Monday, June 07, 2010

The New Media Conundrum

Looks like Apple's done it again – satisfied a need consumers didn't even know existed. The successful international launch of the iPad means that Apple has now sold over 2 million iPads in as many months, which is perhaps more than in the entire decade of the tablet's existence.

The hullaballoo surrounding Apple’s magic tablet is deafening. The last time the tech world went into such a tizzy over a new gizmo was when Apple released the iPhone, and we all know how that turned out (hint: well). The iPhone was called the Jesus Phone – as much for the hype surrounding it as for its capabilities – and the iPad might as well be the Jesus Tablet. On its 10-odd-inch screen rests the weight of expectations of just about everyone in the (Western) traditional media industry. So many bastions of the industry, from the New York Times to Wired to book publishers, are looking at the iPad as a saviour, their last chance at survival. But can it really live up to its almost-mythic status as the rescuer of all it purveys? Jury's still out on that one, numbers notwithstanding.

The question is why a miracle device like the iPad is necessary at all. The Pulitzer prizes announced this year are significant in this context. For the first time, a non-profit, online only product won an award for investigative reporting. Another newspaper that won in the breaking news category used new media tools like Twitter and Google Wave to produce its award-winning coverage. It’s no secret that the Internet has changed the way people consume media forever and that it has challenged existing business models, in some cases driving them to the point of extinction. Big media is not exempt from this sea change. The music, movie and publishing industries were hit hard by the advent of peer-to-peer file sharing networks, and every attempt to stem the flow of ‘piracy’ has been unsuccessful. Ridiculous digital rights management strategies have not helped disincentivise the illegal distribution of copyrighted content, either. Newspapers and magazines have seen advertising revenues go into freefall, thus striking at the very heart of their business. This has prompted speculation that content creators are on an inexorable downturn; that, with a shrinking audience and little revenue, they will simply cease to exist.

But media consumption is not declining. The Internet has not killed the movie or music industries (though the fee-paying audience for them might’ve got smaller); even the publishing industry, where revenues and readership had been declining long before the Internet came along, actually recorded an increase in adult readership in recent times.

According to a recent survey conducted jointly by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism, an overwhelming majority of Americans - 92 per cent - use multiple platforms to get their daily news, and the internet is now the third most-popular news platform. Almost 60 per cent Americans get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day, indicating that in today’s multi-platform media environment, news is becoming portable, personalized, and participatory. We may be years from this situation in India, but the sooner we come to terms with new technology, the better it'll be.

It helps not to think of the Net as a medium. Jeff Jarvis, a professor of journalism at an American university, calls the Internet a place, much like a pavement corner, where people meet and interact. Thinking of the Internet as a medium encourages the media industry to regard it through the same prism as, say, television or print. That leads to a kind of thinking that is boxed in by traditional parameters that no longer apply, thus discouraging ideas that could actually lead to an effective form of monetisation. This is the information age, let’s not forget, and people consume more media than ever before. There has to be a way to make money off that, but it might entail giving up control—whether it is to fans who appropriate a work and put their own spin on it, or to bloggers or any of the myriad content recreators one finds on the Net. But how to undo the damage that was done in the beginning when media outlets started giving content away for free? (Some would argue that it wasn’t a mistake to give content away and that it is moves like that led to the growth of the Web).  Is it possible to get people to pay for something they’ve got used to getting for free? At this point, it seems unlikely. The only way to do that would to a) build a firewall to rival China’s and b) get all outlets to agree to put up paywalls. Both of these are mammoth tasks.

The media industry needs to come to terms with the fact that they’re trying to lock the stables long after the horses have bolted. It’s futile to wish that they could charge for content by way of a paywall. The Wall Street Journal example doesn’t quite hold since it is a specialised product aimed at individuals who don’t mind handing over money for the information they’ll get from the paper. All publications do not have that luxury. Media houses thus have to move past the old idea of a paywall and explore other ways of making money, because that, really, is the only option left to them. The World Wide Web is providing a new system for content delivery. It is up to the traditional media industry to recognise and harness the potential of the Net — not only as a platform for delivery but also as a repository of information that has not yet been mined properly, and as a collaborative tool that encourages broadbased participation in the newsroom.

