The Speed of Knowledge versus Copyright

No one yet knows the real impact of the Internet on human society.  If it wasn’t for copyright laws, the Internet could be the ultimate library. A dazzling library that it would surpass all existing world libraries and all libraries in history.  Even now, most people get more information from the Internet than they ever gotten from a library, or for that matter, from books, magazines, journals and newspapers.  Yet, the Internet is severely hobbled by copyright.

Writers need to make a living, and publishers need to make a profit, so it’s understandable that copyrights should protect intellectual property.  I don’t resent the need for writers and publishers to make money.  I do resent that making money impedes the flow of knowledge.  It’s a shame that the current distribution systems are so inefficient at spreading commercial knowledge.

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Take for instance the article I just read in The New Yorker, “The Gene Factory” by Michael Spector.  If you follow the link you’ll reach a teaser section of the article and information about how to subscribe.  This does not let you quickly read the article, which means you probably won’t.  If you’re already a subscriber and have set up your digital access, or can just grab your latest copy of the magazine, then reading is a little faster, but not quite as convenient as following a link.  Please make the effort, the article is worth it.

Many journals and magazines do offer to let readers buy an immediate reprint, usually for several dollars.  This is step in the right direction, but their pricing structure usually causes web users to skip the article.  Now I would prefer that the content of all magazines, journals and newspaper be free, but I’m no old hippie, and can understand the need to charge.  What I suggest is to make selling articles easier and price them at impulse buying fees.  What we need is a good micropayment system so publishers can charge 10-99 cents an article.

“The Gene Factory” by Michael Spector is an article that most people should read, but especially people worried about America’s future and science fiction writers.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Gattica then you’ll know what this article is about.  Then again, if you’ve ever been fascinated by the decline of the British Empire and wondered when and how the American Empire would start declining, then again, this article is for you.

gattaca

“The Gene Factory” is specifically about  Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), but also about the impact of gene sequencing on human society.  The New Yorker article is very long and full of wonderful details and speculation, far more than I want to paraphrase here.  Which is why our society would be so much different if I could just provide you a link and you could go read the article.  Then if the article also included links to all the research that Michael Spector put into writing the article, we could all study what he has to say in depth.

Now, wouldn’t that increase the speed of knowledge?  And if you don’t feel the need for such speed, then again, I recommend you read the article.

Some magazines like The Atlantic and The Smithsonian put much of their content online for free.  I wonder if ideas in their content is spread faster and further throughout the world’s population than paywall controlled content?  That has to be the case, but I’d love to see the numbers.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to see public hit statistics for every article on the web?  Wouldn’t it be very cool to have a place on the web to see what people are reading, the Top 100,000 for the last hour, day, week, month, year and decade?  Think about the data mining possibilities!

Even cooler would be a raw hit score, plus a weighted score from people voting reading value.  So much more could be done for the Internet.  I feel like I’m thinking about television technology in 1939 and wondering what its real potential will be.

By the way, I use the Internet service Next Issue to subscribe to over 125 magazines for $15 a month.  It’s a quick way to get access to The New Yorker and many other magazines.  Next Issue might be worth trying just to read “The Gene Factory.”

JWH – 1/2/13

Science As Fantastic As Science Fiction

Science fiction magazine editors often complain they don’t get enough science fiction stories submitted to them.  What they need to do is convince the popular science writers showcased in the latest edition of Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008 to also write fictionalized versions of their latest essays.  Or maybe, all those would-be science fiction writers stuffing their slush piles should study this volume, integrate the ideas into their work, and then they’d impress those editors.  I kid you not, there are some far-out, fantastic, sense-of-wonder concepts in these essays.  Just do a bit of sampling here, and you’ll see what I mean.

Start with the Freeman Dyson prediction about green technology.  He’s not talking about windmill generators, but plants with silicon leaves, engineering biology and taking over the role of evolution to remake the Earth.  If you want to know about alien minds, trying reading the essays by Colapinto and Cook.  They don’t look to the stars and little green men who think different, but to South America.  Then Jon Mooallem looks at the history of people seeking anti-gravity and gravity radio.  Each essay, no matter how down to earth, could be used to inspire SF stories.

