Old Media Dips Into New Media Waters

November 10, 2008

In Ars Technica today: film studio MGM has partnered with video-sharing site YouTube to deliver full-length movies online. In the NYTimes: book publishers have signed a deal with e-giant Google (which also owns YouTube) to sell electronic versions of out-of-print, copyrighted works.

Both are obviously landmark deals that test possible unions between old and new media — parties that have been wary of each other, but whose business futures are hugely co-dependent.

Both also highlight a persistent (historically-pressing) need to redefine/rethink the role of the media creator (authors, musicians, visual artists, etc.). And her rights to her own produced, reproduced, and distributed works.

The 2007-8 Writers’ Strike is just one vivid illustration that the increasingly digital and transnational mediascape has far outgrown already-deficient intellectual property protections.

As more and more of old media creeps into the internet, the challenge will be to keep new media from morphing into the closed institutions and lopsided relationships it sought to tear down. The more things change the more they stay the same?

Let’s hope greater reach translates into greater financial support for media creators, not just middlemen. Information wants to be free! Yes, indeed. But artists need to be protected and compensated as well.

Note: Larry Lessig (Stanford University/Creative Commons) talked about copyrights and creative freedoms at this enlightening TedTalk back in March 2007.

Usher: Life for Sale on eBay Not Worth $2 Million

June 25, 2008

This past Sunday, heartbroken Ian Usher opened up an eBay auction for bids on his entire life’s property in Perth. In less than 24 hours, the bidding frenzy had raised the top price to over $2 Million (AU$1 = US$0.96). Interestingly, the next day, Usher decided to let common sense — not greed — rule. His property, it seems, isn’t worth THAT much. Good for him.

Realizing the eBay system was allowing non-registered bidders to place potentially fake bids, Usher issued a statement yesterday:

Apologies to all, but I guess there are a lot of bored idiots out there…

…after a long day on the computer, I have decided to pull all bids back as far as the first registered bidder, and the price is back to A$155,000 as I write this … we are back in the land of common sense and reality, so it’s over to you.

We’re happy to report that as of this posting, he now has 58 solid bids, with a top bid of over AU$383,000. We’re definitely rooting for Usher.

Which leads us to a thought-provoking NYT Op-Ed piece by Paul Krugman, posted coincidentally on the same day Usher put his home, his property all on eBay. Going against the grain, Krugman asks: Why is owning a home so integral to living the American Dream? Why is homeownership equated with having a “vital stake in the future of our country” (as the Bushites are pushing us to believe)?

Krugman writes about U.S. policies that historically favor homeowners. Non-homeowners are pretty much second-class citizens. But, he argues that we should recognize that homeownership has major risks. One of them being: Homeowners are rendered immobile by their homes. They can’t move around as much or as fast.

Which brings us back to Ian Usher. By the end of the auction, he will no longer be a homeowner. And he will have sold everything he owns. But he will have gained a fresh start. This is the future: letting go, feeling free.

Some might call it the audacity of hope. Go, Usher!

A Life for Sale on eBay

June 23, 2008

Does everything have a price? Apparently so. Ian Usher, a 44-year-old Englishman living in Perth, Australia, has had enough of his life. So he’s selling what he feels has defined his life up to this point: 3-bedroom home (valued at AU$400-420,000) and all its contents in Perth, car, motorbike, jetski, kitesurfing gear. Introductions to his friends. His lifestyle. Even a trial stint at his job at a carpet store.

Usher has published the details on http://www.alifeforsale.com and is holding an eBay auction that ends this Sunday, June 29th. As of this posting, his eBay listing (which opened Sunday) already has 115 bids. The current bid is at AU$2.2 million (approximately US$2.1 million).

Why? Apparently, a broken heart. Usher says he married “the best girl in the world”, but was “blindsided…by a shocking and awful discovery.” He doesn’t specify. He does say this though:

I now live alone in a house that was being built for us to live in together…I am still surrounded by all the memorabilia of our years together… Everything in my home is a reminder of the wonderful past we shared.

So, after a year in this house I decided that it is time to sell it and move on.

What next?

Upon completion and settlement I will walk out of my home for the last time in just the clothes I am wearing, and carrying only my wallet and passport.

My current thoughts are to then head to the airport, and ask at the flight desk where the next flight with an available seat goes to, and to get on that and see where life takes me from there!

Considering that Usher expected to get just £185,000 (US$365,000) according to BBC, he’s not doing badly. Perhaps people facing foreclosure might adapt his strategy. Why just sell the house? Hey, throw in the whole deal. And the personal narrative too.

Baby For Sale on Craigslist for C$10,000

May 28, 2008

Canadian news sites report that a couple was arrested in Vancouver earlier for putting their week-old baby up for sale on Craigslist. List price: 10,000 Canadian dollars.

