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
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2009 @ 1:56am

    One structural weekness of the alternatives to traditional news magazines is that they all tend to descend tothe level of blogging where authors spend more words expressing contempt for those they dissagree with than on actually explaining what they do belive in.
    This silly outrage doesn't establish any real credibility so its very difficult to consider it as a replacement for real news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Crabby (profile), 20 Feb 2009 @ 6:40am

    Re: Smarter than ya think?

    Albert, you bring up some good points. Even pennies per page will dissuade some people from visiting sites they don't know. And it's not really the amount of money, either, it's the nuisance factor of having to keep adding money to a spending account or of balancing your checkbooks every month.

    Now, if e-mail providers started charging by the message, we could probably reduce spam tremendously, and all without government interference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Jack, 20 Feb 2009 @ 6:41am

    Please let others respond Anonymous Coward

    I usually do not take the time to respond to small articles.
    I cant be silent any longer.Man or women (Anonymous Coward)you have way to much free time.Please just be silent for a while.You have got to be one of the smartest people on the face of the earth because you have an opinion on everything.

    The facts are that newspapers and magazines subscription numbers are dwindling.

    Save a tree and use the internet,local and national news up to the minute. I can even get better coupons online.Does "REAL" news have to be in the form of paper? I pay for internet subscriptions only,read the news from my cell phone.I can surf in 10 minutes and get all I need (left,right and moderate)all without buying a newspaper.I haven't bought a newspaper in well over 10 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2009 @ 7:41am

    Re: Please let others respond Anonymous Coward

    Jack, in all those years did you not notice that it is correct to put a space after punctuation marks?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Jack, 20 Feb 2009 @ 8:25am

    Point proven

    Anonymous Coward,ever use spell check.LOL! I "belive" you are the smartest guy in the world. What a great retort!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    anonymous coward's dutch uncle, 20 Feb 2009 @ 3:42pm


    hey anonymous coward, 1997 called, and they want their witty retorts on message boards back

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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