Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whither goest....

In the September 28th edition of Time, Rupert Murdoch is 'hailing the prospect of devices like the Amazon Kindle displacing newspapers a process he estimates will take about 20 years'.

I've been thinking a lot about the future of comics and books. There's a pretty good essay over on ICV2 about that from retailer Steve Bennett.

He points out a couple of pertinent issues.

One: the medium of comics and books will continue, if not the delivery system.

Two: retailers are the 'middle-men', and are dispensable.

Both of these points resonated with me because of my experience over the last 26 years with other product where the middle-man was eliminated.

When I first started to carry anime, DVDs were just starting to make an appearance. There was a well-established videotape market. I had a choice of waiting for the anime to come out in DVD, or completely stocking up on tapes.

Unfortunately, around that time I read a story about 'adoption' rates for new technology. I think the example they used was cassettes over 8-tracks, and then CDs over cassettes; and it seems to me that the timeline was more than 5 years, something like 10 years.

So I went with the video tape's.


Never listen to 'experts'. I've decided that each technological change happens twice as fast as the previous technological change.

So I started from scratch, and replaced hundreds of titles with DVD's.


Almost from the moment I restocked, 'downloading' of anime became the preferred method among the aficionados. They would take the original Japanese shows and sub-title them; which are called 'fan-subs.'

There were a couple of unusual features with anime which sped up the process. One, the retail price of anime was high; 25.00 to 30.00, sometimes for just an hour of episodes. Secondly, there was a long lag time between the original showing in Japan and the commercially translated version for the American market.

I'm currently trying to liquidate my anime stock, as well as the ancillary manga stock, for roughly half price.

The second example of a squeezing of the middle-man is -- you guessed it -- sportscards. At first, my job as a specialty store 'middle-man' was impacted by the chain stores, and once that downward spiral started on prices, it was taken over by the netstores, where it festers today. Most product is cheaper than the original release price within a short time.

Oh, the collectors still want me to do all the non-moneymaking aspects of being a full-service middleman; trading, buying, pricing, selling ancillary product, talking to them, praising them for the great "pull" they got from what they bought at Shopko.

I politely decline.

The one advantage that both books and comics have over sportscards is a reasonable margin, which is clearly marked. You can put it out for sale at "Suggested Retail Price," and have a reasonable chance of selling them The reasonable margin allows you to carry more product that may or may not sell.

When it becomes unreasonable, we'll have a problem.

Pricing is one thing, the delivery system is another.

Here I can only go by my own instincts, and it's a huge subject. Suffice to say, I think I'll make it to the end of my career. More on this tomorrow.


RDC said...


The major item restricting e-books and electronic delivery of comics, newspapers, magazines, etc is the lack of a common format which can be used across all devices. In the items you mentioned such as tapes, DVDs, downloading, etc. there were widely accepted standard formats.
While the Kindle might be a popular device, on the other hand, it is pushing a propriatary format that is pretty much limited to it.

Now if you see adoption of an open standard that can be used by many devices (PC, kindle, Sony, smart phones, etc) then the rate of adoption will accelerate rapidly.

I am an avid supporting of e-books, but do not and will not purchase a Kindle. Basically because I read e-books on my phone (Palm Treo) and do not want to carry another device.

Broofa said...

Re: "20 years to displace newspapers" - I did a series of posts on BendTech addressing the state of the newspaper business. After quite a bit of research and navel gazing, I'm of the opinion that 1) newspapers will fail rapidly due to the house of cards their business model is built on (large payroll, printing, and distribution costs, revenue that relies on ads, classifieds, and subscriptions), and 2) it will happen faster than most people think. I.e. 20 years is grossly conservative (IMHO) - my estimate is more in the 5-10 year range.

@RDC: I'd argue it's not so much the lack of an open standard - PDF is "open", after all - it's the reluctance of publishers (and, hence, hardware vendors) to support such formats.

For a example, try "checking out" one of the digital audio books available on the Deschutes Public Library website. It's ridiculously complicated due to the constraints imposed by the publishers. For example, even though these are digital downloads, the library has to pretend they're books and is restricted to having a certain # of copies checked out at any one time.

The silver lining to this sort of thing is that it simply increases the pressure on the readers and authors to cut out the middlemen - the publishers - that are so obstructionist.

blackdog said...

"In the September 28th edition of Time, Rupert Murdock is 'hailing the prospect of devices like the Amazon Kindle displacing newspapers a process he estimates will take about 20 years'."

Two points:

1. I don't think it will take 20 years. Between the Web and devices like Kindle, the printed daily newspaper will be extinct (at least in the First World) within 10 years.

2. While I don't believe Kindle will ever replace books because it doesn't replicate the total book "experience" (the look, feel, heft, texture, smell) it will replace newspapers because of convenience -- it's easy to carry around and hold in the hand, unlike the dead-tree product, which is as big and unwieldy to handle as a bed sheet.

