From Chicago Tribune: Great Scott! Author Turow rips Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit over e-book prices
Hoverboards and flying cars? An expedited justice system without lawyers? A Cubs World Series victory? We have a lot of work to do in three years if we're to live in the 2015 promised us in the late 1980s by "Back to the Future II."
The middle episode of Michael J. Fox's comedy trilogy got some things right. There are big flat-screen TVs showing several channels at once, video conferencing and hands-free video gaming. But it also presents a world with telephone booths, a Pontiac dealership and a print edition of USA Today that boasts "3 Billion Readers Every Day."
And, oh yeah, a time machine fueled by garbage.
Trying to predict our increasingly digital future through the old prism of analog business, there inevitably will be things you get exactly backward. It's a little like trying to read a message in a mirror. These are disruptive times. It's never been tougher to know which precedents will hold and which should be ignored.
Some see this cross-eyed myopia in the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust suit filed the other day against Apple and major publishers. The suit alleged they conspired to raise the price of e-books, which Amazon was selling for just $9.99, helping its proprietary Kindle system.
But setting aside whether the feds can make their collusion case, critics suggest the government effort might actually strengthen a more dangerous digital monopoly in Amazon than it could possibly break up with the others.
"The proposed settlement is a shocking trip through the looking-glass," Chicago attorney and best-selling novelist Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild, argued on the group's website. "By allowing Amazon to resume selling most titles at a loss, the Department of Justice will basically prevent traditional bookstores from trying to enter the e-book market, at the same time it drives trade out of those stores and into the proprietary world of the Kindle."
Amazon's prices will rise once Amazon has regained its monopoly, Turow observed. "It is hard to believe that the Justice Department has somehow persuaded itself that this solution fosters competition or is good for readers in the long run."
That's one vision of the future. An alternative ending might have Apple, not Amazon, as the club-wielding behemoth. A great old saying is that those who live by the crystal ball must learn to eat broken glass. A better one comes from computer scientist Alan Kay, whose famous observation is that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
"It's connecting the dots," explained Dag Kittlaus, the Chicago-area visionary who co-founded the company that created the game-changing voice app Siri then sold it to Apple. "It's the ability to see things out there and understand what they make all together, how to look at the pieces to build the puzzle. … You have to understand the relationship between those things if you're going to get at the bigger story."
Author Isaac Asimov correctly anticipated people consuming only the news they wanted ("the saving on paper will be enormous") and TV home shopping in a brief essay published in 1977's "TV Book." Asimov even foresaw something approximating the Internet, adding that, "Working out the royalty problem will be difficult."
Here and now, 35 years later, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have settled with the Justice Department reluctantly, a development Amazon called "a big win for Kindle owners" and a harbinger of "lower prices on more Kindle books." Macmillan and Penguin will fight on, as will Apple, which disputes the accusations.
Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said one of the big concerns is an endgame that eliminates the physical bookstore, which he said plays a vital role in the publishing ecosystem for how it enables readers to better accept certain kinds of new writers.
"It turns out the online stuff doesn't work very well … except for certain categories of writers," Aiken said. "It's books that cross lines and are in some ways innovative that you really need to look at and hold before you're likely to pay for."
Kittlaus said there's a transformative era ahead, fueled by the growth of information technology, and most of us are "not ready for what's about to happen."
Don't hold your breath waiting for the state visit to Washington by Queen Diana heralded by the Oct. 22, 2015, edition of USA Today delivered "via compu-fax satellite," as Doc Brown and Marty McFly foretold.
The time-space continuum is clearly in flux. The only future you can know is the one you create.