2010 January 3: National Security and Book Piracy

The first thing I would like to talk about is national security - specifically the recent failed bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit and the aftermath.
I think the way President Obama handled the issue showed that with respect to national security, he is as out of touch as George W. Bush was. Obama was vacationing in Hawaii when this happened and didn't even make an official response until 72 hours later.
More seriously, the government just couldn't connect the dots with respect to this terrorist. I have chastised Bush for not connecting the obvious dots before 9/11, and I am chastising Obama even more for not connecting the even more obvious dots.
For goodness sake, the terrorist's dad, after the terrorist dissolved ties with his family, went to the US Embassy to warn the ambassadors/other officials of his son's radicalization and to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
Appropriate action, anyone?
Umm, can anyone say oops?
To make matters worse, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that regarding how the terrorist managed to slip through standard security, "the system worked".
The system worked?
I don't even want to know what it would be like if it didn't work. Apocalypse now, anyone (pun definitely intended)?
Then, Napolitano clarified her previous statement, saying that "in this case, the system didn't work".
That didn't do her any favors (in my eyes).
Then, finally, Obama comes on the scene.
I definitely agree with Newsweek's analysis that his acknowledgement of the heroism of the passengers who subdued the terrorist was lacking, and that he should have been more full-on in the praise. To turn this into action, he should have increased the Citizen Corps's (the volunteer body designed for citizens to fight terrorism like this) budget and not the DHS's.
Furthermore, he said he would [and I'm paraphrasing here] "work with the Yemeni government". (The terrorist received training in Arabic and bombmaking in Yemen.)
His "no-drama" approach has reached its physical limit. He really needs to take a hard stand against this sort of action. What could possibly happen through negotiation with the Yemeni government?
Obama has really dropped the ball on national security. He had better pick it up soon.

The second thing I want to talk about is book piracy - specifically, Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie's take on it.
Basically, he believes it is bad, which I agree with. However, he goes on to say that the open-source culture is fostering this, and that the whole culture is bad. He has also said that e-book readers are "elitist", on the grounds that poor rural people will not be able to buy them.
I think that last statement alone throws out his credibility on talking about new technologies and how they will shape the way we read.
Seriously? "Elitist"?
It's of course not going to be as expensive when it becomes more widespread. Furthermore, a lot of people even now don't have the money to purchase physical books, let alone e-books. That's why they go to the library to read/borrow their books. I foresee a similar thing happening in the future, at which point the readers themselves will be cheap enough for the people referred to by Alexie to publish.
I'm not going to pick on Alexie's misrepresentation of open-source culture, as it was a mix-up of terminology. That would just be mean and unfair of me.
I won't focus on Alexie anymore, as it pretty clear that he is pretty out of touch on the benefits and power such new technologies bestow. Of course, he also believes in going in person around the country to promote his book, especially in small towns; this is admirable, so I will leave him alone (his works seem to be pretty good on their own (i.e. discounting his views on technology)).
The larger point is about the future of reading, writing, and publishing.
With the very low prices of computers and word processing programs (heck, OpenOffice.org is free, as is AbiWord), it is very easy to physically type a book. The problem comes with then distributing it, ensuring that the author derives a fair return for this distribution. Now, it is very easy and cheap (though not totally free) to scan a published paper book and upload it to the Internet.
While reading through the comments on said article in Slashdot, I came across an idea which I thought was genius and should define future publishing; ironically, the basic concept is actually very old.
Charles Dickens used to publish his books in magazines in parts: basically, he would publish chapter 1 in one week's publication of the magazine, chapter 2 in the next week's publication, etc. He made huge profits from this, after which he published the entire book as a whole.
Stephen King has employed a similar system online; he can capitalize on his already-earned fame as a writer to do this. For some of his books, he has published chapter 1 online and would only publish the next chapter if he gets a certain number of legitimate sales for chapter 1 (or the current chapter). The vast majority of readers are willing to pay for the books and would rather acquire the book legally and not illegally, meaning that he has earned record profits from this model. After each chapter's sales target is met, the book is then published as a whole.
I think it's a model that can work for everyone, and it's a great model for its total reliance on the free market to determine whether the author floats or sinks, while creating an (not legally-binding) artificial scarcity that can only be circumvented through further purchase.
Granted, Stephen King can do this due to his already-earned fame, but other authors can and are doing it too. I see a new model in which the first 1 or 2 books by an author are distributed online for free (while donations are accepted), and if a sufficiently large fanbase is gathered, the aforementioned model can be employed.
Libraries could still operate; they could buy the fully-published physical book once it does become published.
Publishers and the WGA, your modus operandi is horribly outdated. People have been complaining about the current system, but until now, no suitable alternative has been proposed. Here it is.
I know there are probably a lot of flaws I haven't thought through. Please post those and any other suggestions/thoughts in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. [via open...], I'm working on just such a system myself, still in alpha (buggy, semi-operational), at 1p2u.com. Just something simple to demonstrate the concept.

    Stephen King tried something similar a while ago with The Plant. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Plant