Friday, 24 January 2014

Dan Hind's "parallel BBC" (or an overhaul which needs competition, not amelioration)

The BBC has been/was an important part of my life.  As one of the greatest televisual publishers of the acceptable faces of British art and culture - as well as sometimes, most tellingly, initially unacceptable scandal - it drew a line of meaning through my thoughts from childhood.  I was a stick of Blackpool rock to its ability to narrate my environment.

Now, of course, all that is done and musty.  From its truly scandalous misreporting of NHS privatisation to the recent mishandling of the Jimmy Savile case (the revelations of which only serve to increase my sadness and distrust), the important part that the Beeb played in my life is undermined, questioned and divisive to my soul.

Dan Hind has, over the years, consistently analysed why - more importantly, how - the institution should be reformed.  Whilst both political left and right have always been happy to lambast its actions when one or other has felt badly-done-to, and whilst it has become evermore attached to the convenient "he said, she said" journalism so easily manipulated by our present crop of professionalised politicians (Nick Robinson is a classic example of how an apparently competent and quite natural journalism may be able to construct a persistent channel of misrepresentation - especially with respect to what our body politic should really occupy itself with: people and policy first; celebrity only if we must), Dan has always preferred to make a structural analysis of the institutional forces that lead to the BBC's (now manifest) dysfunctionality.

But his latest piece on what to do about the organisation goes much further than tinkering about with subjects of establishment control, with that institutional lack of democracy and with the Beeb's own smug - apparently widely-held assumptions - that if both left and right are unhappy with its output, everything in media-land has to be OK (that being the fallacy of "he said, she said" journalism ...).

In his most recent post, Dan suggests:
[...] If David Icke and his associates can launch a broadcast operation, why can’t the left, broadly defined, operate successfully as an independent player in the media field? We hear a lot about the weakness of the British left, but weakness is relative. Almost six million people are still trade union members. The Co-operative Group has around seven million members (there is bound to be a considerable overlap, of course).  UK Uncut and Occupy enjoyed considerable popular support. Many thousands participate in demonstrations and protests when they think that they might make a difference. Owen Jones has 60% more Twitter followers than David Icke.

The near-absence of the organized left in the main currents of the media is even more striking when one considers that most of the country is somewhere to the left of all the mainstream political parties. This is true even though this majority has few opportunities to hear its position articulated in the media.
He also looks to cost ("back of a fag-packet style") how much this would mean in an online Internet world of virtual TV, newspapers and social networks.  Much less than the hidebound mindsets of the Eighties could ever have imagined:
[...] the sums are not prohibitive. In 2011 Resonance FM in London was putting out an impressive 24 hour schedule for around £200,000 a year. The money paid for full-time technical, administrative and commissioning staff, as well as offices and broadcast facilities in central London. This, together with in-kind contributions from volunteers, has enabled Resonance to build an audience of somewhere close to two million.

As he concludes:
Popular institutions are not entrepreneurial businesses and I don’t want to suggest that they should be. But they are suffering acutely from their weakness in the sphere of communications. Of course the challenges are considerable. The operation would need editorial integrity and a genuine pluralism. The temptation to make it the rote deliverer of a trade union or Labour Party line would have to be resisted. But surely no one could deny that the need for an alternative space for deliberation and debate is very pressing. The risk of losing some money is there, of course, but the risks of doing nothing are much more serious.
Which does continue to beg the question: if it's now so relatively easy to do stuff like this (Labour-leaning examples go from the grand old stalwart of Labour Matters - now morphing into something rather more interactive - to the rather newer, more even-handed and clearly far more combative Labour List), why on earth hasn't anyone done anything of significance to establish a broadly left-focussed new-tech-based source of news and current affairs? Is it perhaps that the establishment includes our left-wing MPs just as much as it includes our right-wing equivalents?  Vested interests which keep real innovation at bay?  It wouldn't be the first time, now would it?

Of course, there are issues which need to be kept in mind: Dan himself mentions the importance of avoiding a slavish relationship with one party grouping or another.  And therein lies the problem of finance: how do you convince people and organisations to cough up important sums of money when you don't/can't promise them you'll massage their prejudices and convictions?

There are also examples: warning examples.  Al Gore's TV project being just one.  But just because the framing of a tech-based communication channel in the US wasn't "done right" in the past doesn't mean it can't be "done right" in the future here in England/the UK.  Mistakes are made to be learnt from, after all.

