Viva Editors!

At a cybersalon in Berkeley last night, a couple of dozen people discussed how programmers and writers can expect to get paid in an age where information can increasingly be had for free. Familiar themes were raised including micropayments, and don’t quit the day-job. The conversants included people who remembered the tough-to-categorize Ted Nelson and his ill-starred Project Xanadu, which was written about a decade ago by then-fledgling Wired Magazine. But perhaps the most useful suggestion was that the notion that editing would pull material together on the Net in the same way it has other media, and perhaps establish habit-forming info-packages to which people might be willing to subscribe. The featured speakers were security expert and long-time email newsletter editor Jon Callas ; Philip Zimmermann, who is best-known for writing and releasing the Pretty Good Privacy encryption program; and Paulina Borsook, author of Cyberselfish and other works. The roughly two hour session was more of a discussion than a presentation, and the discussion was mainly a series of laments, that freelance writers are still getting paid the same per-word rate today as a decade ago, that copyrights and other intellectual property laws are ensnaring information without returning support to creative people. Toward the end of the discussion Michael Quinn (that much I know from reading his name tag) said something that stuck in my head. There had been a discussion prompted by Phil’s suggestion that rather than micropayments, people sign up for groups of articles, 20 for a buck. Was this practical, was this where RSS feeds were headed, would people buy an article based on a summary tease, etcetera. Quinn said people will buy goods online because they can return them if not satisfied. That isn’t the case with info-wares. He suggested that the reason people pay in advance for the New York Times or other branded media is that they have a rough sense of what they’re going to get — not article by article but generally. He called it editorialship, or was it editorship? Either way I believe he used the word trust. Subscriber trust they’ll get what they paid for in terms of information quality. This struck me as not that difficult to replicate in the online world. Perhaps it is already happening. The comment also reminded me of the Googlezon bit that’s floating around and is worth viewing if you’ve not already seen it. In any event, one of the chief pleasures of the evening was that my nearly 16-year-old son Julius wanted to attend. Anything that a middle-aged dad and his teenage son can do together is good. But there are limits to the family togetherness. Before we left, I asked my 12-year son Aeneas whether he’d like to come to a cybersalon. He gave me a puzzled look and said, “Are you and Julius going to get you haircuts?”

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media