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Should you pay for the Internet? (YES)
January 14, 2010 8:40 AM   Subscribe

John Tierney's thoughts on Jaron Lanier's new book asserting that John's blog, the NY Times, and all content creators must find a universal, government legislated system of monetizing the internet.
posted by The3rdMan (144 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wanted to bring this discussion to the mefi community. As a content creator and artist I am very passionate about the evolution and monetization of content on the internet.
posted by The3rdMan at 8:41 AM on January 14, 2010


Micropayments — this time, for sure!
posted by enn at 8:45 AM on January 14, 2010 [19 favorites]


Whew, for a minute there I was afraid we'd have a non-commercial space to live and work in! The horror!
posted by DU at 8:47 AM on January 14, 2010 [14 favorites]


Maybe someone could start a community blog and charge five bucks for an account?
posted by dortmunder at 8:48 AM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm struggling to think of an example of how we miss the record companies "more than we have been willing to admit."
posted by echo target at 8:50 AM on January 14, 2010 [32 favorites]


How exactly would the government involve itself in micropayments? That doesn't even make sense. Would I settle up for my surfing at tax time?
posted by Keith Talent at 8:51 AM on January 14, 2010


If there were a simple system of micropayments, would you be willing to pay a little to read the New York Times online?

Not if the rest of the Times keeps going down the shitter. I like TierneyLab and a few other online columns but IMO the Times is past its prime. I'd probably pay a few bucks a month if TierneyLab, ArtsBeat, Bitten, City Room, Pogue, the OLD non-neutered Freakonomics column, and sundry others were sold as a package.

Should such a system of micropayments be run by the government?

No. Let voluntary cooperatives compete on features and low administrative charges to content producers.

Would newspaper readers be better off in the long run if newspapers charged online readers directly instead of relying so heavily on advertising revenues?

Dunno. I never see ads anyway.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:51 AM on January 14, 2010


2. Should such a system of micropayments be run by the government?

Would people have to register with the [US] government to read the New York Times, then? Would this invite regulation of the press?

I think it sounds like an extraordinarily bad idea.
posted by zarq at 8:52 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm glad someone finally took a stand and wrote an essay whining about how the internet is changing things for them.
posted by mullingitover at 8:53 AM on January 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


I had a long talk with Jaron Lanier about this last week [I interviewed him for Library Journal a week ago] and I was really curious about this idea. I like it generally -- the idea that everyone pays a little to consume anything, but that people also get paid a little for their cultural creations -- but sort of have a "how would that even WORK" question about getting from here to there. So, sorry for the block of text and the self-link but this was something I asked him directly.
JW: One of the things you talked about was the idea of global micropayments. That everyone could receive compensation for their bits and compensate others for their bits. I sort of like the ISP-we-pay-for-bits model that we play as long as we pay or contribute content. Any ideas about how we move more toward that type of idea? It seems more like a sea change but I like the idea and I assume that it's something you thought about.

JL: Well, yea, um. Getting from here to there is always the trickiest thing in any aspect of life and so I didn't go into that in great detail in the book. I can imagine various scenarios. For instance, at some point which is essentially now, China is going to be sick of the idea that we're the designers and they're the manufacturers and they'll start designing on their own, and then, before too long, some American manufacturer will rip off a Chinese designer and the Chinese will be upset about it.

The same sort of thing will happen for a lot of countries and then there might be enough international pressure for some sort of convention on intellectual property because this, what this is about is a social contract, a social contract will come about when enough people perceive self-interest in a system that defers gratification.

The reason we don't just go in and steal from every house or car or sleep in every house we come to even though it may be more convenient than make it home to our own house is that we've all bought into the idea that that bit of deferred gratification overall is better for us and that's what makes a social contract and enough people have to feel that they've been wronged by the system before there can be that perception--that accurate perception--of shared interest in a better system. Back to questions as to "How?" I'm suspecting that it'll be international. I'm suspecting that the United States will be dragged into it by international interests eventually.
posted by jessamyn at 8:55 AM on January 14, 2010 [15 favorites]


I'm glad someone finally took a stand and wrote an essay whining about how the internet is changing things for them.

I know, why don't we have a discussion about the future and financing of online media without assuming that everybody on one side of the debate must be motivated by peevishness, resentment, and a resistance to change? This thread would be a good place for it, since Jaron Lanier is an insanely innovative, forward-thinking guy, not the mythical bitter old MSM journalist usually invoked in these contexts on Metafilter.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:55 AM on January 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


a government that can monitor what you're paying for online can monitor what you're doing online
posted by pyramid termite at 8:57 AM on January 14, 2010 [16 favorites]


The 'mental tax' (how much have I spent this month?) of even 'micro' payments is enough of a disincentive to favor 'free' models, which already exist.

If MeFi wasn't a one-time charge, I never would have bothered.

It was a one-time thing, right?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:59 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whew, for a minute there I was afraid we'd have a non-commercial space to live and work in! The horror!

I'm afraid that particular dream was killed-off the day the first banner ad hit the web.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:02 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


A universal micropayment system would be great for content producers. One of the biggest barriers to making money online is getting people to open their wallets. Once the wallet is open, it's much easier-- I didn't make my first iTunes purchase until 2007, but once I had, I spent several hundred dollars a year on purchases.

There are a lot of Internet sites that struggle because people want what they offer, but not enough to overcome the wallet hurdle.

But have the goverment run it? I'm not sure that's the best idea, or even how it would work.
posted by justkevin at 9:05 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


AdBlock + FLOSS = far, far fewer ads than you see walking down the street, let alone see/hear over the "monetized" airwaves

Why can't the Invisible Hand of God the Free Market "monetize" this sphere of our lives? Why do we need Nasty Ol' Government Regulation to do it?
posted by DU at 9:07 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whew, for a minute there I was afraid we'd have a non-commercial space to live and work in! The horror!

That's good, because right now you don't have a noncommercial space to work in. Most of what you do online is probably utterly dependent on a corporation's profit motive.

Unlike past media, this mechanism is effectively separate from most content creators, either by being ensconced in affiliate business models designed to provide moral support with paying the creator any significant amount or through straight copying, often without attribution. Micropayments may not be a solution, but that doesn't mean there isn't a problem.
posted by mobunited at 9:07 AM on January 14, 2010


game warden to the events rhino: "Jaron Lanier is an insanely innovative, forward-thinking guy, not the mythical bitter old MSM journalist usually invoked in these contexts on Metafilter."

That's too bad, because he sounds like the carbon copy of one. How is it forward thinking to try to revive the corpse of a system that flopped over a decade ago?

brb, writing an essay about bringing back DivX.
posted by mullingitover at 9:07 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jaron Lanier is an insanely innovative, forward-thinking guy

What?

Having a technical background doesn't mean he can't be old, bitter, and resentful of change.
posted by enn at 9:08 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that that being labeled as a "content creator" is somehow marginalizing when contrasted with being a writer or artist. It seems to reduce the primary draw of a given web site to a meaningless abstract.

I get that when you're designing a web site or CMS or whatever that you kinda need to have a generic "CONTENT GOES HERE" lorem ipsum-y placeholder, but when you're actually a writer/ artist/ 3-D modeler/ musician/ whatever, it seems a bit weird to just describe yourself as "content creator".
posted by boo_radley at 9:08 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


> Wanted to bring this discussion to the mefi community. As a content creator and artist I am very passionate about the evolution and monetization of content on the internet.

Thanks, man, but there's still an open thread about the book and discussions going on around it.
posted by ardgedee at 9:08 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wanted to bring this discussion to the mefi community.

I don't see "John Tierney's thoughts on Jaron Lanier's new book" in that very short article. Why is this a FPP?
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 9:10 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aren't banner ads and the like essentially a subsidized micropayment system?
posted by graventy at 9:10 AM on January 14, 2010


It seems to me that the hardest part of any attempt to monetize the internet will be overcoming the established attitude that everything on the net should be free. Right now there's an entire generation of kids who have never known life without the internet and scoff at the idea that you should have to pay for anything located therein. But perhaps this attitude can be changed.

I have a friend who works in sports television, and she recently told me that the major sports leagues will gradually move towards a PPV model for all games. You won't be able to watch NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL games just because you have a cable subscription (or rabbit ears that pick up Fox, NBC, etc.), you'll have to pay something extra to receive the channels broadcasting those games. When I asked her if that wouldn't be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs (i.e. young fans start out watching the games for free on television and grow into lifelong fans who spend money on tickets, merchandise, etc.) and told her that I for one would probably stop watching if the NFL expected me to shell out to watch something I used to get for free she said "See, you've developed a bad habit. You expect to watch the games for free. That for you is normal. But if the leagues start charging you to watch games on TV, bit by bit and game by game, sooner or later that will become the new normal and eventually the culture will be changed to the point where people expect to have to pay rather than the other way around."

Seems like it'll be easier to put that particular cat back in the bag for sports television than the internet, though.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:11 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking a lot about stuff like this lately. And, for the first time in my life, I've been using itunes to download my music rather than finding it through torrents/irc/filesharing/etc. I'm the farthest thing from an RIAA apologist, but I have to admit I feel a little... cleaner, or something, when I do it this way. I used to avoid paying for anything online, but I've got to a point now where I have absolutely no problem paying for a service which I believe gives me fair value for a fair price (whether or not itunes is a fair price is debatable, but that's just a for-instance).

In the bigger scheme of things: It's absolutely startling to me how far the web's matured in just the past 5 years. The amount and variety of content we are able to consume and the number of things you can do is staggering. I really love what the web's become. I feel like I have a responsibility to ensure that the services I enjoy are preserved and maintained, and that the content (and application, and service) developers/creators/what-have-you who I patronize are treated with equity. I never had anything close to this attitude before the advent of "web 2.0," although I probably should have.

In theory, I don't know if I'd be opposed to a tax that proportionately funneled money to content creators based on browsing habits. In theory. I don't have any idea how this could be accomplished in a fair way, and without further compromising our privacy online or the openness of the web. It probably couldn't be.
posted by kryptondog at 9:12 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


"See, you've developed a bad habit. You expect to watch the games for free."

Why is it a bad habit to favor one content-support mechanism over another? If I'd prefer to watch a football game for free with occasional ads rather than paying to watch it without, why is that a 'bad habit'?

These are just different systems for encouraging the creation of content. I don't think there's any basis for one to claim the moral high ground.
posted by echo target at 9:20 AM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


One thing that I agree with (from JW's comment) – China is indeed going to start designing more and more of our junk. They have a huge number of industrial design students developing their chops right now.
posted by Mister_A at 9:20 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Didn't they already try it with stupid Times Select and nobody bought into it?
posted by anniecat at 9:21 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah nobody read it except limo liberals.
posted by Mister_A at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2010


I have little doubt that whatever system is adopted, it will move money from a large number of relatively poor "content consumers" to a very small number of relatively rich "content controllers", with a token amount going to the actual "content creators" (also relatively poor).
posted by rocket88 at 9:24 AM on January 14, 2010 [23 favorites]


The problem is from a cultural standpoint, we've already defined the internet and it's free. All the major newspapers had an opportunity at the beginning of the internet surge to go online for exact same price they offer for their regular newspaper services. People would have more likely made the transition at the point with the whole "being use to paying for their news" thing. And now? It's simply too late. We've largely defined the internet, and by lacking enough foresight the news giants have failed. They looked at the landscape and the opposition and said "no, we're good"... and history has a really bad track record for those who have done just that.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:26 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


How syncrhonistic. I just got an email from youtube letting me know one of my videos has gotten popular enough, they want to offer me revenue sharing on it. whee.
Except, it's a short clip of Drew Carey making fun of the products during his first week as TPIR host, and while I think I'm fine on it's fair use-ability as commentary on show and product placement/etc, I feel like my being the one guy who happened to record that segment, and put it on youtube, is not near enough 'creativity' on my part, to justify making money off of the work of Drew et al.
posted by nomisxid at 9:27 AM on January 14, 2010


rocket88, you mean a model just like those old record companies we miss "more than we have been willing to admit."
posted by stagewhisper at 9:30 AM on January 14, 2010


i kind of think Lanier is the Andy Rooney of futurists.
posted by empath at 9:30 AM on January 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


As the mobile phone companies have discovered and continue to discover, very few people like to be on a meter continuously. Given the choice, most people will choose some version of a bulk plan or an all-you-can-eat unlimited option. Even the utility companies know this; most offer some kind of "equalized billing" plans to equalize high demand periods over the low.

