If you have local initiatives along these lines where you live, please, please beat on policy makers to stop creating idiotic policy that wont solve the problem they claim to be solving and in the process will deeply harm the wonderful and important source of creative energy that is the internet. Please.
There’s been a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately about Murdoch, Google, Bing, and the possible future business models of news and search. Rupert Murdoch has been making noises that News Corp will block the Google search bot; Nicholas Carr added his thoughts a few days ago, and TechCrunch is expanding on the rumours.
So, what’s happening is this: news business (and news sites) are not having a good time financially, to put it mildly. They look in envy at Google and think “how did our advertiser money go there?”, and more pointedly “how do we get it back?”. The wet dream is “we could make Google pay for linking to us”. Not very likely? Well, they say, we could block the Google index bot, and then Google either pay up or will not make money from us. Of course, the sites will lose the traffic, so who’s hurting is not clear.
The is interesting; until a few years ago, search sites could index all web content that mattered, and everyone agreed it was cool as it drove visitors to the sites. The first major examples of content outside search reach was closed-community blogging sites such as LiveJournal, where people post under “friend filter”. With the rise of Facebook a major content site was outside search reach, and suddenly Facebook was seen as a challenger to Google with a (not quite clear) social search model. Now, content sites appear to be seriously pondering teaming up and locking out search-engines (that do not pay).
The rhetoric is part entitlement – “we pay for the content, the profit is rightfully ours” – and part concern for society as we know it – “democracy depends on quality journalism, and without income news businesses will not be able to afford it”. In reality, it’s all straight out of business school. The term we’re looking for is bargaining power. In retail, Kellogg’s and Walmart slug it out over who get the profit when you buy Cornflakes. Now, Google and News Corp may slug it out over (advertiser) profit when you read news. Until recently, the wisdom was that Google has all the bargaining power. In business school analysis, the limited resource is (to keep with our Wallmart example) “shelf space” at Google. There’s many news sites and only one Google.
Murdoch is probing to see it that has changed. The wild card is Microsoft. Looking for traction for Bing, they just might pay for linkage, partly out for desperation, and partly out of spite. Plus there’s Facebook looming in Googles horizon. This will be interesting to watch. Any change in this space will have great impact on the future of internet business – and could dramatically affect Googles ability to fund experiments and innovations.
Me, I’m not betting on Murdoch. I’m not convinced that access to (some) news sites is so important to Google that they’ll break their business model to keep it. Or that they are that scared (yet). Most of all, I’m not sure a search site that pays for linkage is a viable business proposition. But clearly Murdoch would like a share of the profit, and Microsoft wouldn’t mind damaging Googles core business, so the fight may be on.
Today I had a random conversation about ebooks in general and the Kindle in particular at the most unlikely place – a random security check at Copenhagen airport. I’ve been taken out for these extra, thorough checks a couple of times, and they really do go over everything – turning on and checking each bit of electronics, looking through the items in your carry-on bag, etc. This takes time, and so there’s time for a chat. And as has happened frequently of late, the Kindle was what spurred the conversation.
Both security officers were interested in ebooks, intrigued by the possibilities, and quite well-informed. They wanted to know all about how I liked the Kindle – usability, how it is as a travel companion, the selection of books, the feel of it compared to a “real” book and compared to other devices, etc. They were impressed with all that. However, their concern was Amazon – or, rather, the Amazon business model even if that was not the words they used. They checked if I could buy books elsewhere than Amazon, about Amazon being able to delete my books. They were clearly skeptical about the Kindle and worried about the level of control Amazon has. They expressed interest in new, more open devices coming out.
This is good. It is good to hear that caution about single-vendor control and focus on open platforms has hold outside the geek community. It is also a sign that Amazon need to worry about this. Amazon still has a whopping lead and a chance to make good on first-mover advantage; However, if this kind of Kindle skepticism takes hold in the public, the advantage of the Kindle might erode so fast it ends up a millstone around Amazons neck.
I got a Kindle when the international version came out in October. I like it. Or, lets be more precise – I like the reading experience. I find reading books off the Kindle very agreeable. It just mostly does not get in the way of reading. But it comes with a license agreement, and my reaction when I saw that was “there goes book sharing”.
I other have gripes. The “international” part isn’t very international when it comes to it (more about that another day, maybe). Putting my own documents on the Kindle is way too complicated. There’s privacy concerns, and Amazon potentially deleting my books. And so on.
Cory Doctorow wrote about the license issue on BoingBoing yesterday. Apart from DRM being fundamentally broken, there’s a problem here that, at least for me, there’s a huge disconnect between how I usually treat books, and what the license allows. Back when I first ran into these licenses, it was about software, and that was not too bad. Software I will get, use, and eventually scrap. Passing it on is rare. Then digital music came along, and there was a problem. Music I usually buy and keep – and use many times. But I also let people borrow my CD’s, and I get inspiration from things I borrowed, and that doesn’t fit with DRM.
Books are different. Many books I buy and read, and put on a shelf not to be read by me again. Some of these I will lend to friends, sometimes many times. Some I give away. A book I buy may be used many times, but unlike a CD, a book will be mostly used by others. Likewise, friends plop books down on my desk, to read and keep, or give back, or pass on.
Books are shared. The format, the physical package, the way I read all make books sharing items. The license for the Kindle books go right against that. I just finished reading Carr’s “Does IT matter”, but I can’t pass it on to people I think would like it. That’s a serious problem – and one that’s hard to solve without abolishing DRM altogether. I don’t want Amazon to break the culture that surrounds books for me. I don’t want Amazon to destroy the intellectual sharing of passing books around – just because they are trying to turn what is for me a sharing item into a service, and a personal service at that.
I realize most ebooks come with some sort of shared account option. It’s possible to establish a shared bookshelf, so that at least I can share my books with my family. But that does not solve the problem of not being able to circulate books freely.