Sep 242012

The Guardian is looking for ingenious ways to support its journalism, in a world where “freeconomics” are driving traditional publishers absolutely spare.  And I can fully understand and appreciate the quandary – even as I do not entirely agree with the tools this newspaper has used.

The latest suggestion to come out of the Guardian‘s marketing department was something I suggested years ago on my now dormant publishing blog, Zebra Red.  You can find two of the pieces in question here and here.  In essence, we could argue that the content producers have lost out to the distributors – those who make the money these days, the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), sell access to generally free content which newspapers, writers, film-makers and musicians various are finding it incredibly difficult to live off.

The solution then?  Cream off some of the money which the ISPs currently keep for their lonesomes – and redistribute it through some ingeniously automated system in terms, presumably, of usage and page impressions.

This is Mr Greenslade blogging on the suggestion this morning:

Has David Leigh cracked it? We have been puzzling for years about how to subsidise journalism once it makes the final transition from print to net (see here and here and here). One obvious model is the funding of the BBC through its licence fee.

Objectors to such an idea – including current commercial proprietors – have argued, unsurprisingly, on press freedom lines. Any connection to the state is to be avoided.

But Leigh, The Guardian’s investigations executive editor, has come up with a very clever quasi alternative: charge a levy of, say, £2 a month on the bills of subscribers to UK broadband providers. Then distribute the money to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership.

You can see his reasoning and consider his sums in his article today – in print, page 32, or online here.

Now I can fully appreciate that content producers which add considerable value to society – whether on the right or the left of the political spectrum – may feel rather abused by the cut latterday distributors are taking from the equation.  In many cases, I can imagine it’s not even the forty percent of traditional book publishing but, rather, closer to a destructive hundred percent of all incomes generated.

So I’m sympathetic to the suggestion, especially as I am myself struggling to make a professional living out of my writing.  But I would ask four questions of those who would jump on the bandwagon – just in case they’re able to think twice before doing so:

  1. If the principle of levies on what are essentially 21st century utilities is to spread to other areas, who’s to say Jeremy Hunt won’t one day argue we need to bill our electricity users to keep the recently privatised NHS lights burning?  This levy, after all, proposes to charge a public like myself in order to support private industries which may very well choose not to publish or disseminate my political views in the least.  Why, under any constitutional arrangement, should I be obliged to pay for opinions and news-gathering positions I do not want to see spread around, when I use something like the Internet: as ubiquitous and essential a utility for the functioning of a 21st century state as water, gas and other basic services before it?
  2. If we do end up having to pay a levy on our broadband, and this does help to landgrab more of our evermore limited discretional spending for private journalism (whether we care to read papers or not), and – in the end – this succeeds in rebuilding a battered industry so that traditional newspaper journalism enters a brave new online world with its head held finally and remarkably high (on, it has to be said, the backs of the workers), who is to guarantee that they won’t recreate themselves as wasteful, expansionary and world-dominating media empires?  For if working people’s cash is going to be recycled into corporate pockets without democratic oversight, I really don’t see the difference here between the Guardian‘s suggestion for publishing – and what Lansley first, and Hunt now, have been doing over at the NHS.
  3. Penultimately, why does the Guardian suggest an extra levy on top of existing broadband prices?  Why doesn’t it fight bravely – Robin-Hoodedly even – to extricate some of the cash already swilling around ISPs as the grand evil distributors of our time?  Is it that the paper and its executives have calculated it’s safer to antagonise its readers for a bit than fight the technology corporations tooth and nail for a piece of the existing action?
  4. Finally, if we do end up having to pay a levy on our broadband access so that private industries can continue to push the sometimes marvellous, occasionally twisted, content they produce, wouldn’t in some subtle and inconvenient way the content thus produced begin to belong to us?  That is to say, to be reused and appropriated at will perhaps?  Now who’d really like to provoke – and then sort out – a copyright mess like that?