Most people want predictability in their budgets. We'll even pay for excess capacity to get it; everyone who has a limited-minute plan does not use exactly that number of minutes each month does exactly this.

My prediction, if some sort of micropayment system is ever implemented, would be that it would immediately be rolled up by the ISPs as some sort of bandwidth charge, perhaps offered as a few teired-usage plans, and any payments out to the content-owners would be resolved behind the scenes. Few customers would appear to want it any other way. Would you want to credit card tied to a potentially open-ended obligation, or would you prefer a stable monthly billing that you can budget for?

So the end result would probably look like a content tax on ISP usage, with some revenue sharing scheme managed through a central clearing house. Sounds a lot like commercial radio and the music industry now.

If this is the way things are going to go, we're going to want a lot more rights and better defined rights on the consumer/browser side too. Some sort of mandatory licensing for one: if I want to print/save something, I can, for a standard fee, for instance, no questions or quibbles from the creators.
posted by bonehead at 9:30 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


> Except, it's a short clip of Drew Carey making fun of the products during his first week as TPIR host, and while I think I'm fine on it's fair use-ability as commentary on show and product placement/etc, I feel like my being the one guy who happened to record that segment, and put it on youtube, is not near enough 'creativity' on my part, to justify making money off of the work of Drew et al.

Why not? Drew apparently didn't do it. You did. People are interested. Everyone wins.

You don't have to paint a cathedral's ceiling to exercise your creativity.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:31 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> i kind of think Lanier is the Andy Rooney of futurists.

Why are there so many flying penises? We should have more flying breasts.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:34 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


rocket88, you mean a model just like those old record companies we miss "more than we have been willing to admit."

Exactly, and itunes is no different. Why can't we download music from a system that distributes *all* proceeds to the creators, and doesn't line the pockets of billionaire scumbags who don't add any real value? (I'm looking at you, Steve Jobs)
posted by rocket88 at 9:35 AM on January 14, 2010


Jaron Lanier is an insanely innovative, forward-thinking guy
What? Having a technical background doesn't mean he can't be old, bitter, and resentful of change.


I never said it did. But anyone with a passing familiarity with his work knows that he is at least capable of envisioning scenarios that are radically different to the current scenario. This should give us a shot, surely, at moving beyond the "OMG old guy who doesn't get it!" jeering that these discussions usually get bogged down in.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:38 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Remember how the radio spectrum technically belongs to "the people" but in reality only huge corporations can use any without jumping through a million loopholes and almost all the legislation is written by those corporations? That is "monetization" and I don't want it on my Internet.
posted by DU at 9:38 AM on January 14, 2010 [31 favorites]


Everyone seems to want government involved - here's an upcoming session at Berkeley's journalism school by a duo who want "enlightened and massive state subsidies" to support journalism.
posted by twsf at 9:41 AM on January 14, 2010


The 'mental tax' (how much have I spent this month?) of even 'micro' payments is enough of a disincentive to favor 'free' models, which already exist.

If MeFi wasn't a one-time charge, I never would have bothered.


The internet has never been free for me in that I've always made some kind of monthly payment to some kind of ISP. As such, it's always struck me that the obvious way to go in terms of making people "pay for the internet" is via their service providers (ie: "content providers" get a piece of that action via some kind of tracking of downloads), and I'll be very surprised if some permutation of this doesn't take effect reasonably soon.

Or as bonehead just put it:

So the end result would probably look like a content tax on ISP usage, with some revenue sharing scheme managed through a central clearing house. Sounds a lot like commercial radio and the music industry now.

Problem is (and it's a HUGE one), who decides how this revenue gets split? No doubt, various well paid (and connected) corporate legal and accounting types with only the flimsiest of connections to the actual "content providers" (none dare call them artists) ...

Or as rocket88 pointed out:

I have little doubt that whatever system is adopted, it will move money from a large number of relatively poor "content consumers" to a very small number of relatively rich "content controllers", with a token amount going to the actual "content creators" (also relatively poor).

And so on.
posted by philip-random at 9:47 AM on January 14, 2010


Didn't they already try it with stupid Times Select and nobody bought into it?

They did try it. The reason they took it down is that they figured they'd make more money off of advertising the increased traffic (they estimated 10x) than by charging a smaller audience for content.

That was one of many things the New York Times was wrong about in the 90's.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, kept up their paywall, balancing free content with paid content on their website. They are now one of the least-unprofitable newspapers in the country.
posted by Vhanudux at 9:49 AM on January 14, 2010


Automated payments tied to an individual as identified by an IP address would be hugely problematic. How many compromised machines are churning out spam right now without the owner's knowledge?

It'd be way more profitable than spamming to just have every node of your botnet ping a for-pay URL a million times an hour.
posted by Babblesort at 9:50 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maybe someone could start a community blog and charge five bucks for an account?

And then get 100,000 people to open accounts so you make ... half ... a million dollars ... in just 10 years. Wow. Whoever does this must be rich.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:50 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm struggling to think of an example of how we miss the record companies "more than we have been willing to admit."

The companies, not so much. An industry that conveyed income from fans to musicians? Definitely. DJ Shadow covered similar there's-no-income-online-so-we'll-lose-out territory in a blog post recently. It's self-admittedly technophobic and whiny, and it's wrong in places, but still makes pretty good points:
“Well, the real money is in touring.” Really? When was the last time you saw a ‘new,’ post-record company artist headline a major music festival? At this rate, we’ll be stuck with Coldplay for decades [...]

The fact is that I feel my music has value. You may disagree, and that’s fine. But I know how much energy I put into what I do, and how long it takes me to make something I’m satisfied with. Giving that away just feels wrong to me. [... ]

Most think that I should stop whining, grow up and embrace the Internet, become more active, tweet more, hype more, give more stuff away, etc, etc. Honestly, I’ve tried…and will keep trying. But the bottom line is that not every paradigm or system is right for everyone. We’ve all been told for years that the Internet is our Savior; it’s cool, youthful, hip, the solution to every problem, and if you aren’t joining a new networking site on a weekly basis, you’re a social pariah. Sorry…I just don’t feel that way. -- from here
On a similar theme, there's Clay Shirky writing in the latest Edge:
It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race, a misfortune because surplus always breaks more things than scarcity. Scarcity means valuable things become more valuable, a conceptually easy change to integrate. Surplus, on the other hand, means previously valuable things stop being valuable, which freaks people out.
That's the nub of the problem, really. There's a massive surplus, and consequently the value of stuff is dropping like a stone. It wouldn't be a problem at all, except that while there's a surplus of stuff for us to get, the same real-world constraints apply to its creation. Quality creation isn't changing at nearly the same pace that distribution is. That's why 95% of new news still comes from newspapers.

We -- and they -- need to find some to make money from it, because if they don't we'll all lose out. But I don't think the way to do it that is to pretend that the surplus doesn't exist, and try to mandate some kind of government intervention to pay for it all. 1 time out of 10 you end up with the BBC, the other 9 times you get lazy or corrupt media with no real drive to bite the hand that feeds it.

Happily, I think things like the App Store are showing the way forward, with no government-mandated extortion required. When you build on a platform that has payment as an expectation and absolutely simple to do, you have a much better chance of making some money from it, compared to building on one where the notion of "free, or fuck you" is deeply, deeply ingrained.
posted by bonaldi at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Why can't we download music access data from a system that distributes *all* proceeds to the creators, and doesn't line the pockets of billionaire scumbags who don't add any real value?

Because distribution still costs money. Until server costs and bandwidth are free, and infrastructure designers give away their work, creators won't get the full amount we pay. It used to be that content creators had to get their creations made into something physical (books, magazines, CDs, vinyl, art on some sort of carrier), promoted to potential buyers (in other magazines, stores, mail-outs, TV adverts, or posters), then delivered (from the point of creation, via some transportation network, to a retail store or directly to your home). Ebooks, journalism, movies, music, artwork, and whatever else can be digitized can zip to you over the internet, but that still requires servers, hubs, routers, and your own device to receive it (desktop, laptop, PDA, phone, whatnot). All those electronic parts and wires need to be maintained by people and powered by electricity, potentially simplifying the distribution but still requiring something between you and the content creator.

Sales hubs are the most convenient way for small-time or new content creators to get their material to a wider audience. Radiohead and Trent Reznor/NiN were lauded for doing away with labels and traditional points of sale (iTunes store, Amazon), but they relied on the brick-and-mortar stores, then also made their products available online through iTunes store and Amazon before they ventured out on their own.

As long as those sales hubs are built from the typical corporate structure, there will be a hierarchy of people getting paid for the transactions you make on those hubs, even though many layers of people are not directly active in getting music, video, and words from the creator to you.

I don't see content creators getting a larger cut of the profits any time soon. Online distribution may be quicker and more direct than physical distribution, and might allow media to be consumed less expensively, but there are still so many cogs in the system, essentially replicating physical distribution in a simplified manner. And there are too many people making things for a whole-world of direct sales from creator to buyer. Sales hubs (and search engines) are needed to make sense of the world and connect everything.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:55 AM on January 14, 2010


A blog in the nytimes mentions a second component of the article, about the vitriolic nastiness of internet discussion, interestingly enough. Jaron was forward-thinking enough to see this thread coming. And the last one.

Anyway, Jessamyn's quote from him doesn't seem to answer the question as to how the system could be implemented, and in fact seems to doge it entirely.
posted by cardboard at 9:56 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


So the end result would probably look like a content tax on ISP usage, with some revenue sharing scheme managed through a central clearing house.

And every torrent down loader will immediately say "but I already paid to download what I want" - and the RIAA and MPAA know this, so that not likely to happen.
posted by DreamerFi at 9:58 AM on January 14, 2010


I've got a different idea: People write stories as unpaid reporters for local news events which they witness. These articles are aggregated by a free news dispensing system similar to Wikipedia.

As a result, inventing a workable micro payment system is unnecessary because newspapers as we know them are unnecessary.
posted by digsrus at 9:59 AM on January 14, 2010


Why is it a bad habit to favor one content-support mechanism over another? If I'd prefer to watch a football game for free with occasional ads rather than paying to watch it without, why is that a 'bad habit'?

This. The beauty of the ad-system is that I'm paying for it indirectly. If my beer/chips/whatever cost 50 cents more because someone buys ad time, I don't really notice, and thus don't care.

But if you made me pay 50 cents up front before I could watch a random Sunday afternoon football game, well, sorry, I just don't like football that much.

This also applies to much of the content on the web. It's really not worth paying for.
It would also do a number on sites like this one[1], because again, if I had to pay a dime to read that column, I probably wouldn't have.

[1] Of course, on sites like /. , I suppose it would make no difference at all, because who reads the article anyway?
posted by madajb at 10:00 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


The reason we don't just go in and steal from every house or car or sleep in every house we come to even though it may be more convenient than make it home to our own house is that we've all bought into the idea that that bit of deferred gratification overall is better for us and that's what makes a social contract and enough people have to feel that they've been wronged by the system before there can be that perception--that accurate perception--of shared interest in a better system.
Thanks for the interview snippet, jessamyn. I haven't read the book, nor the rest of the interview, and I know that talking off the cuff does not always present ideas in the best way, but I have to say that Lanier's comments in response to your (very fair) question seem to be extraordinarily off-base. Quite aside from what I take to be a kind of naivety re what it might take to get China to care about intellectual property in the same way we do in the US, his comment about why we don't sleep in houses or steal cars seems so off-base as to suggest that he really hasn't given this much thought. I think any argument that's predicated on the idea that we don't steal because we all agree that delayed gratification is "better" for us is pretty cockeyed.

I don't have data to back this up, but it seems to me that many people are more comfortable "taking" things they see as evanescent, and perhaps that they conceptualize as fundamentally free (by which I mean that the "natural state" of the thing is free). When cable TV was the major monetized content delivery system there was a thriving business in bypassing cable fees. (I'm sure there still is.) I think people conceive of content you get from the internet as free, and act accordingly. This is not the same as not being willing to defer gratification.
posted by OmieWise at 10:01 AM on January 14, 2010


Fact: No one does anything unless they can make money off it. This is why people stopped having children except to sell them for medical experiments.
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on January 14, 2010 [22 favorites]


People write stories as unpaid reporters for local news events which they witness. These articles are aggregated by a free news dispensing system similar to Wikipedia.

I'll get right on this "citizen journalism" thing, just after the citizen lawyer draws up my will and the citizen doctor takes out my spleen.
posted by bonaldi at 10:03 AM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


This is why people stopped having children except to sell them for medical experiments.

Can't wait for the editorials calling for some sensible regulation from the government to implement monetization of child-rearing.
posted by DU at 10:05 AM on January 14, 2010


Can we first answer the question "Why do we need to monetize the internet?" He hasn't done a very good job of that.
posted by symbollocks at 10:05 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


> There's a massive surplus, and consequently the value of stuff is dropping like a stone.

Well, you're confusing value with cost. That said, how is this a problem?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2010


"See, you've developed a bad habit. You expect to watch the games for free..."

I find that incredibly patronizing, considering that the bad habit that "I" have developed entails my consuming electronic media exactly the way it has been presented ever since it became mainstream.
posted by hermitosis at 10:08 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is why people stopped having children except to sell them for medical experiments.

Having just been up all night with a cranky 6 month old, I welcome your FPP on this important topic.
posted by madajb at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race,

This is such a sad and hopelessly conservative statement, as if the problem is with the "expressive capability" as opposed to the market-based economic system that CANNOT keep up with it.

Change the f***ing system. Please.
posted by philip-random at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


rocket88: "I have little doubt that whatever system is adopted, it will move money from a large number of relatively poor "content consumers" to a very small number of relatively rich "content controllers", with a token amount going to the actual "content creators" (also relatively poor)."

That is *precisely* the issue I see with it, and think it's a bad idea. I don't trust the "system" well enough to do what's in the right interest for the little guy. I love to support artists I listen to, and pay for what I can (and rarely rarely use bittorent, to me it's a pain in the ass). But i hate doing business with RIAA. Why should I support a thuggish corporate entity that has explicitly expressed animosity towards me as a consumer of its products? An entity that expresses hostility to the "workers" who labor and MAKE the product they sell...

Why should I trust a government that, at this very moment, is attempting to negotiate heinous international treaties designed to limit individual access to court protection from corporate predators who can accuse and have you disconnected without any actual proof or fair trial, and all the while that it is doing this, refusing to let its own citizens have access to the proposals that would very intimately affect them.

Jaron is a smart man, but he has shown time and again that he is way too trusting of powerful institutions.

Do I long for an answer? Sure. I like to create things in my spare time, and it would surely be nice to receive remunerations, but you know what? I don't expect it. I'm trying to find ways to monetize for myself. But I sure as hell don't want some go-between without my explicit approval to be the one to decide what I get paid and how much is their share for being the intermediary, which, I have a feeling, his proposal would eventually turn into.
posted by symbioid at 10:12 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


See, you've developed a bad habit. You expect to watch the games for free.

I'd be curious if there is any evidence that aversion to payment is a habituated behavior. Based on what I know, it seems to be deeply a part of human nature.
posted by breath at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2010


One could make the argument that it is up to us to come up with proposals in order to counteract the even more draconian ones that are sure to come down from on high, so perhaps this is his attempt to come up with some sort of moderate proposal that we can all use as a basis.

I'll grant him that much benefit of the doubt.
posted by symbioid at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2010


I have to say that Lanier's comments in response to your (very fair) question seem to be extraordinarily off-base.

Well this is the interesting thing about talking to him generally. He's got a great voice and is really sing-songy like Kermit the Frog. And at the same time, he makes money in the real world doing... I'm not even sure what he technically does for a "job" And he and the other people who he's sort of being skeptical about [Clay Shirky, Chris Anderson, the Google guys] are sort of "big picture" people so people like to talk to them about the big picture. However, oddly, the hive mind idea isn't big picture, or it sort of isn't. You wind up dishing on the very specific editors of Wikipedia, or "people who use facebook" so instead of saying "facebook has this structure that encourages oversharing and cookie-cutter self-descriptions" [which he sort of does] people hear "facebook is a stupid way to interact with other people" and then they react.

So, I was interested in his ideas about society and how we arrange ourselves, but didn't really expect him to have much of a "how do we get from here to there" answer but was curious what he'd say. His take on the whole thing is that what we currently have is sort of a love-micropayment system in place where you can use facebook or twitter or whatever to tell someone you love them (I oversimplify) but just a little bit. I think he glommed on to that idea and basically expanded it to say "well what if you could pay someone just a little bit...?" and I see it as sort of a hierarchy of needs thing. Once you're sort of finaincially stable, it makes sense to try to help make the people in your sphere stable, if you can. So at a microcommunity level this is a working idea, you give to your food bacnk, you give to your local charities. Where it breaks down is at the macro level. People seem to be okay about texting the Red Cross to send $10 to Haiti and expect nothing in return [fuzzy good feelings] but the $5 lifetime membership here comes with a sense of entitlement. It's odd, to me.
posted by jessamyn at 10:15 AM on January 14, 2010


Funny, I've always held the unpopular opinion that you should actually know what the fuck you're talking about before opening your crawhole.

Obama, please hope me?
posted by shownomercy at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


me: So the end result would probably look like a content tax on ISP usage, with some revenue sharing scheme managed through a central clearing house.

DreamerFi: And every torrent down loader will immediately say "but I already paid to download what I want" - and the RIAA and MPAA know this, so that not likely to happen.

This is actually more of a trap for the content creators than for the copyright breakers. In Canada we have the private copy levy on blank media, which I imagine is much like what would end-up being implemented in the 'net if this proposal would ever go through. A similar organization for photocopies also exists in Canada, Access Copyright, to collect blanket fees on photocopier usage in Canada to cover presumptive (and mandatory) on the-spot-licensing for copy of magazines, scientific articles, and so on.

What happens is much different, however, from the desired result of the content creator lobby. Many take the levy as a moral and legal get-out-of-jail free card and refuse to pay for anything, on the basis that they've already paid via the levy/Access Copyright fee. And, in Canada at least, the courts haven't been completely clear that this theory is incorrect either.

Blanket and mandatory licensing can be quite beneficial to the audience. There are huge, enormous, problems with distributing the licence fees though. What about rightsholders who don't exist anymore or whom you can't find? Who decides how to apportion out the revenues, etc...
posted by bonehead at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


They did try it. The reason they took it down is that they figured they'd make more money off of advertising the increased traffic (they estimated 10x) than by charging a smaller audience for content.

That was one of many things the New York Times was wrong about in the 90's.


First off, Times Select was in the early 2000s. Second, Times Select ultimately failed because by trapping their opinion writers behind a paywall they were cutting them off from the general intellectual conversation, and the toll ultimately meant you ended up with a intellectual shunpiking. A blog post might go, "there's this Tom Friedman article today behind the paywall, and he said X and here's why he's wrong." And the readership would typically either ignore the blog post because they refused to pay to read Friedman's column, or would just take the writer at his/her word and assume it's what the post said. There was little desire to pay the toll.

People like Friedman rebelled, because they could see they were being moved onto a siding by the zeitgeist. News and opinion on the Internet are fungible, and therefore those who charge money are at a severe disadvantage.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, kept up their paywall, balancing free content with paid content on their website. They are now one of the least-unprofitable newspapers in the country.

This is because the WSJ offers information that is vital to the financial sector, and in the financial sector every piece of information that gives you any kind of advantage is worth the cost. The value of a think-piece on IBM's MO in the business server market could lead you to buy IBM before the price goes up. The value of a Tom Friedman column on globalization doesn't lead you to do anything but think Tom Friedman is full of himself.

Information isn't fungible if it offers something unique or targeted. What does ESPN.com charge for? Insider information that fantasy league owners could use to profit off of, or info a true sports nut would devour because it's so hyper-targeted. Often it's the same thing, e.g. the Mariners trade for Casey Kotchman and here's how it'll impact the team and what it might mean for the M's going forward. Ultimately, that's where a paywall is profitable. Where it's not profitable is with general news and opinion. And that's where the old models, the advertising-sponsored media source and the non-profit news organization, will work if they ever get around to solving how to make money and thrive as an online-only news business.

As for the NFL charging for all games, that will never happen, because it would severely constrict their audience and lose them a hell of a lot of money. PPV works great for expanding a sports package (e.g. MLB Extra Innings) or offering one-time-only events (e.g. boxing/UFC/WWE). Where it fails is when you start asking people to charge for something they're already paying for via advertising. And that's the thing about sporting events -- unlike sitcoms and dramas, people don't tend to timeshift games, so they're far more likely to watch the ads.
posted by dw at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


The companies, not so much. An industry that conveyed income from fans to musicians?

Are you really talking about the music industry? An industry that charges bands for every single dime of what it takes to make and promote an album, including overcharging them for the cost of things like producing CDS, and then goes ahead and takes 90 percent of whatever profits are made?

Before you can make a dime as a band in the current music industry, you have to pay off a mountain of debt, and then pay the industry 90 percent of the profits. That's why a good eprcentage of bands that sign to label contracts go belly up -- they don't sell a lot of music, the company retracts its support, and they're left with nothing but debt.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2010


> ...but the $5 lifetime membership here comes with a sense of entitlement. It's odd, to me.

Huh? What entitlement sensibility are you seeing? Other than "I can post here now."

No snark intended there, BTW.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2010


Well, you're confusing value with cost. That said, how is this a problem?
No, I meant value. That's why you have people who'll argue endlessly that they have absolutely no obligation to pay for music when they can download it for free. There's so much stuff sitting out there on the net that it has effectively no value to a lot of people.

The reason it's a problem is that our world and societies still depend a lot on creators receiving recompense in exchange for their creations. News is a good case: we all want to live in a scrutinised democracy, and the best way we've found of doing that scrutiny is a free press. (That's why there are so many complaints about the already parlous state of American journalism).

95% of our news still comes from old media newsroom journalists, at least according to that link. But if there's no longer any way for publishers to make money -- even just to cover costs -- in these changed circumstances, it won't get done. The vacuum sure doesn't look like it'll be filled by online journalists: they've had 10 years to get their act together and still aren't claiming any scalps.

(and symbollocks, this is why we should try to monetize the internet: to try and ensure we keep things we value, especially when the market isn't doing any sort of job of filling those needs)

Change the f***ing system. Please.
Nobody -- least of all Shirky -- is against the idea of changing the system. Hell, it's already changing regardless. But you have to have a suggestion for how to change it. There's too much at stake, and too many powerful interests who'd be pretty happy without a good, free press, to just say "let it all burn, we'll see what turns up".

Are you really talking about the music industry? An industry that charges bands for every single dime of what it takes to make and promote an album, including overcharging them for the cost of things like producing CDS, and then goes ahead and takes 90 percent of whatever profits are made?
Yeah, the music industry is one hell of a shitty deal. But still a majority of musicians would take it over the deal offered by DIY and the internet. That's pretty telling.
posted by bonaldi at 10:26 AM on January 14, 2010


"A universal, government-legislated system of monetizing the Internet."

No, thanks. I like the setup we have, where we pay--as I would like to point out--for "the internet" already, through taxes that build it and support its infrastructure, and through our ISPs, every damn month.

The reasons we paid for content in the past were due to technological limitations that prevented us getting it for free/nearly free. I am deeply sympathetic to content creators trying to make a living, but going back to a mandatory limited-availability model would be wrong, not to mention requiring a vast new enforcement apparatus that would still fail. Do we want the courts flooded with cases against people who posted the text of NYTimes premium article on their blogs? Because that's where we'll end up. Think of the RIAA fiasco, writ even larger.

I think, in the long run, that the vast amount of creative freedom gained by the flood of new content created for nearly free and distributed for nearly free will benefit us, as a society. I am married to a musician, you know, and we both struggle with the fact that he can't just sell his music and get royalties as he might have been able to do in the old days. But then, who knows if he would have ever seen that kind of success in the old days either? It's not like creative industries in this country have ever been all that lucrative for more than a tiny percentage of the population.

