Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Paying for online content

Via The Monkey Tennis Centre, I see that Times Select, the subscription based online service from the New York Times is no more. Dean Barnett commented:

If there was an online magazine or newspaper that had James Lileks, Mark Steyn, Bill Kristol, Andrew Ferguson, John Podhoretz, Bill Simmons, Terry Teachout and Michael Yon contributing daily, I’d pay for it. A lot of other people would, too. The Times’ big failure wasn’t in thinking they could sell on-line opinion. Their failure was in thinking they could sell crappy and unoriginal on-line opinion.
Meanwhile in the UK, Devil's Kitchen may have made his last appearance on 18 Doughty Street:
On related note, your humble Devil was on 18DS the other week, in yet another fucking tedious programme; believe me, it is as exactly boring to participate in as it is to watch.

I am sick to death of being on programmes where everyone is in agreement: it's about as stimulating as being in an A Level class taken by a state school teacher.
Now, at his best DK can have the same sort of stimulating effect as a defibrillator. When, from time to time, Doughty Street has condescended to make their programmes accessible to Linux*, I've watched bits of their programmes. Shock Jocks they ain't. Making DK get bored was a really silly use of a resource.

There's still room for good, paid-for online content. But it has to be good. So far, not much available is worth paying for. But that's the fault of the producers, and not the technology. Why is it so dull? Let's see now:
the spiked piece was rejected on the grounds that it was offensive and made me sound crazy. The first line was, "Here's a sentence rarely used to open newspaper columns: why don't the vast majority of people just blow their own heads off?" and it continued in a similar vein throughout. I thought it was life-affirming, in a nihilistic, cackling-into-the-abyss kind of way, but there you go. Perhaps I'm ill. Doubtless it would've provoked complaints.

So the piece about spiders was printed instead. It also appeared on the Guardian's Comment is free site, where readers can leave comments, for free, like it says on the tin. And the very first comment read: "Come on. A boring piece of fluff about spiders? Where's the passion and intensity? Sort it out." You can't win.

Ironically, I first came to the attention of the "mass media" because I wrote a website jam-packed with "passion and intensity" - alongside bad language, grotesque mental imagery, and extreme scatological humour. Today, as part of the "mass media", those final three are the three tools I'm not allowed to employ, because the "mass" sadly encompasses "the humourless". None the less, there isn't a week that goes by when I don't try to sneak all three elements in, because they make me giggle. These excesses get cut before making it to print. My words go through a filter that's out of my control. I don't even get to write my own headings, you know. Oh, the humanity. It's like Stalinist Russia round here. Boo hoo, woe is me, etc.

No paper wants to gratuitously offend the reader. Pity, because gratuitous offence, when performed with aplomb, is the funniest thing in the world. There's more unpretentious joie de vivre in a single issue of vintage-era Viz than most artists or singers manage in a lifetime. I'd like nothing better than to fill the rest of this page with an unnecessarily florid description of something utterly disgusting happening to a well-known public figure - an 850-word fantasy in which, say, David Miliband unexpectedly develops extreme and explosive diarrhoea while entertaining a group of foreign dignitaries in a pod on the London Eye on the hottest day of the year, to take just one example. But I can't, because a tiny handful of you would complain.

* Months ago, I had a brief email correspondence with a developer from the Doughty Street site. He said they weren't using Flash video, like Google and YouTube, because of the expense.

Earlier this year, I built a flash based "media player" for a racing driver's website, including a web based control panel for uploads and management. Project time: three working days. Project cost, including client software for (adequate) video editing and file meta markup and conversion, and training for the client: £2,500. It works with any computer, just like YouTube.

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