For the last year I've been trying to read Umberto Eco's book "Foucault's Pendulum" and while it's slow going (I'm hoping to get it done by Thanksgiving) it does include a wonderful image for today's Web strategist.
It's the publishing house where the hero Casaubon works. Or rather it's the houses. Garamond's offices are modest, its titles are academic, but it prints for the market. On the other side of the door Manutius' offices are opulent, its titles baroque, but it is, in fact, a vanity press. Expensive books are printed in short print runs and the authors are then induced to buy them.
A key plot point occurs when our hero discovers that some of the books "for Manutius" (about the Knight Templars' and the myriad conspiracy theories sprung from their Medieval demise) have a market. Thus we have a no-lose proposition, vanity books that make a profit.
This is what we had in the 1990s. Companies such as GeoCities and Tripod rose to prominence on the discovery that "vanity press" home pages could be published free, the bills paid for by advertising, with a profit generated to the Web publisher. The mistake made by the sites' buyers, Yahoo and Lycos, was in thinking that this would always work.
Life isn't like that. Of every 100 books that are written, most won't find a market because people don't want to read them. A publisher's job is to find those few books that people might buy or, failing that, to find ways to extract the necessary cash from the authors.
One of the great revelations of the "computer press" I have worked in for 20 years lies in just how many books we thought were for Garamond were actually for Manutius.
Most computer titles are written for vendors - often for Microsoft - and actually "replace" software manuals. Having written two software manuals I understand why this is so. Programmers may plan on creating a set of features accessed in specific ways, but until the work is finally done (and by "done" I mean beta-tested) it's impossible to really know which features will make it into the final product. So the manual follows the functional specifications closely, and when the product ships it reads that way. It's a guide for writing the program, not for using it.
Thus, publishers gave writers beta copies of the software and had them perform routine tasks with it, documenting the process with hints, tips and screen shots. These were edited and sold fairly well. Writers thought they were "for Garamond" because that's how the economics worked for us - there were advances and (sometimes) royalties. But they were actually "for Manutius" - subsidized by the software companies.
The format of the user books had a brief vogue in the form of the "Dummies" books, as the format was applied to everything from business to cooking to sex. But this was a fad, not a format, as the publisher finally learned to its chagrin.
What Clues do we get from all this? They're the opposite of Eco's. Many sites and books we thought were published "for Garamond" (for the market) were actually done "for Manutius" (for the author or sponsor's vanity). The collapse of the 1990s economy has exposed this reality. And now that must be acted upon.
Most of those who write for the Web spend precious little time reading what others write. Most of what's written does not draw enough traffic to create a viable "Garamond" business model. Thus we're going to see the construction of new "Manutius" models.
Authors will pay for their hard drive space, for the bandwidth their sites consume, but in exchange they might be given a set of e-commerce tools that might enable them (if they market themselves well, or find good marketing help) to pay some of those bills.
The key to success will lie in deciding which authors to market and which not to - Garamond or Manutius. The simple answer will lie in traffic analysis -- when you get X number of visitors per week you gain access to Y services.
The subtle answer will be for the Web's Casaubons to flatter everyone, to take from all sides and give to none but themselves. The key for authors will be to look around them, and realize that if something sounds too good to be true, it very likely is.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
I accepted an assignment to create a white paper for a vendor recently and found, to my shock and surprise, that I actually enjoyed the work. I believe even white papers need a story, and that story must be told well. My weakness is on technical accuracy, but it you want your materials to be worth reading let me give you a hand.
You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , B2B, and Boardwatch. "Living on the Internet: How to Make Money, Live Right, and Fight For the 21st Century" is now in the hands of the folks at eBookAgent, which is arranging for electronic distribution. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
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Takes on the News
Joining the Black List
As a boy I had one great ambition, to write for The New York Times. The paper was scrupulously fair, it wrote about serious subjects at length, and it paid well.
Fate conspired against me. My bride needed me to start my career in Houston. We never made it north. But the dream didn't really die.
That is, it didn't die until recently. I've signed many all-in contracts for my journalism over the years. I know electronic rights aren't worth much in most cases. But the Times' blatant assertion of rights, knocked down by the Supreme Court in Tasini et al. vs. New York Times , just went too far. Even after losing the case the paper was petulant, pulling freelancers' stories from its archives for refusing to waive their rights, even though the Times has (unlike most) made great efforts to profit from its morgue.