Now if you're talking about news as opposed to art, that's a slightly different conversation, as news meets different needs. On the video side, you have ad-supported talking heads and feature presenters/talk shows; those will probably remain as they are, they will survive the internet/TV convergence. On the text side, actual journalism seems to be a function of the wire services (will they survive?), online magazines with subscription NPR-like models, obsessed individuals, interest and advocacy groups, and "aggregators" whose followers trust to post good links/explain them. It's messier than it used to be; many more voices. It doesn't pay well for the footsoldiers, most of whom have dayjobs too.

But it's so much more dynamic, too. It's so rich, compared to the starvation diet of a regular newspaper, with a few selected quotes and no follow-up. For a lot of us it felt like going from famine to feast. I could not afford that feast, by the way, if I had to micropay for every link I clicked. The richness is also a direct cause of it being penalty-free to click; I am not willing to put any more barriers to entry up because I don't want to lose that richness of interaction and information.
posted by emjaybee at 10:26 AM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


That's the nub of the problem, really. There's a massive surplus, and consequently the value of stuff is dropping like a stone. It wouldn't be a problem at all, except that while there's a surplus of stuff for us to get, the same real-world constraints apply to its creation. Quality creation isn't changing at nearly the same pace that distribution is. That's why 95% of new news still comes from newspapers.

We -- and they -- need to find some to make money from it, because if they don't we'll all lose out.


Ok, how are we going to lose out? And it seems to me you're arguing that culture creation should be an industry not a hobby, but you never tell me why. Why should I be able to make money off of culture creation? Why is that necessary? Why should that be guaranteed? Why should that be institutionalized? Why Why Why Why Why?
posted by symbollocks at 10:28 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, kept up their paywall, balancing free content with paid content on their website. They are now one of the least-unprofitable newspapers in the country.

This is because the WSJ offers information that is vital to the financial sector, and in the financial sector every piece of information that gives you any kind of advantage is worth the cost. The value of a think-piece on IBM's MO in the business server market could lead you to buy IBM before the price goes up. The value of a Tom Friedman column on globalization doesn't lead you to do anything but think Tom Friedman is full of himself.


NB: The WSJ paywall is a joke. You can access "locked" articles that are truncated if you click to them via links on the WSJ site itself, just by Googling the title of the article and clicking in that way. Supposedly Murdoch is going to change this, but for all his talk he hasn't yet.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Getting from here to there is always the trickiest thing in any aspect of life and so I didn't go into that in great detail ...

Yes, this has been the story of my life, too.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:31 AM on January 14, 2010


I'm struggling to think of an example of how we miss the record companies "more than we have been willing to admit."

I'll admit it. I'm still learning to use my trebuchet.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:32 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Addendum: apparently Google has tweaked the paywall circumvention trick, but I'm still able to access more than five WSJ articles via Google. YMMV.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:36 AM on January 14, 2010


Yeah, the music industry is one hell of a shitty deal. But still a majority of musicians would take it over the deal offered by DIY and the internet. That's pretty telling.

Firstly, where are you getting this "majority" business? Maybe it's true, but it doesn't jibe with my experience, which is that musicians on my level -- gigging around town and working to build an audience -- unanimously consider the Internet a blessing, at it has made promotion and distribution cheap-to-free. Every single step of producing music has been simplified by the Internet, except, I guess, the step of wanting to be a huge rock and roll star, but even that can be done outside the industry nowadays. Almost every musician I know, except the ones who have delusions of grandeur and are certain that they will one of the lucky ones for whom lightning strikes and they actually make money working for a label, have an ingrained suspicion of labels. Maybe it's because Minneapolis is a small music community that has had a number of successes and near-successes, and you go to almost any bar in town and you'll hear nightmare sob stories about how a band was fucked over by a label, but hear almost no stories about how awesome it was.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:37 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, how are we going to lose out?
If you're in the US, you already know how bad the news media is. Wait until there's no real reporting being done at all. Imagine political reporting done like TechCrunch. And hardly any local reporting at all. When there's no scrutiny of your local council, there's nobody to keep them honest. And that means corruption that's hard to notice until your house falls down because the builder bribed his way to permits.

And it seems to me you're arguing that culture creation should be an industry not a hobby, but you never tell me why.
We've already seen what the hobby stuff is like, and it's rotten compared to the industry stuff, for the most part. It's interesting that even though it's 2010 and we've had a robust internet for the best part of a decade, we still get people arguing about how the internet "will" meet these needs (Jeff Jarvis is terrible for this). It's too late for that: it's already here, and hardly any of the promised things are coming with it.

I'm not saying it "should", btw. Just that, from what we've seen, we're better off when it is.

Why should I be able to make money off of culture creation?
You shouldn't. But if your culture creation is something that other people find valuable, it shouldn't be virtually impossible for you to make money from it.

Why is that necessary?
Because otherwise you'll starve, and won't create the culture, which would be a pity.

Why should that be guaranteed?
It shouldn't. The world doesn't owe anybody anything.

Why should that be institutionalized?
It shouldn't, and I said it shouldn't. Are you even reading?

Why Why Why Why Why?
Um, because because because because because?

But it's so much more dynamic, too. It's so rich, compared to the starvation diet of a regular newspaper, with a few selected quotes and no follow-up. For a lot of us it felt like going from famine to feast
On the current evidence emjaybee, it's also a feast of empty calories. You can live on vodka, coke and Big Macs, but it's not very good for you.
posted by bonaldi at 10:37 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> No, I meant value. That's why you have people who'll argue endlessly that they have absolutely no obligation to pay for music when they can download it for free. There's so much stuff sitting out there on the net that it has effectively no value to a lot of people.

You misunderstand. What you're arguing is that music, today, effectively has no cost. The fact that people are bothering to download it means that it still has value. Think of the value and the cost of air to see what I mean.

Now, it used to be that music had relatively little cost. You'd just play something, or hire someone to do it for you. Then the publishing and recording industries became prominent and demanded that they be protected (which is why you still have distinct publishing rights, etc.)

That was all well and good when they were selling scarce goods (i.e., things that can't be easily reproduced) sheet music and shiny discs and whatnot. What computers+Internet has done is made these things non-scarce. It's a game changer.

Funny thing is that this, kind of, puts us back at square one. Sure, if you want to hear MC Frontalot (and you do) you can find his stuff all over the web. Progress! But if you want to see him perform, you have to go to a concert or hire him.

Funnily enough, that's still a popular option.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:40 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Micropayments — this time, for sure!

How about a working timewarp bubble that makes it always the 90s? I'm pretty sure that Lanier is holding out on us with that technology.
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


The fact that people are bothering to download it means that it still has value. Think of the value and the cost of air to see what I mean.
No, honestly, I mean value. These people argue that music should have no cost, yes, but they also give it little or no value. If they can't get a particular track there are a million or one effective substitutes for it. Under the old model, particular releases or albums were valued, now it's all one morass.

There's so much music sitting a click away that the idea of one particular set of eight songs having such a value to you that you'd put a cost of $20+ on getting a copy seems ludicrous, especially when your iPod already has 20,000 other tracks on it.

Do some things still have value? Sure, latest releases from your favourite artist (who sucks, btw) do, but that's just because they have scarcity until they hit the web. Then, pfu, who cares?

Funnily enough, that's still a popular option.
Not so much with MC Frontalot, who would rather be in the studio than having to slog out on tour, again. Or see DJ Shadow upthread, who'd like to know where all the post-record-company headliners are, exactly.
posted by bonaldi at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


>: "See, you've developed a bad habit."

Anything that doesn't go along with the media companies' new models to milk as much as they can out of viewers counts as a "bad habit".

In the case of ads on the Internet, they don't advertise things I would be interested in buying. Because the ads do nothing but distract me from what I'm reading or watching, I use AdBlock. If they advertised goods and services that I might want, it would be different.

I'm not completely loth to pay for media, but media is by and large grossly overpriced. When I pay two bucks for a New York Times, or fifteen bucks for a book, I'm paying for the physical artifact- it feels good in my hand, it smells good, and at least in the case of the book if I take good care of it it will last for decades. What I'm not paying for (the law be damned) is the data inside these artifacts.

So the problem with micropayments, for me, is that you're paying for the data itself- you get no physical artifact. In the case of music, paying 99c per song is just too much- I listen to a vast, vast amount of music and would have had to pay nearly $20k for my music collection if I were to buy it on iTunes. If there's going to be a system that really works for monetizing media on the Internet, it's going to have to be a per-site flat rate for "all you can eat" reading and downloading.
However, I do think monetizing the Internet through legislation would be a really bad precedent to set.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:50 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


"See, you've developed a bad habit. You expect to watch the games for free. That for you is normal. But if the leagues start charging you to watch games on TV, bit by bit and game by game, sooner or later that will become the new normal and eventually the culture will be changed to the point where people expect to have to pay rather than the other way around."

In this scenario, I don't think the bad habit was mine, or developed by me.
Professional sports should have thought about broadcasting their games for free and if that would, in the long term, be profitable for them. Their failure to see the big picture is not my problem.

See, it's one thing to have been charging someone for something from the beginning, and then decide to make it free. It's something else entirely to offer a product or service for free and then begin charging for it. There's completely different psychology involved in the process.
posted by kaiseki at 10:53 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, honestly, I mean value. These people argue that music should have no cost, yes, but they also give it little or no value. If they can't get a particular track there are a million or one effective substitutes for it. Under the old model, particular releases or albums were valued, now it's all one morass.

OK, if someone is willing to substitute a different track, then yes, we're talking about value. I just don't see that happening (aside from the general migrating to music you can get for less cost, because it's less of a hassle. And we're all sick of Coldplay.)

Do some things still have value? Sure, latest releases from your favourite artist (who sucks, btw) do, but that's just because they have scarcity until they hit the web. Then, pfu, who cares?

PFU? Anyhoo, that was my point. He's still making a living, regardless. (Also, not my fave. That slot is reserved for Optimus Rhyme.)

Not so much with MC Frontalot, who would rather be in the studio than having to slog out on tour, again

Hur?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:59 AM on January 14, 2010


(In case this hasn't been mentioned) check out a recent Harris poll on how much people say they'd be willing to pay for online news content.

While only 23% of those polled say (grain of salt) they'd be willing to pay for content, that does lend itself to the idea that some people are still willing to pay for journalism.
posted by Vhanudux at 10:59 AM on January 14, 2010


so where was everyone as millions of americans have lost their jobs in manufacturing and retail? - yeah, the little people should have to pay for content but god forbid they have a stable, good job with which to do so

why should we fight for the jobs of the "cultural creatives" when they're not fighting effectively for OURS? - when in fact many of them are profiting off our misery?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:00 AM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Because otherwise you'll starve, and won't create the culture, which would be a pity.

I just don't like this insistence that if major media outlets were to go out of business that nothing would fill the void. Necessity is the mother of invention, aint it? Maybe that's why hobbyist stuff isn't the best quality, is that it's still too easy to just rely on what's already out there.

Don't try to tell me that big media is too big to fail.
posted by symbollocks at 11:11 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


"See, you've developed a bad habit. You expect to watch the games for free. That for you is normal. But if the leagues start charging you to watch games on TV, bit by bit and game by game, sooner or later that will become the new normal and eventually the culture will be changed to the point where people expect to have to pay rather than the other way around."

Sports? Really? Sports is the last programming option that should muck with the system.

The Big Ten (A college conference in the united states made up of 11 teams, for those who don't know) deal to televise sports over a period of 10 years is approximately 2 Billion dollars. Basically, each school is getting $20 million a year for allowing their sports to be televised. And in reality, we're really only talking about American football games, with a distant second of men's basketball, with all other sports making up a small part of that revenue (it helps that the conference owns the network (or at least 50% of it)).

Last time I checked, superbowl commercials were pulling in over a million bucks for a 30 second spot, and I'd estimate that at least 100 spots are sold.

It sure seems to me that the current system works just fine for sports. Trying to put a wall around the programs is just greedy, and more than likely a recipe for disaster. For example, Yankee stadium has priced itself out of my range. I still enjoy taking my son to games, but now I take him to the minor league program the Trenton Thunder. And since I don't go to Yankee stadium anymore, I find my interest in the sport dwindling. For the first season in at least a decade, I don't think I watched more than an inning of a single game.

