As has already recently been noted here by Michael Jennings, Australia is just now doing rather badly at cricket. The first day of the recently concluded Melbourne game was, for Australia, particularly calamitous. Australia all out 98, England 157 for no wicket. That, trust me, was very bad indeed for Australia. Bear in mind that this was not just any old bad day; this was Boxing Day at the MCG, against England, one of the great days of the Australian sporting calendar, like Derby Day or Grand National day in England or Superbowl Sunday in the USA. After that first day disaster, there looked to be no way back in this particular game for the Australians, and so it proved. England, having won the Ashes back in 2009 in England, will now keep them. If I am optimistic about England’s chances of avoiding a deeply disappointing 2-2 draw in the series in the forthcoming final test at Sydney, it is because I believe that the leaders of the England team agree with me that if they lose in Sydney that will seriously take the shine off their entire campaign.
Okay, sport hurrah! Blah blah blah. But last night, as I settled down to watch the televised highlights of the final spasms of that Melbourne game on ITV4, I realised something else that was, for me, new and different, besides England thrashing Australia in Australia at cricket. Someone else was suffering, if my behaviour was anything to go by, besides Aussie cricketers and cricket fans.
In the past, when a major sports team that I am fond of (usually either the England cricket team or the England rugby team) has done really well, I go out and buy an armful of newspapers and have a good wallow, with newspaper pages spread out all over my living room floor. I know, I know, the internet has been with us for at least a decade. But the habit of newspaper buying has been a hard one for me entirely to break, especially at times like these. Well, now, finally, I seem to be cured of it. I made no conscious “decision”. I simply, I now realise, didn’t buy any newspapers. Never even thought about it.
It seems that I have learned enough about surfing the internet to no longer want newspapers even for sporting excitements, even when I would actually enjoy reading about a quarter of what is in them, and might learn all kinds of other things if I at least glanced through the rest of them. Recent newspaper purchases, made for this or that forgotten reason, have only resulted in them being almost totally unread.
It also helped that, this time around, I now have a brand spanking new computer, with several tons more RAM than before, and quick as lightning compared to anything I’ve ever had until now.
If one newspaper puts itself behind a paywall, well, there are plenty of others who have yet to do this. If they all, sometime soonish, go behind a paywall, well, I’ll deal with that problem when it happens. Meanwhile, plenty of verbiage is now given away on big sports dramas, and I can now find all I want about England cricket successes for nothing, and in a paperlessly calm manner. Personally, I don’t believe that there ever will be any great lack of good free-to-read stuff about cricket, even if the “professional” journalists do all end up requiring payment to be read (as well they might). The amateurs will happily step forward, I say, in fact I’m pretty sure that they already have. It’s just that for as long as the old school media mostly give their cricket stuff away, I haven’t bothered to find out which new websites and blogs I could go to. I’d welcome suggestions as to where else I might be reading about cricket, besides Cricinfo and the big newspaper websites of the cricketing world.
Part of my point here is: although these kinds of changes are absolute in nature, and very abrupt in historic time, at the time they happen they are often experienced as oddly gradual, and even preventable should you happen to want them prevented. What is later clear to have been a total wipe-out happens at the time as single figure percentage drops. This particular bit of writing has long been on the wall, but it often takes a bit of a while for sufficient numbers to read such writing and to make the long-prophesied on-off switch actually do its switch. For one thing, the hardware often needs to evolve, speed up, get easier and nicer, and so on. In this case, gradually, they (we) are, and it is. And in this case, the phrase “writing on the wall” seems peculiarly apt, even if the wall in question is virtual and electronic rather than literal.
What seems to be happening is that many are now willing to pay pennies to read professional media stuff, on their iPads and iPhones and Google-Android equivalents. How much of a real business this will turn into remains to be seen. Very big but very different from the recent past would be my current guess. I don’t believe that Rupert Murdoch has necessarily made a big mistake with his Times paywall decision, by the way. His old regime couldn’t last, and had to be changed. He has merely decided which bit of the new internet business he wants the Times to be in. The Times now faces turmoil as it adjusts to its new reality, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t adjust.
Meanwhile, all those who, like me, want also to write about it (whatever it might be) and to link to other writings about it will continue to want free stuff. It’s absolutely not – or not only – that we amateurs are cheap. The key is linkage. If we can’t say to everyone reading our own free stuff: hey, have a read of this (no link there because that is my exact point), there is, for us amateur writers, no point in us reading it either.
Another way of putting all this is to say that whereas it used to be that the Mainstream Media were … the mainstream media, while us internetters all lived in our dusty little caves of off-message opinion, gibbering and cursing with only our closest friends, now it is the pay-as-you-read ex-mainstream media who will be the ones living, if not in caves, then at least indoors, so to speak, and hence ever more cut off from “public” opinion. Think: Palace of Versailles. That this switch is already happening explains a lot about the current state of politics, worldwide.