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Find the Bootleg

The New York Times, yesterday, published an article on why Time Warner has decided to keep its AOL division (funny turn of events considering AOL bought Time Warner, but that is all dot-com history). The second paragraph reads:

"Today, though smaller, AOL is not merely alive but defiantly healthy--especially when it needs to be, having recently taken a terrifying but necessary strategic step: making virtually all of its content available free at AOL.com, no subscription required."

Ironic, actually since this was the day the New York Times locked much of its editorial content behind a paid firewall called "Times Select". Times Select is a service where for $50/year you get exclusive online access to opinion columns that were free prior to September 25th. This presumes that people don't view opinion columnists as interchangeable, and that there is value in their name, rather than their opinion. I don't think that's really the case. No Paul Krugman? There's economist Brad DeLong over at Berkeley giving his say on politics away for free. Can't read David Brooks? You have Andrew Sullivan as the conservative pissed off at Bush, who is syndicating his musings to the Washington Post opinion section (for a while, anyway). That said, this is the marketplace of ideas, and the question is if nobody can read your ideas, do they make an impact?

Though webloggers, in their incredible antipathy to giving up a buck for information, has turned it into a game of distribute the bootleg. Thanks to Google, Technorati,  and a couple of moles with access, there's now an underground market for NYTimes columns that would have gone unread earlier. That might please the NY Times  now that they can point to this and say, our brands are so vaunted, they will be pirated. Of course, it won't please the Times that they will now lose out the money from the ad views of these cheapskates, and of course, they won't pay the $50 for the stories.

I'm going to bet that Select won't last. AOL couldn't use the exclusive content to get new subscribers. And their content really was exclusive. (Deductive and/or specious reasoning of general knowledge isn't really exclusive. And "news" really isn't either.)

Today's Paul Krugman article is titled "Find the Brownie". It's one of the top searches of Technorati. Other top searches are of other NY Times columnists where webloggers are ..um infringing copyright.. in what they see as a protest.

Anyway, in "Find the Brownie" PK creates a new game inspired by "Six Degrees of Separation", where you try to link someone to Kevin Bacon. In this case, it's not casual acquaintances, but people who got connected to important government jobs but without having those important government qualifications. Actually it probably should be called "Six Degrees of Jack Abramoff". Jack Abramoff is a lobbyist who is basically connected to every sleazy happening by the Republican Party.

A very related article is Frank Rich's "Bring Back Warren Harding" in which he likens the corruption of today to that of Harding's day... remember Harding's stewardship of the country helped his friends to the detriment to almost everyone else. It was one of the most scandal plagued of administrations, remarkable as it was only a two year administration. (Harding died.)

On that score today, in addition of the continuing DeLay-Abramoff saga, David Safavian was arrested recently for his role in helping Abramoff. Safavian was the Chief of Staff at the GSA, and he was helping Abramoff get a meeting with the GSA to get some good deals on property the GSA was selling. He forgot to mention that to prosecutors.

Also on the sandal beat, Bill Frist may have pulled a "Martha Stewart" with his stock sell in HCA Inc, just before the stock tanked. Though it probably was bad enough when he held ownership of hospital stock while voting on bills like the Medicare prescription drug plan and other health care legislation.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 27th, 2005 08:28 pm (UTC)
I've been musing for awhile on what the blogshpere can and can't do that the MSM either does or should be doing. I have no objection to a newspaper doing whatever it wants to do with its content, but just for its own advantage, you'd think the stuff they put behind the firewall would be the stuff that's scarce, that one would have a harder time finding equivalents to elsewhere. And opinion ain't it. We've ALL got opinions. And here, those opinions of generalists (excepting Krugman) are up against the free availability of well-written expert opinion on many subjects, as you pointed out.

I'll miss Krugman and Herbert, but I'll get over it.
Sep. 28th, 2005 01:06 am (UTC)
I wonder what do newspapers offer that is unique to charge for? Unfortunately, not raw news -- they compete with each other, with CNN and Fox and the locals and the internet with the blarghosphere and outside it through just normal communication. Certain niche reporting can be profitable... nobody competes with the Wall Street Journal, and they do business reporting good enough that (a.) almost nobody else really tries, so they can charge for it.

The LA Times tried to charge for movie times. I kid you not. They locked off CalendarLive to outsiders (like time select). I think it lasted a year before they realized there were many other places to get movie reviews, hollywood news, and that if you buy a ticket online, you already have access to movie times.

Opinion is an odd creature as there is some value in the names Krugman and Rich (notice the fact people are still trying to find ways to puncture holes in the "Select dam") but it has come largely from the catalog of past opinion and writing. People found the previous analyses to be good -- that's why they go to him, rather than me, or say Donald Luskin. However, that's a well that needs to be continuously be filled with good opinion.

If you start penning a stream of idiotic, nonsensical or just demonstratibly bad columns, you will lose that value. Likewise, if you stop writing, or nobody knows you're writing, you begin to lose relavance, and that erodes your value. (Something I'd know a little about.) For the Times, I think people will just get tired of searching foreign papers, or obscure sites for these names, and eventually forget about them. Hey, Steven Pearlstein writes a pretty good column in WashPo Business... Molly Ivins is funny and she has a point. Krugman, Dowd? Who are they?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )