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What, Me Worry: The Decline of MAD Magazine and David Simon’s Dire Prediction

July 6, 2019 1 comment

The cover of the first magazine issue of MAD in 1955 bore these prophetic words:

This magazine is vital for you to read and inside you will find an extremely important message from the editors.

Even in its decline, those words are true today but for reasons that are not particularly funny–except perhaps to Marissa Meyer and Arianna Huffington as we will discover.

What did the editors mean at the time?  Well, what else was happening in America in 1955?  Oh, yeah, these guys:

mccarthy_cohn

Think it didn’t take guts to launch a parody magazine in those years?  Think again.

But, unlike the many newsrooms that have simply disappeared with the rise of Google and Facebook, MAD is not going away entirely.   The Hollywood Reporter tells us:

The beloved satire publication will no longer be sold on newsstands after the August issue, and future editions will shift to previously published material with new covers.

In other words, the value in the magazine will be in re-cycling the past, or one might say commoditizing MAD Magazine so it can be monetized online.  The irony here should not be lost on anyone–a major defender of fair use parody and satire is having its bones picked over by the fair use profiteers.  (See Judge Kaufman’s opinion giving MAD a victory in Irving Berlin et al., Plaintiffs-appellants, v. E. C. Publications, Inc., et al. [MAD], Defendants-appellees, 329 F.2d 541 (2d Cir. 1964) (cert. den.) for those reading along at home.)

In a prescient 2008 book review (entitled “Google the Destroyer“) of Nicholas Carr’s The Google Enigma, antitrust scholar Jim DeLong gives an elegant explanation:

Carr’s Google Enigma made a familiar business strategy point: companies that provide one component of a system love to commoditize the other components, the complements to their own products, because that leaves more of the value of the total stack available for the commoditizer….Carr noted that Google is unusual because of the large number of products and services that can be complements to the search function, including basic production of content and its distribution, along with anything else that can be used to gather eyeballs for advertising. Google’s incentives to reduce the costs of complements so as to harvest more eyeballs to view advertising are immense….This point is indeed true, and so is an additional point. In most circumstances, the commoditizer’s goal is restrained by knowledge that enough money must be left in the system to support the creation of the complements….

Google is in a different position. Its major complements already exist, and it need not worry in the short term about continuing the flow. For content, we have decades of music and movies that can be digitized and then distributed, with advertising attached. A wealth of other works await digitizing – books, maps, visual arts, and so on. If these run out, Google and other Internet companies have hit on the concept of user-generated content and social networks, in which the users are sold to each other, with yet more advertising attached.

So, on the whole, Google can continue to do well even if leaves providers of is complements gasping like fish on a beach.

In the case of MAD, Jim DeLong’s theory is still quite applicable–it’s just the creation of the compliments is evidently going to be old material with new covers (possibly user-generated).  And one of the leading and most influential sources of parody and satire is left flopping and gasping for air alongside the Rocky Mountain News and a host of other disappeared newsrooms in the ones and zeroes where no one can hear you scream.

Let’s understand that MAD’s decline is actually very important because it’s symptomatic of a serious harm at work around the world as the scrutiny of elected officials declines directly with the closing of newsrooms and the transmogrification of independent journalism into social media “reporting” that is edited, controlled, filtered and monetized by you know who.  It is well to remember the dire warning from David Simon in 2009 before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.  (David Simon wrote and produced The Corner, The Wire, Treme and was formerly a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun.)  Mr. Simon told the Senate hearing on the Future of Journalism and Newspapers:

Understand I’m not making an argument against the Internet and all that it offers. But you do not in my city run into bloggers or so-called citizen journalists at City Hall or in the courthouse hallways or at the bars where police officers gather. 

You don’t see them consistently nurturing and then pressing sources. You don’t see them holding institutions accountable on a daily basis. Why? 

Because high end journalism is a profession. It requires daily full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out, reporting was the hardest and in some ways most gratifying job i ever had….

The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning board hearing is the day I will be confident that we have reached some sort of equilibrium…[but] the next ten or fifteen years in this country are going to be the halcyon era for state and local political corruption….

And the fair use profiteers Marissa Meyer (then still at Google) and Ariana Huffington also on that Senate witness panel were yucking it up.  Maybe it’s because they knew no one was listening to David Simon’s warning about corruption–for some reason.  The subsequent history certainly suggests that if anything David Simon underestimated the extent of the corruption.

russia_medvedev_facebook_zuck

But that magazine is vital for you to read and inside you will find an extremely important message from the editors.  And remember–we were warned.  While they laughed.

David Simon Hearing

What, me worry?

 

 

 

 

Is YouTube The Lyor Show?

June 21, 2018 Comments off

MIKE

Christof, let me ask you, why do you think that Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world until now?

