Luca Marighetti: “Who owns the Moon Landing?”
Interview with the inventor of a literature platform of a new kind
LABKULTUR: Your new project is a literature platform which provides authors from all over the world to „compose“ literature – sometimes together, sometimes parallel to each other, cross-referential and hypertextual. They collaborate on books which will be published without the help of a publishing house. From creative act straight to direct distribution: a viable future model in general – or just an exception?
Luca Marighetti: I would not know why not. Look, it is not about the printing press or the pen, and never has been. The fact that the pen has been the main instrument for producing content, and publishing houses have been the main channel for distributing it in the past few hundred years does not mean it will remain so forever. The printed book has been a great technological step forward if you compare it with the manuscript. In the past thirty years or so we have witnessed the emergence of new technologies that allow for new ways of creating and distributing content. Writing electronically is a different creative experience than using the pen. The Internet allows you to cross reference as you like. And the combination of the two permits you to invite others to collaborate and /or to distribute at virtually zero costs. Truth is that we yet have to learn how to leverage the full potential of the new technology. But be assured, that is going to be the future.
Let me try to reframe your question. Who "owns" the "Moon Landing"? JFK, Wernher von Braun, NASA, the USA, Humanity... We need to realize that the concept of content ownership could only emerge from the combination of the wide-spreading of the printing media and the romantic understanding of the author as a god-like power. Printing turned into a big business, and the single creators of content claimed a share of it. As new forms of creating and distributing content establish themselves, new forms of revenue sharing will emerge. On the Poiesipedia platform, we are experimenting with the idea of having a "channel owner", call it content director, sort of a mix of JFK and Wernher von Braun originating the idea, and orchestrating the composition of a book. Revenues after cost will be attributed to the channel owner for further distribution to whoever collaborated, using the proportion of contributed letters as a proxy. In that respect the Poiesipedia "channel owners" take over from the publishing houses the role of money collector and distributor. The Poiesipedia platform that of making the content available by linking to other element of the value chain (e-book, online shops, printing on demand). And because the new forms of distribution are much cheaper, you will see how many more people will buy content access for much lower fees than the price of a physical book. The dynamic is pretty much the same as in any other industry.
The copyright needs a redefinition in the new digital markets. What do you propose? Should the copyright expire when the author dies, should his heirs not be entitled to get the royalties? Should we be able to download novels or professional articles for free? Are there any viable modes of payment you could think of?
The issue of copyright will ultimately solve itself. The moment the revenue streams move from a middlemen (the publishing houses) to a peer-to-peer environment I see no reason why any fee for content usage should not continue forever. People will simply pay for access. And as long as revenues flow, authors and their heirs will get the money. It will all be about the access service, and less about copyrights.
What are the chances and risks of an author in the digital world, in your opinion? Will authors be able to make a better or a worse living from their creative work in the future? Does an author have to be also an entrepreneur in the future?
I am confident authors will very soon make the paradigm shift from the current reliance on publishing houses to putting their content on digital platforms that allow for collecting directly content access fees, and on social media for the marketing of it. Whether they will make a better or worse living from it than in the in the past is yet to be seen. My best guess is that it will be better. By eliminating the need to print everything in advance and for middlemen (i.e. publishing houses) handling the whole thing, a lot of waste will be eliminated, not necessarily to the detriment of the authors. I would worry less about the authors, and more about the printing shops.
Is the publishing sector in a similar crisis as the record companies – although the well-known inertness of the music industry was the reason for their crisis? What should publishers do to avoid the crisis?
I believe it is far worse. Publishing houses have for centuries defined themselves around the physical book and around distribution monopolies. If they are to survive they need to redefine themselves around the other services they provide. I can imagine that authors would be willing to share revenues against editing and marketing services, and for using professionally mastered digital platforms. But I am sceptic about the ability and willingness of the publishing houses to destroy and rebuild their current business model. It is always the same: new disruptive technologies enable new players to kill the supposedly invincible incumbents. It is a David and Goliath game, and you know the outcome...