Tom on weblogs and the

Tom on weblogs and the mass amateurisation of nearly everything. Interesting.
The article set me thinking about the development of plant breeders’ rights, and whether that is also being amateurised. Ten years ago, European-wide plant breeders’ rights did not exist. Then the Community Plant Varieties Office was set up by the EU to offer a single European-wide rights system to supplement and, at times, replace, the individual national schemes that existed at the time (and largely still exist), and to support the international aims of the UPOV organisation to offer financial reward to those people that work hard to improve the quality and variety of plants available to us. Initially, all these schemes were intended to improve agricultural crops, and were supported by the breeders, from huge multinationals down to research labs in universities and private individuals.
Then, horticulturalists realised, in considerable numbers, that they could make mponey from their own breeding efforts. They weren’t the first, of course. Companies like Blooms of Bressingham had been using the plant variety rights system in the UK since the early 80s. Rose growers had been using it for even longer. But now there was a simple, enforcable and European-wide system that addressed the problem of needing to take out PVR protection in every country individually. Now, by taking EU PVRs, US Plant Patent and possibly Japanese PVRs, you could effectively wrap up the major markets.
Thankfuly, the system is still sufficiently complicated and expensive that nearly all breeders prefer to work through an agent to tackle the system. But agents need to provide add-on services in order to ensure that a new variety is promoted effectively and in a coordinated fashion throughout the world. Their market knowledge allows them to provide a management service that should be better than any individual (and most organisations) could hope to achieve. There has been a recent example with an organisation based in the US that has introduced a large range of Heuchera varieties. Certainly they have made a large amount of money from them, but they have also wrecked the future market for them by not managing their introduction, licensing and distribution correctly. If the entire introduction process had been managed by a dispassionate agent, I think the overall result would be more pleasing. interestingly, the breeder has asked me to represent his material informally, but not on an exclusive basis. Without the control that comes with exclusive management, I don’t really want to know.
Unfortunately, at the moment, most breeders’ agents are not offering as good a service as they could or should. Invariably, they are tied into a small system of relationships that have arisen through either formal or informal means. Consequently, the breeder does not always obtain the best deal for their plant, and royalty returns are not what they should be. This does nothing to encourage breeders to work with an agent, and ultimately, it is only lack of time and resources that drives some organisational breeders to work with agents rather than do it themselves.
This is where PFE’s independence comes into its own, as it allows me to act with whoever I feel will give the best deal for an individual variety. A marked contrast to the Blooms system. But it is up to me to convey that advantage to potential breeder clients, and persuade them that to work through PFE will be more effective than to try and work on their own. That’s the hard part.
Coupled to that is an increasing awareness of the PVR systems. There have been articles by several authors recently in magazines, journals and even on television. Small-scale breeders are becoming less frightened of the system and are beginning to feel that they may be able to tackle it on their own account. But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! Our American friend with his Heucheras has demonstrated that – his lack of intimate knowledge of the European market is, ultimately, leading to disaster.
So what has this got to do with Tom’s piece about the amateurisation of weblogs? Well, I think that to counter the spread of weblogs, the traditional media and publishing systems must both provide additional expertise and services that the individual and small organisation can not possibly provide, and offer economies of time and scale that larger organisations would wish to buy in to. Not only for providers of content, but also for customers. Publishers must provide effective channels for distributing the output of authors to the best audience. Readers will need an effective information gathering service that is authoritative and independent, and sources of entertainment that fit well with increasingly time-poor lifestyles.
Of course, as this process continues, more companies and organisations will see an opportunity to provide these services, perhaps as an add-on to their existing business. The Sun has launched a blog. The Grauniad has done it for a while. AOL offers blogging systems to members. In the PVR industry, ten years ago there were two or three companies offering agency services. Now, I estimate that there are around 25 or 30, with several that have started in the last two years. I’m certain that there are others in early stages of development of which I am yet to become aware.
Is mass amateurisation a good thing? Well, I’m not sure that there is "good" or "bad" about it. It’s more just a process of change, something that has been going on for years. Personally, I suspect that time pressures will mean that whilst "amateurised" systems will become more widely available, both in terms of the number of people that can access them, and the number of services, products and skills that are covered by such systems, most people will not adopt them. The day simply isn’t long enough.