old manufacturing jobs are not coming back to
the United States. And they didn’t leave because of
the trade agreements, but because of technological
advancements. And that’s happening in
publishing, too. It’s happening in every industry.
The truth is, I just don’t know where Trump is
going. But I can tell you that he’s not going to do a
lot of things that he said he’s going to do. But he is
the president, and he is going to do some things,
and some things that will matter to the world.
AA: You came to AAP in 2009–the
beginning of a very eventful period for
publishers. How intense was it for you to learn the job in
the midst of a major tech boom?
TA: I came on in April of 2009, and, yes, the change was just
happening so fast. When I started, in the trade sector ebook
revenues were 1% of total revenues for the industry. And by the
end of the year they were at 3%. Then, they went to 10%, 18%,
24% before flattening out. I feel like I was here for the first eight
years of the digital transformation in trade publishing. And I had
to pick up almost everything. When I came here, I had practised
law for 19 years, so I understood the legal system. I’d been in
Congress for 12 years, so I understood how Washington and
by extension other state legislatures worked. But for that first
year I had a lot to learn, especially about copyright, and the
digital challenges companies were having.
AA: Copyright and IP remain core issues for publishers, and
are always key topics at the London Book Fair. Do you have
any idea where Trump lands on those? And given that
copyright is often now addressed in global trade agreements,
like TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), which Trump has pulled
out of, what do you think that means going forward?
TA: We just don’t know. Trump is a published author and he
is someone who is extremely conscious of his brand, so he is at
least someone who knows the value of intellectual property. But
I don’t think we’re going to hear much from him on copyright
for a while. I think the centre of activity will continue to be in
the House, and in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As for TPP, the opposition to that came from the perception
that trade agreements always cost American jobs. But the TPP
provisions on intellectual property were actually quite important
to us, because they encouraged much greater uniformity from
countries that don’t have strong IP protections like we do.
AA: What’s next for Tom Allen?
TA: Being the president and CEO of AAP has been a fascinating
job, and I’ve loved it. But I’ve got five grandchildren back in
Maine, and I’ve been commuting first to Washington, and now
to Washington and New York for 20 years, and I’ll be 72 in April.
I want to go fly-fishing. And I want to spend time with those five
grandchildren. And I’m pretty sure I’ll do some thinking and
writing about Congress and American democracy. ■
In January, Tom Allen officially retired from his
post as president and CEO of the Association of
American Publishers. But in addition to leading
the publishing trade association through a
period of significant change, Allen, a former six-term congressman from Maine, is also a scholar
of American democracy, and the author of the
excellent 2013 book Dangerous Convictions:
What’s Really Wrong with the US Congress. With
so much political uncertainty, Andrew Richard
Albanese recently caught up with Allen to talk
Trump, and what international publishers can
expect out of Washington in the age of Trump.
AA: If you were going to do an update to Dangerous
Convictions to cover the 2016 election, what would you write?
TA: Well, two components have really struck me. One is that I
dislike candidates who attack the institutions of our democracy
for their own political gain. And I think Trump did that in the
campaign by talking about how the system was rigged, and
media is dishonest, and how crooked other people are. And
frankly I thought Bernie Sanders stepped over a line too. I think it
is very dangerous to attack the entire system of our democracy,
because it undermines the public’s faith in institutions that
throughout history have proven to be really quite remarkable.
And the second thing would be to follow up on something I
wrote in Dangerous Convictions, essentially that issues and even
interest groups don’t matter as much as they used to because
we are increasingly divided by worldviews that are either pro-government, or anti-government. And this was the least
substantive presidential election I can ever remember. Policy and
experience didn’t seem to matter. There was so much name-calling.
It’s as if our presidential politics have become information-free–I
don’t know if that’s the way to say it–but let’s say that at the very
least this election was much less dependent on evidence, and facts
and policy, and much more dependent on just attitude.
AA: What’s your immediate outlook for US politics, at least
until say the midterm elections?
TA: I think it’s going to be a very divisive, controversial
experience–and that will be unusual for one-party control.
Normally, when one party controls the presidency and the
Congress you get something done, for better or worse. Obama got
the Affordable Care Act. George W Bush got his tax cuts. But, this
time, there are significant divisions within the Republican Party,
and I think both parties have significant problems going forward.
AA: How would you explain to the international publishing
community what’s going on in the US politically?
TA: Well, taking the long view, I would say a big part is about
economics. Not all of it, but a big part of what’s going on is about
the decline of the middle and working classes in the US and
elsewhere, and the threat some people see from “the other”. And
that seems to be happening around the globe. The thing is, those
Exit interview: Tom Allen