Marilyn Bateman, the woman who notified police, saw this classified ad while surfing for used furniture:

Must have!!!! $10,000, a new baby girl, healthy and very cute. Can’t afford and unexpected, Looking for a good home, Please call ASAP

Using the cell phone number provided, police tracked the listing down to a residence in downtown Vancouver. The parents of the newborn (a 23-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man, who apparently have had previous encounters with police) claimed the ad was a hoax and were later released without charge due to insufficient evidence. The baby girl has been taken by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Shocking and repugnant as this might seem, it’s not the first — and likely won’t be the last. Just last week, a German couple listed their 8-month-old son for sale on eBay. The opening bid was 1 euro or US$1.57, which is about the price of a bottle of water in New York. Those “parents” also claimed the ad was just a joke.

DNC: Black Blogs to the Back of the Bus, I Mean, Tent

May 27, 2008


With only three months to go until the Democratic National Convention, black bloggers are voicing concerns about the lack of racial diversity among bloggers authorized to report from the floor. The convention committee is selecting two blogger pools: a State Corps (closer floor access for blogs reporting on local and state issues), and a General Pool (rotating floor access for blogs reporting on national politics and niche issues). According to Jose Antonio Vargas, writing for the Washington Post today, the State Corps list was announced two weeks ago and the General list is expected this week. The so-called Afrosphere (itself a loaded term) is crying foul:

“…to the frustration of black bloggers, the list appears to be mostly white — during a primary race in which black voters turned out in droves in Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi. And, they add, this pool is for coverage of a convention that might very well see the first African American presidential nominee.

In other words, this constitutes convention drama and…accountability is being demanded. Francis L. Holland, one of the vocal black bloggers, sent e-mails to DNC officials asking that 15 black-operated blogs be added to the State Corps. “There is nothing ‘Democratic’ about an all-white Democratic National Convention floor blogging corps,” he wrote in an e-mail. Holland is also asking for the inclusion of 15 Latino-operated blogs.

L.N. Rock…of the African American Political Pundit blog, likens this “black shut-out” in the State Corps to an “I’m sick-and-tired-of-being-sick-and-tired” Fannie Lou Hamer moment. The civil rights activist and Mississippian challenged her state’s all-white delegation at the 1964 Democratic convention.

“This is all very puzzling to me — and to a lot of black bloggers… The Democratic National Committee says it wants to be inclusive. It wants to have a big tent. And then this? What were they thinking?”

The DNC committee insists that race is not a factor and blog selection is based on readership, ratings, and focus. To me, this sounds like people who say there is no racism in their all-white neighborhoods or gated communities. Is the current blogosphere simply overrun by white men?

Photo: alcomm on flickr

Ars Technica Becomes Condé Nast Property

May 19, 2008

ars condeIt’s official. At 10:12am today, Ars Technica, a leading technology news site, announced its acquisition by Condé Nast, a multinational publishing company owned by the Newhouse family. As scooped by TechCrunch last Friday: For the price of $25 million, Ars Technica will now be part of Condé Nast’s Wired Digital arm (which also owns Wired.com, social news site Reddit.com, a resource site for web developers called WebMonkey, and Hot Wired, the first website to run display advertising.) Condé Net will take over advertising sales, relieving Federated Media Publishing who also lost Digg last year to Microsoft.

Primarily known for top fashion/lifestyle titles in print — namely Vogue, W, Glamour, Vanity Fair — Condé Nast is planting the seeds for long-term expansion into digital media. Based on its history of grooming and allowing editors to run their own ships over time, Condé Nast is expected to give Ars Technica the same “independence”. Founders Ken “Caesar” Fisher and Jon “Hannibal” Stokes will remain on board as the site is integrated into Wired Digital. Fisher’s press release declares:

“Ars Technica will remain an independent publication, with the same editorial leadership in place… We wanted to be somewhere corporate leadership would “get it,” somewhere the next fiscal quarter isn’t more important than the long term, and somewhere with a proven track record of fostering smaller businesses. We looked positively on what Condé Nast has done with WIRED.com and reddit.com (both acquired in 2006): left their leadership alone to grow their sites, while helping them with tools and resources along the way.”

Let’s be honest: digital properties are big business, the younger sibling to print. There is a very fine line between building ad sales/monetizing content and producing content that is critical and independent. In other words, keeping advertisers happy and keeping readers happy. (The recent hoopla over Annie Liebovitz’s photograph of Miley Cyrus, aka Disney’s Hannah Montana, in Condé Nast’s Vanity Fair is a case in point). As traditional media begins to buy into digital media, it will be very interesting to see how this balance is negotiated, upgraded, and stylized. Or, maybe: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Anonymous Blogging with WordPress and Tor

April 18, 2008

A tangential follow-up to yesterday’s entry on uncensored blogging:

Ethan Zuckerman (co-founder of Global Voices Online) published a very thorough how-to guide titled “Anonymous Blogging with WordPress and Tor”, a free downloadable pdf available on the Global Voices Advocacy* website. Recognizing the dangers certain people face when they express themselves openly in certain environments, Zuckerman also wrote a technical guide back in 2005 that explains how a combination of web tools could be deployed to maintain a high level of anonymity. It was intended particularly for human rights activists, aid workers, and whistleblowers who needed to “ensure that their writing couldn’t be traced back to their identity”.

*Global Voices Advocacy is an online project whose goal is to “build a global anti-censorship network of bloggers and online activists throughout the developing world that is dedicated to protecting freedom of expression and free access to information online”. Different kinds of pirates! We love them just the same.