The Internet became a blanket of white noise as we hit Saturday’s D-Day for the official iPad release.
Articles about people standing in line, videos of people opening the packaging, photos of smiley, happy people with their Jesus-ware safely in hand. And then half baked reviews of just about any app a writer could get his or her hands on. Forget it, people didn’t even need to have the iPad in hand, or have used the application, any string of words that won a few extra page views would do.
Live blogging the first day of sales? Really? The New York Times and Reuters joined by the likes Gizmodo, CNET, paidContent, Tech Crunch and TUAW.
8:59 — man pressed against Apple store door.
9:00 — doors open
9:02 — man holds Jesus pad in hands, squeals like a little boy getting cupcakes for breakfast
“I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff,” writes Cory Doctorow. We’ll get back to him in a minute.
Suffice to say though, the reporting’s mostly monotonous — and embarrassing for journalists who should know better — but lurking around the edges are a few thoughtful ideas about what the device actually means, and what the iPad and future products like it might signify for the computing and media world of the near future.
Marc Aronson writes in the New York Times that the promise of truly multimedia, immersive nonfiction won’t make its way to devices such as these unless the copyright regime changes.
In order for electronic books to live up to their billing, we have to fix a system that is broken: getting permission to use copyrighted material in new work. Either we change the way we deal with copyrights — or works of nonfiction in a multimedia world will become ever more dull and disappointing.
The hope of nonfiction is to connect readers to something outside the book: the past, a discovery, a social issue. To do this, authors need to draw on pre-existing words and images.
Unless we nonfiction writers are lucky and hit a public-domain mother lode, we have to pay for the right to use just about anything — from a single line of a song to any part of a poem; from the vast archives of the world’s art (now managed by gimlet-eyed venture capitalists) to the historical images that serve as profit centers for museums and academic libraries.
The amount we pay depends on where and how the material is used. In fact, the very first question a rights holder asks is “What are you going to do with my baby?” Which countries do you plan to sell in? What languages? Over what period of time? How large will the image be in your book?
As the publishing world latches onto the iPad as a possible industry savior — or at least a final bit of light in an otherwise gloomy economic reality — the urge will be to further restrict copyright.
Doing so will put most content out of reach of most multimedia authors.
“Given that permission costs are already out of control for old-fashioned print, it’s fair to expect that they will rise even higher with e-books,” writes Aronson. “After all, digital books will be in print forever (we assume); they can be downloaded, copied, shared and maybe even translated.”
Aronson’s solution is somewhat of a radio model. Pay the copyright holder some royalty per play.
Better would be to readdress our fair use laws and how best to shape them for a truly digital, multimedia age. Our current regime is not built for 21st century mashup culture. Instead, its built to protect 19th and 20th century business models.
Computer as Appliance
The crux of the matter — as many have pointed out — is that the iPad is for consuming rather than creating. The history of the open Internet, and the reason it’s been so disruptive is because anyone could create anything, stick it online and potentially shape an industry or create entirely new ones. Think YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter, Amazon, Blogs, eBay, Netflix and any other online service or application that’s upended the status quo over the last 10-15 years.
The iPad flips all this on its head and creates a walled garden appliance. Apple, not the iPad owner, has the final say about what applications can be created for and therefore used on it.
Imagine where the Web — or personal computing as whole — might be if anyone who wanted to create new content, try a new business model, create a new application or do anything of creative interest to him or her had to apply to some governing body in order to do so.
That is the digital dynamic the Apple has created with the iPad.
As Doctorow writes:
I’ve spent ten years now on Boing Boing, finding cool things that people have done and made and writing about them. Most of the really exciting stuff hasn’t come from big corporations with enormous budgets, it’s come from experimentalist amateurs. These people were able to make stuff and put it in the public’s eye and even sell it without having to submit to the whims of a single company that had declared itself gatekeeper for your phone and other personal technology…
…As an adult, I want to be able to choose whose stuff I buy and whom I trust to evaluate that stuff. I don’t want my universe of apps constrained to the stuff that the Cupertino Politburo decides to allow for its platform. And as a copyright holder and creator, I don’t want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable material for me to create.
Jonathan Zittrain wrote a book a few years ago called The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it. In it he dealt specifically with turning the open Internet into closed, proprietary systems. Appliances like the iPad would lead that way. Pick it up and give it a read when you have the chance.
So those are the two important stories that our journalists should be talking about.
Unfortunately, they’re getting drowned out in OMG fanboy squealing about yet another app.