Apr 182012

A tweet which this morning was directed at my innermost open-source leanings led me to wonder if Wikipedia has a symbiotic or parasitical relationship with knowledge.  The tweet went thus:

@eiohel like the wonderful open source voluntarism-driven marvel that is Wikipedia. It’s foundation is well-funded publications 4 citation

I answered with a perhaps too flippant reply that just as many journalists working for paid publications would be taking advantage of Wikipedia’s millions of pages as any of the alleged “free-loaders” out there.  I say flippant because this of course wouldn’t necessarily make the situation any better: quite the reverse in fact, as paid-for organisations could arguably free-load on the back of other paid-fors via the intermediary actions and paraphrasing skills of Wikipedia itself.

It also led me, however, to tweet back the following resulting thought (the bold is mine):

@Paul0Evans1 We could of course equally say the same of blogging since the beginning of time … symbiotic rather than parasitic?

Which leads to me to my final occurrence and the very point of this post: does blogging – has blogging ever – added real value to anything at all?  Dependent as it is on much of paid-for media’s output to spark off its over-the-garden-fence discourses, it would probably not exist if there weren’t a close interface between the blogosphere and MSM.  Yet surely even those most in favour of traditional copyright models could not argue that the blogosphere taken in its entirety had not added anything useful to the sum of human thought.

Or, in their irascible and fanatical mindsets, might they be tempted to assert that it manifestly hadn’t?

My opinion is, of course, quite different.  I believe we need deniable outriders in thought – just as much as we need them in politics.  They are the proving-ground of new and bright ideas – and such ideas need the freedoms of open and unrestricted places if the future is to be dealt with under any kind of intelligence at all.  The shutdowns of traditional copyright models probably do have their place in some form: but blogging, and the kind of open access to general knowledge which Wikipedia and social media in general tend to provide, are a necessary adjunct to the intellectually sustainable – and directly fundable – stuff traditional copyright seems to want to continue inscribing.

In any case, there have been notable calls recently for open access to publicly-funded research: if the debate is now getting as far ahead as the cutting-edge of such research, surely that cutting-edge shouldn’t any longer be causing us to bleed?

Apr 162012

Sergey Brin, of Google fame, argues the following:

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”

There are other things in this interview which I do agree wholeheartedly with.  This for example:

He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet [...].

To that list, in fact, we might care one day to add the UK.

Especially in the light of other news from yesterday which indicates that the Russians may be planning to embrace similar controls on their Internet in the future.

But when Brin talks about the carve-up of the free and open Internet, I am inclined to want to take the position that Google itself is not entirely without blame.  Brin is clear that some of the forces ranged against his – and our – baby include the following:

[...] the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

Whilst I agree that the entertainment industry wishes to have its cake and eat it – for I might argue that if an existing structure isn’t appropriate for your distribution needs, why take the decision to distribute on it in the first place? – the walled gardens of Facebook in particular are surely a reaction to Google’s monopolistic dominance of the aforementioned freedoms it avows it is in favour of.  As I wrote some time ago on the subject of pernicious paywalls, the worldwide web in its native form is a truly beautiful thing:

To date, the Internet can be characterised and defined by two things: firstly, it has been more a space of discourse, more a flat hierarchy of multiple communication impulses, than a controlled business channel of traditional producer-consumer relationships.  Anatomically speaking, more like a global brain with its extensive network of redundant neurones sparking off each other than an intestinal system which helps process a beginning, a middle and an end.

Secondly, its fundamental tool – the hyperlink – has changed how we read information quite profoundly: the promiscuity of search has taken over from the power of a previously framed narrative.  Through that promiscuity, we look for answers to questions which tumble out of thoughts we must – over and over again – addictively pursue.  Neither is that beginning, middle and end predestined any longer – nor, often, repeatable.  The uniqueness of the narrative experience that each user of hyperlinks brings to the often very private storytelling they engage in as they surf the Web keeps millions of people obsessively tied to their PCs at the end of a multitude of long working days.