Dan's proposals for a competing "parallel BBC" (if you like) do, therefore, deserve to be taken seriously.

In much the same way as I proposed some time ago that we might begin to fashion a parallel English NHS

That was always the Interweb way.  If you don't like what they give you, set up an alternative environment elsewhere.  Be productive, proactive, creative and outward-looking.

Much better, surely, than the navel-gazing destructiveness which simply looks to close down incompetent governance.

It could yet be the offline democratic way forward in a future which, to be honest, we all need to learn how to participate in much more effectively than at the moment.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Zebra Red: time to return to this idea

Sustainable biz, whether big or small, must surely be our focus as we attempt to recover some semblance of not only economic justice but efficiency.  As the intro to Alex's excellent piece in the Guardian on the failures of trickle-down economics points out:
The richest 85 people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5bn. That should be a wake-up call to the deepest sleepers
And I think it was Tom Watson who just this morning tweeted that this wealthy group could all fit into a London double-decker bus.  If, that is, they were of a mind to use that public a transport.

So it is I return to the idea of a progressive publishing and distribution network.  Network being what "red" means in Spanish.  And "zebra" reminding us of the beautiful black and white hot-metal effect of ink and cat-smelling newspapers and books!

For owning the means of production isn't a revolutionary act in the least. 

After all, how many capitalists - of a minimally competent sort, that is - do you know who go out of their way not to?


Friday, 27 April 2012

E-books without DRM? So is this format-shifting of a kind?

It can be done.  Tor, of Tom Doherty Associates, will shortly be selling its entire backlist free of DRM.  How important is this?  Well, as Tor itself explains:
“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”
Format-shifting (of a kind, that is) doesn't have to be a dirty word, now, does it?

Tor itself is big enough to make a difference, too:
Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is a New York-based publisher of hardcover and softcover books, founded in 1980 and committed (although not limited) to arguably the largest and most diverse line of science fiction and fantasy ever produced by a single English-language publisher. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is also the home of award-winning Forge Books, founded in 1993 and committed (although not limited) to thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction and general fiction. Together, the imprints garnered 30 New York Times bestsellers in 2011.
This is an extremely interesting development in the publishing world - and one we should all follow closely.

If Tor, its readers and authors all benefit from such a move, it will make the job of those who insist on controlling our every content move just that little bit more difficult to justify.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Dan Hind on coalitional publishing

Here's an interesting idea: coalitional publishing.  Another example of bringing the market to where the customer already finds him- or herself instead of requiring the latter to make the effort of moving towards the former?  As Dan points out:
The Advantages of Coalitional Publishing

The text of each edition is identical. Each partner publisher is responsible for their cover design, and for the copy they use for their page on Amazon, for press releases, and so on. Each edition has its own product number and all revenues flow directly to the publisher of the particular edition. The revenues from sales are then split between the author and the publisher on an agreed split.

Each edition is promoted actively by the publisher responsible for it, who has a direct interest in generating revenues. And each publisher benefits from the activities of other publishers – as people become aware of a title and decide they want to buy it, they will gravitate towards the edition that benefits the organization they identify with most closely.

People who are regular readers of openDemocracy won’t decide to buy something just because openDemocracy have published it. But if they decide to buy something, they will be more likely to buy it from openDemocracy than from a fly-by-night operation like Myriad Editions (that’s me, by the way. ME. Clever, eh?).
A piece which shows us bright ideas can change fundamentally the way the publishing industry operates - without necessarily prejudicing the need for creators to earn a living from their works.

The future doesn't have to rely on imposing traditional business models on an ever-permanent present through overbearing copyright laws and legal impositions which stretch out forever the rights of behemoths everywhere.

Opportunities to share the publishing love can exist through such intelligent concepts.  

Of course, these kinds of ideas won't be suitable for each and every publishing project - but since niches have been the way of the world, at least the online world, for far more years than we may remember, this kind of publishing model fits very nicely with such a concept of reaching the customer through various and multifarious channels.

So my advice?  Read, and be damned! 

The rest of Dan's post deserves your fullest of attentions.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Twitter as a newspaper?

Virtual crossover as any Twitter feed becomes a newspaper.  You can find my main Twitter feed here, thus displayed.

This is a further example of how putting up paywalls can only harm traditional publishing - as the thirst for reading content generated in a crowdsourced and unpaid context only grows.