But hey, if the leagues want to try, who am I to stop them? Minor leagues, colleges, and even soccer will all benefit from their greed.
posted by Crash at 11:15 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Maybe that's why hobbyist stuff isn't the best quality, is that it's still too easy to just rely on what's already out there.

Looked at old broadcasts lately? [SPOILER] It wasn't terribly slick.[/SPOILER] And yet we got by.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:16 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Accurate portrayal or not, I thought this critique of Lanier's points on TechDirt was an entertaining read.
posted by mikeh at 11:25 AM on January 14, 2010


To be blunt, I feel this whole idea is based on the fallacious assumption that nobody would create content for free, given the choice.

The simple fact of the matter is that MANY people create content for free, by choice. Perhaps they are bored, or think their content sucks, or believe that no matter what, someone should be creating this content. Perhaps it brings them joy to think that some day, someone will enjoy content they created for free.

This is not something that was invented by the internet. People have been doing shit for free forever.

Please don't talk about "but what about the companies allowing you to put your free content out there! they need a cookie too" because I know I am not the only person who pays their own server costs in order to create shitty content nobody wants to see that I still want to create. The fact of the matter is that anyone--content creator or enabler--is free to come up with a business model that may or may not work. Why the hell would we get rid of this small remaining freedom? Because some journalist is upset that certain people aren't getting their opinions out there because there is no money in it?

Well maybe that person needs to reexamine their belief that their opinion matters.

Mandatory micropayments is the stupidest idea I have ever heard of, for the simple fact that if you want right now, to set up a micropayment system for yourself, your group of friends, your magazine, whatever--you're totally free to do so. People aren't in the "bad habit" of thinking things online should be free, and good products--such as iTunes, Basecamp, myFax, to name a few off the top of my head--don't "suffer" because a lot of content online is free (or subsidized by ads--which apparently to Big Media is "free" in spite of garnering them huge profits).
posted by shownomercy at 11:36 AM on January 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


To be blunt, I feel this whole idea is based on the fallacious assumption that nobody would create content for free, given the choice.

my entire non-work life revolves around this.

I do create content for my job. But it isn't cultural content and it has a very easily measured value.

What is really at the core of this is the need for adulation and fame. Writers and musicians who work for a living, by and large, make very little money. People don't understand that.

The only people I see really militantly arguing for "we make culture and we ought to get paid" are people who think they are going to be famous at their hobby or people already making money in the dying system.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:44 AM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Mandatory micropayments is the stupidest idea I have ever heard of, for the simple fact that if you want right now, to set up a micropayment system for yourself, your group of friends, your magazine, whatever--you're totally free to do so.

The word unconstitutional taking also comes to mind.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:44 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> The simple fact of the matter is that MANY people create content for free, by choice.

Yeah, and that gets overlooked a lot. Some of the complaints (and there have been some upstream) are that this dilutes the market. I say that IS the market.

It sucks when you're in the affected group (imagine hipsters suddenly taking to doing Ironworking for free.) But for society (which is the object of this enterprise, let's remember) it's a win.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:50 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and that gets overlooked a lot. Some of the complaints (and there have been some upstream) are that this dilutes the market. I say that IS the market.

A lot depends on which media you're talking about. With music there's nothing in principle that prevents people doing just a good job actually creating the stuff with their own cash (it's the publicity that's the problem there).

On the other hand, some things take large groups of people, expensive materials and long amounts of time to create, by necessity -- such as major motion pictures -- so it's more problematic to expect volunteers to create them. And then there's journalism, which is expensive and when it's not deeply boring it can be dangerous. There are fewer and fewer people doing it for pay, and not much evidence at all that people are going to produce good-quality stuff for free.

So for society, the collapse of the model that paid for the journalism is going to be a definite loss imo; the effects are already evident. In other cases, it's much more of a moot point. Lanier seems to be broad-brushing the whole spectrum into one, which is risible. (Even if he'd just been talking about news, though, the mandatory micropayments idea would still have been wrong-headed and counter-productive)
posted by bonaldi at 12:08 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


And then there's journalism, which is expensive and when it's not deeply boring it can be dangerous. There are fewer and fewer people doing it for pay, and not much evidence at all that people are going to produce good-quality stuff for free.

I take your point, and I do agree.

But then, after Judith Miller and Jayson Blair and Robert Novak and the entirety of Fox News and on and on...

It's hard to make a case that people are going to produce good quality journalism even when there is money in it. Because they haven't by and large. Jon Stewart provides a better news product - and he doesn't even do a news show!

Journalism needs to change, and while I am concerned that it won't all be positive, I am convinced that what we have now sucks and has sucked for a very long time.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:28 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great discussion -- I learned a lot from these comments.

Anyway, Jessamyn's quote from him doesn't seem to answer the question as to how the system could be implemented, and in fact seems to doge it entirely.

Yes, and it lets him avoid engaging in serious analysis of his proposal for universal micropayments. You don't have to be an embittered cynic to see the limits of his Rousseau-like fantasy of an online social contract that would draw on people's sense of moral obligation to reward and sustain resources that they value. His idea, at least as he's presenting it here, would very likely lead to a large-scale "tragedy of the commons."

His bizarre analogy about sleeping in other people's houses is revealing. Most people don't take other people's stuff because doing so will get them arrested. Lanier seems to be avoiding the fact that a system on the scale he's describing would have to be run and regulated by something other than goodwill.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:00 PM on January 14, 2010


Pretty much all of US for-profit journalism could fold, and we wouldn't be losing much. The American news industry bled itself to death with a million budget cuts, in the search for greater profits. That's all. Hard journalism has never been economically viable, and it never will be. Scandal and yellow journalism are the only things that could ever support themselves in a free market. What we have drifts ever further from real journalism and ever closer to pure puff, because the economics of the market compels it. The sooner the for-profit news corporations die, the sooner we can get an alternate non-profit model funded in the US and start doing actual journalism again.

If you want to make money online, you have to produce something people want enough to spend money for, and then make sure they have to pay to get it. This is not rocket science, nor is it any different than making money offline. All the rest is just noise. If you're charging for your product, and not making money, then your product is not good enough.

Newspapers know their product is not valuable enough to charge real money for, and the smarter ones might know it never will be. They just need to keep the front rolling long enough to cash out.
posted by rusty at 1:00 PM on January 14, 2010


The word unconstitutional taking also comes to mind.

Not if it's non-governmental. You can already get this for movies with Netflicks and music with Pandora or Last.fm: all-you-can-eat content for a monthly fee. It's competing with individual "bite-sized" metered payment model of Amazon (music, TV) and Apple (music, books), but it seems to work for some markets.

It will be interesting to see how TV does. I don't think Lost episodes sell very well, for example, in comparison with the audience level that sees it via cable subscriptions (all you can eat) or DVD (metered by units). Is an all-you-can-eat Hulu model going to be what breaks TV on the net?
posted by bonehead at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2010


I think part of the problem is that there are just floods and floods of content available now, that any given piece of content isn't worth much, especially when there is a huge competition for eyeballs (or ears) that is swamped with stuff given away for free.
posted by marble at 1:36 PM on January 14, 2010


I just don't like this insistence that if major media outlets were to go out of business that nothing would fill the void. Necessity is the mother of invention, aint it? Maybe that's why hobbyist stuff isn't the best quality, is that it's still too easy to just rely on what's already out there.

But here we get back to the same old point. Good journalism was only ever viable as a result of market inefficiency: having access to a printing press enabled you to charge advertisers to reach readers, and you got to piggyback on that to do something that was generally considered a beneficial contribution to the culture and the polity. (The fact that so much recent American journalism hasn't in fact been good journalism isn't the point here; the point is that the system at least permitted good journalism.) Now that inefficiency is gone, and traditional journalism is dying. We need to ask how best to guarantee that beneficial contribution in the future. Of course it might not be made by the same kinds of people, and it might be something that could survive unaided on the free market, and it might involve fully embracing the most radical possibilities of any given technologies. But I'm consistently surprised by the unspoken ideology among the "creative destruction" zealots that these things must, obviously, be the case. If you're going to approach this debate from a position of hardcore free-market liberatarianism, at least be conscious of it!
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:37 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, I'm pretty sure plenty of people are 'monetizing' the internet. Just not these shlubs.

--

One of the important reasons that newspapers can't make money online is that they all reprint similar stories. How many "newspaper" stories were there about balloon boy? How many of them actually had novel information? I would guess very few.

Papers had a good deal for a long time, and that time has passed. You don't need to read your local rag to get stories from around the world anymore.

It isn't that information is a commodity, but wire stories certainly are. And local stories aren't worth all that much.
posted by delmoi at 1:37 PM on January 14, 2010


Most people don't take other people's stuff because doing so will get them arrested.

Just a quibble. Basically the studies I have read show that the reason people follow a set of cultural ethics has more to do with a deeply subconscious desire to follow the golden rule than it does of a any fear of punishment. People don't want their shit stolen, so they don't steal other peoples shit. That and becuase their mommas told them not to steal.
posted by tkchrist at 1:39 PM on January 14, 2010


Mandatory micropayments is the stupidest idea I have ever heard of, for the simple fact that if you want right now, to set up a micropayment system for yourself, your group of friends, your magazine, whatever--you're totally free to do so.

The word unconstitutional taking also comes to mind.


In reference to who doing what?
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2010


The Card Cheat: "See, you've developed a bad habit. You expect to watch the games for free. That for you is normal. But if the leagues start charging you to watch games on TV, bit by bit and game by game, sooner or later that will become the new normal and eventually the culture will be changed to the point where people expect to have to pay rather than the other way around."

Crash: "Sports? Really? Sports is the last programming option that should muck with the system.
[edit]
Last time I checked, superbowl commercials were pulling in over a million bucks for a 30 second spot, and I'd estimate that at least 100 spots are sold.

It sure seems to me that the current system works just fine for sports. Trying to put a wall around the programs is just greedy, and more than likely a recipe for disaster."


Interesting; I assumed that American sports already worked on this model; that's the way football in Europe has operated for nearly two decades now, and The Card Cheat's reasoning is exactly how it was done.

Sky TV – prop.: Rupert Murdoch – made financial offers to football leagues they couldn't refuse. When they took the cash, live games went behind pay walls (with some proscribed exceptions in various European countries, such as cup finals), walls structured such that TV subscribers were forced to buy very expensive sports packages, or suddenly: fuck you if you want to watch the majority of top flight football at home. This made football clubs an absolute metric shitload of money, way above the gate receipts in 30,000-80,000 seater stadiums. It led to even more money sloshing about, which meant wildly over-inflated prices for buying players, not to mention top player wages in the realms of £150,000 (roughly $220,000) a week.

And many working class fans – already shut out of stadiums because tickets are so expensive for the top flight games – find themselves doubly fucked, because a Sky Sports package can easily run to £60 or more a month. Mind you, they usually just watch it down the pub – where the landlord will hope they'll binge-drink themselves silly, to cover the even more expensive corporate Sky package he has to fork out for 'cause he's a business.

So yeah, it might well be a disaster. But not for the vultures making the vastly-inflated profits.
posted by Len at 1:42 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just a quibble. Basically the studies I have read show that the reason people follow a set of cultural ethics has more to do with a deeply subconscious desire to follow the golden rule than it does of a any fear of punishment. People don't want their shit stolen, so they don't steal other peoples shit. That and becuase their mommas told them not to steal.

This is interesting. Would love to see any links you have (sincere, not sarcastic).

That said, while I find this plausible as an explanation of why people do or don't do certain things, I don't see how it's a sustainable framework for ensuring that people pay for something. For example, when Radiohead released "In Rainbows" on a pay-what-you-feel-like basis online, they got more money than they expected per download. But there was no contractual framework to ensure that people paid for the album, or how much they paid for it-- only the kind of implicit contract that is negotiated by individual users in terms of their own sense of moral obligation. Lanier seems to think would work on a universal scale; I don't.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:00 PM on January 14, 2010


Using the death of journalism as an argument for a mandatory micropayment system (or other subsidy scheme — and a state-sponsored and -enforced micropayments scheme would be one hell of a subsidy) is pretty dirty pool.

I'm open to the idea that journalism serves an extremely important function within the context of our government and society, and is required in order for democracy to work even as poorly as it currently does. And thus it would be worth finding some way to ensure it sticks around if the current advertising-based business model fails. I'm not entirely convinced of this, but I am at least open to the idea.

