The Best Media Writing of the Week

Who Would Steal Content from Louis C.K.?

The Best Media Writing of the Week

By Published on .

How could you steal from this guy?
How could you steal from this guy?

After all the lawsuits, op-eds, PR campaigns, industry ads and guilt trips, the best argument against pirating content may involve simply humanizing the creative process.

There's no better way to do that than for the artist to put him or herself out there. And there's no better way to do that than to skip polished PR drivel and go to rawest, most direct communications channel available, which, as of right now, is Reddit. The comedian Louis C.K. took to the message board this week to discuss his contribution to the economics-of -content debate, a self-produced $5 DRM-free download of one of his performances that garnered him hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit within a few days of its release.

The Reddit Q&A, as you can imagine, is alternately profane and useful as a glimpse into the thinking behind his decision to eschew corporate marketing and distribution systems and sell directly to fans:

I can only do this because I'm an individual and I can decide what my risks are that are acceptable and i can make my own goals for what is success. So I forwent (is that a word?) a lot of conventional routes and tried this. I am risking and there may be a ceiling to the success, but for me it's okay. i feel like as of this year, I make enough money as a standup my goal now is to bring the cost down for those who buy my stuff. i really mean that . It makes me much happier. Also I did see that there might be a tremendous upswing to this. I was really excited about this material and I thought it would be really cool to just put it out there myself with a little electronic hat that only takes fives and just see what happens.

A rather icky promotion from Amazon that gave discounts to shoppers who used a price-comparison app in brick-and-mortar stores and then bought from the online retailer ignited a rather global discussion of , of all things, local bookstores. (Books weren't included in the promotion, but still.) The novelist Richard Russo dropped a New York Times op-ed piece that recruited literary bigs like Stephen King and Scott Turow to help dismantle Amazon's attack on the little guy. It was Russo's allusion to a movie classic, however, that won me over:

As I see it, the problem with Amazon stems from the fact that though it started out as a bookseller, it isn't anymore, not really. It sells everything now, and it sells it all aggressively. Maybe Amazon doesn't care about the larger bookselling universe because it's simply too big to care. In a way it's become, like the John Candy character (minus the eager, slobbering benevolence) in Mel Brooks's movie "Spaceballs" -- half man, half dog and thus its own best friend.

Sadly, a Mel Brooks citation is not dispositive and so Russo's piece had its critics, among them Slate's Farhad Manjoo, who produced the very Slate-ian "Don't Support Your Independent Bookseller," which caused its own backlash. Wired's Tim Carmody did a nice job unpacking the debate and called for nuance in understanding its terms:

Amazon didn't happen to your local independent bookstore; America happened to your local bookstore, from television to Waldenbooks. However, that doesn't mean that traditional literary culture has to go extinct; it needs to evolve. We can (and do) have co-operative stores owned and operated by their patrons; we can (and do) have specialty stores where specific communities can come together, grouped by literary taste or politics or sexuality or genre; we can (and do) have new models of self-publishing, both print and digital, flourishing outside the boundaries of Amazon or any of the other emerging giants of distribution.

Since Spotify rolled out in the U.S. earlier this year, a lot of optimistic discussion around music-industry economics has focused on the subscription service -- making it essentially a hope that , if not great and white, is certainly large-ish and eggshell. The dream may get even smaller and dingier after Michael Robertson's piece on GigaOm detailing why Spotify will never be profitable. He puts the situation in a universal language -- hot dogs -- imagining a tube-steak purveyor with a single supplier enforcing a draconian set of terms, dictating price among other things:

Would this imaginary hot dog establishment be able to generate a profit? Never, because the economics are one-sided. The supplier will always elect the formula that captures the largest amount of money for themselves, completely disregarding the financial viability of the store. If the store miraculously managed to generate a profit, the landlord would simply raise the rates after two years. Such economic demands may be imaginary for the hot dog business, but they are the stark reality that every digital-music subscription service such as Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio, and others must confront.

If you follow sports journalism, it'd be pretty hard to resist the notion that it has gotten better. Once the province of tedious gamers, star-f'ing profiles, and go-nowhere rumor-mongering, the field has developed a serious side, as New York's Gabriel Sherman observed this week. The centerpiece of his evidence is an excellent series by The New York Times on the late pro hockey player, Dirk Boogaard, whose role as a physical enforcer and fighter undoubtedly hastened his demise:

In the past, critical sports coverage was mostly directed at individual owners and coaches, for boneheaded decisions, and individual athletes, for their alleged greed come contract time. The critical change is that reporters and commentators are now asking tough questions of the leagues and executives who hold the real power. In the emerging Dickensian narrative, players are merely cogs in an industrial machine, used up and spit out. Pieces like the Boogaard series are laying bare the human costs of that arrangement.

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