These two defining concepts – space and linkage – are what have made the Internet the force that it is today.  And for the vast majority of publishers who currently connect to the Web, this Internet is exactly the Internet they need.  They’re not looking for a mass-market reach to publish their content; instead, they have friends, colleagues and interest groups who actually choose to read what they are publishing, and do so night after night without prompting – quite without the seduction of competitions, bingo, free CDs or tickets to the cinema.

Google, however, has built an advertising empire on a set of hidden search algorithms which it allows to be massaged quite blatantly.  From sponsored ads which sit at the very top of its search results to websites and their URLs which creep up the rankings via carefully lodged supporting links from key sites across the web, the industry of search engine optimisation (SEO) is to Google what, in its heyday, the concept of third-party ecosystem was to Microsoft.  It sells the basic idea and principle to eager paying customers; it supports the legitimacy of the search model in question; and, finally, it helps keep other players firmly out of the market – essentially in order that Google, quite paradoxically, might convince a whole planet that when it monopolises the open Internet it is actually making all of us as free as could be.

No mention, for example, of all the data it has collected on us in order that its model of a “free” Internet might be better monetised on behalf of its shareholders.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I like Apple’s business model either.  Nor is Facebook quite what I thought it might be even a couple of years ago.  But I do get the impression that whilst Google’s landgrab did take place on a relatively open Internet, its ways and methods since then have only served to create a simulacrum of openness – a simulacrum where in reality those in power can move their favourite souls up and down the popularity stakes almost at will.

That original dream of Google’s, to make useful information available to anyone, has been gamed, distorted and messed around with – even, I might suggest, and quite arguably, by the company itself.

On such an open Internet, who wouldn’t want to create parallel universes?

Facebook and Apple aren’t the reason we’ve lost that dream.

Facebook and Apple are simply the symptom of Google’s greed.

Jun 062011

Aiming to add value by repackaging products and services is a dangerous game.  It can even lead you to the unconscionable crimes of plagiarism – crimes which no one is ever happy to commit, even when by accident (and the Lord only knows, in our multidimensional and hyperlinked worlds, how these are accidents just waiting to happen).

Some recent examples I think would be useful now.  Firstly, Fifa’s latest wheeze: employing “politicians, celebrities and former footballers” to clean up the mess that currently reigns (at which point I am minded to remember MPs’ expenses, irrelevant buckets of tittle-tattle galore and superinjunctions not a million miles away from the British Isles).  I’ve already discussed how salespeople and environments can prejudice bodies such as world football’s highest.  This is just another example of how those predisposed to melodramatic gestures run their businesses on the basis of inflating expectations, in the hope that future promises become concrete through the sleight-of-hand of marketing spiels.  As the Guardian report in question points out:

Fifa’s sponsors may have brought about the corporate governance rerforms. Adidas, which lavishes more than $40m a year on Fifa as its sportswear partner, was the first to speak out last week. Later Coca-Cola, Emirates and Visa also expressed their dismay.

“You live by the sword, you die by the sword” is the phrase that comes to my mind.

Meanwhile, another example of how the desire to make money out of repackaging what already exists can lead to unfortunate results has just reared its ugliest of heads once again:

A new private university college founded by the philosopher AC Grayling and staffed by celebrity professors will teach exactly the same syllabuses as the University of London, which charges half the price, it has emerged.

Students of the New College of the Humanities will pay £18,000 a year to take courses in history, English literature and philosophy that are already on offer at Birkbeck, Goldsmiths and Royal Holloway for £9,000 or less.

Academics complained that syllabuses listed on the New College website appeared to have been copied from the University of London’s own web pages in a move some said amounted to plagiarism.

And I can see quite plainly what is operating here.

And it’s not a million miles away from Fifa.

I was once contracted to give ESL classes in a private university someone who claimed to be my friend set up with a group of individuals I later refused to touch with a bargepole.  This business proposition had little to do with wanting to educate people – rather, what fascinated the group of businesspeople I mention was the following very simple idea: heavy start-up costs in the first year, double the number of students for the same infrastructure in the second, captive markets in the third, exponential growth in the fourth – the sky, indeed, would then be the limit they promised to anyone who cared to listen.

