25 May 2010

Still All-Meat Link Sausages

Still heavy on the real meat in this link sausages this morning...

  • Sigh. Once again, Cory Doctorow makes the mistake of assuming that what works for him necessarily works for everyone. Mr Doctorow is famous for publishing free copies of his books online as part of his publicity/promotional strategy. And that is why it can (not does, but can) work for him: It's part of a specific strategy... in a specific context. It is not, however, a universal strategy, nor does it apply to every context. For example, there's no need whatsoever for a textbook publisher to publish a free copy online as an inducement to students! (Whether textbook publishers should be doing something different with their entire model is another question indeed; but that's part of my point.)

    Another aspect of this point — one that Mr Doctorow has, seemingly, refused to acknowledge — is that the subject matter and tone of the books he releases for free on the 'net are closely related indeed to his day job. That is, he is not relying upon money earned from sales of those books for his living, and further can count on them to enhance his money-making platform. Consider, on the other hand, Scott Turow: I seriously, seriously doubt that he has ever gotten a client for his white-collar-crime defense practice (and he's a lucky man, being a partner at a BigLaw firm on a part-time basis for years) based upon his novels of Kindle County. Consider, too, Ursula K. Le Guin: Her income is almost entirely from the sales of her copyrighted works. The point is that the author's own context matters, too; and that Tim O'Reilly is full of himself when he proclaims that "the big problem [for authors/artists] isn't piracy, it's obscurity," since he has no apparent perception of the author/artist whose economic circumstances are marginal and/or slow and over time. The types of books released by O'Reilly's own firm epitomize that error: They are factual compilations with short shelf lives (useful as they often are, although I'll be happy to never see another copy/version of Designing With JavaScript), and thus least likely to be e-pirate-bait in the first place... particularly since, as they tend to involve lots and lots of source code, typographical errors typically introduced by e-pirates cannot be ignored/glided past by the reader!

    In short: The idea is not the expression; the expression is not the idea; and conflating the two leads to insupportable conclusions outside of the specific context.

  • ClimateGate is an example of information warfare in action. In strategic terms, ClimateGate was an offensive use of the fog of war by combatants (the denialists, in case my sympathies are not clear) who did not have the capability (the facts, scientific doctrine, etc.) to wage a straight-up, "conventional" political fight. Authors of political thrillers — and I include people who aspire to write the next 24 in there — should keep that in mind: An out-of-power and/or "wrong" group that presents a credible threat probably isn't going to be stupid enough to engage in a frontal assault against prepared defenses, even in information-intense warfare. At least ClimateGate was over e-mails, and not waged in the pages of color-illustrated children's books, which would have been an actual climate problem. Or, as at Harvard's library system, a climate-controlled problem (that sort of links back to the preceding item).
  • It's been a century since your actual death, Mr Clemens. May we publish your memoirs now? The reference to a UK-based paper for the first true giant of American letters is, by the way, entirely on purpose... and directed at the creators and perpetuators of the canon of American literature who refused/refuse to accept the mediocrity of what came before him, and too much of what came after him until the 1930s. <SARCASM> Maybe one of the reasons that high school students hate English classes so much — leaving aside the endless drill forms for Mrs Grundy's version of "proper grammar" — is that out of some sense of developing a national(istic) identity we make them read utter crap like Hawthorne (instead of Austen) and lesser crap like Whitman (instead of Tennyson). After all, if it's American, it must be more appropriate for American student to read than other stuff from across the pond... except as it relates to our Confederate legacy. Or frighteningly plausible hypothetical Judy Blume novels (damn you Scalzi, my eyes are bleeding). </SARCASM>
  • A syncopated counterpoint to yesterday's item on James Frey as a class-action defendant for his memoir-fiction-thingy: fact-checking literary fiction can, indeed, be made to work... at least in theory; we'll see how it works in practice. And whether it leads to yet more author feuds, or at least more visible author feuds, when unfriends fact-check each others' works. I still think fact-checking is best done before publication.
  • The Economist — a somewhat conservative magazine, but in a European sense (which means that it's not entirely about fact-free ideology) — has an interesting article comparing internet access to common carriage at sea. It's interesting as far as it goes... but it neglects a critical problem. Common carriage at sea is a relic of mercantilist economics, and only makes sense in a mercantilist context. Intellectual property resembles mercantilism more than it does post-Adam-Smith comparative advantage (I really, really will get that essay finished and posted on my SSRN page Really Soon Now). However, the telecomm companies that are making all of the complaints are creatures of post-Adam-Smith comparative advantage economics that answer to investors who know nothing but comparative advantage (and that's despite the regulated nature of their business due to the natural monopoly problem). So, in the end, that article leaves us with more questions than before we read it... although that's not necessarily a bad thing!