Remember libertarianism?

Atlas Shrugged poster: Who is John Galt?
Film date: 2014

Remember the 1980s, when the Tea Party was all the rage and obnoxious people were putting “Who is John Galt?” bumper stickers on their cars?

What? It was last decade?!

And now the libertarian-Republican alliance is dead.

I never thought I’d shed a tear for libertarians, whom Bloom County cartoonist Berke Breathed memorably described as “a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners.” I’d add that the libertarians I knew in college basically had a “I’ve got mine, up yours” attitude.

I do feel a little sad for the folks at Reason magazine, who are trying to stay relevant even though the Libertarian Party couldn’t make any inroads in a presidential election featuring two staggeringly unpopular candidates and the Republican Party has abandoned all pretense of support free trade, open borders, freedom of choice, military restraint, etc.

But should we be surprised by the ideological incoherence of Republicans? These people just move from one cult to another. The only constants are that they hate “liberals” and they’re empathy-impaired.

Sure, CDs are toast, but DVDs?

Came across an interesting (though old) Facebook meme today that listed all the things people supposedly don’t keep around today:

I have all five, and I can make a case for all of them …

DVDs: Look, Netflix doesn’t have everything. Maybe you can just rent from Redbox, but why throw something out if you’re just going to want to rent it again? I just re-watched This Is Spinal Tap with the band doing commentary in character. Not sure you can even find that anywhere today.

CDs: OK, this is the least essential today, but there are still a handful of songs you can’t find anywhere online.

File cabinets: Where else would you keep owner’s manuals and tax documents?

Wall calendars: It’s just art today. No, you don’t really need it to know what day it is. (Unless the power goes out.)

Take Out Menus: We have some, but we could probably do without them. The apps and sites are more likely to be up to date. But print menus are easier to browse.

So I have all five. And I’m not that old.

Being “triggered” is an act of courage, not cowardice

Dear Donald Trump Jr. (and Boris Johnson … for that matter, and Vladimir Putin),

On behalf of “liberals,” “progressives” and former Republicans, I would like to say the following …

You’re damn right we’re “triggered.”

We’re triggered because we’ve seen a rise in violent racist hate crimes and other signs of emboldened racism, including a fatal rally in Charlottesville that its own organizer said “wouldn’t have occurred without Trump.” (No, the recent action that’s supposed to help fight the rise in anti-Semitism won’t help.

We’re triggered because we know separating kids from their parents and keeping people in inhumane conditions because they’re seeking the same opportunities our grandfathers sought is incompatible with any sort of morality, secular or religious. And it’s even taking a toll on the economy.

We’re triggered because we know the bill will come due for the corporate debt and federal debt we’re using to prop up the economy while people like you are afraid to steer us toward *long-term* prosperity. (Yes, Obama ran up deficits, but only to bail out the last Republican president, and it worked. When the economy recovered, so did the budget.)

We’re triggered because we know we’re also passing the bill for climate change to our kids and grandkids. We don’t all buy into the worst-case scenario of impending extinction, but we know we’re going to be spending a lot of money to relocate and renovate farms, put up seawalls (got $46 billion?) or simply move cities inland, and repair all the damage from stronger storms and fires.

We’re triggered because we’re the developed world’s biggest hotbed of gun violence, and yet a minority of people who insist it’s somehow not about guns has managed to intimidate people like you.

We’re triggered because Puerto Rico is part of the United States and shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get aid after a hurricane.

We’re triggered because we think 25-year-olds who are diagnosed with cancer while they’re working entry-level jobs without insurance shouldn’t have to declare bankruptcy to get the care they need. (They’re just part of the hundreds of thousands of people who do so each year.)

We’re triggered because younger generations are racking up massive debt just to go to college, something other countries have managed to make accessible to all.

We’re triggered because we’re the world’s laughingstock. (OK, that’s not really directed at Putin.)

We’re triggered because we believe women shouldn’t be sexually assaulted. (No, we haven’t forgotten. Nor have we forgotten that he said it was OK.)

