Pat Schroeder's New Chapter
The Former Congresswoman Is Battling For America's Publishers
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 7, 2001; Page C01
At a small reception for publishers of scientific and academic journals, Patricia Schroeder waves her hand toward several dozen egghead types who are cocktailing it at the Corcoran Gallery of Art -- sampling shrimp and cheese kebabs, wining on not-too-shabby Chablis and schmoozing above the soothing strings of the Bellini Ensemble.
"They're terrified," she says.
She ought to know. Schroeder is president of the Washington- and New York-based Association of American Publishers, sponsor of the event. Like a nurturing shepherd, she moves gently among her flock. But when she talks about threats to the group, she stiffens her back.
And who, you might be wondering, is giving Schroeder and her publishers such a
Librarians, of course.
No joke. Of all the dangerous and dot-complex problems that American publishers face in the near future -- economic downturns, competition for leisure time, piracy -- perhaps the most explosive one could be libraries. Publishers and librarians are squaring off for a battle royal over the way electronic books and journals are lent out from libraries and over what constitutes fair use of written material.
Grossly oversimplified: Publishers want to charge people to read material; librarians want to give it away.
"We," says Schroeder, "have a very serious issue with librarians."
With her squinting, smiling, you've-just-got-to-understand expression and her crinkly-caring voice, Schroeder is the publishing world's latest best hope. Her hair is silver. Her eyes are sparkly. The strap on her purse is short; she clutches it like an AK-47. She is a woman on a mission.
"Technology people never gave their stuff away," Schroeder says. "But now folks are saying, 'You mean the New England Journal of Medicine is charging people?' "
Publishers have to figure out a way to charge for electronic material, Schroeder says. "Markets are limited. One library buys one of their journals," she explains, pointing to the Brie eaters. "They give it to other libraries. They'll give it to others."
If everyone gets a free copy, she says, the publisher and the writer and others involved in making the book go unpaid. "These people aren't rich," she says of those in the room. "They have mortgages."
Other publishers from the gargantuan conglomerates that own Random House and Simon & Schuster will soon be rolling into town. This is the one time of the year when the predominantly New Yorkish world of publishing comes to Washington to talk about common concerns. The group's general convention, closed to the public, runs today and tomorrow at the Mayflower Hotel. The AAP represents almost 300 publishing companies.
The theme this year is "Content in a Technical World."
American publishers are on the ledge of a revolution. They look around and see the music and film industries struggling to adapt to change. They want to avoid the Napster monster: that is, technology that makes copying and distribution of e-books so easy.
"We wanted to put people's fingers into light sockets," Schroeder says of this year's agenda. "You don't have to look at polls to know how young people like to get their music: for free."
Besides hobnobbing with Hill people, the publishers will be rubbing elbows with an unusually glittery guest list. Christie Hefner of Playboy Enterprises is speaking to the flock. So are Henry Yuen of Gemstar-TV Guide International and Peter Chernin of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Mix that altogether with AOL Time Warner's presence and there is change in the air, a shift in the agenda away from words toward image-based infotainment.
In the center of this whirling world, the ever-in-control Schroeder frets for those around her. She spends days in Washington bending the ears of key policymakers and supporting legislation that is favorable to her members and battling proposals that are not. She spends days in New York listening to publishers drone on about their druthers. She worries about protection of intellectual property. She wants writers and publishers to make lots of money. She puzzles over secure ways to deliver electronic books. She's adamant that the country needs to focus more on reading to children under the age of 5. And she's concerned about citizens' rights to free speech and privacy.
"Working for the AAP, I find a wonderful convergence of all these," Schroeder says. "It doesn't rely on lobbying for anything I don't believe in."
Traditionally, the AAP had been a sleepy association manned by former-ambassador types who excelled in high teas and subtle politicking. New York publishers looked wistfully downwind to Washington, wishing that their little group could have the same clout as the Motion Picture Association of America and its white-haired herald, Jack Valenti.
In 1997, the AAP decided to jack up the noise. They hired Schroeder, a well-respected former congresswoman with a reputation for nitty-grittiness.
"In her responsiveness and her outreach to the legislative and operational branches of the Washington, D.C., government," says Peter Olson of Random House, "Pat Schroeder has taken the mission of the AAP to a whole new level of recognition, respect and impact."
"Follow-up is her middle name," says Laurence J. Kirshbaum of Time Warner Trade Publishing. "Pat is an absolute joy. She makes our jobs easy. She's got great energy. She's a wonderful communicator and she has very good common sense."
He adds, "She is constantly pulling us along."
Look at her résumé and you'll see what Kirshbaum means by energy.
Schroeder was born in Portland, Ore., 60 years ago. Her father was a pilot, "so we moved all over," she says. A graduate of the University of Minnesota and Harvard Law School, she comes off as both guileless and gutsy.
At Harvard, she met and married fellow student Jim Schroeder. After graduating in 1964, they moved to Denver and made a home for their two children, Scott and Jamie. But Schroeder was born to run.
In 1972 she was elected to the House of Representatives from Colorado's 1st District as a Democrat. The average contribution to her campaign, she recalls, was $7.50. She moved her family to Washington -- the kids were 6 and 2.
In Congress, Schroeder was a champion of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the first woman to be appointed to the Armed Services Committee. She also took a tenacious interest in First Amendment issues, copyright protection laws and intellectual property legislation. She served 12 terms and retired undefeated in 1996. (In 1987 she thought about running for president. She cried when she announced that she had decided not to run.)
After leaving public office, she taught at Princeton for a while, but "I couldn't stand the commute."
In 1997 she was chosen president of the AAP. She makes $370,000 a year. "A lot less than Jack Valenti," she's quick to say.
The job is taking its toll. She does more traveling now than she did as a congresswoman, she says. Every once in a while she thinks about life after the AAP. "I don't want to be carried out."
Through it all she has held on to a self-deprecating sense of humor. She spent her birthday last year at Machu Picchu in Peru. "I wanted to find ruins that were older than I am."
Her husband works in the private sector, "lowering tariffs," she says. She would like to spend more time with him and with her children -- Scott lives in San Francisco and Jamie is in Montana.
But first she has some wars to wage. Like her battle against libraries.
"Libraries have spent all this money on technology," says Pat Schroeder. "They don't have any money left for content."
Nancy Kranich, president of the American Library Association, begs to differ.
"The reason we're in a bind," says Kranich from her office at New York University, "is that the price of some of the materials has skyrocketed, without any explanation." She cites one chemistry journal, Tetrahedron Letters, that costs $14,000 a year.
Public and academic libraries do not want to pass on their costs to the public. In principle, librarians believe that patrons should have free and easy access to all information.
In Kranich's mind, library-goers should be able to duplicate limited amounts of information for educational purposes. Suppose you want to copy a journal article, quote a section of a book or use a line from a poem, she says. "That is all permitted under the fair-use provision of the copyright law. In the digital arena, fair use has been narrowed to the point of disappearing."
"The publishing community does not believe that the public should have the same rights in the electronic world," Kranich says.
The AAP is looking for ways to charge library patrons for information. "Politically," Schroeder says, "it's the toughest issue. Libraries have a wonderful image."
No one, she says, wants to go up against libraries.
"That," Schroeder says, "is why we are here."