Sunday, February 15, 2009

White Riot

The train is jam-packed. The sickly-sweet stench of discounted aftershave mingles with cheaper-still perfume worn by fade-to-grey bottle-brunettes.

Dreary anonymity surrounds me; I’m awash in a gently-swaying, antiseptic sea of drab.

All around, people are hiding behind their modern day equivalents of sofas and cushions – lap-tops and BlackBerrys – when once they’d have read news in newspapers or quietly relaxed into their books.

But… my anonymous travelling companions have now all assumed the haunted look of those who feel the fashionable need to be in touch… twenty-four-seven.

The young blonde opposite whispers yes every few seconds into her elderly Nokia hand-set, so long past its sell-by-date that its (probably) become retro-fashionable; beside me, the paunchy-man who’s nicked his chin while shaving is having trouble with his Vodaphone empowered wireless lap-top – each time he checks an e-mail, he’s prompted to enter a new password.

Right in front of me, the older man’s well-designed hair resembles nothing more than a sticky mass of Brylcreem – he’s siphoning through one spread-sheet and pie chart after another while the loud Estuary voice nearby is barking frustrated instructions into his ‘phone (seemingly) oblivious to the fact that the entire carriage can hear his self-important irritation.

At eleven o’clock of me, an almost-shaven-headed-bloke is bent forward, filling in a crossword on a gleaming silver i-Pod Touch that he’s dangling between his legs; behind me, two middle-aged ladies who are, I presume, co-workers discuss the questionable sexual attributes of their younger female boss.

The randomly picked-up newspaper I found on the platform – seconds after missing the train I had wanted to catch – is telling me pretty much all I know anyway; we’re facing this calamity, that catastrophe, another disaster, one more crisis or… yet another fxxk up – global, national or local, you take your pick.

Hey Neil – missed your train on such an important day? Sorry to say, but yes I did – as two, terribly nice-wee elderly biddies in front of me decided that a nice-wee chat with the nice-wee ticket-lady before their nice-wee day-trip-to-London was the order of the(ir) day… despite the fact that a queue of twenty-plus people were standing behind them, patiently awaiting their own turns at the nice-wee kiosk.

Ah well, I’m finally on my way and… so long as tube-connections work for me, I should make it with about five minutes to spare. Not ideal as it’ll negate the pre-meeting conflab with the bearded wonder over a cappuccino; hence the over-filled and piping-hot, British Rail variant on the theme that, if I’m not careful, is going to scald my hand.

Idly glancing down at the pages, I see that the banks’ continual meltdown is being well documented as is the Government’s equally predictable failure to deal with that or pretty much anything else; the Arctic and Antarctic Ice-caps are melting faster than indigenous animals can keep up with – Brown Bears heading one way, Polar Bears off hunting Seals another; job-less figures all over the globe are rising like the tides of East Anglian floodwater; Scottish road-gritting is nearly at a standstill because there’s virtually no grit north of the border; there’s a mass out-cry over whether a (totally bonkers by all accounts) Dutch MP should be allowed into the country; a pizza delivery company are annoying non-Muslim locals in Birmingham for introducing halal chicken and pepperoni; a Bishop has been arrested for allowing his children to read a book for ten minutes perched on his chimney-pot; a recent winner of the Turner Prize wants to construct a thirty-three times life-size White Horse that’ll be cunningly positioned beside a Kent motorway to welcome visitors by road to Britain’s green and pleasant… England’s cricketing and football teams are being lambasted for performing in as shambolic a manner as ever and, while I simply can’t be bothered to look, I’d imagine – for those hoodwinked by such blinkered gibberish – that there are probably calamitous soap-debacles being reported upon within these pages too.

Regulatory culpability and counter-blame appear as (regulated) watchwords for the start of this annum that’s (already) about as miserabilis as it can get.

But… hang on a sec… why do I know most… if not all… of this… stuff… already?

Easy – ‘cos I can get pretty much any shred of information or news that I need or (may not) require from… the Internet…

Pretty darned good, this Internet thing, isn’t it?

You see, no one – physically – needs to buy a newspaper any more.