Speaking of which, I've always wondered why newspapers have resisted adopting the tabloid format. It's much easier to hold and flip through. Tabs are traditionally associated with sleaze, but there have been some well-respected ones (Newsday, for example). It's perfectly possible to produce a good newspaper in tabloid form.

I suspect the explanation is the advertisers want to be able to run those big full-page or double-truck ads. But a big ad doesn't do you any good if nobody looks at it.

BTW the man's name is spelled "Murdoch."

RDC said...

While PDF is open it is also a poor e-book format (too bulky, too inflexible, etc.)

Note that I used the term common format, not open format. By common format I mean that there is general acceptance on the format that will be used for such use. It might be a propriatary format which is licensed out or an open format. It doesn't really matter.

The key is that there is a format that is generally agreed upon for such use. Sony has talked about moving in that direction. The widest use format (as far as the largest number of devices) has been mobi (which is the format upon which the format for Kindle is based). However, Amazon purchased mobipocket and development of that format (extended to additional devices has pretty much come to a stop.

Broofa said...

@RDC - Okay, fine, PDF has it's drawbacks, but there are plenty of options to choose from. A common format isn't the issue. Heck, just check out Project Gutenberg, where if you want to read one of the ebooks they offer for free, you can download it in HTML, plain text, EPUB, Mobipocket, Plucker, or QiOO formats.

Problem solved, no common format required.

... so why doesn't this work for Amazon, Sony, or others? Simple. Publishers and readers can't agree, philosophically, on how the content should be published. This conflict simply manifests as the inability to agree on a common format. Publishers want to control the content, readers won't accept that (well, not in the long run, especially since publishers are sure to continue proving themselves untrustworthy.)

Just as has happened in the music industry where the RIAA was blind-sided by digital music, print media publishers struggling to come to terms with digital content. They have all this archaic infrasture and a business model that is no longer sustainable in a world where readers want the ability to share their content freely. And, just like in the music industry, we're probably gonna have to watch them flail around for a decade until readers and authors get fed up with these middlemen getting in the way of things And, just as with the music industry, we're gonna have to watch them flail around for a few years making things difficult for people until eventually writers and readers get fed up with it and agree on how best to distribute (and monetize) digital print content. And it's probably a safe bet that the format that use already exists (HTML5, anyone?).

blackdog said...

"They have all this archaic infrasture and a business model that is no longer sustainable in a world where readers want the ability to share their content freely."

Newspapers are expensive to produce not chiefly because of the technology (which IS archaic, I admit) but because it takes a lot of skilled (and relatively highly paid) labor to report, write and edit news thoroughly and competently. How many blogs can match the resources and skills of the newsrooms of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Times? Or even The Bulletin, as far as that goes?

The question ultimately is whether people will be willing to pay for quality news (whether delivered on paper or otherwise) or will settle for free "content."

It's a hoary old cliche but it's true: You get what you pay for.

Duncan McGeary said...

The two or three requests every day I get from sportcard collectors for services that they don't pay me for any longer says to me that people will continue to believe they can get it both ways until they find out differently but they will never find out because the sources that have replaced the quality they don't want to pay for will be the new standard of quality and the stupid man on the phone who refused to answer their question for free is just a butthead and they'll get their info somewhere else but meanwhile they'll go down to Walmart and buy some cheap packs of sportscards to make themselves feel better about how smart they are to save money.

Broofa said...

[First, my apologies for the various grammar and typos in my last comment. I was rushing to get out the door and didn't proofread.]

"... it takes a lot of skilled (and relatively highly paid) labor to report, write and edit news thoroughly and competently."

Nevermind that I emphatically disagree with that statement ("Really, only trained journalists can produce 'competent' content? The authors of the top 100 blogs and, more importantly, their millions of readers would probably disagree too,") my original point was about middlemen - in this case, the newspaper publishers - that make the mistake of thinking they are vital to the process.

Good journalism won't go away just because newspapers do. Will Dave Berry no longer be popular once the Miami Herald folds? Of course not! He'll still be around, just working for a different [online] institution.

To say that news will be worse because newspapers are going away is unjustifiably pessimistic. Readers' tastes in news haven't changed - we all still value compelling stories and articles about interesting news and events - but the way in which those pieces are written, distributed and, yes, paid for, is going to be very different. Excitingly so, I would say.

The same is also true for the book publishing industry. I'm as fond as anyone of traditional print books, but publishers who continue in the belief that their current model for distributing books is the only one that will work are delusional, and will quickly find themselves relegated to a footnote in Wikipedia's entry for "Buggy Whip".

tim said...

"...and they'll get their info somewhere else but meanwhile they'll go down to Walmart and buy some cheap packs of sportscards to make themselves feel better about how smart they are to save money."

I think they're idiots for buying sports cards at all.

Unless they really like that stale piece of pink bubblegum.

RDC said...


What part of "Commonly agreed on format" do you not seem to be getting?