As curator of a Twitter feed which can now generate a newspaper, I wonder how this will affect who we follow and why.  It was always a conditional relationship - nothing wrong in that.  Now it may become a tool for substituting the high-priced content the media moguls claim we need.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

How the real crime is market failure confused as crime

This is a lovely piece of synthesis:
‘Piracy’ is a clear example of a market failure that’s being mistaken for a crime.
And this is also pertinent:
The classic example of this is The Beatles. I’ve said before that if you have any Beatles songs on your iPod then you have broken the law. The Beatles music is not legally available in MP3 format and ripping a CD to your MP3 player, so-called format shifting, is a breach of copyright law.

Where the blame lies for The Beatles’ absence from MP3 stores is anyone’s guess but Sir Paul McCartney placed it firmly with EMI in an interview with the BBC last week. Regardless of blame, I doubt anyone will feel they have done anything wrong if they have ripped legally-purchased Beatles CDs to their MP3 player. And EMI is likely to turn a blind eye to such behaviour.
More from Shane Richmond, writing in the Telegraph along similar lines, here.

As a postscript to all of this, I recently bought a Toshiba VHS/DVD/HDD recorder from Amazon which allows you to copy VHS tapes to DVD - and possibly to the internal hard drive as well as other external USB devices (I still haven't had time to fully investigate its copious documentation).  If this kind of format-shifting is possible, what's the point of me spending £200 on a device which can do something I'm not allowed to do?  Or, indeed, what moral right does a company like Toshiba have to design and manufacture such a device with so many legal caveats?

As a further postcript, I've had a DivX DVD player with a USB port for almost a year now - and still have been unable to find a reliable source of legal DivX content.  I did use Vuze right at the beginning, but one of the files which appeared to be legal downloaded with a virus attached to it - so, unhappy with that experience, I'm afraid I've gone back to renting and buying DVDs from my local supermarket.

As a final postscript, I also acquired a portable Samsung USB hard drive not long ago which came with a digital copy of Michael Jackson's recent film "This Is It".  Great film and pretty decent quality too - only downside I could see is that you can only install it on three different devices, all of which must be Windows.  If you want to stop people downloading content illegally, you really have to do better than that.  If DVDs can work on Windows, Apple, Linux and standard DVD devices, then their virtual equivalents must absolutely do no less.

"A vault of darkness"

An interesting phrase from Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, in this report on the imminent paywall the Times is going to have to shortly deal with.
However, though claiming it would be crazy to be "fundamentalist" about staying free if The Times succeeded, the Guardian editor went on to nail his colours to the mast by saying "if you erect a paywall around your content you kind of go into a vault of darkness".
Rusbridger goes on to say:
He believed openness to and collaboration with the wider internet "ecosystem" were key assets in future journalism.
Interesting also that access to Sky News' website will remain open.
Rusbridger also noted that Murdoch's Sky News website would still provide free news competition, memorably saying: "Rupert Murdoch is having it both ways at the moment and he would as readily stab you in the back as the front."
So is this part of a wider and longer-term strategy by Rupert Murdoch to increase users at the fiercely partisan, Tory leaning and Fox-like Sky and neutralise any remaining latency of true liberalism at the Times?

(This, incidentally, all came my way via Ian Bissell's Twitter feed.)

Friday, 2 April 2010

iPad, ¡sí! o iPad, ¡no!

Interesting article from Cory Doctorow on why the iPad is not the second coming. There are many people out there who need it to work - but that's not the same as actually making it work.

To be honest, as I've previously observed, I'd rather the iPad did provide that immersive experience of publishing the traditional publishers so hanker after - if only to get them off the web again and into their little profitable niches. Leave rapacious search engines to continue their valuable job of finding out interesting virtual corners and nooks and crannies. Create a parallel "web" - and leave the real one alone.

That's what I'm looking to happen. So I'd be glad if the iPad did work.

For those foolish, lazy and sad enough to need it.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

On folkbildningsidealet

A "profoundly democratic vision of universal learning and education"?  It sounds lovely - though perhaps terribly out of place in this curiously uncertain and still undefinable 21st century.  We are wavering between an all-out and absolutist conception of humanity as money-generating appendages of giant corporations and that far finer understanding of common interest and intelligence that the first years of the Internet have brought us.

More on the subject of a new Alexandria here.  Thanks to John Naughton (as always) for the link.