Publishers are starting to catch up to AAAARG.org, the rapidly growing file-sharing megalibrary for cultural theory and philosophy books, which currently makes available PDF files of hundreds of books that I would love to have but couldn’t realistically afford to buy. [. . .]
As with media, music, and everything else these days — witness the recent agreement between Google and publishers, libraries, and authors’ guilds, which has advanced things somehow, but no one seems to agree exactly how — we are (pace Yeats) struggling toward Bethlehem to be born… into a new model of digitally accessed texts with flexible copyrights, scalable pricing, incentive, and availability structures, and other things we couldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago. Part of the pressure for a new model is coming from publishers (and record producers, et al.) who don’t want to see their profits continue falling — or their losses escalating. But part of it comes from those who are setting the data free by opening up one space after another where it can be freely exchanged. This is good, because it shows us that the baseline assumptions about access and availability have changed and that we need to address the new assumptions — about information’s “wanting to be” free — directly. And if a few dinosaurs like the music industry giants end up collapsing of their own weight in the process, then so it goes. What’s important here is the flow of knowledge and creativity and the possibility of making a living at it, but not necessarily every single way to profit from others’ knowledge and creativity. The latter constitutes a second layer built atop the first, a layer that in some respects might be expendable at the end of the day.