Reinventing EVERYTHING…okay, just TV and the novel.

It’s summer vacation, so I have been pretty slothful about thinking about the web, because I’ve been unrepentantly surfing, reading Lolcats, playing with Google’s new Lively (it isn’t very), and reading, reading, reading.

There have been some very interesting events in the media world in the last few months, even in the last few days. Everybody knows that nobody will buy anything they can get for free…right? Apparently, not right. In April, an award-winning novelist released a free version of his book at the same time the print copy hit the shelves. And in the last few days, a well-know TV director let everybody watch the first three episodes of a show online. Without commercials.

I’m sure every really connected under-30 person in the world beat me to reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, but if you have not yet had that pleasure, go at once to the literary source of your choice and secure a copy. Little Brother is the story of 17 year-old Marcus, a gamer and a hacker, who finds himself living in a United States gone security-mad after a terrorist attack. The book is well-written, intelligent, exciting, and thoughtful, but it’s ALSO available as a Creative Commons-licensed text, freely download-able. It can also be ordered from Amazon–where it is in the top 1500 for sales–or from your local bookstore. This raises such interesting questions about copyright–think about the rabid reaction of the conventional music industry to p2p music sharing. Is it possible to share media and still make money from it? Apparently.

Then there’s the pure fun of Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, an internet show released in three acts. Whedon, creator of the legendary Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has done something very interesting–the show has aired, for free, on the internet before it was released on iTunes. (Do I still call it “aired” if it wasn’t broadcast?) The free look ends tonight at midnight (though on Twitter, viewers are cheerfully told that “Freebie time almost up! But we may lag a little on taking it away…’cause we can. And ’cause we love you.” That’s nice, but it’s even nicer that we had the chance to see something before trotting off to iTunes to pay. And viewers are buying–all three episodes are currently in the top five iTunes TV-show downloads. So not everybody made illegal copies, eh? (The show was a hilarious–though dark–sendup of the superhero/master villain genre. Not for everyone, I suppose. I gleefully await more!)

I just love watching the world of media being reinvented. I remember hearing in Library School that the book publishing industry was at first leery of the rise of the circulating library, fearful that the sharing of all those books would reduce the number of prospective buyers. There’s a great quote from an 1854 text: “I have been informed that, when circulating libraries were first opened, the booksellers were much alarmed; and their rapid increase added to their fears, and led them to think that the sale of books would be much diminished by such libraries.” That’s from the 1854 The Old Printer and the Modern Press, by way of Richard Roehl and Hal R. Varian’s Circulating Libraries and Video Rental Stores. Every new media faces suspicion and distrust from the creators of the old media.

(“You see, son, our family has been making cave paintings for generations. What can this so-called ‘alphabet’ offer us?”
“Awwww, Dad, cave paintings are like, so 15-minutes-ago!”)

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