However, that doesn't mean that other forms of "content creation" (which I guess is better than "intellectual-propertysmithing" but not by much) deserve the same protection. The only reason jounalism might — might — be deserving of some sort of subsidization is because democracy can't function without a reasonably well-informed populace, and that can't be done for free. But society isn't going to collapse without a music industry. Sorry. Nor is it going to collapse if Hollywood can't fund James Cameron's latest ego project. Or if novels become the next thing to be traded on Bittorrent, right next to the MP3s and DVD rips.

It's not that I don't like musicians, people who work in the film industry, or writers, and I certainly enjoy music, movies, and novels, but there is no way I'm going to be in favor of hobbling the greatest technological achievement since the movable-type printing press in order to preserve their business models. It's just not that important. Nothing is, unless it involves nuclear war or Glenn Beck becoming president.

The only reason journalism gets even the hope of a free pass is because I'm not immune to claims that its death would be an existential threat to our entire political system and way of life; that a world without journalists would lead pretty quickly to some sort of dystopia (i.e. "Glenn Beck for President"). I'm not convinced of that, but it at least seems remotely plausible enough to deserve a fair hearing. But I can't with a straight face imagine the same claim being made by any other creative industry.

If we as a society want high-quality content that can only be obtained by paying someone to create it, we'll find a way to do that. If we don't; if not enough people want to pony up, then we won't. We'll get the content that we deserve and are willing to pay for, or we'll learn to be happy with music recorded in Garage Band and movies filmed on handicams. It's not the end of the world.

And frankly, if saving journalism means hobbling the Internet with some sort of government-mandated micropayment system and giving a free pass to the rest of the 20th century buggy-whip business models who will inevitably try to find a place at the public trough? Let it all burn; I'll take my chances calling Journalism's bluff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:02 PM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


> if you want right now, to set up a micropayment system for yourself, your group of friends, your magazine, whatever--you're totally free to do so.

One might be free to do so, but only in the sense that one is free to flap one's arms and fly to Mars: No one will else stop you... and nice trick... if you can manage it.

The issue is that the present system of high prices for things being pirated and made free on the web is not sustainable. It's not sustainable because the amount of energy required to create things at the level of quality expected for professional work, demands professional recompense. One might create things for free a couple of times, just for the lulz, the high-fives, and the groupies... but eventually, you have to start making enough to pay for the roof over your head.

If one rejects that idea-- if one argues that Well, a real artist would do it because he/she loves it, and would do it for free -- then you're essentially asking for a return to the days of Gentlemen and Gentle Lady Artists... in which doing art meant only that you happened to have received a very large inheritance at birth. Bluntly, in the present system, if you wish to be a full-time artist, you have to be a money-grubbing capitalist, or a mercenary in the pay and at the mercy of some large institution, or the lucky scion of indulgent parents. Yet maintaining the Everything is Free on the Web Even When You Don't Want It to Be ethos will only ensure that the first of these career options disappears-- and the people producing art will be those whose art is basically sponsored by others.

Micropayment systems haven't worked yet because

a) transactions are still too obtrusive
b) prices are still too high

and conversely

c) [and here's what few people will accept] too many things are free .

To make the distribution of info on the web economically sustainable, it's worth considering a system in which

1) there is a large lump sum payment, once per year, made to some Sinister Governing System... or Visa; ideally, page transactions would be private... (in practice, preserving privacy might well be the biggest problem facing a micropayment system)

2) SGS makes available the work of content creators; content creators can choose from a range of prices-- a tenth or a hundredth or a thousandth or a millionth of a penny per page (for stuff like NYT columns, aimed at casual readers), up to something like a dollar per page (for things like technical material, aimed at specialists). The point is that pricing is arbitrary, but clearly visible.

3) something like a Flash cookie (but obviously, *not* a Flash cookie; something more sophisticated and secure) tracks pages viewed, and deducts-- without any work on the viewer's part-- from the lump sum total

4) SGS pays the content creator, presumably in some lump sum

The present system is essentially a broken dam; the existing model of sustainable info transaction has been overturned by technology, and non-payment-- the denial of compensation to those who have created work-- is in runaway mode. The web and its mechanism of free, ever-expanding distribution has hit the existing info supply chain like European diseases infecting the Inca. There is no effective built-in resistance.

Bluntly, artists and creators are investors-- they invest energy and time on the possibility of return-- whether in high-fives, dollars, or groupies. Free distribution of info meant for sale turns the possibility of reward into the certainty of loss; and an investor burned is much less likely to invest as often, or as wholeheartedly, even if investing is the only thing he knows. And as a result, less high quality work is created, and less high quality work enters the system as a whole.

It's true that "less good work being created" hasn't happened yet; it takes a while-- it can take a generation, even-- for people to realize in their bones that the reward they expect isn't going to be there. Hey, it took a while for all the mathematicians to realize that they could just skip laboring in cramped old offices scratching equations on paper, and instead make bank on Wall Street. But realize they did... and now, instead of a surplus of hard-science people, we have a great many people really good at... currency manipulation. Because that's where the rewards went.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:02 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Len, we're moving in that direction. For example, the Big Ten Network makes their money be reaching a blanket agreement with each of the cable providers. If they want to carry the Big Ten Network, a cable provider has to agree to pay $1.10/subscriber per month for anything in the Big Ten area (basically, any subscriber in a state with one of the 11 schools). The cable providers also have to pay $0.10 /subscriber for any areas that carry that channel not in the states mentioned above. For the most part, the cable companies pass these costs on to their subscribers.

In some ways, this works much better than your system (at least from the league's POV). Instead of having 1 die-hard sports fan subscriber pay $60/month for the premium sports package, they have 60 subscribers pay $1/month as part of their regular cable fees. It's part of the reason people want the providers to offer channels ala cart. Food TV fans don't necessarily want to pay the $3/month ESPN charges, and sports fans don't necessarily want to pay for home decorating channels (I'm sure some like both, don't crucify me). Of course, given the smaller subscriber pool in the ala cart model, it makes sense that each channel will just charge more to make up the losses.

In the short term, I can see how the football clubs are rolling in the dough. But if the only way a high school kid can watch a game/match is to either go to a bar or hope their parents can afford the ever-increasing premiums, it seems the clubs run the risk of losing out on the next generation of fans.

The other wonderful thing we like to do in the states is subsidize stadiums. The new Giants stadium is being finished, and although we didn't pay for it directly, it's estimated that $400 million in infrastructure, tax breaks, and incentives were paid for by New Jersey tax payers. Why cities/states don't get together and build their own stadiums and create their own leagues baffles me. The top players will go were the money is, and the money goes were the fans are. Yet the fans seem to constantly be screwed by the current system.
posted by Crash at 2:08 PM on January 14, 2010


Would people have to register with the [US] government to read the New York Times, then? Would this invite regulation of the press?

I think it sounds like an extraordinarily bad idea.
I think the real problem is the obsession with copyright as the mechanism to promote the arts. Rather then trying to track everyone and monitor everyone's computer to make sure they're not "cheating" just tax everyone and then hand out the money to artists. A non-coercive, self-reporting system for people to indicate what they look at and listen to and what they want to support could be used to divide things up.

The copyright system made middlemen rich. The free market is a great way to distribute things (as long as middlemen get to take their cut) but now we have the technology to track popularity directly and make payments based on that.

As long as we're talking about getting the government involved, why not? Why should information be kept from those who can't afford it? No one is deprived of anything if a poor person reads a book.
That's too bad, because he sounds like the carbon copy of one. How is it forward thinking to try to revive the corpse of a system that flopped over a decade ago?
Because the dying corpse of the MSM will heap praise upon him as it goes down. It's forward thinking like a vulture trailing a starving child.

Okay that's a little extreme, but you get the point. The point of being a futurist isn't actually to predict the future, it's to get people to listen to you -- mainly by flattering their pre-existing biases. The down and out cynics like Bruce Sterling, Free Culture junkies like Cory Doctorow, and the rich and powerful like Tom Friedman (I'm extending 'futurist' a bit here). The newspaper kingpins like guys like this.
The simple fact of the matter is that MANY people create content for free, by choice. Perhaps they are bored, or think their content sucks, or believe that no matter what, someone should be creating this content. Perhaps it brings them joy to think that some day, someone will enjoy content they created for free.
True, but even people who would do it for free would create better stuff if they got paid. Believe it or not kings of power 4 billion % was created by someone working on a government grant (I've heard). So was the first Harry Potter book. If you're getting paid you can focus on your work without needing a dayjob.

I think people should get paid, but I don't think copyright is a practical solution any longer. We should pay people directly based on popularity.
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2010


darth_tedious, isn't the biggest part of the problem you're describing the surplus of free goods? It seems like this is a bigger issue than someone is copy-and-pasting the NY Times onto their blog for others to read, at least as far as journalism is concerned. If that's true, the best thing for professional journalists is to put their stories behind pay-to-view walls. One of three things would happen. Either the world would get along fine without them, people would pay them for their work, or the journalists that don't put their work behind walls will get increased traffic and generate enough fame/fortune to compensate them for their effort. Right now, journalism seems to be at a stalemate while they wait for the other guy to move/go bankrupt.
posted by Crash at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2010


Interesting; I assumed that American sports already worked on this model; that's the way football in Europe has operated for nearly two decades now, and The Card Cheat's reasoning is exactly how it was done.

It does work like this in the US, but the free-to-air networks (ABC/CBS/NBC/Fox) have the money to also buy the TV rights. Usually the deals get structured so the free-to-air networks and the three main sports networks (ESPN/Fox Sports/Versus) get parts of the package. With MLB teams, that means that there are no over-the-air broadcasts anymore (e.g. the Mariners only get on free TV if they're in the Fox Game Of The Week, where they used to show a number of games on the local independent channel).

But yes, most sports leagues other than NFL show a vast majority of their games on cable networks, meaning in order to follow your team you're paying $50-100/month for cable or satellite. So, in that sense, there's no difference between the UK and US.

What The Card Cheat is talking about, though, is pay-per-view. That means in order to watch a game you have to shell out cash in addition to your cable/satellite fees. There already are packages which allow you to see all the games on TV for a fee, e.g. MLB Extra Innings is something like $200 to be able to watch every baseball game on during the regular season, but under the PPV model there would be NO games you could watch without paying on top of cable/satellite fees. So instead of the 4 NFL games every Sunday on CBS/Fox/NBC, there would be ZERO on there and you'd have to pay $9.95 to watch just one of them.
posted by dw at 2:28 PM on January 14, 2010


Believe it or not kings of power 4 billion % was created by someone working on a government grant (I've heard). So was the first Harry Potter book.

I'm not sure about Kings of Power, but the much of the popularity of Harry Potter is due to the distributor. So you can track popularity directly, but it has to come from somewhere. Part of what distributors do to create popularity is promote: get music to radio stations and on playlists, get authors on John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, etc. So that's a complicating factor.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:39 PM on January 14, 2010


Crash: In the short term, I can see how the football clubs are rolling in the dough. But if the only way a high school kid can watch a game/match is to either go to a bar or hope their parents can afford the ever-increasing premiums, it seems the clubs run the risk of losing out on the next generation of fans.

Yeah, I get what you mean with this, but the effect – at least in the UK – has been to radically change the make-up of football crowds over the past 20 years, rather than cut the number of up and coming fans. There are other reasons for this as well*, but the demographics of the crowds have shifted upwards; wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happened in the US.

*Not least of which is the not-so-gradual severing of many clubs' local community links, though given that football in the US operates on a franchise system, this may have already happened in some (many?) cases?

On preview:

dw: but the free-to-air networks (ABC/CBS/NBC/Fox) have the money to also buy the TV rights.
Ah, that's a big, big difference; here, the leagues – the FA (England); the SFA (Scotland) – sell the rights to live games exclusively to Sky; BBC and other free-to-air networks only get the rights to weekly edited highlights. (There are lots of political reasons for this, perhaps the biggest of which is that the papers owned by Murdoch would hammer the BBC if they offered enough money to compete with the also-Murdoch-owned Sky for rights.)

