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Just Let Me Pay Dammit…

July 2, 2009

There is a very real risk of me sounding like an old fart, but this whole “free is the future” thing is undoubtedly the dumbest debate since the “branding gives you bigger orgasms” thing from last year.

Chris Anderson’s new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” which is not all free (Hyperion; $26.99) and apparently (I haven’t read it) full of stuff like this…

Journalism as a profession will share the stage with journalism as an avocation. Meanwhile, others may use their skills to teach and organize amateurs to do a better job covering their own communities, becoming more editor/coach than writer. If so, leveraging the Free—paying people to get other people to write for non-monetary rewards—may not be the enemy of professional journalists. Instead, it may be their salvation.

…which would certainly help me have a giggle if nothing else illustrates the paradox of the so-called debate. In this book which someone has to shell out twenty seven bucks for the author encourages paid journalists to transform themselves into new gurus teaching how to motivate others to pump stuff out for free. He manages to endorse a form of slavery (as long as you are the slave master and getting paid) in a book (which you have paid for) in the effort to ultimately convince yourself that the total demise of your profession is actually the salvation.

I haven’t heard so much twisted bollocks since I left the gloomy art school amphitheatres and a headful of equally trite Derrida lectures at the end of the eighties.

The desperate desire of new gurus is pretty much the same as any other gurus from the past (you remember the ones with skinny legs, big beards, and cloth diaper-looking underpants) which is to convince people to follow them. The latest hook is to convince people to create their own followers in a thinly-veiled attempt to mask their own salivation at the idea of having hordes of virtual readers following them.

Some are altruists (in the same way as some of those swami dudes probably were) and really do try to think this crap through in the name of helping the nameless thousands on their statistics counters but there are others who are starting to rub this jaded little cynic the wrong way.

Newspapers are dying according to Anderson because they aren’t free. I can get the info faster and fresher on the internet and in the race to be fast and fresh you just can’t beat the speed of the geeks armed with 140 characters and an internet connection. So why would I pay to have the weekend papers delivered to my house to read with my coffee on a Sunday morning? Why would I want to relax with my wife and chat about current affairs? Or answer tricky political questions from my kids like why can’t we all be Presidents at the same time? Why do I keep renewing my subscription? Is it for the ten dollar watch?

For Seth the fat lady is all but singing…

Like all dying industries, the old perfect businesses will whine, criticize, demonize and most of all, lobby for relief. It won’t work. The big reason is simple:

In a world of free, everyone can play.

Yeah, well, everyone could play before. And did. I’m always surprised by intelligent people who are convinced no one had a conversation with anyone else before you could quantify it by the number of friends you have on Twitter or what your Technorati rank is or whatever the hell the newest and shiniest version of this crap is. Seth finds it ironic that people buy his books which means two things – 1/ like a lot of people he has a tough time using the word ironic correctly and 2/ it kind of screws up his idea that all powerful editors squeezed out thousands of wannabe writers because they were so obsessed by making money out of the business of writing that it is now dying and journalism is on the front line.

Publishing was supposed to die with desktop publishing (remember that?),TV was supposed to be dying with TiVo (or whatever it was), we were all supposed to be dead with swine flu, bird flu, mad-cow disease etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

If I’m getting slow and stale it’s fine by me because in the race to be fast and fresh I just can’t keep up with all the killing.

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