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Publishing is “central to democracy” and “what publishers do matters”, Wiley CEO Brian Napack told delegates at the Association of American Publishers annual meeting held for the second year running on Zoom.  But there was also a warning: copyright was “under assault” and publishers need to press for an antitrust policy to take on the power of Big Tech.

Maria Pallante, AAP president and CEO, continued the optimism observing that publishers’ strong figures and the way it had coped during the pandemic was “a proud moment for publishers”.  She said: “There has never been a better of more important time to be in publishing.  We saw very clearly that publishing drives political accountability.”

But she is also worried about the power of the tech giants and said that to make sure that publishing remains a good business to be in, AAP’s job “is to ensure that you can compete fairly in the modern marketplace.”   She continued: “[But] there are actors who seek to weaken your legal protections in order to advance their business interests, whether that interest is in bloating the fair use doctrine to illogical boundaries or, more blatantly, appropriating and monetizing your works without permission.”

Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, this year’s recipient of AAP’s award for public service, noted that it was impossible to fight Google, Facebook and others with “duct tape and band-aids”…only “renewed antitrust policy and political will” can “get it done”.  She quoted a former Minnesota senator and US vice-president Hubert Humphrey on the alternative: “If you don’t write your own history, others will write it for you.

Author and Amazon expert Brad Stone, who has written two books on Bezos’ empire, lightened the mood somewhat by observing that Amazon now treats the book business “like a child from a previous marriage” and is focused on its new family: Alexa, Prime Video, healthcare.  But since Bezos’s attention “is always wandering”, there will be opportunities for publishers and limits to how much Amazon wants to beat them down.” When public sentiment goes against the company or when regulators take a hard look, “Amazon acts”.

As the world recovers from the pandemic, these issues will come more to the fore, especially as the size of big tech shows no sign of receding.