What The Card Cheat is talking about, though, is pay-per-view. That means in order to watch a game you have to shell out cash in addition to your cable/satellite fees.
Yeah, I ought to have been clearer on this; you can get a basic satellite/cable deal, with extra channels above and beyond the free stuff, but if you want sports on top of that, you have to pay much more, along the lines of the MLB stuff you mentioned. I suppose that the PPV thing seeming like such a shock tactic comes from the fact that – though you can currently, in the US, shell out for cable/satellite – the terrestrial networks are not entirely shut out of the weekly live games, as the terrestrial UK networks are? That would be a major kicker indeed. (No pun intended, and forgive me if I'm getting this a bit wrong.)
posted by Len at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2010


Sorry, I should have said: rights to the Scottish premier league are a joint Sky/ESPN venture.
posted by Len at 3:04 PM on January 14, 2010


You know what I think is crazy? That you pay for cable TV service, and then you're forced to watch blaring ads every five minutes.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:09 PM on January 14, 2010


> Rather then trying to track everyone and monitor everyone's computer to make sure they're not "cheating" just tax everyone and then hand out the money to ...

[Insert your profession here.]
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:26 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Len: “Sky TV – prop.: Rupert Murdoch – made financial offers to football leagues they couldn't refuse. When they took the cash, live games went behind pay walls (with some proscribed exceptions in various European countries, such as cup finals), walls structured such that TV subscribers were forced to buy very expensive sports packages, or suddenly: fuck you if you want to watch the majority of top flight football at home... And many working class fans – already shut out of stadiums because tickets are so expensive for the top flight games – find themselves doubly fucked, because a Sky Sports package can easily run to £60 or more a month. Mind you, they usually just watch it down the pub – where the landlord will hope they'll binge-drink themselves silly, to cover the even more expensive corporate Sky package he has to fork out for 'cause he's a business... So yeah, it might well be a disaster. But not for the vultures making the vastly-inflated profits.”

I want to add a coda – and you've started down the road to saying this, but I want to spell it out so it's clear –

I could go over the whole history of it, but I'll try to be brief; Murdoch made boatloads of money in the 1980s from the fact that he had a very good friend, Mag Thatcher, who was a politician, and who was willing to change the rules for him so long as he kept printing nice things about her in his newspapers. She essentially re-monopolized the UK's media system around him, so that he could be the sole alternative network to BBC and ITV, then the only two networks broadcasting. And with the help of the sheer ineptitude of the worst chairman the Football Association has ever seen, Thatcher (knowing how good politicians decrying hooliganism look) and Murdoch (knowing how well politicians decrying hooliganism can sell papers) managed to get the English clubs barred from European play – thus handily leaving those clubs in a situation where the only way to survive was to sign a deal with Murdoch.

This has been disastrous to English football. It's led to the creation of one of the most ridiculous sports leagues in the world – the Premier League, a league where only the best teams can play, and only the teams that play get any money. Your club is poor, and can't afford the top players? Tough shit - if you're not at the top, you don't see any cash, no matter how many people watch your games. You're the number 21 team in a country that has hundreds upon hundreds of football clubs? Too bad; there are only 20 clubs in the Premier League, so you lose. No American sports association is this unfair.

The point, really, is this: monetized micropayment schemes have been tried, and they almost never work. They function almost solely as a way for those crafty and greedy enough to tap the income stream at the source and pull ten cents out of every one of the billions of dollars that stream through the hole. And, in turn, those crafty and greedy folks who find themselves in control of that media are the ones who decide what direction it takes and where it leads, what gets printed and what doesn't. I know it's nice to believe in the democracy of the marketplace, in the notion that now, as never before, people have their own choice, and since people are on the whole good, they'll choose to monetize all kinds of fantastic music, books, movies, and television if they're given the chance and have it put in front of them. But the fact is that that's an all-too-rosy idea of the human character, I think; even if the power's taken out of the hands of people like Rupert Murdoch, the situation still won't be one in which micropayments definitively benefit the artists who make the greatest contribution to society in a wholly just way.

If I were going to predict the most likely way that this could happen, of course it would be done by Google, who's already done this to a large extent than anyone before. But I have great reservations about how I feel about Google.

Really, I see the problem: the power of moneymaking is in the hands of only the most powerful artists and writers now, and micropayment seems to be the biggest mechanism that's changing that fact. But to believe that putting a general and standardized system of micropayment in place at the disposal of people in general would in fact reward artists as they should be rewarded for their art is to assume that people in general know how much artists should be rewarded for their art. They don't. They never have, and they never will. Any band during the 1980s went through certain difficulties just because of this fact; in different ways, this was true in the 1970s, and the 1960s, and the 1950s as well. It was true of artists in the nineteenth century; it was true of artists in the fifteenth century, too. Then, as now, the only way artists and creators who have something to give to society can actually manage to devote their lives to doing so is if a number of very rich people who are either smart enough or gullible enough to give them lots of money to do so actually end up giving them that money.

The only world in which artists could be adequately rewarded would be a world in which the people with the money were wise. Since there's certainly never been a time in human history when everybody was wise, I tend to believe that at most only a few people at any given time could be wise. As such, it seems to me that the only world in which artists could be adequately rewarded would be a world where a few very wise people had power over most of the money.
posted by koeselitz at 3:40 PM on January 14, 2010


> darth_tedious, isn't the biggest part of the problem you're describing the surplus of free goods?

I don't think so-- actually, free goods aren't that big a deal, as long as they are intended to be free. There should be a spectrum of tapering volume and increasing price: lots of free or cheap stuff at one end, and a small amount of expensive stuff at the other end.

Some stuff will naturally be deemed worthless, on a per-view basis, and to get views, it will go for free or cheap; some stuff has perceived value, and to the degree technically enforceable, will be able to exact a price... because people simply and honestly want it, and are willing to pay for it... if they cannot get it for free.

Really, so long as the system is such that its prices are enforced in a consistent way, a hierarchy of value and price will emerge.

The problem now is that no hierarchy is sustainable, because pricing is radically inconsistent: If your neighbor clicks the right link on Google, he'll get at zero cost what you just shelled out $97 for.

Which will make you twice about buying again.

Which will make the creator think twice about putting in the effort to put something on the market... even if it's something you might want to have.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:56 PM on January 14, 2010


> You're the number 21 team in a country that has hundreds upon hundreds of football clubs? Too bad; there are only 20 clubs in the Premier League, so you lose.

Don't you move up, then? Or do I not understand how that works?

> There should be a spectrum of tapering volume and increasing price: lots of free or cheap stuff at one end, and a small amount of expensive stuff at the other end.

There is. It's just that digital copies are not going to be on the expensive end of that spectrum. Adjust your business models accordingly.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:04 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fact that so much recent American journalism hasn't in fact been good journalism isn't the point here; the point is that the system at least permitted good journalism

Actually you've got it completely backwards: its not people being unwilling to pay for content that has made journalism bad, it's the fact that journalistic standards have been destroyed by money-grubbing corporations that has lead to people not being willing to pay for journalism. In other words, it's not the fault of the internet-journalism has self destructed.

Naturally the response of the corporate stooges has been not to actually improve their product, but to try to force people to pay for their crap. They want to force me to use my money to support people like Limbaugh, George Will, or whatever hack is vomiting predigested newspap in my face.

And as for what this is all really about, it's right there in all the complaints that "there's too much content" or "the mass of content devalues content producers". Really this proposal is an attack on the unregulated production of non-corporate owned media. The whole point of this is to kill off the vast mass of free content; the hope is that when fanfic.net, or Livejournal, or Flicker or Deviantart or all the other free sites are forced to charge money for their content, they will all disappear, and the only survivors will be the slick, homogeneous and controlled corporate sites. It's a plan to kill of the 98% of the net that isn't under corporate ownership.
posted by happyroach at 4:19 PM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


The issue is that the present system of high prices for things being pirated and made free on the web is not sustainable. It's not sustainable because the amount of energy required to create things at the level of quality expected for professional work, demands professional recompense. One might create things for free a couple of times, just for the lulz, the high-fives, and the groupies... but eventually, you have to start making enough to pay for the roof over your head.

This isn't professional recompense?
posted by ODiV at 4:19 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> The only world in which artists could be adequately rewarded would be a world in which the people with the money were wise.

Because of the Web, we don't have to live in a world in which artists must live on stipends from the Medici.

There are vast numbers of would-be customers out there; the problem is that pricing has not adjusted to the post-scarcity of the Web, and it's too high. Unfortunately, because piracy isn't being held to manageable levels-- that is, because on a technical level, it's so easy to pirate and benefit from piracy, with piracy itself being viral, such that every act of piracy can lead to additional acts of piracy-- being paid is a crapshoot, and therefore prices remain disproportionately high.

Would I rather charge ten bucks for a book, and get, in theory, ten customers-- rather than charge $97 for 1 book and get one customer? Sure. But if, with every distribution, the same number of free pirated copies will be given away, each of which precludes a sale to the recipient... well, I'll take the $97 when I can get it.

The present system's incentives are corrupting:

If you're honest, and you pay an honest price... you're made into a sucker. And if you're shrewd and pragmatic... well, you're made into a cheat.

A consistent system of low but enforced prices and effortless sale would do much to remedy this problem.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:25 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


You don't need to read your local rag to get stories from around the world anymore. ... It isn't that information is a commodity, but wire stories certainly are. And local stories aren't worth all that much.

You may not need to read your local rag, but those national and international news stories almost unquestionably are sourced from from newspaper reporters (and it's newspapers that pay for the wires, too). Without the aggregate of all the world's local rags, there is no news reporting.

It's also pretty questionable saying that local stories aren't worth that much. In cash terms, probably not. In value terms? Well, if it's your friend crashing and dying because the local government official embezzled away the roads maintenance budget, suddenly local scrutiny is pretty valuable indeed.

Pogo_Fuzzybut: It's hard to make a case that people are going to produce good quality journalism even when there is money in it. Because they haven't by and large. Jon Stewart provides a better news product - and he doesn't even do a news show!

Rusty: What we have drifts ever further from real journalism and ever closer to pure puff, because the economics of the market compels it.

The problems of American journalism aren't only that they've been asset-stripped to an inch of their lives, it's also that there's no competition. The industry was terribly regulated, to such an extent that Gannett could do a Starbucks on local papers, and then squeeze the remaining papers until they died in all but name.

In markets where there's real competition between papers, like the UK, you still get proper journalism. It's arguably too rapacious here, in fact. But, regardless of funding model, you need competition between outlets, or there's just no incentive to do the hard/boring work.

The sooner the for-profit news corporations die, the sooner we can get an alternate non-profit model funded in the US and start doing actual journalism again.

They don't even need to die, they just need broken up. But as for a non-profit model, that's a tricky situation, especially in the US. Would the republicans ever stand for something as expensive as the BBC? The right-wing here hates it, and despite strenuous efforts to be balanced, such bodies are always going to be a bit left-leaning. But if you don't fund this properly, it doesn't have any teeth, and if it doesn't have any teeth it can't be expected to provide the sort of scrutiny that US political life so desperately needs.

And if it's a non-state funding model you're talking about, well, what's the hold up? There's no reason such a thing couldn't be started today, right now. It's just that a) nobody's come up with a workable one, anywhere, and b) very few of the people who have sacks of money want to fund institutions whose job, in part, is to go "so, nice sack of money ya got there. How'd ya come by that, then?"
posted by bonaldi at 4:38 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


No American sports association is this unfair.

Except there is no 21st team in American sports (or, more accurately, no 31st team in baseball, hockey, and basketball, and no 33rd team in football). MLB has an antitrust exemption and behaves as a monopoly over baseball. The other three leagues don't have an antitrust exemption, but they are essentially de facto monopolies because no other league has ever been able to compete with them long enough to be significant (the AFL and ABA being the exceptions, but they all eventually merged into the NFL and NBA respectively).

At least in the Premiership they still have three teams relegated to the Championship every year. Imagine if teams transferred like Wimbledon FC, or the Premiership locked its membership permanently (and booted out teams like Burnley to bring big metropolitan clubs like Newcastle United back).

If I had the money, I could buy Reading FC from Madjeski, load up on high caliber players, and race back into the Premiership in just a couple of years. It's what al Fayed did with Fulham. I could not do that with any sports league in this country without either buying and transferring a franchise or convincing them to expand the league (something that only happens once a generation). The lone exception would be the MLS, where I might be able to shift a USL team up to the top division, but even then, it'll still be an "expansion" franchise.

