By Christopher B. Daly
The Monday Times round-up:
There are two interesting pieces about the media businesses, but they appear in different sections and were probably not planned as a package. Nevertheless, these two articles are more informative if read together.
First, I recommend David Carr’s celebration of the business acumen of the recently departed film critic Roger Ebert. Carr points out that Ebert consistently experimented with new outlets for his work and did not shy away from new technologies. In the process, he became a brand name and added to our vocabulary. (Whether he really elevated film criticism is another question)
Extra credit: Carr discovered (remembered?) that Ebert played a key role in the success of another media entrepreneur — Oprah Winfrey. As I explain in my recent book Covering America (p 424 in the print edition), it was Ebert who opened Oprah’s eyes to the power of owning a stake in your own brand. Taking his advice, Oprah went from being a media employee to being a media mogul.
All that said, Carr’s column should be read in conjunction with an op-ed by the famous (and wealthy) lawyer, legal novelist, and president of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow. In his op-ed, Turow documents the many ways in which publishers and book-sellers worldwide are turning their ingenuity to finding ways to NOT PAY WRITERS. This is a very bad thing, under any circumstances and in any medium. It also undermines the effort of every writer, like Roger Ebert, who wants to escape the hamster wheel of working for someone else and to live independently on the earnings from their own writing (or painting, or photography, or film-making or any creative venture).
And there are many e-books on which authors and publishers, big and small, earn nothing at all. Numerous pirate sites, supported by advertising or subscription fees, have grown up offshore, offering new and old e-books free.
The pirates would be a limited menace were it not for search engines that point users to these rogue sites with no fear of legal consequence, thanks to a provision inserted into the 1998 copyright laws. A search for “Scott Turow free e-books” brought up 10 pirate sites out of the first 10 results on Yahoo, 8 of 8 on Bing and 6 of 10 on Google, with paid ads decorating the margins of all three pages.
If I stood on a corner telling people who asked where they could buy stolen goods and collected a small fee for it, I’d be on my way to jail. And yet even while search engines sail under mottos like “Don’t be evil,” they do the same thing.
Yikes. Someone should get him a lawyer!