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Internet Ashes verbiage is now entirely sufficient for me

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.

It seems that I am not the only one now thinking like this about newspapers, and more to the point buying (as in not buying) like this. (My thanks for that link to Guido Fawkes.)

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.

11 comments to Internet Ashes verbiage is now entirely sufficient for me

  • Picking up on one thing, your reference to Versailles, one strong impression I have (which may or may not be correct of course) is that there is more and more awareness that the “political correspondents” are really just court gossips reporting tittle-tattle. Who is in, who is out, who is up, who is down, while the real politics entirely passes them by.

    A common complaint is that “people today” are disengaged from politics, but I think ordinary people en masse always were. But the internets does provide a means for those who are interested to become more involved as via blogs etc, which is a Good Thing.

  • Kevin B

    I wonder how long it will be until the Times and the Sunday Times are solely iPad apps. As Brian says, we will probably look back on the release of the Kindle and the iPad as a great turning point in information distribution.

    News portals on the web can provide video, interactivity and of course, hyperlinks, but the big question is, will we pay for professionals to provide us with these services or will the talented amateurs who abound on the web crowd out the would be pros.

    Personally, I would settle for some sort of penny per hit economy where I could pay to read Dellingpole, for instance, but not Louise Grey, or pay to mock Monbiot in a comment but totally ignore, say, Yasmin – especially if the writer’s remuneration was directly related to the hit count.

    TANSTAAFL applies to the internet as well, and whilst I hope we can continue to ‘pay’ for content only by ignoring a few ads and occasionaly hitting the tip-jar, I think Murdoch’s move may be the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

  • Part of their problem for newspapers is that they only survived as long as they did because people had such limited choices. In any particularly sub-section of the newspaper market there is 1 or 2 choices.

    What’s been selling papers for years is commentary and all the other stuff like wine, music and interviews. People don’t buy them for news stories;you can get that faster from TV and radio.

    What the net has done is to provide thousands of commentators. Most are awful, but the likes of Tim Worstall, Iain Dale, Dizzy and Mr Eugenides have written at a level that show how shoddy many professional commentators are. At best, they’re no worse, which then begs the question of why you should pay for the pros.

    And in terms of all the lifestyle stuff, there’s huge numbers of sites which compete with that: music review sites and forums, wine sites and forums etc etc.

    If I was in the newspaper business, I’d be trying to dump it on someone else.

  • grumpy old man

    TMS is a good cricket site, and profoundly English in character. There’s also cricket 365. At this moment, the Australian Telegraph is providing a series of stories to warm the heart of any Englishman. It would appear that Punter’s relinquishing of the Captaincy will be a saga almost as turgid as McDoom’s ejection from Downing St.

  • Sam Duncan

    The key is linkage.

    Exactly. I have no objection to paying for content – I used to be a huge buyer of papers and magazines – but the problem with paywalls isn’t the “pay” part; it’s the wall. It doesn’t matter how high or low the wall is, it’s still a wall: anything behind it is no longer on the World Wide Web in any meaningful sense, since the Web is all about links and the easy sharing of information. iPad apps, of course, were never on the Web in the first place.

    If News Corp. can make money from a walled-off Times, fair play to them. But it’ll become a niche publication (again), as relevant to the mainstream as the Pig Breeders’ Gazette.

  • All time best cricket scoreboard competition

    Australia all out 98, England 157 for no wicket.
    Ponting run out (pratt) 48

    its a toughie!

  • Well Sam, I run a “paywall” behind which are my comics are that people want to read.

    I am not a fan of the idea of everything on the web being free. If people won’t pay to read my work, they’re saying it has zero value to them, and if it has zero value, they don’t need it. The basis of our economy is commerce, well, the half that the government doesn’t take, and commerce requires trade, which means people who get stuff paying the people who made it.

    I don’t know where people get the idea that everything on the internet ought to be free (in both senses of the word). The early driver of mass takeup of the web was pr0n, which developed pay sites, payment systems and video technologies that are now generally used. The web is a great tool for selling things, because it gives the seller a global market. I have readers in Europe, Asia, America, Australasia, and even Third World communist countries like Scotland.

    I am a great fan of markets. That’s one of the reasons I’m a libertarian.

  • The key being the number of clicks, I think. Internetsmake people lazy, I may click your link, and I may read it but if, upon clicking I have to go through a whole rigmarole of payment, ie entering paypal or card details I’m just gonna hit ‘back.’ Once some standard of pay-per-click happens where I just have to hit ‘yes’ thento agree (and not another ‘no I don’t want to donate to your fake charity of choice) then it’s much more likely.

    Oh, and I believe pr0n has been the driving force behind every new information technology since pottery.

  • The key being the number of clicks, I think. Internetsmake people lazy, I may click your link, and I may read it but if, upon clicking I have to go through a whole rigmarole of payment, ie entering paypal or card details I’m just gonna hit ‘back.’ Once some standard of pay-per-click happens where I just have to hit ‘yes’ thento agree (and not another ‘no I don’t want to donate to your fake charity of choice) then it’s much more likely.

    Oh, and I believe pr0n has been the driving force behind every new information technology since pottery.

  • T Sturm

    Well Brian, one website I would recommend for actual live commentary of the cricket is http://www.testmatchsofa.com, which is essentially a group of learned cricket fans sitting around commentating from the Sky tv coverage.

    Much better than the BBC radio commentary or the television commentary, not least because they can drink and swear and say what they think.

  • Sam Duncan

    Whoa, Ian, hold on. I said the problem isn’t the “pay” part, and wh00ps has pretty much replied for me.

    Not only that, but – with the best will in the world – your stuff is a niche; the Times is supposed to be a mainstream publication. On the web, without (easy) links, it isn’t.

    I’d also point out that markets don’t necessarily mean money, but that’s really another argument.