Because, with the rise and rise of new ‘delivery platforms’ one can get all the information that one used to rely upon a newspaper providing via the Internet that, in turn, arrives via one’s phone or lap-top or other ‘mobile device’ of one’s choosing.

All very 21st Century.

And – according to Time Magazine (and I’m not about to argue with their research) – it appears that there are more readers of ‘news’ than ever before; the content which ‘newspapers’ are producing (ie proper / traditional reporting) is more popular than ever to the extent that there are more younger people than ever before are devouring this in-depth journalism.

More readers equals more sales… doesn’t it? Not exactly…because…

The problem is… all this insightful reporting, bitingly-brilliant picture research, superlative imagery and breathtaking design-work is being accessed and read for… FREE.

Don’t believe me..? According to a Pew Research study, last year more people in the US got their news online than paid for it. Even though I can’t find a similar study for either Europe or Australasia, I’d imagine that it’d be about the same.

And, in the midst of the economically shrink-wrapped crunchy-bar, who the hell can blame them?

News organisations around the globe must be haemorrhaging money right now because they are… quite literally (and seemingly quite happily)… giving EVERYTHING they produce away for… nothing… nada… zip… nichts… zero… niente… nil… ingen ting… nowt… nic… zilch… rien… nought…. niets…… NO INCOME.

Hmmm… bit of a good business model wouldn’t you say?

This windswept Voltaire on its grassy-knoll in the prairie reckons (and has for some time) that IF the Internet carries on as it is, IF the society it has spawned is allowed to carry on – the everything for FREE culture – then we’re looking at collapse about as eagerly as Lemmings eye-up a cliff.

Don’t agree..? Lets have a bit of a squint at it this way, then.

Pretty much every morning over the past seven to ten years, I’ll trawl around certain web-sites, soaking up the news or reporting which they each offer.

As just one example, such is my addiction for bike racing, is generally the first link I click on. The browser launches quickly enough and I can access all the in-depth race reports my mind can cope with; view pictures of riders winning stages of races all over the world within minutes of them crossing the finishing line; I can read reports on press conferences; access in-depth rider interviews along with all the other train-spotting stuff I love to do with (proper, legs-shaved) bike racing.

Not for everyone, I’ll admit – but, it floats my particular narrow-boat.

This web-site, which is run out of Australia yet has reporters and photographers all over the world, has substantial traffic – in other words, its not just me viewing.

On every web-page there are adverts for bikes, clothing, equipment and the rest. Companies pay (I’d imagine) many Euros / Dollars / Pounds to put those adverts on-line. This is how Bill (who founded this fabulous resource) funds what is by a long way, the most comprehensive cycling web site on the planet.

However… I’ve never once clicked on any of those advertisements to see what lies behind the glossy exterior. And, I’d doubt that I’m the only one such.

Added to which, accessing as often as I do means that I nowadays don’t bother with buying any of the ‘conventional’ cycling magazines that are produced monthly or weekly.

Because I can access everything I need on a daily basis, their news and reporting is out of date and secondly, I’m getting everything I want… for FREE.

The sum total of this is – all of those magazines have lost my custom yet, at the same time, is gifting me the cashmere sweater equivalent every single day.

They produce their ‘resource’ with love, care and attention to detail (to satisfy the likes of myself and many, many others) yet… they give it away for nothing and, the anticipated revenue streams their advertisers have been expecting just isn’t there equals… before too long there won’t be any more on-line advertisements which further equals… sooner or later, this fantastic ‘resource’ will go under – it simply cannot and absolutely will not survive… leaving people like me stranded and unable to get our daily fix.


They (and many thousands of others similarly placed) adopt a new business model.

You don’t expect to go into a department store and walk out with that cashmere sweater you like so much for nothing… do you?

The principle with the Internet is exactly the same.

Meaning – if you (me) – the end user – wants to access ‘content’, then we’ll have to PAY for it.

Would I subscribe to Hell yes. Especially if that was the only way I could get a hold of the information I wanted. The same would go for all of the web-based ‘services’ I wanted.

Because… this, ultimately, is how the web will have to go.

Newspapers will probably be the first as a genre – the graph is changing (as noted in the Pew Report) whereby the hairlines have now crossed and the distance will increase as ‘mobile devices’ become even more sophisticated.