The issue is not technology, the issue is that each player has their own solution. As such there is not a "commonly agreed upon format".

You on one hand say that there are lots of formats and that what I am saying is incorrect and then go on to say exactly that there is not an agreed upon format.

Currently each vendor feels that they can make more money with a proprietary approach.

By the way the quality of the e-books coming from the various "free" projects is not vary good. Very high rate of transcription errors, formating issues, etc. I guess you get what you pay for.

People may want to share content freely. Of course that raises the interesting question on who will continue to produce content if they cannot make any money off of it. Good quality writing takes a lot of time. I suspect that the quality of available books would deteriorate significantly in authors stop getting paid for what they write.

The challenge is in how to balance ownership rights (copyright) with digital distribution. There is an interesting approach being taken by one science fiction publisher, Baen Books. They current sell e-books without and copy protection. Actually they even provide a number of their older books free. Their view is that the distribution of copies of older books will attract enough new readers in for the purchase of the new ones as they are released to more than make up for the loss in sales from free copies.

The creator of content (a book, a song, a magazine article, etc.) has the right to determine how that contect in sold or distributed. The purchasor has the right to determine if they wish to buy it or not. While the advent of technology has made for some distribution challenges and will require some updating of laws, the purchaser does not have the right to ignore the terms under how the content was sold or distributed and violate those terms.

Certainly everyone would like everything to be free. Violation of distribution terms is as much theft as is stealing a CD or book off of the rack in a store.

RDC said...


Since you are a published author (and if you ever want to do so again you might consider establishing a relationship with the folks at Baen. They are very very good about teaming new authors with established ones to help new authors become established, expand the number of authors that they have and to increase the output from existing authors. It seems to work quite well and helps eliminate the marketing component you dislike so much).

What is your view of property rights of authors vs free exchange by consumers?

RDC said...


No what exactly kind of fact checking goes on with Blogs?

Do you really consider Blogs, in general, to have any kind of standard for reliability and accuracy?

Most blogs seem to propoganda sheets based upon the views of their authoris then meeting any kind of standard for accuracy and having any kind of fact checking at all.

One of the major weaknesses of the Internet is that it enables anyone to say almost anything and get taken for being fact.

Duncan McGeary said...

"What is your view of property rights of authors vs free exchange by consumers?"

Writing is hard work, and it needs to be paid for.

That said, the fact that my books are out there on the net on torrents (without any asking of me) is kind of cool. Kind of gives them new and eternal life.

Don't know if anyone's reading them, free or not, but it's still better than disappearing, no?

Duncan McGeary said...

"I think they're idiots for buying sports cards at all.

Unless they really like that stale piece of pink bubblegum."

Ha! shows what YOU know. They haven't had gum in cards for 20 years...

Well, if they want to throw away 3.00 bucks on a pack of cards that may have their favorite team or player in it, instead of buying a Starbucks, what's the harm?

RDC said...


Would you feel the same if they were just published and still in the active sales state?

As far as authors are concerned most royalties will take place within the first 12 months and after that it is usually just a dribble, if any at all.

Broofa said...

@RDC, Re: "What part of "Commonly agreed on format" do you not seem to be getting?" ...

Is there a common format for digital music? No, there's MP3, WMA, AAC, and numerous others, each of which has different strengths. The solution there is market pressure from publisher and consumer alike for players that support multiple formats. These players allow for a free-market "negotiation" between publisher and consumer. Publishers only supply music in formats they are comfortable with, and consumers only download music in formats that they'll accept.

And there is an ongoing tug-of-war between the two sides over which formats are "acceptable". But digital music is thriving, even though there is still no common format, and never will be.

The book industry is qualitatively no different. A similar solution - e-readers that support multiple formats - is both practical and inevitable. The problem (for now) is that the only mainstream e-readers are manufactured by content publishers that see little benefit to providing support for non-DRM'ed formats. But that will change once we start seeing affordable e-readers that aren't shackled by the manufacturers intersts in protecting their content.

So, uh, I guess that is the part I don't get - I just don't see lack of a common format as being a significant issue.

Broofa said...

@RDC, Re: "No what exactly kind of fact checking goes on with Blogs? Do you really consider Blogs, in general, to have any kind of standard for reliability and accuracy?"

Those are two great questions, and not easy to answer because the blogosphere is a swirl of anything and everything. Which is why sweeping generalizations are a bad idea, be they about standards for accuracy, or anything else.

That said, a key difference between blogs and traditional news media is that blogs have a strong feedback loop between writer and reader. Almost by definition, a blog has to allow reader comments. And this ability to comment, to offer an opinion, is a strong motivator for readers that have the Internet at their fingertips. Readers are ruthless fact checkers, and merciless when it comes to pointing out errors or deceptions. This arguably results in better fact checking than any news room. The only difference is that it happens in public.

There are two important implications that come from this public fact-checking behavior by readers. The first is that bloggers are acutely aware of how at-stake their reputations are with every post. Make a mistake, and you could lose a substantial share of your audience. Deliberately deceive people and you could lose all your audience. And, because it's the internet, that black mark on your reputation will haunt you forever. It's a huge risk that any serious blogger is eager to avoid. So in that regard, I generally think of bloggers as being fairly well-intentioned. Not all of them, of course, but most.

The second side-effect is that bloggers are much better about admitting their mistakes and giving corrections an appropriate degree of exposure. In a newspaper, errors are relegated to some small corner of page 8 (or wherever), even if the error was made on a front page article. For a blogger, transgressions often get a post of their own.

In summary, neither blogs nor traditional news media are perfect. But with blogs there is a culture that encourages people to be inquisitive, skeptical participants, rather than just being passive content consumers. And that's a good thing.

blackdog said...

"Really, only trained journalists can produce 'competent' content?"

Anybody can produce "content" -- all you have to do is sit down in front of a keyboard. Journalism and "content" are not the same thing. Yes, it does take training AND experience to do journalism well.

"Good journalism won't go away just because newspapers do."

Never said it would. But it will go away if professional journalists go away, and they will go away unless somebody is willing to pay, in some form, for the work they do.

RDC said...

There are a multitude of formats for music, but you might consider that there is a reason why portible digital music players are refered to genericly as MP3 players. The MP3 format provided the critical mass necessary to drive the popularity of small portable digital music players.

Broofa said...

@blackdog: We're arguing semantics at this point. Unless you can come up with a distinction between "content" and "news" that is meaningful to this discussion, I'd rather not waste time going down that rathole. (FWIW, the only reason I say "content" is that much of what journalists do - human interest pieces, obituaries, movie and product reviews, etc - isn't exactly what I would call "news". But I'm perfectly happy agreeing that "news" refers to whatever the hell it is professional journalists at a newspaper write about, and moving on.)

Re: "Yes, it does take training AND experience to do journalism well."

Again, arguing semantics... By "training" do you mean, "a degree in Communications or Journalism"? By "experience" do you mean, "a job at a traditional media company"? Because there are plenty of bloggers that have neither of those things, but that are the rival of most professional journalists. What these bloggers lack in formal training is made up for in the hard knocks they've taken from their readers as they've learned the trade and craft of blogging. They've put up with trolls trying to push their buttons, grammer nazis picking about their spelling and punctuation, and fact-checking nit-pickers googling frantically for some weakness in their posts. And they've fielded 1,000's of comments from readers that demand exactly the same journalistic quality and integrity from bloggers that they do from "real" journalists.

I guess that's the main difference between bloggers and professional journalists. The latter is expected to have learned their lessons before they ever get published; bloggers learn on the job.

Note, too, that for every "professional" journalist out there there are hundreds or thousands of enthusiasts blogging about the same stuff because it's what they're passionate about. Those enthusiasts are taking exactly the hard knocks required to make them quality journalists, whether or not you want to hang the "professional" label on them. The Source recently named, "Bend's Best Blog". Is it the work of a professional journalist? No, it's written by Jon Abernathy, a local web developer. Yet it's practically a drop-in replacement for the Bulletin's Community section. And Ben makes no money from it (we'll I think the ads he shows generate enough to support his beer fixation, but that's about it.)

This is not an either-or argument by the way. Blogging and professional journalism are not mutually exclusive undertakings. Check out Ben Salmon's Frequency blog. Ben is a Bulletin reporter, and his music blog is awesome. I couldn't tell you how much of that is a result of his being a professional journalist and how much simply comes from his passion for music though. Regardless, we're going to see more and more of this sort of thing as the pressure on traditional media companies (and their inability to adapt) forces individual reporters to find a niche for themselves in the online world.

Broofa said...

@RDC: Re: "The MP3 format provided the critical mass necessary to drive the popularity of small portable digital music players."

Wait, what??? Sure, the demand by consumers for MP3 support is what drove the sale of MP3 players. But publishers hate that format - most major online music stores still don't offer it as an option. So to imply that MP3 was ever a "common music format" in the sense that it was agreeable to both publishers and consumers is preposterous.

blackdog said...

"Unless you can come up with a distinction between "content" and "news" that is meaningful to this discussion, I'd rather not waste time going down that rathole."

"Content" is anything that somebody puts up on the Web. "News" is factual, dependably accurate and (as far as possible) unbiased information about current and recent events. Some "content" is "news," but most isn't.

You might think that is not a "meaningful distinction," but I believe it's enormously meaningful.

Looking through your list of "Top 100 Blogs" it's interesting to see that a number of them are produced by or by people affiliated with newspapers or other professional news organizations. Most of the rest are either devoted to technological or cultural niches or have political agendas.

"By "training" do you mean, "a degree in Communications or Journalism"? By "experience" do you mean, "a job at a traditional media company"?"