The final straw was my receipt of a note from Michaela Williams stating quite clearly that all named plaintiffs in the Tasini case were henceforth to go on a Times' black list. That is, all editors and clerks were given a memo stating that they are not, under any circumstances, to hire the men and women who asserted their rights under the law.
Copyright isn't communism, and Michaela Williams is not the HUAC Committee . But it's possible, at this writing, that the horrors of the McCarthy Age will return to the U.S. ("are you now or have you ever been") as the far-right searches for scapegoats regarding the terror (and refuses to acknowledge the CIA's role in creating Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban horror, as it has refused to accept responsibility for other unintended consequences of the last Cold War).
So the time has come to make hard choices, and I've made one. I wrote Ms. Williams a note, asking that I be added to the Tasini black list. If you're a writer of courage and conviction you will do the same.
U.S. Takeover of ICANN?
ICANN, the corporation designed to oversee the Internet's domain name conventions, was always a creature of the U.S. government. It took its role from the U.S. Commerce Department, it is incorporated in the U.S., and its leaders have, by and large, been Americans.
As an American I have no objection to that. But as the U.S. reacts to terror by terrorizing its citizens in the name of the law, abandoning its 210 year old heritage of personal liberty permanently in an undeclared war that (unlike the changed laws) will end, it might be time to re-think that position.
ICANN has suddenly changed its direction, from an emphasis on the protection of trademarks in copyright disputes to an emphasis on "net security." The fiasco concerning the launch of the .info domain has, for now, taken second place.
Richard Forno of Infowarrior suggested that the U.S. government simply "take over" its domain name servers "in time of war" and let the military handle it. (Memo to Richard: we are at war.) Karl Auerbach, an elected ICANN board member who usually criticizes the rest of the board, has praised it in this case, saying ICANN is really trying to establish "some rather low-tech things, like good off-site backups/escrows" and coordination procedures with ISPs if root servers are attacked."
ICANN chairman Stuart Lynn wrote in response to the critics that "no one in the ICANN community -- and I mean *no one* -- would use the events of 9/11 for bureaucratic ends such as postponing other actions. Accusing people of such motivations (indulging in fantasy speculations with no evidence whatsoever) is trivializing a tragedy. Anyone who accuses any member of the community of such a motivation will gain no respect whatsoever from me."
It is a mark of just how badly ICANN has performed that paranoid fantasies and the idea of national takeovers of Internet functions have gained traction at a time when truly international solutions are most needed. Actions are required, not just meetings. Absent such actions national governments will take back the Internet, and destroy it in the name of national security.
Music Publishers Under Siege
It is beginning to dawn on judges and other policy makers that the interests of music publishers and the musicians they claim to represent are not the same. This might have some large implications in the copyright wars.
Judge Marilyn Patel was one of the first to see this reality , giving the anti-trust violations inherent in the labels' deal with Real Networks' MusicNet a tongue-lashing from the bench last month.
This was followed by investigations on both sides of the Atlantic into the question of whether the labels' deals with PressPlay and MusicNet violate anti-trust laws. If the labels are found guilty of anti-trust violations it could vitiate their copyrights, essentially freeing artists to build their own deals with Internet sites.
The arrogance and hard-heartedness of the music publishers even got to Congress, which slapped down its attempt to win an absolute right to hack into users' computers in the search for copyrighted material. The amendment would have immunized all copyright holders from responsibility for their hacking on behalf of copyright. The attempt was made in the form of an amendment to the "USA Act," passed by the U.S. Senate 96-1 on October 11.
The industry was last seen trying to get an exemption from its hacking and virus-writing activities placed into the bill during the House-Senate conference, while claiming it already has the right to do this under current law. But if Congress is only convinced its activities threaten national security (which they do, since they create a loophole even a terrorist can wriggle through) the industry may have found it finally over-reached.
Clued-in is al-Jezeera. A journalist's job is to get the story, not be the instrument of anyone's foreign policy. CNN has ignored that, and all America is now paying the price. The trusted voice is no longer ours, but Qatar's. (Thank God for the BBC, which retains its credibility and trained the al-Jazeera journalists.)
Clued-in, also is George Kennan, who authored the term "Cold War," created the original containment policy, and wrote at that time that fear could turn us "intolerant, secretive, suspicious, cruel, and terrified of internal dissension because we have lost our own belief in ourselves and in the power of our ideals. The worst thing that our Communists could do to us," he went on, "and the thing we have most to fear from their activities, is that we should become like them." I note gratefully that Kennan is still among the living.
Clueless is Primedia, which dumped most of About's Guides and Brill's Content . If you don't know what you're doing don't throw millions at it.
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