a digital copy off a share site. Whatever the prequel, here you are, living precisely the circumstances described in this book.

Who Owns The Future Cover

If you paid to read this, thank you! This book is a result of living my life as I do, which I hope provides value to you. The hope of this book is that someday we’ll all have more ways to grow wealth as a side effect of living our lives creatively and intelligently, with an eye to doing things of use to others.

If you paid to read, then there has been a one-way transaction, in which you transferred money to someone else.

If you got it for free, there has been a no-way transaction, and any value traded will be off the books, recorded not in any ledger but rather in the informal value systems of reputation, karma, or other wispy forms of barter. That doesn’t mean nothing has happened. Maybe you’ll get some positive strokes over a social network because of what you say about the book. That sort of activity might benefit us both. But it’s a kind of benefit that is unreliable and perishable.

"Who Owns The Future?" is available from all good book stores, as both a hardback or eBook. Jaron Lanier would probably prefer you buy it, but is probably equally wary of your personal details ending up in a mega data warehouse.

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2 thoughts on “Traditional Book Publishers Don't Own The Future”

  1. Terence,

    Thanks for the pingback. As someone who works with publishers all the time (and is a book author myself), I can tell you with 99.99% certainty that the reason you couldn't get an e-book of Lanier's new book is a matter of publisher policy, and Lanier himself has nothing to do with it.

    Simon & Schuster does have the capability to fulfill e-books itself. At one level, it would make sense for S&S's PR department to send e-books as review copies - it's faster, cheaper, etc. Reviewers who want e-books instead of hardcopy would simply have to register on S&S's retail website. The fact that they don't do this makes me believe (though I have no proof) that S&S is concerned with piracy of pre-released review copies. If they're going to send you a print copy for review before the book's release, they can send you something that wouldn't pass for "the real thing" - e.g. it's a paper-bound book with a generic cover with "REVIEW COPY - NOT FOR RESALE" on it.

    Now having said that, I have to admit being just a little bit miffed at not getting a similar email from S&S myself... given, as you saw, the rave review that I wrote about Lanier's previous book (not to mention several positive citations of it in subsequent blog posts). With all due respect to you and your blog, someone at S&S's PR department is asleep at the wheel...

    1. None taken 😉

      EBooks are so fast and easy to generate, it would take literally seconds to generate a "review" copy - liberally slathered with my name and details, along with prominent "For Review Purposes" warnings. They could even include an Argleton in there.

      S&S have just now asked me to register on a website which can supply galley eBooks but, as they cheerfully admit, it probably won't accept me because I'm in the UK.

      Thanks for the comment.


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