Enter Stage Gabbing

Reality bites

By Steven Martinovich

(March 26, 2001) - Frankly, I don't know which Salon that David Talbot was writing about. Last week, Talbot -- capo of the online lefty magazine -- announced that Salon would be charging $30 a month for a premium version. In making his case for charging for some content, Talbot defended his magazine's decision on the grounds that:

"While the national press corps has been happily collecting nicknames from President Bush, Salon has been the Washington watchdog that the nation needs, barking loudly over the sale of government to the rich and powerful."

Which rich and powerful? Marc Rich? And just when was Salon acting as watchdog for the nation, the same time it gloriously shilled for Clinton during the impeachment drama? Outside of Camille Paglia, David Horowitz and a few others, Salon magazine has made it clear which side of the debate it stands on.

That said, their premium version would allow surfers to read the magazine's content without wading through advertising and pop-ups, and they would be allowed access to special sections. The move, wrote Talbot, was recognition that even without the need for printing presses and paper, online publishing is an expensive proposition. It's something that I've come to learn as well, though admittedly on a smaller scale.

Let me be blunt. With few exceptions, the revenue streams that kept ESR afloat in 2000 are all but gone. Our banner advertising brings in one-tenth of what it did this time last year and recent pricing changes by our supplier has made our mildly popular anti-gun control line of merchandise more expensive, meaning fewer people are buying them. The only "bright" spot is the merchandise we manage to sell through Amazon.com. Outside of what I contribute -- and a few generous donations from people like the incomparable Michael Miller of Quackgrass Press -- there are no outside sponsorships of this effort. While our revenue has slid, the costs of providing ESR haven't changed. It still costs us money to store and deliver ESR on our provider and software -- we aren't pirates -- isn't getting cheaper. While Salon's move is something that Enter Stage Right is not contemplating, changes are coming for us as well.

First the good news. As you might have noticed, the front page looks a little different. Our slightly new look will see no advertising on the front page -- at least for the short-term -- and by this time next week you'll see a new logo for our front page. ESR will lose some revenue because of the removal of advertising, the front page is heavily trafficked after all, but I believe the move is justifiable. Your first impression of ESR shouldn't be of waiting to see the content because of an advertisement and I think it looks cleaner.

ESR is also moving in a slightly different direction. As our new logo will point out, ESR is going to become a journal that covers politics, culture, art, technology and economics -- from a conservative perspective. I may be wrong on this point, but I believe that we have reached our peak as a weekly journal of politics and that it is time to cast a wider net for people who may be interested in our view points but don't care terribly for politics. This move shouldn't change what this magazine is as I made the conscious decision to move in this direction some time ago -- as our content bares witness to. I've just decided to make it official.

Now the bad news. The Internet may have created a new world but it works by the same old rules. Like television, advertising pays for what you are reading. While you may not be seeing more advertising in the pages of ESR in the next year, you might be seeing different kinds of it. Like Salon, ESR is considering new forms of advertising including the skyscraper ads (thin and tall ads, generally along the right hand side of a web page) you've been seeing more of lately. We may even also consider advertising placed in the content as Salon is doing.

I wish this wasn't necessary but a free press is only free for the person not paying for it. It takes a considerable amount of effort to produce this magazine. It takes away from a burgeoning writing career -- meaning that ESR not only costs me to keep running, it robs me of potential income as well -- and costs me a lot of time and some money. If that wasn't enough, consider that as many as 15 people every week also take the time to write something that they hope you will enjoy, people who also do not get paid. We do this because we enjoy it. We do it because we like the idea of contributing in the vast debate ringing the world about humanity's direction. The Internet allows us to be inside your home 24 hours a day and get our message to every country in the world. We do it for the occasional complimentary e-mail you send.

So what can you do? Not much except accept what changes come down and not leave us because an occasional advertisement annoys you. Until a sustainable revenue model presents itself to outfits like ESR, advertising is going to continue being the only way to cover the expense of doing this week in and week out. You can also help us by telling your friends about us. You can use a handy page located at http://www.enterstageright.com/cgi-bin/birdcast.cgi.