Not necessarily either. But at least I know that professional reporters and editors have been through some kind of vetting process, and those who have made it to major national media have been through a very extensive one lasting many years. I know nothing about 99% of the people who write blogs, so why should I accord them any credibility?

blackdog said...

BTW seems to be mostly a listing of local entertainment and athletic events. Do you really think this is an adequate substitute for a good local newspaper?

Broofa said...

@blackdog: Apparently I'm incapable of writing short replies. But you might glance at the "Bend Bulletin 2.0" piece I wrote for BendTech back in April. It goes into a little more depth on my views on many of these issues, and may save us both some time.

"News" is factual, dependably accurate and (as far as possible) unbiased information about current and recent events.

Good definition, I like it! With that in mind, here's an exercise that might be fun to try (I haven't done this, so I'm genuinely interested in what the results would be): Take a copy of the Bend Bulletin and cut out all the "news" that's not written by Bulletin Staff. Remove all syndicated stuff from Reuters and the AP, all the state/national sports, the weather and classifieds, etc.

How much are you left with? And how much of that really requires a trained, professional, journalist to produce. I don't honestly know the answer. It could well be, "all of it". But somehow I suspect that's not the case *ahem*.

BTW, the reason I exclude content from news services like the AP and Reuters is that those businesses aren't threatened the way newspapers are. They, and the journalists they employ, will be around long after newspapers have gone away.

I know nothing about 99% of the people who write blogs, so why should I accord them any credibility?

You shouldn't, you'd be a fool to. Just as you'd be a fool to trust any other news source you hadn't encountered before. If I hand you a paper from a small town in Colorado you hadn't heard of, wouldn't you be a little leery of the biases its editors might have, or of how the views of the community it caters to might skew the reporting? And would you really trust its reporters? (Sorry, 'couldn't resist the delicious irony of a blogger reporting on newspaper ethics violations. ;-) )

Blogs face that same skepticism from readers. Successful blogs have withstood the trial by fire that's required to grow an audience (and I suppose they have the slants and biases that comes from having to appeal to an audience just as with any news outlet). The only real difference between blogs and newspapers is that there are a million times more blogs than there are papers, which means there's a lot more you've never heard of; but you approach them all, newspapers and blogs alike, with the same degree of skepticism.

Do you really think [] is an adequate substitute for a good local newspaper?

For the whole newspaper, no. For the *Community* section,as I said before, yes. It's pretty darn good. As I discuss in the Bulletin 2.0 article, you can find interesting, compelling alternatives for large parts of the newspaper. It's really just a question of how best to aggregate them together.

There will always be demand for quality journalism - that's not going to change. But the Internet has leveled the playing field dramatically. It's driving inefficient middlemen (newspapers, tv, radio) out of business, and it's making the business of creating journalism much more competitive. It opens the doors to a much broader audience for professional journalists and amateurs alike. Really all that's changed is the vetting process. To succeed traditionally, a journalist need only pass the hiring process of the newspaper they work for. A professional blogger (somebody who makes a living blogging) has to pass the gauntlet of all their readers, every day, and that is much, much harder to do.

RDC said...

If each of the vendors had their own format (which they did) and if they had not bascially modified their business models to in general produce hardware that all processed MP3 files then digital music would not have taken off to the degree that it has.

A common factor in any major acceptence of electronic media has been that a substantial percentage of content has been produce in an agreed upon format. Any time that there has been a number of competing formats being pushed by manufacturers, even if there are only two or three, in the case of video tape. the real acceptance was after VHS became the dominant standard and Beta dropped out. In the case of digital music it was after MP3 became the generally accepted standard (there were a number of competing type prior to that). Exactly how much acceptance do you think there would be if each time you bought a new player from a different vendor you had to go and convert all of your music or buy it all over again. you had a similar case with HD DVD formats. The acceptance of standrd formats for electronic meadia means that consumers can move freely between mutliple vendors and are not tied to a single supplier. They don't have to worry about being the person that brought a Sony Beta VCR (technically a superior technology but Sony had a business model where only they sold Beta. So if you had a Beta library you had to buy Sony hardware), when VHS won the battle because it was licensed by a multitude of vendors.

The lack of a widely accepted format, supported by most vendors is a major factor is delaying implementation and acceptance. If you assemble a large library of E-Books, you are stuck with a particular vendor. If you go buy a new device, from a different vendor, your library is pretty much toast. Even Amazon's Kindle will not read Mobi formats (without a hack) and Mobi is owned by Amazon. The Kindle format and the Mobi format are basically the same. The only difference is in the first letter of the approved device codes. Amazon wants to drive people to Kindle so they are have stopped investing in extending Mobi to other devices. Thus if you invested in a Mobi library you need to hold onto your current device.

E-Books will not take off in a big way until there is a winner in the format battle, where multiple manufacturers are utilizing and supporting that format.

Duncan McGeary said...