Here’s the table of contents with links to the articles on the web:

Just the fact that I can link to full-text versions of all but three of these articles on the web is science fictional.  It represents a major paradigm shift in copyright, economics and the dissemination of knowledge.  And I’m not linking to these articles to give you free reads, you should buy the volume and study it.  I’m linking to web pages as a way to review this book, because just sampling these links will give you a taste of what I’m talking about far better than I could with descriptive words.  Most people do not like to read off computer screens, but having these essays online is an excellent way to recommend them to your friends.

This collection is a snapshot of our times but far different from what you see on the news at night.  These articles are overwhelmingly about the future, either predicting fantastic new developments, or warning us of dire happenings if things continue as they are now.  All the concepts that science fiction writers use to write visionary science fiction.  I’ve been getting this volume each year for awhile now, but I’ve yet to meet anyone else that recommends it.  That’s a real shame.  Science was never so accessible, so why isn’t it more popular?

Could this be why the SF mag editors aren’t seeing that many science fiction stories cross their desks?  Because we now live in a world that seems science fictional compared to what we grew up in just a few decades ago.  I was watching a new cop show called Life on Mars, about a detective thrown into the distant past of 1973, and I was struck by the scene where he’s wishing for a cell phone.  Or another time when he mutters about wanting a computer.  I’d love to time travel back to see The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, or the Beatles in Germany, but I don’t know if I could live without my sixth sense, the Internet.

The world and election I remember seeing through a 19″ black and white TV in 1960 is so very different from how I see reality in 2008 while watching a 52″ high definition set.  I think we take science for granted now, and back then science was that gee-whiz Mr. Science stuff that nobody paid any attention to other than the proto-geeks.  Many of the science stories in this year’s collection come from The New Yorker, The Atlantic and other mundane periodicals.  Today I can switch on my TV and see an hour documentary on the history of the black hole, and the controversy over the information paradox that Stephen Hawking had proposed that angered scientists for years.  When I was growing up, my choices were Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

In the early days of three channel television, there wasn’t room for physics and astronomy shows.  Today I can find several science documentaries on every night, and not boring ones like we used to see on 16mm film in science class, but fantastic shows with killer computer graphic clips beautifully illustrating cutting edge science, like string theory and the effects of dark matter of galaxy formation.

Sheila Williams, the editor at Asimov’s SF Magazine, complains she receives too many stories beginning with exploding space ships.  That was a popular way to begin a story back in the 1930s.  Explosions are dramatic and quickly lead to action, but what people want today are new far-out ideas to create sense-of-wonder SF, and evidently too many potential science fiction writers are living on ancient clichés.  They need to be reading the science essays and watching the science documentaries on TV, because the mundane world has passed old science fiction by, leaving it quaint and suitable for nostalgia retrospectives.

The Donlan and Dyson articles inspired me to envision fantastic changes in our everyday landscapes.  Donlan writes about scientists wanting to repopulate the American plains with substitute “megafauna” like that found 13,000 years ago during the Pleistocene overkill, which would make traveling out west like a safari crossing a well populated African wildlife preserve.  Imagine tooling west on Interstate 70 and seeing elephants, tigers, lions, camels dwelling in the high grass beyond the highway fences?  If you add in Dyson’s biological experiments, and think about T. Boone Pickens’ giant windmill farms, our country is going to look very different.  When I was growing up, the future was exciting because of rocket travel.  Traveling to Mars may end up boring compared to just staying home.

I think about the recent hurricanes, Katrina and Ike, and wonder what our coastlines would be like if we could build houses that were indifferent to big waves and wind.  In my neighborhood I’m seeing hawks, raccoons and red foxes set up habitats.  I know there’s a chance that possums, coyotes and armadillos exist unseen.  It wouldn’t take much to let our lawns become urban prairies and adapt our lifestyle to allow for more wildlife, renewable energy, shifting ecologies so where we live would no longer be manicured sameness.

If we listen to Freeman Dyson, we could have all kinds of scientifically created plants and animals joining us, like shrubs that produce electricity.  How do you make such a neighborhood biosphere into a science fiction story?

