Isaacson's Micropayment Article An Example, By Itself, Of How Screwed Up Mainstream Media Is

from the irony-without-the-micropayments dept

We've already beat up on Walter Isaacson and his ridiculous plan to save mainstream newspapers and magazines via online micropayments, but couldn't resist discussing one extreme bit of irony pointed out by Tim Lee and discussed at length at the Abstract Factory blog: the reasoning in Isaacson's article is so weak, it shows why it's not worth paying for. Specifically, the post notes that Time Magazine published Isaacson's writeup instead of those who actually understand the issue, because he's a part of their "club" (the former managing editor). Thus, Time chose a clueless friend, rather than an informed stranger -- and that sort of thinking is all too common in the business:
When you're a member of the club, your buddies will publish any old crap you write; better you than some stupid professor nobody knows....

I mentioned irony earlier. Isaacson has filigreed the irony with extraordinary precision. His article is inferior to material produced for free online by people who draw their paychecks from other sources (Shirky and Odlyzko are both professors who also work(ed) in the private technology sector). Furthermore, it is inferior as a direct consequence of structural weaknesses of traditional magazines. Despite its inferior quality, it presumes its own superior status by ignoring or dismissing contributions to the discussion which occurred outside of traditional "journalistic" media. Finally, taking that superiority as a given, it argues, poorly, that people ought to pay money for products like itself, because (quoting Bill Gates) nobody can "afford to do professional work for nothing".

In short, Isaacson's article not only fails to make its case, it actively undermines its own case while doing so.
Meanwhile, if you want yet another good argument against micropayments, be sure to check out Charles Arthur explaining how micropayments would turn the web into Zimbabwe.
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Filed Under: micropayments, news, newspapers, walter isaacson


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  1. identicon
    Albert, 20 Feb 2009 @ 6:27am

    Smarter than ya think?

    Yet another reason micropayments won't work is that they add up. The web's grown because we can afford to wade through all the noise to discover and find the limited content that we want. We can afford to amuse ourselves or, more accurately, we can afford to fail to amuse ourselves.

    Once we start paying for every page visited, even if it's a penny or few, we're going to stop exploring because we'll be paying much more for the myriad pages of junk we wade through than we will for the content we ultimately wanted or needed.

    At least ninety percent of the links I follow from Digg, Fark and their ilk are to things I'm indifferent about. Probably no more than two percent turn out to be things that I found interesting or worthwhile once I got there. Links from Google search results are only marginally more satisfying. If you start charging me by the page I won't be wasting my cents on anything that doesn't have a very high probability of satisfying me. That means I'm going to stick with what I know more often than not.

    Ultimately I think this is what big-content realizes and that's why there are aiming for it. They don't want you exploring and discovering that there are alternatives, much less better alternatives, and they don't want to adapt or grow or improve. Instead they want to force you to visit them by making it cost prohibitive to visit their competition.

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