Moreover, the financial economic equation will continue to show disastrous losses – all that ‘content’ costs the newspapers and… sooner or later, they’ll realise that web-based advertising isn’t working nor is it the previously much-trumpeted way forward and… before too long, they’ll figure out that – while its imperative to have a www presence – they can’t offer it for nothing.

Yet… from other reports that I’ve seen, it appears that there is resistance – Luddite commentators saying that people will not purchase, will not subscribe.

To be brutal, they (consumers as well as content providers) won’t have any choice.

Because… content providers will NOT be able to provide content that doesn’t pay (at the very least) for itself.

And that’s purely a very simple matter of… basic economics.

The train arrives in decent time, the tube connections run perfectly and I walk along Piccadilly in confident frame-of-mind; I’m clad in my very own cashmere sweater, have my feel-good-feel-tall sexy-boots on while my scarf and coat-tails flap, bat-like, in the breeze.

The bearded wonder and I meet opposite our destination and… determinedly, we walk through the IFPI’s portals precisely on time.

Ninety minutes later this – amongst many other aspects of Project-X – has been discussed with the serious grown-ups who’ve been gathered around their formal boardroom table; the cashmere sweater analogy, with regard to our own burgeoning content base, has been utilised and… has fallen upon… very attentive ears…

We leave with Project-X having gained other, hugely important, industry-endorsees and my next twenty-four hours are spent revising and revitalising budgets that I’d begun work on during my sojourn in New York since they’ve now been formally requested by parties who’d best be described as…very interested.

The next two meetings have already been set.

On Tuesday morning I’ll be back amongst the stale aftershave and cheaply-perfumed brigade, heading to the metropolis along the chemin de fer, Kensington bound.

A week further down the line and I’ve an evening meeting diarised that’ll see the bearded wonder and I formally presenting Project-X at a venue in Westminster… to people who really do have the power.

To an outsider, it must look like Project-X is progressing by inches….but, and especially in the midst of these cash-strapped times, I know that I’m now inching my way to the realisation of an oft-criticised vision.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your conclusion that quality content cannot be free much longer. Content creators with knowledge should be paid for that.

I am also convinced in the future that websites producing factual information may have to carry warrants of their accuracy, determined by a WWW policing body similar to that of IFPI, The Press Council, etc etc..

And those who won't, or don't, need to have good lawyers. Why?

Because we're in a recession and litigation is easy money, and there's endless inaccuracy out there.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct Neil; and I agree also with the other comment - quality content cannot be free for much longer. How can it? Your arguments (reasoning if you will) are as succinct and on the ball as ever.

I'm looking forward to more on this as I suspect you may well have more to say on the subject.


Anonymous said...

Clever and in full agrement. You're absolutely correct.

In fact - not simply clever, you've a remarkable ability to get to the nub and... just tell it like it so obviously is.

Have read your other stuff as well - these aren't blogs in the conventional sense or accepted meaning - no wonder you call them Voltaires. They're more like essays - and exceedingly well thought out and considered commentaries too.

Who else do you write for? And - what exactly is Project-X?

Jonny, Santa Barbara
ps - seeing as you're a cycling nut, you'll be glad to know the Tour of California has just kicked off in pouring rain; I've just been watching it on tv here!

Anonymous said...

It has to happen - how could it not?

The web / the world - The world / the web - all about is change. Obama coming in is helping, I'd say.

You've argued before that creativity cannot be gotten for free...

Who'd disagree, who could argue with that?

Natalie, Wisconsin.
By the way, really like the Englishness of your writing. I read many and yours... just very different, very potent.

Anonymous said...

All logically correct.

However, who - out of the big boys - is gojng to be first to dip their toes into the water?

Because, whoever does will, in the short term, loose a lot of money. This free culture which is a parasite now, is almost too far gone. Sad really.

Anonymous said...

They say Google makes you dumb, they say most people can't get past the first page of search results, they say we all have AAD and most people can't read a book any longer.

We're reading more words than we have ever done before - and the majority on the web are crap.

If we have to start paying for quality writing and reading, to educate ourselves, to teach our children, our next generation of doctors.. then let's start as soon as we can.

FD, New York