Adapting to the Digital Age: A Q&A with Association of American Publishers President and CEO Patricia S. Schroeder
After serving for more than three decades as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado, Patricia S. Schroeder stepped away from public service and shifted her focus to the world of book publishing. Since assuming the position of president and CEO of the Washington D.C.- and New York-based Association of American Publishers (AAP)—the book publishing industry’s national trade association currently representing close to 300 U.S. publishers—the former Congresswoman has continued to remain a visible figure as she works in the interest of book publishers across the country.
Schroeder recently spoke with Book Business Extra about how the business of book publishing has changed since she first assumed her role with the AAP more than a decade ago, and what she anticipates on the horizon for publishers of all sizes.
Book Business Extra: How have the AAP’s main focuses shifted in the past decade since you first came on board?
Patricia S. Schroeder: I suppose that digitalization has hit everyone big time. And dealing with copyright in the new digital world gets to be a bigger issue everyday. Book publisher are investment bankers in copyright. If you take [their] copyright away, [they] don’t have anything. Dealing with copyright in this new world has been a real interesting challenge for everyone. … [Book publishers] have to deal a lot more with government [now]—first with the copyright, then with piracy. We’re getting pirated more and more. We have to deal with that.
Extra: How has your past experience as a Congresswoman helped you in this position?
Schroeder: … Clearly, it’s turned out to be really useful. We’ve become more and more involved with the government. It started with getting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in the ’90s. We’ve been working on all sorts of those kinds of issues, and I’m sure we’re going to see more. We have the lawsuit against Google. We have two lawsuits against China for piracy and market access. We’ve continued to work with universities [on] course workbooks. At one time, everyone understood you had to get permission [to copy books to include in course workbooks]. Somehow, at some schools, if [the book] was digital, they didn’t think [they had to get permission]. The law has been very clear—the same rules apply. You’re still making a copy. … When I first came, we didn’t have any lawsuits. Now I spend my time dealing with lawyers.
Extra: How have publishers responded to these efforts?
Schroeder: One of the things that has amazed and pleased me to no end is that we get a phenomenal participation from our board. We have a board of directors of 20 members from all of the major publishers. They have rolled up their shirt sleeves and have been up to their eyeballs in all of this. I think it’s because they realize that they’re making decisions on these cases that are make it or break it for the future of the industry. None of them could do this on their own. … [Their support has] been unanimous on all of these issues. It’s amazing.
Extra: What is your take on how the Internet and digital distribution will ultimately change the industry? Does this open new challenges for the AAP?
Schroeder: I’m sure there will be [new challenges]. My crystal ball isn’t clear enough to see [the future]. It’s a very exciting time. Clearly, there will be paper books. People are going to want to read a lot of books on paper. You’re going to find more and more creative uses for electronic books, too, at the same time. That’s going to be very interesting to see how that all plays out. I see it in travel books. People are going to want to have a couple chapters of [this], and a couple chapters of that. People will put together their own digitally delivered travel book, but they may want to read their novel in print. A lot of publishers will be selling this stuff in a lot of different ways. It may be through book stores or through Amazon.com. Who knows? The more choices and the more accessibility, the better. That seems to be the way we’re heading. We’re not quite sure.
Extra: What do you believe will be the biggest opportunities and challenges for publishers this year?
Schroeder: I think opportunities and challenges are like assets and liabilities. They’re almost the same. [Publishers are] continuing to adapt to the digital age. It’s also the biggest opportunity. Everyone is clearly working very hard on that. But there are other issues that people are working hard on. Again, we’ve been focusing on reading and literacy. It’s always an issue with a society [in which] everyone has attention-deficit disorder. We’re trying to make our industry more diverse. Our schools are a priority, too. There have been major spending cutbacks. We work on all of those issues, too.
For school publishers, there will be more delivery of digital product. It will be much easier to keep books up-to-date. In higher-ed, as universities deal with monetary cutbacks, they ask publishers to run the labs online and offer tutorials online. It’s not the textbook we knew in school. A lot of the publishers will become technology companies. Publishers never owned paper or print. They were content companies. Yes, they will continue to produce content in the future. No matter what, they will have to continue to offer content. They will just probably be doing a lot more with the content.