Thursday, February 03, 2011

Net Neutrality and Writers

Cory Doctorow talks about net neutrality and "leverage" for writers in the current issue of LOCUS:

Net Neutrality

So far, we've heard mostly about the burden a non-neutral Internet would place on the average user, which Doctorow illustrates with an analogy of the phone company's putting your call to the neighborhood pizza joint on hold but fast-tracking your call to Domino's. What he discusses in this article, however, is the potentially disastrous effect on artists trying to market their creations. Copyright, he maintains, supplies "negotiating leverage" for "a writer whose mere name can sell books." For those authors, copyright constitutes "a moderately successful tool for extracting funds from publishers." For the rest of us, though, the wide-open field of the Internet serves a similar function, a concept that never occurred to me from quite that angle before. Now we can reach an audience without going through the "gatekeeper" of a large publisher. At the "bottom of the market," the traditional institutions have to compete with someone besides each other. Here's Doctorow's striking summary of the beneficial effects of a neutral Internet:

"A negotiation in which the two choices are 'Do it my way' and 'Go pound sand' is not one that will end well for the supplicant. The mere existence of a better option than 'Go pound sand' raises the floor on our negotiations."

I'm not so sure I agree with this optimistic viewpoint. Even at the bottom of the market (where, as Doctorow points out, the majority of us will spend most of our careers), I'm not convinced major publishers are always aware of the niche publishers' existence, let alone affected by it. Nevertheless, I do greatly value having somewhere other than New York to offer my work, and of course I feel strongly about net neutrality.

This issue of LOCUS features a whole section of essays from various authors about "SF in the digital age," which I haven't read yet. I'm eager to find out what they're saying. (My first reaction was, "LOCUS recognizes the digital age? About time"—considering their reluctance, so far, to review e-books, an odd approach for an SF magazine.)

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. Margaret, what are your feelings about pay-per-excess-use?

  2. And, how do the net neutrality people respond to the problem of piracy?

    It is now alleged that piracy guzzles up approximately a fourth of all bandwidth, in which case, honest folks are subsidizing pirates.

  3. "Margaret, what are your feelings about pay-per-excess-use?"

    Sounds like a giant step backward to me. Remember when AOL first came out? We paid by the minute. How could I possibly make effective use of the Internet if I had to do that now? Any move toward any similar system, as opposed to a flat fee for unlimited access, would be ruinous and should be resolutely opposed. (Remember when Blockbuster stores charged an annual membership fee? They wisely dropped it. Similar situation. Of course, in a few years it will be geezer nostalgia to talk about remembering Blockbuster stores. Ours closed last year, and I caved in and joined Netflix.)

  4. Margaret,

    I agree with you. Moreover, I have heard that internet usage is considered a right, and that welfare recipients receive free internet access.

    If that is the case, pay-per-use won't stop piracy by those who would rather not pay for books, music, movie, games.

    It will simply make copyright enforcement prohibitively expensive.