It seems to me that the New College of Humility (not) is making the same foolish assumptions.  And committing the same mistakes I describe above.

Incidentally, the private university I worked at for a while eventually closed down under the weight of its own contradictions.  As this tweet pointed out yesterday:

A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in the students :).

Repackaging is all well and good – but when it leads to plagiarism (and, as I have already pointed out, this now so easily takes place) it is hubris clearly squared. 

A final thought – and we come back to Internet freedoms.  Charlie Booker has a piece going the rounds at the moment, also on the Guardian, which seems to berate us for not wanting to pay for anything we stumble across through our PCs.  Thus he argues:

Anyhow. I’m not claiming five quid a month is insignificant: it’s more than many can afford. But in this case it’s bloody cheap for what it gets you. The problem for Spotify is that no one wants to pay for anything they access via a computer – and when they do, there’s a permanent level of resentment bubbling just under the surface. Hence the anger about “only” getting 10 hours of free music.

Look at the App Store. Read the reviews of novelty games costing 59p. Lots of slaggings – which is fair enough when you’re actively warning other users not to bother shelling out for something substandard. But they often don’t stop there. In some cases, people insist the developers should be jailed for fraud, just because there weren’t enough levels for their liking. I once read an absolutely scathing one-star review in which the author bitterly complained that a game had only kept them entertained for four hours.


And so we see, as is often the case, that a commenter provides a far more succinct explanation than the original post of why Internet monetisation is fraught with so many pitfalls:

 @muggwhump Actually the internet already sits behind a paywall, it’s called your ISP.

It’s not that we’re not prepared to pay for anything on the Internet, Charlie.  It’s that we’re not prepared to pay any more.

As I pointed out a while ago at a different place:

Distribution was always the key to making money in publishing – always will be. In a world where the content is neither printed nor physically moved from one place to another but replicates itself as if by magic through downloads that allow access from virtually anywhere to virtually anywhere, there will always be money to be made somewhere along the process. It just so happens that this place will shift from time to time, as technology evolves, as consumer habits change, as the hierarchy between consumers and producers modulates. Amazon’s Kindle shows us that the wonder of sitting in a neighbourhood coffee bar and downloading – on impulse – a book you’d really love to get your hands on actually works. Translate this opportunistic way of purchasing content to the field of newspapers and I’m sure we’d see an about-face in the world of journalism.

I’m paying not for the content itself but for the communication channel that allows me to access it. That’s the mad thing about this. We perceive an added value we are prepared to pay for in a multi-product provider like Sky or the phone operators; an added value we no longer perceive in the content itself that they piggyback off. I’m happily paying £20 a month for 600 minutes and free Internet on my mobile. I know plenty of people who pay £40 or more for their cable and satellite television.

These days we’re absolutely used to paying for the access; we’re not looking any more to pay for the films or articles themselves.

So it all depends on how you bill it. Bill your online subscription to all the major newspapers as part of your Internet deal and no one will notice the difference. The papers will then have a business to business relationship with their distributors. Direct customers will be kept at an arm’s length.

It has to be in the interest of the service providers to keep the content providers on their feet – without decent content, people will simply move on to other, greener, pastures.

If people get greedy, if the distributors insist on taking a greater percentage of the (now available) cake than is their due, which is what is happening at the moment (all that money flooding into the coffers of the ISPs, all that money flooding out of the war chests of the big newspaper and magazine publishers), the authors and editors will simply disappear.

This relationship, often hard-nosed and bordering on the pig-headed, has been true of publishing throughout its history.

It’s not going to change now, not even in a digital world.

Digital worlds, for all their differences, are still analogous worlds – even where they are not analogical.

In conclusion, then: those of you who wish to add a potentially spurious value through a simple repackaging of existing tools, services and products should be very careful of savvy producer-consumers who know the true cost of all things these days.