CHRISTOF

We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.

from The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol

You’ll hear a lot of trash talk about Lyor Cohen, but credit where it’s due–he gave an interview that interested me about how he sees his role at YouTube.  I actually think he’s got some old school ideas that may be fundamentally sound, but are not connected to the Google reality.

I submit that his problem is that either he’s getting paid so much money he doesn’t need to be attached to reality or he doesn’t understand that Google does not give a rip about us.  Or maybe it’s a little of both.

Lyor’s main problem is that he either doesn’t understand or chooses to ignore Google’s exploitative business model.  MTP readers will recall a prescient 2008 book review of Nicholas Carr’s The Google Enigma (entitled “Google the Destroyer“), by antitrust scholar Jim DeLong that gives an elegant explanation of Google’s mindset:

Carr’s Google Enigma made a familiar business strategy point: companies that provide one component of a system love to commoditize the other components, the complements to their own products, because that leaves more of the value of the total stack available for the commoditizer….Carr noted that Google is unusual because of the large number of products and services that can be complements to the search function, including basic production of content and its distribution, along with anything else that can be used to gather eyeballs for advertising. Google’s incentives to reduce the costs of complements so as to harvest more eyeballs to view advertising are immense….This point is indeed true, and so is an additional point. In most circumstances, the commoditizer’s goal is restrained by knowledge that enough money must be left in the system to support the creation of the complements….

Google is in a different position. Its major complements already exist, and it need not worry in the short term about continuing the flow. For content, we have decades of music and movies that can be digitized and then distributed, with advertising attached. A wealth of other works await digitizing – [music,] books, maps, visual arts, and so on. If these run out, Google and other Internet companies have hit on the concept of user-generated content and social networks, in which the users are sold to each other, with yet more advertising attached.

So, on the whole, Google can continue to do well even if leaves providers of its complements gasping like fish on a beach.

And that was the truth in 2008 and its still true of Google ten years later because that’s their business model.  So when Irving Azoff says of Google that YouTube doesn’t pay artists and songwriters adequately–even the top songwriters in the world who are members of Irving’s Global Music Rights–that’s entirely consistent with the predatory business model Jim DeLong identified.

And when Lyor tries to flatter and deflect his way around Irving’s criticism, he’s missing the point entirely which is not surprising given that he works there.  But it doesn’t change the fact that Irving is right—Google is built on an exploitative business model that depends on using the DMCA safe harbor to undermine basic private property concepts and complete one of the biggest income transfers of all time to the great detriment of artists and songwriters.

MTP readers will also remember my 2007 post, The DMCA is Not an Alibi, now called “the value gap.”  That was the one that really started criticisms that I had a Google problem.  I can’t tell you the number of times that people have come up to me and confessed that they didn’t see what I was driving at until years after.  Not that it matters, but important years were lost when people in positions to marshal resources to combat them simply failed to do so.

Nothing has changed since Jim and I wrote those pieces and nothing will change until there are tectonic shifts in how Google is permitted to operate and the loopholes it relies on.  We’re thankful of the victory in Europe, but as one loophole closes in Europe, another opens in the US through the Music Modernization Act’s inexplicable and likely unconsitutional reachback safe harbor.

In a recent Billboard interview, Lyor said:

“Prior, [YouTube would] make a deal with the industry, go away for a few years and then come back. And that, to me, is where misunderstandings happen,” he explains. “It’s really hard to find an artist and break that artist — I mean, it’s almost impossible. So if Google and YouTube understand how difficult it is, maybe they could think about ways to improve that part of the business….”

How did you alleviate the disconnect between YouTube and the music industry?

Just going back to back with them. Demystifying our intent. Understanding how hard it is to break artists and to go to work on behalf of the creative community and the labels.

I think Lyor is essentially correct in his old school assessment of Google’s “new boss” problem, but he’s treating the wrong symptom.  It’s not that Google doesn’t understand anything, they understand just fine how hard we think it is to break an artist in the music business.  They just don’t care and to the extent they think about it at all, they think that we don’t understand because they think they “break” YouTube “stars” when those “stars” get corporate sponsorships.

And that is because their business model is based on manipulating loopholes and not on “breaking artists,” if “breaking artists” means establishing artists as able to have successful careers apart from YouTube.  And that dependency has become clearer in the years since Jim wrote his “flopping on the beach” post which makes Google’s commoditization even more insidious.

So while we’re happy that the Europeans have seen the light on the “value gap,” the DMCA is still not an alibi–unless the U.S. government continues to fail to address the underlying cause of the new algorithmic Darwinian music business that is gradually asphyxiating artists and songwriters.

And while we can appreciate Lyor’s old school view of his role in the Google Nation, no one should be persuaded that his approach will change anything as long as one of the largest corporations in commercial history is allowed to weaponize the DMCA safe harbor.  The artists Lyor is focused on “helping” aren’t just flopping on any beach, they are flopping on Google’s beach, one way or another.

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