Two comments on two quotes from Yochai Benkler

posted by Mike on February 9th, 2007

I’m starting a project on Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, and already a couple quotes have caught my attention.

Benkler spends most of the book describing how our information, as opposed to material goods, often comes from non-profit/voluntary/ad hoc sources. In setting up this argument, he begins chapter 2 thus:

There are no noncommercial automobile manufacturers. There are no volunteer steel foundries. You would never have your primary source of bread depend on voluntary contributions from others.

Many people choose to depend on the kindness of strangers. At times, I myself have depended on voluntary contributions from others. A whole strand of itinerant Christianity is based on this model.

My nitpicking is irrelevant to the thrust of his argument, but still I wish he’d make a place for bums in his otherwise compulsively thorough world view.

Another quote:

If all copyright on newspapers were abolished, the revenues of newspapers would be little affected.

(See Note 6.)

When I look at the on-line versions of the Worcester papers, I see ample room for improvement. And in a world without newspaper copyright, someone could spend a couple days making a site that would grab content from the T&G and WoMag websites, import it into a decent Content Management System, and republish it on the web in a competent way. I would surely visit that site rather than the crappy ones that exist now. Trouble is, there’s probably not enough on-line ad revenue associate with this content, so nobody would take the time.

Does this argument about newspaper copyright hold in the virtual world because newspapers have no virtual future? Or is newspaper copyright key to that virtual future?

I shouldn’t think about these things before I’ve had my coffee.

NB: You can also read thought by people smarter than me about this book.

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3 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On April 4, 2007 at 05:07 Morten Blaabjerg said:

    Re: On Benklers point on newspapers

    As I understood Benklers point, the role of newspapers is such as to deliver news. When you copy a newspaper, the news are no longer new, and therefore copyright doesn’t really affect the business model of a newspaper (in the classical sense). You wouldn’t really want to buy yesterday’s newspaper.

    On the web, perhaps the question is different, but then we’re not talking about newspapers in the traditional meaning of a newspaper.

  2. On April 4, 2007 at 13:29 Adam Villani said:

    Many newspapers, in their online form, offer current info for free and charge for their archives. I read somewhere a suggestion that newspapers should instead offer their archives for free (since, presumably, old news isn’t worth as much as new news) and charge for the new news. What do you think of this? I think a lot of papers would be reluctant to do this because there are so many alternative sources of news out there, so nobody would pay for the new stuff. The NY Times has tried this with their “Times Select” slate of opinion writers, but from what I’ve heard, that has been a disappointment on their part. A lot of the Wall Street Journal is behind a paywall. I guess for newspapers to charge for their content, they really need to distinguish themselves from their potential competitors.

  3. On April 4, 2007 at 13:43 Mike said:

    Doc Searls articulates this point: “Stop giving away the news and charging for the olds.”

    Reading stats on Internet news consumption, I’d guess that in an area like Worcester County you’d have 10% of the population that read the on-line newspaper on a regular basis. How many of these people already subscribe to the print paper? (You could give them free accounts.) How many who don’t subscribe would be willing to pay for today’s on-line news? The answers to those questions should help a paper decide if it should charge for the on-line edition.

    As to opening up the archives, you’d have to see how much money you were making from paywall archives already. Then ask: How many thousands of articles would we be making available? How much could we make from the ads served to web surfers who find these articles via Google, etc?

    Personally, I would love to see the weekly Worcester Magazine, which has just revamped their site, start charging like $1 a month to see the new articles on Thursday when the print edition comes out, and post them for everyone on Friday. (WoMag isn’t running any ads right now, and their archives are kinda broken, so ad-based strategies aren’t something that’s relevant to them yet.)

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