May 012010

Mainstream media must be very very afraid.  In the bad old days their hold over us existed because we all needed to find out something about the world around us – the world, that is, which found itself beyond the confines of our closest neighbours.  And their hold existed so firmly because we had nowhere else to go.

I did read once that there is a theory out there that frontiers tended to mainly come about on the “three days’ travel” basis.  That is to say, in some kind of algorithmic way, from the centre of any country to its widest extremity is never more than seventy-two hours’ travel by the dominant mode of transport of the time.  This would clearly explain why today immigration is such a sensitive subject – these days you can reach almost anywhere on the planet within that timeframe; the frontiers that in earlier epochs helped demarcate difference and tradition through what must have seemed a natural law now exist only to be broken by budget-airline fares and the thirst for casual travel.  We are perhaps, in our resistance to world governance, bucking a mathematical reality only the innate parochialism of the pack could justify.

Anyhow.  Back to MSM and the original subject of this post.  As I struggle to deal with the vacuous response of the Guardian to the problems Labour clearly has (both external as well as internal), I realise that if I’m serious about social media, I ought to practise what I preach.  I have thus replaced my Guardian gadget on my iGoogle page with Google Reader.  I’m now looking to beef up the blogs I follow and allocate to them the time I formerly spent poring over MSM content.

We mustn’t become too obsessive about this, I suppose.  We could get to the point where we began to exhibit an unhealthy fascism of thought-police type behaviours, as we attempt to block out all contrary opinions and end up purveying an awful simplicity of discussion, cleansed of all dialogue and development.  But what I have recently called the even-handed relativism of the online Guardian presence is something we should also, at all costs, aim to avoid.  Not to take ownership for such relativism is cowardice of the worst order – and it is quite clearly a tendency the newspaper is sadly exhibiting more and more as the need to maximise page impressions takes over all moral sense and sensibility.

The original need we all share does, however, still exist.  We still need to find out about what happens beyond our limited perceptual horizons.  We still need to be able to piece together a wider jigsaw puzzle of events, motivations and histories.

We still need both conceptual and sensual tools to understand better the environments we inhabit.

The big question – which is getting bigger as a result of the actions of both the Murdochs and the Rusbridgers of this world – is exactly how?

Now, via Twitter, I come across an interesting article, itself published by relatively mainstream media, on the subject of whether Twitter is more a news dissemination or a social network.  The provisional answer, with data to back it up, is heartening:

Unlike with most social-networking sites, a Twitter user does not need to get the permission of another user to follow that person’s missives. With Twitter, anyone can follow anyone else (as long as that person makes his or her tweets public).

This approach, Kwak said, is closer to that of blogs, which can be subscribed to via an RSS feed. This led the team to wonder if Twitter was more of a news medium than a social-networking site.

The numbers backed up their idea. The team found that only 22 percent of “follows,” where one person chooses to include another’s tweets on their page, were reciprocal. This is far lower than the reciprocal rates of typical social media sites, such as Flickr (68 percent) and the popular Koran service Cyworld (77 percent).

You can find the full story here in a short report which makes fascinating reading.

Although MSM may yet try to fundamentally contaminate the ether, Twitter seems to offer the best way forward in setting up reliable networks of crowdsourced editing and filtering services for all of us who are now actively looking for a way of liberating ourselves from the shackles of encroaching paywalls and holier-than-thou ivory towers.

And meanwhile, by the by, the Manchester Guardian  was never so far away as today.

Apr 192010

A nice write-up in the Telegraph today on a piece I wrote not long ago.  I can’t take all the credit for it – it was actually Dave Semple, excellent editor that he is, who suggested I wrote a rebuttal to Reuben’s piece on how good Rupert Murdoch’s paywalls really are.  I did send it off to Dave, but got no response, so ended up publishing it on – and thus it is that it found its way onto Shane Richmond’s blog.

Sometimes this blogging lark is really fun.  Especially when you get a bit of constructive feedback.