So it really depends on what your vision of "fair" is. Is it unfair that Rushden & Diamonds will never be able to compete on a level financial playing field with even a Championship team like Wolverhampton? Yes. But in any US league, either team would ever be able to compete in the top flight because there's no such thing as promotion.
posted by dw at 4:43 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> This [Avatar] isn't professional recompense?

It's public knowledge that Avatar had something like a $150 million advertising budget.

Do you really only want software and other digital goods to be profitable if they have a triple-digit ad campaign poking you in the ribs?

Now the specific case of Avatar is all the more unusual, because it requires a 3D theatre to be fully enjoyed; that is, it's not something you can watch on your home computer. In other words, a technological leap, one that piracy hasn't caught up with yet, is helping to sustain the movie's value.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:54 PM on January 14, 2010


> But in any US league, [n]either team would ever be able to compete in the top flight because there's no such thing as promotion.

True. OTOH: Green Bay.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:57 PM on January 14, 2010


koeselitz: yeah, the Thatcher/Murdoch/hooliganism nexus is a massive part, or maybe the main cause, of the current nightmare situation.

As for monetizing micropayment schemes, I think that you're probably pretty much spot on. Other than for small systems, they're probably going to create more hassle than they're literally worth. What the solution is, though, I don't know. Maybe the best – or rather least worst – system would be something akin to the set up in the UK for the PRS/MCPS (the bodies which distribute Performing and Mechanical royalties for musicians, though I think they've merged recently). Shops, bars, etc are required to get a PRS licence in order to play music; it's not that expensive, but it's a decent sum; meanwhile, radio has to pay royalties, as do TV and films which want to use copyrighted music.

A though experiment, similar to a couple mentioned already in this thread: add a small but non-trivial sum to the price of every ISP's monthly connection, and use this to dole out royalty payments to content providers. Structure it so that their royalties are based on hits to their site or some other metric (the analogue being, the more your song gets played on the radio, the more you are paid). You'd need a couple of non-biased administrative bodies to do this, but I think it is possible – after all, radio is based on this sort of micropayment admin system, and though it's far from perfect, it at least provides a model. I'm sure there are plenty of factors that I'm failing to take into account, but hey. It's a possible start ...

ChurchHatesTucker: Don't you move up, then? Or do I not understand how that works?

Oh, you do move up, yes, but there's nothing like the draft system in the NFL, where new/lower placed teams get first picks of the new up and coming players. So you go from 21st to 20th – or maybe from 22nd to 19th; there's more than one team gets promoted/relegated each year. But all of a sudden you're in a league with 18 or 19 teams who have orders of magnitude more money than you (because they've been getting the top flight TV rights money for years), and are able to spend it on whomever they want; if you, as a newly-promoted team, want to buy a player for £10m, there's nothing to stop last year's League champions offering double. And consider that if you're a newly promoted team, your gate receipts are likely to be less because your stadium isn't as big, not to mention that you will get a lesser cut of the TV rights money because, again, if you're Hull City, you're not as popular as Manchester United or Chelsea, ergo less TV cash for you. So the dice are loaded from the start, by design. Which is one of the reasons it's not as easy to rise up through the leagues anymore. (Conversely, however, it is far easier to slide down them; the minute you drop a league division, your income shrinks, so your best players move on to clubs from the division they just left, which makes it that much harder to re-establish your former status, cf. Leeds United ...)

On preview: what dw said as well. I seem to remember a brilliant comment somewhere on MeFi a couple of years back about the weird/counterintuitive distinction between how American sports associations like the NFL and MLB were essentially closed union shops, in comparison to the rapacious capitalism of European football; anyone got a link?
posted by Len at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2010


> triple-digit

Er. Scored in millions, of course.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2010


Micropayments seem to only be used for the following:

1. Stuff that isn't worth anything.
2. Stuff that used to be free, but isn't anymore. See every webcomic that operates on micropayments.
3. Stuff that should be free and isn't because. See DLC.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:05 PM on January 14, 2010


darth_tedious: Avatar is also probably the most expensive tpiece of entertainment out there right now as well as the most pirated, which is why I brought it up. We could find less expensive stuff that's also making money, I'm sure.
posted by ODiV at 8:12 PM on January 14, 2010


they've had 10 years to get their act together and still aren't claiming any scalps.

Talkingpointsmemo killed Bush's social security reform and broke the AG firing scandal. Drudge broke the Lewinski story. Profitable new enterprises like Politico and the blogs published by Discover and AOL covering autos, environment and other topics have been making money. Gawker, TMZ, etc are making plenty of money. Maybe we just need to let the market sort things out here rather than trying to protect the Schleshinger and Graham family fortunes.
posted by humanfont at 10:39 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have no problem paying for content. I would LOVE to pay the NYT a couple of bucks to get the paper on my iPod. I feel bed getting for free- Hell, I canceled my subscription because I was always reading it on my iPod.

The problem is that everytime this comes up, we get some ZANY scheme that's either too restrictive or too expensive.

I think the model should be a little closer to STEAM, the digital distro. platform for videogams. Over Christmas they sold 40, 50, 60$ games for 15-20 bucks. SOmetimes lower! There's little overhead. Offer us a deal. Whenever some kind of payment scheme comes up, it's never a deal and always a nightmare.

WHen will content providers get it through their skull that I'm not paying for content, I'm paying for convenience. The content is 2 mouse clicks away for free, but it involves shady networks and virus scans and rar files and god knows what else. I'd rather cough up 10 or 15 bucks and feel good about myself. But it never works like that.
posted by GilloD at 11:20 PM on January 14, 2010


Corporate journalism deserves to die.

Case in points, forever and amen:

1. Industry-wide uncritical cheerleading for the Iraq and Afganistan wars.
2. Adulatory coverage of high finance and investment banking since the Reagan era.

They threw us overboard thirty fucking years ago. Most english-language newsmen are worthy of the gibbet and guillotine, not the dole queue.
posted by clarknova at 5:46 AM on January 15, 2010


happyroach: Actually you've got it completely backwards: its not people being unwilling to pay for content that has made journalism bad, it's the fact that journalistic standards have been destroyed by money-grubbing corporations that has lead to people not being willing to pay for journalism. In other words, it's not the fault of the internet-journalism has self destructed.

No, you're confusing two different arguments here. People have never in the history of journalism been willing to pay what it costs to provide that journalism; journalism has managed anyway solely because of market inefficiencies. It is also the case that the last few decades of newspaper journalism in America have been characterized by greed and profit-harvesting management, but it's an incredibly narrow view (alas quite common in this debate) to extrapolate everything from that. This debate is not fundamentally about Judith Miller and Jayson Blair or the rapaciousness of the Tribune Company and all the other recent stuff that motivates a lot of the cynical glee. We need a far longer-term perspective than that to really understand it and figure out what to do next.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:58 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll get right on this "citizen journalism" thing, just after the citizen lawyer draws up my will and the citizen doctor takes out my spleen.

That would be if I thought journalists had real professional skills and specific, important knowledge that makes a difference in my life. Which they generally aren't required to have.
posted by anniecat at 8:38 AM on January 15, 2010


> That would be if I thought journalists had real professional skills and specific, important knowledge that makes a difference in my life. Which they generally aren't required to have.

The irony is, back when they were 'reporters' and worked a beat, they used to have very specific insider knowledge, even if it was just about the workings of the police desk. Now, for a variety of reasons, they're pretty much all clueless about what they're reporting about, so they just type up the press releases.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2010


Why is it that journalists who have worked really hard to do their best wind up continually being beat over the head with Iraq, Jayson Blair, Judith Miller-- but no one mentions Woodward and Bernstein, Lou Kilzer, Jamie Talan, Radley Balko and many, many others whose work led to the exposure of serious corruption, prosecutorial incompetence, child abuse and obviously, Watergate?

It's like saying medicine is worthless because there have been many, many cases of malpractice and data fakery. It's a human institution: people fuck up. As people have also noted above, corporate interests and cost-cutting have also damaged the profession.

The reason journalism is valuable when it is valuable is because it is a check on power. And if you don't pay to support independent institutions that check the power of other institutions, things get worse. Because a few watchdogs failed to bark, do we give up on watchdogs? This is ridiculous: the idea that because some part of the American press at a particular time failed on Iraq we should never pay for news is juvenile and ridiculous.

Now, more than ever journalists are just "typing up the press release" because they are being paid so little for so much work that they don't have time to do the legwork and investigation and cross-checking that they would be able to do if they were being paid decently.

It's a catch-22 and it's driving the whole thing down the drain.

Meanwhile, anyone who tries to stop it is suddenly viewed as "old" or "out of it" even when they have the credentials of someone like Jaron Lanier, who was on the net and working on virtual reality before some of the people now snarking were out of diapers.

Grrr!
posted by Maias at 6:21 PM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


...but no one mentions Woodward and Bernstein...

Are you kidding me? Every hack, sorry journalist, writing about his bird feeder mentions W&B.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:37 PM on January 15, 2010


I should add that I sorta agree with your larger point. It's just that W&B have been a fig leaf for a whole lot of 'journalists.'
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:40 PM on January 15, 2010


WIthout journalists whathave you got? Press releases and "citizen journalism", which is all just advocacy of one kind or another.
posted by Artw at 6:43 PM on January 15, 2010


Meanwhile, anyone who tries to stop it is suddenly viewed as "old" or "out of it" even when they have the credentials of someone like Jaron Lanier, who was on the net and working on virtual reality before some of the people now snarking were out of diapers.

Ah, where would we be without Virtual Reality? Laniers not really bringing a solution here.
posted by Artw at 6:44 PM on January 15, 2010


anniecat: That would be if I thought journalists had real professional skills and specific, important knowledge that makes a difference in my life. Which they generally aren't required to have.

ChurchHatesTucker: The irony is, back when they were 'reporters' and worked a beat, they used to have very specific insider knowledge, even if it was just about the workings of the police desk. Now, for a variety of reasons, they're pretty much all clueless about what they're reporting about, so they just type up the press releases.

Without meaning to sound like an arsehole – and with the caveat that though I've spent the last decade and a bit as a journalist, I've been a music and arts writer, rather than a proper newsgathering journalist – I'd really like to take issue with both of you on this point.

Yes, there are less journalists and reporters than there used to be covering each beat, but for the most part, the ones who are still there are still as dedicated to covering their beat as they ever were, and just because they've less opportunity to exhibit their knowledge in print, doesn't mean that they've stopped acquiring it. Granted, they have more pressure from above to do other things, whether that is apply themselves to areas they're not familiar with, or to write fluff pieces, but the vast majority of them are still hungry for real, proper stories that they can investigate and break. Investigating and breaking stories being why they got into the industry in the first place.

And when it comes down to it, journalists – news reporters especially, much more so than someone like me who spent his career reviewing records – do have professional skills and specific important knowledge that makes a difference, so long as they're allowed to apply those skills and knowledge as part of their job, which – unfortunately – they're often not, these days.

By which I mean to say, I think it's extremely important not to throw the baby of journalistic/investigative expertise out with the bathwater of terrible corporate-sponsored/supported media. (Apologies for the terrible metaphor, but it's late and I'm tired ...)

The answer isn't to say: "Fuck corporate media and all the investigative reporting that they've funded for the last 100 years!" The answer is to say: "Fuck corporate media's entrenched values, and by the way how do we figure out how to support the reporters who have the skills to make a difference?" Or, even better, "how do we set up a system to train and subsequently fund reporters so they don't have to rely on the corporate system they've been used to dealing with for the past century?"

These are not easy questions. But dismissive handwaving about journalists these days all being clueless or lacking skills does not make the problems go away. Indeed, such opinions make solving those problems more vital than ever. Because if you don't have people who have the knowledge and skill to report properly – whether they call themselves reporters or not – what are you left with?

On preview: What Maias said, and with a fucking vengeance.
posted by Len at 6:50 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


This would be a disaster for any country whose exchange rate isn't as strong compared to the US (a.k.a. most developing countries). As it is, it took forever for PayPal to accept Malaysian accounts.
posted by divabat at 12:38 PM on January 16, 2010


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