I don't believe the Bulletin has had a discussion such as this, which is probably more in depth than any 3 of it's articles.

That said, I enjoy reading newspapers, and would miss reading them.

blackdog said...

"A professional blogger (somebody who makes a living blogging) has to pass the gauntlet of all their readers, every day, and that is much, much harder to do."

No, all he really has to do is tell his readers what they want to hear every day.

One of the things that most disturbs me about blogs supplanting traditional news sources is that most people tend to select the blogs they read not on the basis of the excellence of their journalism but on the basis of whether their political views are in accord with their own. Thus I favor the Huffington Post and Daily Kos while a right-winger gravitates toward FreeRepublic.

What we're seeing is a trend toward people compartmentalizing themselves by ideology, with less and less dialogue going on between the two camps and less and less understanding of the other side's positions. It began with talk radio, was accelerated by the Web and now has spread to TV. (You can get your "news" from MSNBC or Fox, depending on which version of reality, or unreality, you prefer.)

The idea that pure objective "truth" exists (outside of the realm of science) is probably a delusion, but at least the ethos of traditional journalism requires journalists to make an effort to seek the truth and report it, regardless of whether it pleases or displeases their audience. This is very different from the ethos of blogging, based on what I've seen of it.

"the reason I exclude content from news services like the AP and Reuters is that those businesses aren't threatened the way newspapers are. They, and the journalists they employ, will be around long after newspapers have gone away."

I don't think you understand how news services operate. They make their money by selling their product to newspapers, radio and TV. If those media go extinct and the news services don't get adequately paid by bloggers or Web sites or whoever, they'll go extinct too.

AP currently is in a big legal battle over Web sites and bloggers publishing big chunks of AP copy -- sometimes whole stories -- verbatim without paying anything for it.

RDC said...

A little more information on the history of the digital music time line.

1988: Audio CD sales exceed vinyl record sales.
1990: Tim Berners-Lee develops URLs, HTML and HTTP on a NeXT computer and thereby invents the World Wide Web at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.
1991: Microsoft launches Windows 3.0 operating system with multimedia extensions, about six months after the Sound Blaster card brings digital audio sound capabilities to the PC platform.
1992: More digital audio recording technology enters the domestic consumer market. Responding to the resulting controvery between the music industry and the consumer electronics industry, the US Congress introduces the The Audio Home Recording Act 1992.
1993: MP3 recognised as an industry standard. For more on the history of MP3s, see the second half of Grappling with fallacies: music formats and DRM.

“Head First” by Aerosmith released as the first legal online download. Hear it here.
Microsoft launches Windows 95 with the first 32-bit Media Player.

Audio CD-ROM released in Australia. It was both an audio CD and a CD-ROM. The music was by GF4 and the developer was Pacific Advanced Media Studio using its patented Active Audio technology. It may be a small event in this timetable but it was an achievement from Sydney, Australia.
The Australian Performing Right Association Ltd (APRA) succeed on appeal in the Full Court of the Federal Court and in the High Court of Australia in Australian Performing Right Association v Telstra Corporation Ltd 131 ALR 141. Telstra is held liable for telephone music on hold services, ie recordings of copyright music played over the telephone while a caller is placed on "hold".
1996: The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) concluded treaties drafted to adapt rights in sound recordings and other works for the digital era. The other works include literary and artistic works such as writings and computer programs, original databases, musical works, audiovisual works, works of fine art and photographs. They are the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), collectively known as the “WIPO Internet Treaties”. They set out the minimum standard of intellectual property protection for Internet delivery of copyrighted works. The WIPO Internet Treaties update and supplement the major existing WIPO treaties on copyright and related rights, eg the Berne and Rome Conventions.

RDC said...

Passing of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, responding to digital media developments.
Diamond Multimedia Inc is first in the handheld MP3 market in the US with its Rio player. It debuted with a maximum of 32MB of flash memory in September 1998. On 9 October, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) files a complaint alleging that Diamond's Rio MP3 player (pictured right) violates the Audio Home Recording Act 1992. The court refused to enter a preliminary injunction barring sale of the Rio player. The appeal affirmed the lower court's decision. The court states the Rio "is paradigmatic noncommercial personal use entirely consistent with the purposes of the Act." It says devices like the Rio "space-shift" files. Space-shifting become analogous to "time-shifting" TV programs using video.
Napster launches in July. Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sues Napster. Within 18 months Napster will amass close to 80 million registered users.
Microsoft launches Windows 2000 which unifies Windows Media Player with the streaming functionality previously found in NetShow server. It adds support for Microsoft's v3 video codec and Windows Media Audio codec.
2000: launched Users signed into an account and then inserted a CD. The software identified the CD, and then gave the user access to the content. The five major music labels, headed by RIAA, brought a lawsuit. The case was ultimately settled with paying over US$54 m.
Metallica files suit against Napster.
Napster ordered by US Judge to stop unauthorised song distribution; judgement is later appealed.
Napster found liable for copyright infringement by US Court of Appeals, in A&M Records, Inc. et al v Napster, Inc.
Adoption of the European directive on the “harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society”.
Napster's website fades to black.
RIAA and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) take legal action against KaZaA, Morpheus and Grokster.
Apple launches the iPod.
Microsoft launches Windows XP with Integrated CD burning in the operating system, improved user-interface, DVD playback, improved sound quality, Intelligent Media Management, improved MP3 support including optional MP3 encoding, and improved device support.
2002: The WIPO Internet treaties come into force (WIPO Copyright Treaty in March and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty in May).
US court finds Morpheus and Grokster not liable for alleged piracy violations.
In April, Universal and EMI brought a law suit against Hummer Winblad, the venture capital firm that funded Napster at a certain stage of development.
Apple’s iTunes Music Store launches in US.
P2P Donkeymania shut down by a Spanish court decision.
RIAA begins lawsuits against individual file-sharers.
The Dutch Supreme Court rules KaZaA not in violation of copyright in BUMA/STEMRA case. By 2004 KaZaA boasted of having 100 million registered users.