A version of this article appeared in the Times of India - Crest, on Saturday, June 5th here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Utopia and the Interwebs

A very interesting piece by Evgeny Morozov in Foreign Policy called Think Again: The Internet, where he argues that the Internet has not ushered in world peace or done many of the things that it was supposed to. My instinctive reaction to the piece as a self-described Net evangelist is "hell, no". But when I read the article through he's made good points and qualified most of the negativity. I think the problem is with perception - the Internet is like any other technology in that it can have an impact, but it can't do miracles (though the real-time nature of Net is miraculous enough for me).

Perhaps this is a good time to pimp (again!) my article in the Times of India, Shackling the Net. This is in the context of Internet censorship, but there's definitely some overlap.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

This is from NASA's latest telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

More pictures at NASA's photostream here:, along with some awesome videos.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Fan-plosion Ahead. Beware.

So, ok. I’ve been debating whether or not I should post on the finale of Battlestar Galactica, given that I’ve loved it for so long. But it did break my heart, and it took me some time to stop crying at inopportune moments when reading about the show – and not in a good way. I am very sad that its gone, but more because the ending was just so dissatisfying, and so… wrong and unjust to the characters that I love so much. I admit that a lot of my disaffection has to do with the fact that I ship Kara and Lee, Starbuck and Apollo, really frakking hard, and their ending left a really bitter taste in my mouth. But that disappointment just opened my eyes to a lot of the criticism that was directed at the show in general and I agree with a lot of it now. Not all of it, but a lot. I should say here though, in no uncertain terms, that as vitriolic as I might get later in this post, I love this show. Still. A Lot. I only crib because I care so much and I have never been so involved with a fandom before, or felt so much for a certain set of characters.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The ginormous, no good, really random post about stuff to read

Coming out of a long, long hiatus to basically clear out my tabs:

A very interesting article from LAT on how hip-hop is gaining ground in the Middle are the kinds of trend stories that are so interesting to read and are for whatever reason not appearing in the Indian media. We’re so insular and so uninterested in this kind of article. It’s a shame.

10 easy steps to write a scary article about cyberattacks. I do think that the author is a bit unfair here, but certainly the media is guilty of many of the crimes he accuses us of. Heck, maybe I’ve been guilty of it too.

An excellent piece in World Affairs on Russia’s coming population crisis. It’s like the opposite of India’s problem, which is that we have too many young people under 35, which could be a bane or a boon.

The always excellent Rebecca Traister weighs in on a rather gross new reality show.

This is a new website I found, which is the best of the crowd.

A fascinating book by Carla Del Ponte, on her struggle to bring justice to the perpetrators of war crimes. She was so important in international justice (the idea) gaining credibility. She’s definitely one of my heroes.

The first chapter of an absolutely fascinating book on how we make decisions.

Joseph Nye weighs in on international relations scholarship and its increasing ivory-towered – ness. This is a real problem with any academia, and in India, IR and policy have very rarely informed each other. The ivory tower syndrome is perhaps at its worst here. Or maybe the problem is not that IR scholars are don’t influence foreign policy, it’s that only one kind of IR scholar influences Indian foreign policy, part of which is because IR instruction in India is loyal to one ideology only.

A really really cool article in Wired by J.J Abrams on the magic of mystery and how spoilers are evil. I’m a spoiler whore, but I appreciate what he’s trying to say here and I do understand that the experience can be frustrating for showrunners, authors etc etc. This almost made me like him again.

I love food writing, and this isn’t precisely that, but it’s close: a history of the fridge and how it has changed not only the food we eat but when and how we eat it.

Two excellent articles from the New York Review of Books: the war against women and what you can learn from Reinhold Neibuhr, one of my favourite authors/thinkers.

The WTF of the day:Google rents goats to replace lawnmowers. The PETA response and then Google's response are worth a read too.