14 September 2010

Traditonal Publishers Still Hidebound

"The idea that something that appeared in print is automatically worth paying for is nonsense." says Mark Coatney in Evaluating Time Magazine's New Online Pay Wall

This is an example of thinking from the traditional publishing world, where if something made it into print or was "published" it meant the content with through a lengthy process of adding value and checking quality, through the editorial, fact-checking and proofreading process. This was thought in the olden days to mean something. Yes, it did, but not always. That editors and fact-checkers were available or that they had a hand in content did not necessarily mean puff-pieces, fabricated stories, falsehoods, mistakes, typos never made it into that published content polished to shine like your grandmother's counter tops.

Publishing was a measure of trust and quality from the pre-network world. The network has a new set of criteria and indicators of trust and quality.

I find that often writers who do not get paid, who are passionate about a subject or cause and write on their own, are more timely, accurate and effective than authors working for a magazine. There is something about how writers are hired, directed and influenced within the publishing world that biases, distorted, subverts them and their content. Its not always money, or being paid to ghostwrite or pander or a puff-piece or just being paid to write a certain kind of article that the editor wants. Its something inherent in the process. It may be a consequence of the time it takes to polish a piece to perfection. It may be the idea that a piece needs to be polished. These requirements place their own burdens and biases on writing. Of course, it seems rational that a more polished piece is better, but that is not always true. Sometimes diamonds are more useful and beautiful in the rough than cut and polished.

Often published print authors come across as hired-guns, slick, indifferent, arrogant. They often know so much, they know too much, and become arrogant, infusing their writing with their opinions and indifference to reader's and other's views on the subject. The very act of being a "filter" means possibly useful information may be omitted. What if the filter is wrong? What if an author is giving advice, carefully researched and polished, so it looks good, but has become obsolete by the time it is published, has drawn the wrong conclusions, used the wrong sources of information, yet, speaks with an authoritative voice? This goes on without much accountability in the slow moving print world.

My own idea for payment, which I proposed back in the late 90's, was to adopt the "PBS model" of threatening to "take Big Bird away" or in other words, remove content after a certain time if not enough people viewing it online paid for it. The page would display the number of days remaining until the content is pulled, and the number of people paying for it, with the threshold, like one of those donation thermometers. Perhaps the pledgemusic model would work for publishing content as well as it does for music. Authors could offer additional items, such as autographed books, handwritten manuscripts or donations to charity for payment.

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