Print: Dying. And The Net: No Future?

Mariotti Abruptly Quits Sun-Times
Star Sports Columnist Says He Wanted Out Before Newspapers Die Out

CHICAGO (CBS) ― In a bombshell announcement in the world of sports journalism, star columnist Jay Mariotti has abruptly resigned from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mariotti told the Chicago Tribune he decided to quit after covering the Olympics in Beijing because newspapers are in serious trouble, and he did not want to go down with the ship.

“I’m a competitor and I get the sense this marketplace doesn’t compete,” he said in the Tribune story. “Everyone is hanging on for dear life at both papers.

“To see what has happened in this business. … I don’t want to go down with it.”

Ordinarily, I would have been pleased to see someone in that field acknowledge the truth.

However, given Apple’s banning of a comic book yesterday, I have to ask: Where does he expect the future to be?

If ISPs such as Time-Warner and Comcast have their way, everyone will be subjected to bandwidth caps: 50Gb or less per month. How willing are people going to be to “surf” the Net to look for material they don’t already know? How many links will go unclicked because people won’t know if they’ll open up a slim all-text page or a ginormous multi-megabyte page filled with Flash banners and autoplay video ads?

If companies such as Apple have their way, they will stand between everyone and those who provide what is generally given the lawyerly term “content.” Who are the gatekeepers to the iPhone and the Android OS phone and whatever other devices come tethered to a ready-made “app store?” Will those gatekeepers have political and corporate prejudices that will suppress the distribution of eBooks and articles and videos they deem unworthy? Will they set themselves up as Nannies or Critics, thinking their vision represents what’s “good” for other people?

Too many of the Comments I’ve seen over Apple’s banning of Murderdrome clearly indicate a lack of thought. The issue is dismissed as if it was a property rights case with, “Well, it’s Apple’s store and they can do what they want.”

The issue is the strangulation of distribution and the shredding of free expression.

Unlike the music at the iTunes Store, there is no other way to transmit applications to an iPhone except through Apple as Judge and Jury. (To those who cite jailbreaking, good luck with risking your device. The general public is not so brave.) We’ve already seen what Apple has done with that power when the matter is a comic book. What will it do with regular all-text eBooks? What will it do with compilations of articles from political journals it disagrees with? With albums of photographs it doesn’t like? Go into any bookstore and there will be something someone will find objectionable. That’s the price of free expression.

I’ve stated long ago that Apple should be thinking long-term and planning for the day when the iTunes Store is a widespread platform that any vendor can tap into. Apple can sell the system software, the necessary support, maybe even the server hardware. But Apple can otherwise stay out of the way of judging material that is offered for sale. I think Apple has to learn the lesson that Microsoft is bitterly learning right now: You can’t have all the money.

That goes for every major company in the tech and publishing fields.

Which still leaves us with the question: Where does he expect the future to be?

David Rothman over at Teleread has been arguing for years for a standard eBook file format that is device independent.

Looking beyond Apple, such situations are a perfect reason why the e-book world shouldn’t build itself around one particular company—not Amazon, not Google, not anyone. And it’s also a reason for e-book standards. Please. The closer you link content to particular companies, the more potential choke holds for governments and pressure groups to use.

That argument takes on a new gravity today. The entire book publishing world is reading about Apple’s actions.

Rothman’s plea is especially important as the eBook world waits to see what Amazon’s new models of Kindle will be like. Remember: Those eBooks purchased from the Kindle Store can be used only on a Kindle. (The same is true for the Sony Reader — although its eBooks can also be read on the desktop — but I have to admit that with new Kindles coming, a tipping point is approaching that could leave Sony a tech casualty. So the Kindle could wind up equaling the term “eBook.”) And Amazon, like any company sitting on a corner of a market, can change the rules at any time. The future could see the end of easy self-publishing for the Kindle, locking out writers not tied to corporate publishing contracts, further eroding free expression.

No publisher, no writer, no filmmaker should be denied access to a marketplace that has traditionally been free and open. The rules of the game should not change because electrons are being distributed instead of atoms. Free expression should not be limited to a few tech company gatekeepers who have managed to — and here’s a key word — temporarily corner a market.

We have the Internet as the standard of a free marketplace, perhaps the purest exemplification of free expression in all of human history. Everything can get on and people are free to avoid what they don’t want to see (which oftentimes includes this blog!).

Why should we have to settle for anything less because telephones have become portable computers and books are becoming electronic?

The battle for the future is being fought. And like the first shot fired at Lexington and Concord, it just might have actually begun for real yesterday: with a comic book!

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4 Comments on “Print: Dying. And The Net: No Future?”

  1. mj Says:

    The market will win out. Ultra-restrictive bandwidth caps will be beaten by individuals. It would be the creation of Internet v2.0 (not the silly Internet2)

  2. mikecane Says:

    You either have more confidence than me or naivete. ATMs were supposed to cut bank costs and have no fees attached since they were saving on those nasty bags of flesh called living human tellers. Hasn’t worked out that way. Plus, this is America. Land of Dollar Uber Alles. Christ, reality is so fucking depressing these days …


  3. You’re right: The iTunes Store is just busting to evolve into something even bigger. But I don’t know that Apple, or anyone else, can figure out exactly what that is. They need to keep one eye on Amazon, and the other on Obey.

  4. mikecane Says:

    Was that last link like an Instapundit sort of thing? I want my cut!


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