RDC said...

If you don't like the legal case version of the timeline here is one from

LONDON - With the music industry in chaos and Spotify and Pirate Bay dominating the headlines, Revolution tracks the emergence of digital music since the MP3 file was invented in 1991.

Apple's iPod has fuelled the boom in digital music

December 1991

The MP3 file is invented by the Fraunhofer Institute, following years of research into compressing files

November 1997 is founded, enabling users to access their music online, provided they have a genuine copyright version

February 1998

eMusic launches, becoming the first website to offer MP3 files for download as well as a subscription service

April 1998

Saehan, a Korean electronic manufacturer, produces MPMan, the world's first MP3 player

June 1999

Napster, the first large-scale P2P network, is founded by Boston student Shawn Fanning

December 1999

Shazam, the mobile music recognition service, is established by Californian students who later move to London

April 2000

A US judge rules that is liable for copyright infringement, one of the first rulings in favour of record labels

March 2001

Niklas Zennstrom, Janus Friis and Priit Kasesalu (who subsequently set up Skype and Joost) found KaZaa

July 2001

Napster is ordered to shut down by the US Circuit Court of Appeal for infringing copyright

October 2001

Apple sells its first iPod. It has sold almost 200m since, becoming the world's most popular music player

January 2002 launches in London, the first ad-funded internet radio platform offering personalised music

April 2003

Apple launches the iTunes Music Store which has since grown to account for 70 per cent of digital music sales

October 2003

Napster re-emerges with a paid-for model after Roxio bought its remaining assets at a bankruptcy auction

January 2004

Coca-Cola, with Mycokemusic, becomes one of the first major brands to launch a download store

January 2005

Downloaded tracks outsell physical singles for the first time and are later incorporated into the UK singles chart

September 2005

HMV and Virgin Megastores are late to the party when they both launch online music sites

July 2005

Apple sells 500 million tracks through iTunes after just over two years of offering downloads

September 2006

Microsoft lifts lid on Zune, its rival to the iPod, which promises to deliver 'connected music and entertainment'

June 2007

Apple unveils the iPhone, providing the long-awaited joint experience of communication and music

October 2007

Radiohead releases its single In Rainbows online, inviting people to 'pay what they like' to download it

July 2008

UK record labels, media owners and ISPs agree a Memorandum of Understanding to combat illegal file sharing

October 2008

Nokia brings its Comes With Music mobile play to the UK market, backed by a multimillion-pound ad campaign

February 2009

Spotify opens free registration in the UK and becomes one of the fastest-growing start-ups in history

April 2009

The founders of Pirate Bay, a peer-to-peer file sharing site, are sent to jail for a year by a Swedish court.

RDC said...

In looking at those timelines the creation of the MP3 format and its adoption as a common standard was instrumental to the entire line of events leading to todays widespread popularity of digital music. Without the industry adoption of the standard and its farily widespread implementation across a number of companies you would not have had both the legal battles which have opened up digital distribution and resulted in the multitude of products and options which exist today.

If it had not been adopted things would have remained stagnant and moved at a much slower rate, until another industry standard had arisen.

Broofa said...

@RDC: A common format is only important where physical media is involved. The VCR/DVD format wars happened because it wasn't economically practical for hardware vendors and movie studios to produce the physical devices/media in both formats. But when everything is digital, distributed over the network, it doesn't matter. The only hardware involved is the player, and it's trivial (and advantageous) to support all the formats the various publishers and consumers are clamoring for.

@Duncan: Re: That said, I enjoy reading newspapers, and would miss reading them.