On the TV at night, the news is all bad, dwelling on lost jobs, crashing stock markets, terrorism, melting glaciers, oil panics that make me worry that the future will be dim and full of drudgery.  Reading The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008, makes me think the future will be more like living in Oz.  I wonder what the mood of the country would be like if ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news programs shifted their focus from Wall Street to science laboratories around the world, would we all feel better about the future?

The public fear you see in the news is all about economics, and that’s because economists are uncertain about the future.  Reporters should spend more time interviewing scientists, who are more confident about what’s ahead.  Reading Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman made me feel a whole lot better about the next forty years because he interviewed hundreds of people with solutions, not problems.  The articles in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008 aren’t gosh-wow futurism like the 1939 World’s Fair, but working class science, as real and ordinary as cloning and gene splicing.

JWH 10-11-8

Who is Still Playing Buckwheat’s Songs?

There is a song I love, “On My Own” by a guy named B. W. Stevenson, but sad to say it’s not easy to find anymore. I recently discovered that Lone Star Music has reprinted several of his old LPs as 2 for 1 CDs and I ordered a couple from Amazon. However, I wished Buckwheat’s music (that’s where the B. W. comes from) was on Rhapsody. I don’t like buying CDs anymore, because if it not on Rhapsody it tends not to get played by me. After playing B. W. Stevenson’s Best of Album on LP, I just had to order some more of his music. I’m getting rid of all my LPs, and a few inspire me to play them just one last time, like Buckwheat’s album. I sometimes think of getting rid of my CDs, which is why I hate ordering CDs, because I know I’ll be have to make another sad farewell in the future. CDs tie me to old technology that I’m very anxious to leave behind.

I hate to think of lost music and lost artists. How many 78s were converted to LP? And then how many LPs were saved for the future by conversion to CDs? And now, how many physical albums, from all that were ever recorded and published will make it to the new digital world of music? 113,895 visitors (since 7/22/01) have clicked on that B. W. Stevenson site above to see his discography, so we know he has some fans out there. I’d love it if all the digital subscription services and digital music sales sites had to report their data to a central service. How many people played “On My Own” in 2007?

I keep up with a forgotten writer, Lady Dorothy Mills, who published fifteen books in the 1920s and early 1930s. She’s forgotten today. I maintain that web site on her. I’m one of her last readers as far as I can tell. I get about one email a year either asking about her or providing me with a new snippet of information. If her books were reprinted as ebooks on the Internet would she gain new readers? If Buckwheat’s music was on Rhapsody, Napster and Zune, would he be acquiring new fans?

Lee, a friend of mine, told me how much he loved the old British folk group Fairport Convention and I was able to find 14 of their albums on Rhapsody, including 7 of their first 20 albums. I’m playing the first right now. Does being on Rhapsody help or hurt the group? They would probably make more money from actual CD sales, but as long as I can listen to digital music and not have to mess with a physical media to file and store, I want to leave the world of CDs forever. B. W. Stevenson’s music isn’t on Rhapsody. Except for “Shambala” on a 70’s hit record, his albums aren’t on iTunes or Amazon MP3 sites either. Why? Why does Fairport Convention get 14 albums preserved? Is it because Buckwheat is pretty much forgotten and Fairport Convention was famous enough to maintain a momentum into the future – for right now. Amazon has 12 of their records for sale as MP3 albums.

As a fan I’m more concerned about hearing the music I love, but I suppose the owners of the music, they are more concerned with making the maximum amount of money. Copyright protects their work, we’d like to think. I’ve always wondered how much artists make from providing their work on subscription services like Rhapsody. But I have to ask, does being available count for something? Would young people be listening to more Beatle songs if they were legally online? Rhapsody is catching on. Rhapsody is now on TiVo and cell phones and subscription music is a new feature on some cable TV systems, and offered by some universities to their students via campus networks. And companies like Sonos make Rhapsody America and Napster even easier to access – almost like science fiction magic. Subscription music is the music distribution system of the future, even if it’s not quite a success now.

It’s like that old question about a tree falling in a forest, who will hear Buckwheat’s music when all the songs are played digitally? Like I said, I’m giving up my LPs, and maybe my CDs soon, and even my SACDs. Eventually I’ll have to decide do I want to own music, like how I just ordered the B. W. Stevenson’s CDs, or do I just want to play music by beckoning it out of cyberspace? I own about 20,000 songs. Rhapsody lets me play from about 5,000,000 in the library, with a good deal of overlap. It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. If I hadn’t ordered those CDs from Amazon I would have lost access to “On My Own.” I don’t know how long I will continue to do that, just to save some old favorite songs. I did rip “On My Own” from the LP to save it before I discovered it on CD. But I hate saving and managing MP3 songs – it’s such a pain to preserve gigabytes and soon terabytes of information.

I’m moving to a new paradigm shift as a fan of music, movies and books. Instead of having a giant personal library where I hang onto everything, I’m moving towards a future where I discover stuff just as I use it and let it go when I’m finished. Rhapsody and Netflix work like dream in that new paradigm.

JWH


DRM and iTunes and Rhapsody Music

With all the recent discussion of EMI and other music companies releasing their music catalogs with DRM-free files, I had to wonder what will happen with subscription music services like Rhapsody Music, Napster, Yahoo Music!, Urge, Virgin Digital, etc. Subscription services offer unlimited access to giant catalogs of songs, and they use DRM systems to make sure the music is locked down from thieves. You can boogie just as long as your monthly payments keep coming. Could subscription services work without digital rights management (DRM) systems like so many are campaigning for the buy-by-the-song businesses?

I’ve been using Rhapsody for awhile now and I’ve essentially stopped buying CDs. I have a collection of a couple thousand CDs and LPs but I’ve stored them away. Digital music subscriptions are just too damn convenient over both getting my lazy ass out of my chair and tracking down CDs I never re-alphabetize or ripping and maintaining digital collections on my always changing computers. I can’t believe anyone would be buying digital music from iTunes or any other pay-by-the-song services. Ownership, whether digital or physical means work – librarian type work of organizing, filing and preserving. Buying files without DRMs will mean easier backups, but you still have to manage your tracks – and after awhile iTunes gets unwieldy with large collections.

Physical CDs are great for playing anywhere, lending to friends, and getting the maximum sound quality. MP3 songs are great for making compilation CDs to share with friends or for emailing single songs to distant friends. Rhapsody allows for sharing songs, but your friends need to be members of Rhapsody. Rhapsody just started selling MP3 DRM-free music – so now it’s possible buy a song and share it – although I don’t think that’s the purpose of the new feature. It’s doubtful the industry wants Rhapsody to transmit all their subscription tunes over the net via unencrypted MP3 files, but would that be so bad? If everyone subscribed to music would it matter? The key to subscription music is the convenience of not worrying about owning files.

Rhapsody does all the work for me. I think of a song or album or artist and type in the name in the Rhapsody search box. If it’s there, and most of the time it is, I just play the music. When I’m tired of listening I close the window. Rhapsody does allow me to download the song files to my computer, but I don’t use that feature. First, I don’t use a portable player. I play songs through my computer or my stereo system via Wi-Fi and Firefly Media Server. I do have an iPod but I use that for audio books. When I’m at work I play Rhapsody through Internet Explorer and my computer’s speakers. If you do have a compatible player you can download files to your player. If you want, you can download thousands of albums to your computer, as much as it can hold, and as long as you pay your bill the songs will play. But is that the ultimate way to experience music?

When I was a kid I used to have this Sci-Fi fantasy that I could mentally play music in my head and it would sound like I was listening to a loud stereo. Just think of the song and my neurons would dance. Rhapsody is close to that. Rhapsody even has players that use Wi-Fi to connect to its services. I doubt I will ever have music transmitted directly to my brain, but if Rhapsody (or competitors) were available anywhere I went, then that will be good enough. Once you hear music in that light you realized that DRM locks aren’t needed. I don’t want to own the music. I don’t want to store the music. I don’t want to manage music files. I just want to listen.

Right now if Rhapsody took the locks off its songs people would steal them blind. That’s because some people can’t see the utopian view of listening to subscription music. Why horde songs when you can listen to what you want when you want and where you want? I do all of this for $120 a year – Yahoo and others even offer cheaper deals. Rhapsody currently charges more to people who want to download songs to put on compatible portable players, but if they ever perfect Internet everywhere on portable devices that wouldn’t be needed.

Finding Music v. Buying Music

I was just reading an interview with Daniel Radcliffe who told about where he was and what he was doing when reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At one point he mentioned he was listening to a group called Takk and their album Sigur Rós, a band I’ve never heard of before. So I fired up my browser, typed Takk into Rhapsody search box and began listening to it. That’s how I find out about music now. Oh sure, I could have zipped over to the iTunes store and bought it for $9.99, but why? For the price of one album I get to listen to them all. I’ve gone beyond how to afford music. And I never wanted to be in the business of stealing music. For my ten bucks of legal rental payment, I’m now in the music finding business. I can’t believe kids steal when legal music is so damn cheap.

If the music industry could acquire X million subscribers worldwide they would probably make as much money as they used to make selling physical albums but without the costs and overhead of actually making, shipping and selling CDs. Once you get past the part about owning music you realize the problem becomes finding great new music. And Rhapsody has many features that help there too. One of them is the ability to send songs, albums or playlists to other Rhapsody members. If I discover a great new album, I can hit the share button and send it to my friends. They don’t get the actual song, but a link to where to play the music. That’s all that’s needed. The holy grail of musicians and music publishers is to get millions to people to start playing a song. Having easy access makes that much easier.

This will be a major paradigm shift in the world of music. Why listen to radio? Just request a playlist or music channel if you want surprises and randomness. This allows everyone to become music programmers by building playlists. No more mixed tapes and CDs. Create a playlist and email it to your girlfriend. When you meet new people you won’t flip through their CD collection, you can request their favorite playlists and listen to the music. You can make friends by having your playlists analyzed and compared to others. It’s a whole different world.

The greatest thing about subscription music services is discovering new music. You can try anything you want. On Tuesdays when new music comes out just play as many new albums as you can. You aren’t restricted. When Stephen King lists his top 25 rock songs in Entertainment Weekly, just pop over to Rhapsody and listen to them.

Subscription services will have to maintain their DRM systems until the mass of people realize that owning music is a pain, but eventually DRMs won’t matter.

Where Subscription Music Fails

Since 1964 I’ve been buying music, and even though I’ve had to sell my collection a couple of times since then, I’ve gathered a couple thousand albums – far more than I want to rip and preserve on hard disk. Rhapsody is great for the new stuff and the famous stuff, and crappy songs from artists that only their mothers would buy, but it is far from complete. I have a lot of albums that Rhapsody doesn’t. And if I want to play, “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, I have to dig through my closet. That really puts some holes in my musical heaven.

For subscription music to really work it needs to be complete. Every online retailer should have access to everything imaginable – and publishers should allow the various online subscription libraries to promote music in whatever fashion they want. No need to have a big brother monopoly, but it would defeat the idea if I had to subscribe to a bunch of services just to get the variety I want.

The next big problem is sound quality. Compressed music is pretty damn good, but it ain’t stereophile quality. In my ideal dream music system I don’t want to own and store music, so it doesn’t matter how big the files are just as long as the music can be piped to me in real time with no interruptions. My assumption is technologies will only get better and transmission speeds will only get faster, so music libraries should have no trouble improving the quality.

A side effect of all this should be the end of the format wars. The wizards behind the Internet curtain will worry about such details. We might have to upgrade our browsers, sound cards and drivers from time to time, but that’ll just give computer companies reasons to sell us new computers. A few years ago when SACD music came out I expected to repurchase all my favorite albums – the ones I first bought on LPs and then later bought again as CDs. I didn’t because SACD music didn’t catch on, but under my dream system, instead of buying all new albums I’d just need to buy a new sound card and speakers.

Another music related fantasy I have is all the black boxes and wires will disappear and music will magically come from nowhere. It would be great if they could put SACD quality surround sound in tiny little speakers built into my monitor. I love the look of those new 24″ iMacs – and what a thrill it would be to have one if it worked like the Apple sales photos without a rat’s nest of wires docked at the back and produced Bose Wave audio quality sound without any visible speakers. Oh, drat, Steve Jobs doesn’t believe in subscription music.

What’s Playing Right Now

Rhapsody is good enough now that I very seldom get out a LP or CD. Right now I’m listening to Joe Cocker from 1969 and 1970. I’m listening to albums I haven’t owned or seen in years. Rhapsody is one great trip down memory lane. I often play albums that I remember flipping by in stores years ago when I was a teenager and my bagboy job at the Coconut Grove Kwik-Chek wouldn’t allow me to buy everything. And 128kbps WMA is probably better sounding than my old $199 stereo I bought in twelve payments from the Columbia Record Club in 1968 – my first experience in credit. I play my music through a sound card plugged into a Sony amp that’s connected to Bose bookshelf speakers sitting on each end of my computer desk, so I sit in the sweet spot. Rhapsody’s web based interface has become so good that I often skip the full client version. I just flip through the library and click the little plus sign to add songs to the playing queue. I can’t believe people actual pay for songs 99 cents at a time and then have to worry about saving them. Hell, I would have already run up a $20 bill just writing these last few paragraphs

What Happens If Subscription Music Fails

My worry is the music industry will decide to call it quits on subscription music. If they do I don’t expect to start buying DRM songs for 99 cents. I might buy a few $1.29 DRM free songs, but what I’d do is rip my CD collection, create a pool of favorite songs I’ve discovered over the last fifty years and go musical Rip Van Wrinkle and time travel through my tuneverse. Which is what I think many people have already done and explains why CD sales are down – they’ve just checked out from the system. If Apple has sold a 100 million iPods and one billion songs, it sounds like selling digital songs isn’t that big of a business since on average people are only buying ten songs. I wonder how many rental songs have been played in that same time?

I’m not sure about the health of subscription music. I know few people who use it. I show it to friends all the time. I think most of my baby-boomer music friends are content with their small collections of CDs which they ripped with iTunes. But real music fans should try subscription music so they can try new stuff. It’s nothing at all to try out several new albums of unknown artists each week. If subscription music goes the way of SACD then I doubt I’ll be trying as many new groups as I am now.

Can Artists Make Money From Subscription Music

I’m playing “In A Big Country” and I wonder if the old group Big Country will make any pennies from my few moments of nostalgic pleasure. With enough subscribers it’s possible for the music industry to generate the same billions they used to earn by selling CDs, but will any of that moola reach the deserving talent? Are there accounting systems that let the artists see how many times their songs have been played? That could be pretty cool info to track. If I pay $10 for a month of music, that’s 1,000 pennies. If I play 33.33 songs a day, that would equal to 1 cent per song per play.

To earn a buck a group would need 100 plays – to earn a million bucks would require 100 million plays. At a royalty of 10 percent, a group would have to sell 1 million $10 CDs to make a million dollars. Since most fans play their favorite songs over and over again, groups wouldn’t have to reach 100 million people, but get 10 million people to play the song 10 times or 1 million people to play the song 100 times. Thus it’s quite possible to make money at a penny a play, but I doubt the music industry is that generous to artists with their subscription income. At a tenth of a cent per play it would take a billion plays to generate a million bucks. I bet I played Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” at least a thousand times, maybe a good deal more.

I also figure the $10 a month fee Rhapsody charges won’t always stay that low. It used to be $9.95 a month paid monthly, but the by monthly fee has since gone up, so I have to pay by the year to get that low rate. If the subscription services could get 100 million users world-wide they would be in the 12 billion dollar annual revenue range and we know at least 100 million people world-wide love music enough to buy an iPod. If everyone paid the $15 monthly fee that goes with having a portable player, that industry figures grows to 18 billion. It’s quite easy to see the music business making plenty of money via the subscription model. Whether they pay their artists any more than what they paid when they sold music as LPs or CDs is another issue.

Conclusion

If the music business could get the majority of their clients to support the subscription model there would be no need for DRM systems. No one would want to clog up their drives to horde music or waste their precious free time trying to acquire and manage files. If my record collection were digital files I’d have 20,000-25,000 of the little buggers to deal with. What a pain it would be to protect all those gigabytes. The only data on my computer should be the data I created. The only data I should worry about backing up is the data I created. Music should be store elsewhere play anywhere.

Update: 12/24/07

I can now play “Fresh Air” through Rhapsody.  Several music services have closed or limited their efforts.  The big ones are still Rhapsody, Napster and Zune.  Rhapsody is expanding its services by partnering with hardware companies like TiVo and cell phone services.  Denon is even making a table top radio that has a dock for an iPod, plays XM music, is compatible with MP3 CDs and connects directly to Rhapsody – thus offering the Rhapsody library without a computer.  Rhapsody has also made marketing deals to give away songs with hamburgers.  They are making a valiant effort to push the concept of subscription music.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

    Libraries used to be repositories of knowledge. Writers wanted their books bought by libraries so they could be preserved for all time. Times have changed and their labors of love are being lost. Quite often when I buy a used book on Amazon.com I get an ex-library edition back in the mail. I recently bought Stories of Your Life and Othersby Ted Chiang, an exceedingly fine collection of science fiction/fantasy writing. Its previous owner was the Palm Springs Library in California. It’s easy to spot how many ex-library books I own because their call number labels stand out along the rows of books in my bookshelves. To me this is a literary tragedy.

    Libraries have made a paradigm shift from storehouses of culture to panderers of popular taste. Librarians use computers to track usage and if a book hasn’t been checked out for a certain period of time, neglected volumes are pulled from the collection and made to walk the plank, thus falling into the sea of oblivion. Libraries were meant to preserve books and copyright laws were meant to protect authors, but I’m not sure if that’s not more love’s labour’s lost.

    While libraries dash to digitize crumbling ancient books modern books are disappearing too. With strict copyright laws books are “protected” for the lifetime of the author plus seventy years. There are millions of books published and most are never reprinted or even make back the advance paid to their authors. The last time I saw anything on this subject; it took on average, selling 2,500 copies of a hardback novel to break even for a publisher. That’s not a huge print run. Like giant sea turtles laying piles of eggs, few ever hatch and live to find homes in the sea.

    I collect books by Lady Dorothy Mills, a writer of travel and fantasy adventure books from the 1920s and early 1930s. Her fifteen books have almost disappeared from the Earth, with just a handful for sale at any given time. Her books are still within copyright, so they can’t be reprinted on the web. Lady Dorothy Mills is a forgotten writer. It’s doubtful she gets many new readers – I feel I’m one of her last fans. If her labors of love where still on library shelves or reprinted as e-books on the web, Lady Mills might have a few more fans.

    Copyright laws exist to help writers make money, but most writers labor for love. It’s like Las Vegas, a few gamblers make a killing, some win a little, and most leave the glittering casinos with empty pockets. Copyright laws should be changed to help the writers who don’t make money. I’d suggest that any book that hasn’t been reprinted for ten years be allowed to be republished free on the web. However, if the book is ever used for profit the same lengthy copyright laws should still apply. There’s always a chance that if enough people in the digital world rediscover a book it will help resurrect interest in a novel for the people in the analog world.

    Books are owned by the writers, but they belong to their readers. Fans are what keep books alive. Once a book comes into existence it deserves every chance to live. Sure the writers deserve every dime they can get, but a book deserves every reader it can find. I’m reminded of Bob Dylan and bootleg albums. Dylan and his publishers may want to protect his catalog and reputation, but as a Dylan fan I feel it’s my right to be able to listen to any song he recorded during 1964-1966. I love Blonde on Blonde, and have bought it many times in many forms, but I love those songs so much I feel it’s my right to hear any version of them that still exists. Once an artist creates a work of art, fans have the right to explore and experience that work to the nth dimension. Artists have the right to sell access, but if they don’t offer such access for sale, it should be wide open to free access. The reality of the web reflects that and I think copyright laws should too.

    It’s my hunch that if writers can’t have money they might like readers for their love’s labour’s lost.