Another membership organisation gets it wrong

From The Times:

Book piracy on the internet will ultimately drive authors to stop writing unless radical methods are devised to compensate them for lost sales.

This is the bleak forecast of the Society of Authors, which represents more than 8,500 professional writers in the UK and believes that the havoc caused to the music business by illegal downloading is beginning to envelop the book trade.

Tracy Chevalier, the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring who also chairs the London-based organisation, said that her members were deeply concerned that the publishing industry was failing to adapt to the digital age.

The internet is awash with unlicensed free digital copies of individual chapters or in some cases entire books. Prominent victims of book piracy include Jamie Oliver and J. K. Rowling but the most vulnerable writers are less well-known poets, authors of short stories and writers of cookery books.

Oh dear, where to start? For one thing, I cannot see how anyone can sensibly believe that books are doomed in the same way that CDs are? With reading the medium is the key and no amount of Kindles will change that. If anyone out there fancies reading the latest blockbuster on a screen that's fine but I'd rather pay however much it might be to have the dead tree version.

The one area where the social web provides a threat other than music is probably news journalism, but the way that the traditional news media are grasping some of the opportunities it presents shows that a sensible, positive approach can be taken. And rather than moaning about the odd copy of Harry Potter floating around on the web, why not focus on the huge number of reading related forums and communities out there, which actually generate more books sales through recommendations, etc? 

re: another membership organisation gets it wrong

Neat analysis over at Broadstuff including this

In 1701 The True-Born Englishman, a satirical poem by Daniel Defoe became a bestseller after an estimated 80,000 unauthorised copies were distributed. It did not make him rich but it did make him famous. In the preface to a later edition he wrote of his gratitude to the “pirates” who had sold it, the first known reference to intellectual property theft as piracy

re: another membership organisation gets it wrong

Radiohead actually made more money putting their music up to be downloaded for free - people could give what they wanted. And although this averaged less than the shop price of an album, the band made more money by not having to pay the agents and middlemen.

People are scared of the new 'internet piracy' aka shared information, because their business models don't know how to cope with it. As you point out, there are still book sales to be made, just in a different way.

Also, a lot of companies and organisations are territorial over 'their' knowledge. We've been driven by profit for so long, that it will take a while for people to get used to sharing and collaborating more. For free *gasp*

How does this connect with membership?

So where in all this do the membership organisations actually sit? I originally posted about the issue just as a snarky way of showing that membership orgs are struggling with the digital, networked society.

The issue is mainly around distribution here. In terms of music, bands still make songs but they can distribute them electronically themselves. Even if books became obselete, writers would still write - thy would just use the web and self publish.

In each case, it is the publisher that suffers, not the 'creator'.

With membership organisations, who takes the role of creator and publisher? I'd say that the members are the creators, and the organisations the publishers. Now it is possible for groups of people to organise themselves without requiring an institution to help them (Clay Shirky, again). So, like music, and literature, people grouping together won't end because the social web removes the need for membership bodies - and scare stories that it will wouldn't be helpful to anyone.

New economic model for membership

Following Dave and Laura on publishing, music, membership: here's the model from Broadstuff which shows how authors and conventional publishers are challenged by online content creation; and how proams can benefit. What's the equivalent for members and membership organisations? I'm no ecomomist, and it is probably a different model, but it sparks some thoughts.

If you pay your subs to an organisation they deliver connections, services, maybe reputation. If you organise for yourself, you have to invest time and effort to get the services, find the people, build the reputation .... unless, of course, you are doing that already. The implication is that membership orgs may have to offer services, opportunities, to well-networked people that are rather different ... or risk losing them. I guess that's always been the case ... VIPs get special status to pull them in to the organisation and so attract others.

At the same time any online offering from a membership organisation that wishes to attract/retain networked people will have to fit that offering to their sophisticated target market. In the past that might have been "we have a better online walled garden". These it is much more likely to be "we are as capable as you are online, all over the place".

Anyone good at models?