Apr 162010

Reuben argued in favour of Rupert Murdoch’s Internet paywalls over at the Third Estate last year.  My response is probably a little tardy and some of what was written then might not be asserted now, so instead of engaging in a point-by-point rebuttal, I’ll try and explain why the overriding strategy is wrong – both from a business perspective as well as intellectually.

To date, the Internet can be characterised and defined by two things: firstly, it has been more a space of discourse, more a flat hierarchy of multiple communication impulses, than a controlled business channel of traditional producer-consumer relationships.  Anatomically speaking, more like a global brain with its extensive network of redundant neurones sparking off each other than an intestinal system which helps process a beginning, a middle and an end.

Secondly, its fundamental tool – the hyperlink – has changed how we read information quite profoundly: the promiscuity of search has taken over from the power of a previously framed narrative.  Through that promiscuity, we look for answers to questions which tumble out of thoughts we must – over and over again – addictively pursue.  Neither is that beginning, middle and end predestined any longer – nor, often, repeatable.  The uniqueness of the narrative experience that each user of hyperlinks brings to the often very private storytelling they engage in as they surf the Web keeps millions of people obsessively tied to their PCs at the end of a multitude of long working days.

These two defining concepts – space and linkage – are what have made the Internet the force that it is today.  And for the vast majority of publishers who currently connect to the Web, this Internet is exactly the Internet they need.  They’re not looking for a mass-market reach to publish their content; instead, they have friends, colleagues and interest groups who actually choose to read what they are publishing, and do so night after night without prompting – quite without the seduction of competitions, bingo, free CDs or tickets to the cinema.

The Holy Grail of traditional publishing has always been the immersive publishing experience.  Keep your readers between the bound covers of your product for as long as possible – in this way, your advertising maximises its potential.  It’s absolutely clear that whilst the concept of space I described above is essentially conducive to such an experience (even where, in this case, the hierarchy is anything but flat), the kind of linkage that the Internet facilitates is absolutely destructive to holding onto your treasured readers in any kind of treasured space. 

No wonder the Rupert Murdochs of this world are looking to introduce paywalls.  They are not, however, doing so for the reasons they put forward.

They are not interested in funding quality journalism.  If they were, they would contribute some of the millions of dollars they currently earn in yearly profits to self-sustaining foundations for quality journalists.  That they are more interested in defining political agendas on the backs of their readers’ purchases than producing truthsayers to inform a society of the sincere is no secret.  Yet this would appear to be one truth that very few in the business are interested in focussing on.

They are not even interested in something as economically comprehensible as gaining a piece of an existing pie for themselves.

No.  What they really want to do, with this pernicious concept of paywalls, is begin, little by little, to break down everything the Internet has meant up to now.  What they really want to do is detonate not how a product works but an entire space.  They’re not trying to redefine a result.  They’re aiming to reshape an environment.  Hyperlinks depend on an unbound access to freely tell their tales.  And what the Murdochs of this world are really trying to do is take away our right to tell our own stories: not only to others but even to ourselves.  They want not only to make more money for their cash-hungry and top-heavy organisations, they also want to fundamentally change how the Internet works.

They’re looking to recover their cash cows, it’s true.  But much more important than that, they’re looking to recover all that such cash cows imply.  Captive readers, captive markets, captive journalists, captive politicians.  Internet linkage, formally and conceptually speaking, breaks all these certainties down.  Internet linkage and flat hierarchies of communication, those unpredictable narratives lived personally and often in non-transferable ways, those trains of thought that exist in spaces rather than channels … all these structures and tools make it impossible for traditional publishing to do what it does best.

That is to say, lead you by the nose.

Being led by the nose is not a 21st century instinct.  It belongs firmly to the past.  In very different times now, in times of highly educated and thinking populaces, we should continue to understand why our communication technologies have grown up the way they have – for they reflect our independence and empowerment as narrators of the environments we live in and see around us.  They mirror how we think these days and help to sustain that growth and socialisation. 

It’s a two-way process – a dialogue of the masses rather than a monologue to the masses.

