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Generalism vs Specificity · Tuesday September 16, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch

In his second article concerning the inexorable transformation of American newspapers Vin Crosbie is right on the ball with the necessary change in focus from generalism to specificity that must occur when you no can longer produce one newspaper for a single mass market, a single virtual audience, but have to recognise that there is a vastness of audiences, each with a far more specialised set of interests.

This applies to most forms of art, not just newsprint, e.g. movies. The likes of Disney are focussed on producing a single product with most effort spent on maximising its mass appeal – simply because they have been brainwashed over the years to think this is the way it has to be (given the physical limitations of their reproduction and distribution system). Newspapers also attempt to include something for all the family, something to interest everyone.

However, I think the issue of charging isn’t simply due to the Web providing vast amounts of more specific information (without charge), making general newsprint less valuable in comparison. The value of news to those reading it remains unchanged. What the web demonstrates is that the inability to charge arises from an inability to control supply and distribution, not any change in value. It also demonstrates that this situation is the natural one, and that newspapers enjoyed an unnatural one – thanks entirely to copyright.

Without copyright, newspapers couldn’t charge for their control over supply. They would have to operate on the basis of voluntary subscriptions from readers and/or payments from advertisers.

On the web, copyright is revealed to be wholly inappropriate and unviable as a means of preserving a publisher’s monopolistic control over the use of their news – as Associated Press has recently discovered (see techdirt.com and ravinglunacy.org).

Much of this misadventure in applying anachronistic printing privileges stems from use of paper analogues and metaphors to describe the web, which leads publishers to presume it can be subject to the same anachronistic laws governing copying and thus the same business models. If only people could see past the metaphors they’d realise that underlying the web is an instantaneous diffusion mechanism dedicated to distribution and reproduction of digital information according to interest – with no notion of man-made laws, only the natural laws of information.

So far, only charging (charged reading or subscriptions) and advertising have been explored as a means of funding online news. Charging does not work, and advertising is degrading. Very few are as yet exploring voluntary payment or subscriptions. I’m one of these latter few who believe revenue models for digital productions have to be rethought from the ground up without any notion of copyright or other ability to control use or redistribution of published works.



 

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