ESR is one of the web's oldest continuously publishing magazines and believe me we aren't going anywhere. Tens of thousands of you regularly check in to see what we're offering and I've had the pleasure to correspond with untold numbers of fascinating people over the years. I've had the privilege of corresponding with people who proudly describe themselves as the "average person on the street" to those who made titanic changes in their nations. Although ESR is some days an exceptional pain in the rear, I'm happy to be doing it. Our voice will keep sounding...we're just finding new ways of paying the bill.

Artists are the winner in Napster ruling, not the music companies

By Steven Martinovich

(February 26, 2001) - On the face of it, the recent decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal that Napster must stop trading in copyrighted material, that it may be held liable for "vicarious copyright infringement" and that it prevent users from dealing in copyrighted material is a victory for the record companies and all the other content companies. Far from it. The decision by the three-judge panel is really a victory -- of sorts -- for artists and a loss for the Recording Artists Industry Association of America and its peers.

The RIAA lost on two counts -- neither of them minor points. Although they may have succeeded in essentially shutting down Napster, they also managed to anger tens of millions of people who used the service and also buy prepackaged music. The industry may have also created an even bigger problem for itself by ignoring the fact that some of Napster's competitors do not use a system of central servers, making their file transfers all but untraceable. In other words, a Pandora's box has been opened.

While giving away your product may not be a good short-term decision, working with Napster would have allowed the industry to flood the system with lower quality versions of their crown jewels, giving users a chance to sample music before buying it. Napster could have also been used as an effective marketing tool, as the management of singer-songwriter Aimee Mann -- who by the way is a harsh critic of Napster -- has been doing recently.

Although the battle between Napster users and the recording industry has been painted romantic notions like it's a Battle Against the Man and that music -- or art in general -- belongs to the people, it should be called what it really is: piracy. What supporters of Napster are forgetting is that it doesn't matter whether you feel artists are overpaid, that releases often contain filler material, or that the record company executives are fat cats who deserve to be taken off, the root of this debate is the right of an artist to be compensated for their work. Music -- or any art for that matter -- does not belong to the people it belongs to the creator.

Take my business as an example. Along with freelance writing, I also happen to edit and publish a weekly online magazine that explores politics and culture -- a magazine that only survives because of meager advertising revenue. Despite a request asking otherwise, I have found repeated examples of my magazine's content across the web, stripped of our advertising and with no attribution. At the moment there is no widely used file transfer method for essays and articles but if there was, my magazine could fold because the revenue I was banking on from your visit no longer exists.

What took you a few minutes to find, download and read took a writer hours of painstaking research and writing to craft. Not only have you robbed them of any small compensation they might earn, but you may also be robbing them of the ability to write for pay in the future. While Napster foes Metallica may not need the few cents you denied them when you downloaded one of their songs, I can guarantee you that many other artists whose music is being traded on that service do. We are not, as one deluded opponent of a pay-for-Napster service recently declared artists, "money-grubbing parasites." You who steal our hard work are the parasites.

Record companies and many artists may be greedy villains who want to soak consumers for every last dollar but the fact is that the industry is a legitimate business which represents human beings that have intellectual rights. Without those rights, there is little incentive to create and it won't only be musicians who might stay home rather than work for free. If you don't believe me, ask Jim Hedgepath.

One day while on vacation, Hedgepath learned that users were visiting a new web site and downloading the creative efforts of his artists for free. Although he managed to get the web site shutdown with nothing more than a threatening legal letter, the cat was out of the bag. Within days, copies of those works were being circulated around the Internet on a Napster-style system. With fewer paying customers, Hedgepath's Pegasus Originals cut seven artists from its roster of nine and its Australian distributor went out of business.

Hedgepath's business? Needlework patterns.

File distribution systems like Napster aren't going away and artists had better learn to embrace the technology in the hope of continuing to make a living. Users, however, must also lose their sense of entitlement and stop believing that -- to quote the mantra -- information must be free. The seven artists formerly employed by Pegasus Originals would probably disagree with your "right" to steal their intellectual labour. They are the newly unemployed "money-grubbing parasites."

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

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