Me too, me too, Dunc'. The tactile experience, the unquantifiable gestalt of it all, is unique. Unfortunately I find myself ever more frustrated at how static the newspaper experience is. "Current" news often lags online news by days. There are no spontaneous discussions, such as this one, that emerge around articles. The experience is slower, more passive, more sedate... which is fine if you want nothing more than to drink your coffee and enjoy the morning. But even then... well... there is that one fact you'd like to check, or that one quote that isn't quite right, or that one op-ed piece you'd like to comment on.

BendBorn said...

This dialogue is excellent - I wish there were more like it. While I don't agree with each and every idea / opinion I still want to thank you all for taking the time (and skill, knowledge and experience) to write your thought-provoking and informative posts.

Broofa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duncan McGeary said...

A nice civilized discussion.

It's positively Un-American!

Broofa said...

@blackdog: Re, "I don't think you understand how news services operate"

Nor do you apparently. News services sell their product to websites too, just as they do to tv, radio, and newspapers. Which is why their business model is more robust. They don't rely on the profitability of a given news distribution model the way a newspaper or TV network does. If one model fails (newspapers), it doesn't matter all that much to them. We end-consumers are still there, still asking for their product ... just via a different [online] outlet.

Or to put it another way: Their revenue from newspapers may be waning, but their revenue from online news outlets continues to grow. And that revenue will continue to keep your professional journalists employed.

The AP may be in a legal battle w/ Google (and others) over how their product is being used, but they're still taking Google's money. That "big legal battle" is just a lover's spat, quibbling over exactly what Google can and can't do with the AP's product now that they've licensed it.

@BendBorn: Hear, hear! This has been a fun one.

blackdog said...

"Nor do you apparently."

That's a rather condescending remark, considering that I have worked in the news business for more than 40 years.

"News services sell their product to websites too, just as they do to tv, radio, and newspapers."

I know that. I also know that many sites simply copy and paste the news services' product from the sites that DO pay for it.

"Which is why their business model is more robust. They don't rely on the profitability of a given news distribution model the way a newspaper or TV network does. If one model fails (newspapers), it doesn't matter all that much to them."

Still, if they lose one of their four main customers (newspapers) that hurts. If they lose three of their four main customers (newspapers, radio, TV) and are left with only the Web, that hurts still more. And if most of the Web sites that use their product aren't paying for it, they're fucked.

Maybe the news services can figure out a way to profitably sell their product directly to on-line customers. They haven't yet.

There's also something I should explain about news services that you apparently don't understand: They get much of THEIR content from newspapers. The AP (as the name "Associated Press" indicates) is an association of news organizations. (It was founded during the Civil War to share information among newspapers via telegraph -- hence the old term "wire service.") Those organizations feed stories to The AP, which distributes them statewide, nationwide or worldwide, depending on the level of interest. For example, if The Bulletin writes a story about Thomas Beattie the Famous Pregnant Man, it likely will get "picked up" by The AP and distributed worldwide. The AP also has its own reporters and bureaus, but much of its news feed comes from member organizations, principally newspapers. So if those organizations go tits-up, where does The AP get that news from?

blackdog said...

""Current" news often lags online news by days."

Yes, and that's an insoluble problem for all print media because of the nature of the technology. I wouldn't miss reading the NY Times every day, but I don't read it for "news" per se (although I sometimes come across some I haven't seen before) as for the analysis and opinion pieces.

"The experience is slower, more passive, more sedate"

That's one of the main things I like about it. I can read at my own pace and stop to think about what I'm reading. Today we're constantly bombarded with "information" without ever having time to even try to make sense of it all.

BTW according to the most recent scientific research, "multitasking" is bullshit -- people can't really pay full attention to more than one task at a time, and when they try to do it the quality of everything they're doing suffers. I define "multitasking" as "doing many things at once, badly."

Broofa said...

@blackdog: "That's a rather condescending remark, considering that I have worked in the news business for more than 40 years."

I'd apologize for that except a) I was merely replying to a remark you made, and b) you failed to include, or even hint at, online news outlets in the list of revenue sources for wire services. 'Seems like a bit of an oversight given what we're talking about here, and begs the question, "Was that oversight in spite of, or because of, your 40 years experience?" Not that I don't respect your experience and knowledge, but it's not as if newspaper execs have done a stellar job of piloting newspapers through the turmoil of the digital disruption. In Don't Stop the Presses, there are some rather naive views expressed by some otherwise smart and seasoned leaders in the news industry.

That said, your point about wire services picking up much of their content from local newspapers is an excellent one. It does tie the two industries much closer together than I originally thought. Interesting ... very interesting. Especially given some of the activity we're seeing around citizen-journalism and whatnot. (E.g. NPR's recent grant for "hyper-local" news.) Dunno... do you think there's a prayer in hell of Reuters or AP getting involed in that game?

Broofa said...

Some very interesting and relevant links ...

John Temple, former editor & president of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, has a great blog, which includes a post-mortem presentation on what went wrong at the Rocky.

The IndieReader has a (rather bleak) piece on what happens to journalists after they're laid off from the newspaper/book industry.