In understanding all of this, in appreciating all the above, we should also realise why we need to vigorously defend concepts such as the freedom to hyperlink and the right to be producer-consumers – as well as comprehending the importance of micro-markets in understanding the virtues of the new publishing and where it can take us.

Paywalls sustain an old order of mass-market publishing – giant corporations with cross-border agendas aimed at keeping everyone in predictable consumerist niches.  The Internet we currently have is the best guarantor of a true socialism of the people that we’ve had in years.  If we give up on Web 2.0 now, if we give up on producer-consumer publishing, if we allow the paywalls to break up this Web as we know it, then what we will most certainly deserve is an awful reversion to an intellectual serfdom we may yet run a serious risk of having to relive.

As a parting shot, we can even accuse Murdoch and his ilk of business incompetence.  Facebook now has 400 million registered users, is apparently worth billions of dollars and has recreated an immersive experience – perhaps osmotic would be a better way of describing it – without breaking down the freedom to hyperlink and the right to be a producer-consumer.  Facebook understands the essence of the Internet and was built for its time.

If traditional publishing has a future, it most certainly won’t be on the Internet as we know it.  And that may be precisely where the biggest danger lies.

If we are not cautious and wise, it may succeed in its two-faced attempt to impose on us all legislation and technological frameworks that end up sending us back to the Dark Ages of communication.

Even as it claims to wish to defend a journalism we all need to work out a way of properly funding.

Apr 022010

I’ve been cogitating on this subject for a while.  Two examples here and, a few minutes ago, here.  Immersive publishing, as I say in the first link, involves reading a product from cover to cover.  It’s what used to make magazine publishing so profitable – and what has led the traditional publishing industry to invent the disastrous concept of a paywall.  The big publishers are desperate to break up the promiscuous hyperlinked community of knowledge that is the Internet at the moment.  Companies like Microsoft are apparently to the fore in this last-ditched attempt to re-establish and impose on wiser consumers old ways of making money (see its agreements with Murdoch as just one example of this tendency).

And even as I hope that the iPad successfully creams off such publishers from the wider Internet (“Go away now and leave us to our hyperlinked ways!”), careful analysis suggests that although the iPad may succeed as a product for Apple, the publishing industry will not find it to be the panacea it was looking for.  More here on this subject.

If truth be told, and if we’re really looking for a modern equivalent of magazine publishing, we really don’t have to look any further than our old friend Facebook.  That is a truly immersive experience for hundreds of millions.  If I had a magazine that I was looking to monetise, I’d look to create a Facebook app way before I’d consider going down the route of an iPhone or iPad app.  Freedom counts.  Where the means of production are so tightly controlled by the manufacturer as Apple’s most definitely are, I, no angel, would definitely fear to tread.

Jan 242010

Let’s just get these analogies sorted, shall we?  As I pointed out in my previous post, the Internet is essentially a massive public space which delivers relationships, not a printed page which delivers content.  The Internet is in fact the virtual equivalent of oxygen.  Putting up paywalls is therefore the equivalent of handing out oxygen masks: suitable for noxious and threatening environments where people have to survive rather than live, relate, grow and socialise – but entirely inappropriate if our aim is to encourage a civilising trust and comprehension between equals and peers.  This, via Henry Porter, is therefore most apposite:

“Suspicion,” Thomas Paine wrote, “is the companion of all mean souls and the bane of good society.”

Putting up paywalls can only help to once more engender that very suspicion between those who would be equal which modern civilisation has – through universal education – striven for so long to eradicate.

We mustn’t support such barriers.  The potential implications are too unhappy for us to do so.

Jan 212010

I’ve been arguing it for months, in one way or another.  Now most cogently put here.

It’s not the content itself that counts on the modern Internet but the conversation, the relationship, the to-and-fro – that is to say, the embracing nature of linkage.  You break that down with the threat of a paywall and people will stop linking to you even before you actually start – for you are threatening the delivery of a relationship: and relationships always count for more in the lives of socialised human beings than will any commodity.

How to undermine the value of your content in one easy step.