We’re triggered because we believe our gay and transgender friends and family should have the same rights we have.

You’ve convinced farmers you’re on their side, even as your tariffs ruin them.

You’ve convinced hard-working people that they can keep their coal and manufacturing jobs rather than working to train them for the future, and they’re already losing out in industry and agriculture — thanks in part to Trump’s tariffs.

You’ve convinced evangelicals to support you despite your obvious lack of morality because they think you’ll get abortion banned. Let’s not even debate the thorny biological and theological questions there. Let’s tell the truth. If you or one of your buddies knocks up your mistress, you have the means to push her onto a plane to fly somewhere abortion will still be legal, and you can pay for the procedure while slipping her a bit of hush money. You know abortion will only be banned for poor people.

You’ve convinced people on Wall Street that it’s OK to buy into your short-term thinking and keep their party rolling.

You haven’t convinced us.

And it’s telling that you’re not even trying. Your book isn’t called “Persuaded.” You don’t even care.

We do.

We care about other people, and we will never be ashamed of it.

We will never stop fighting for them.

You will be defeated.

The good news is that a lot of us still believe in repentance. Your path back is clear.

Donate your royalties to causes that will help undo everything you’ve done.

Then come back and work with us instead of treating us as the enemy. We’re good people. You’ll feel good about it.

I’m really writing this for you.

The person who has read this far.

You can stop this. You can stop buying into the propaganda. You can join us in fighting for others.

You can vote with a conscience.

“Triggering” is easy. It’s not an accomplishment.

You can have the courage to care. To fight back.

To be positive. (Yes, it’s OK to live a happy life. We’re not just negative nannies. We want to encourage people to share the joy we get from pursuing the good life without stomping on those in need and future generations.)

Besides, we have all the good bands. All the people who make good TV shows and movies. All the good writers. We even have all the good preachers.

So come join us. We’ll have fun. ALL of us. Not just those who were born with all the advantages the world can offer and chose not to use them for anything but self-gratification.

$10 trillion of corporate debt propping up the economy? What could go wrong?

Let me get this straight …

We’re in an era in which corporations are given every conceivable break to do whatever the hell they want and barely pay for it. And they’re still borrowing so much that they’re getting BBB ratings?

So when the next recession hits, the government and corporations will have already gone so deep into the red that no rational person will lend them another dime?

Yeah, this’ll end well.

This news comes to you from The Washington Post, and whatever you think of Amazon’s business practices, at least Jeff Bezos is keeping such reporting alive. Similar stories are at NPR and the Financial Times.

The state of paid media and Medium

Gotta love coincidental timing. Just after my post on the state of paid media, in which I listed oodles of things for which people are willing to pay and lamented that they’re apparently not willing to pay for newspapers and magazines (even in new media form), I was sent this link …

The upshot of it is that someone decided Medium’s sort-of paywall wasn’t going to work, so he’s going to do his Niche Blog That Has 10,000,000 Paying Readers Who Also Buy His Ebooks. Invariably, such niche blogs fall into two categories:

  1. Technology
  2. How to make money on niche blogs about technology

But this piece got more interesting than the typical “I make $200,000 a year writing about JavaScript” piece:

Traditional newspapers had to maximize their potential audience by including “something for everyone” in each issue. Thus their pages include a wild diversity of content — crossword puzzles, editorials, comics, recipes, news stories — but most of it of mediocre or standard quality. This makes no sense in a digital world where the very best content in each category is just a click away.

Online media, despite being so different from traditional printed media, is still trying to maximize its potential audience, and in order to do that, going for quantity over quality. Look at any popular media website, and you’ll see a constant stream of mediocre, click-bait updates. This is because, until recently, the only viable way to monetize online was advertising, and making any meaningful revenue from advertising required millions of readers. Only the biggest operations could afford to play this game, so we mistakenly concluded that online media only worked for large corporations.

I said it was more interesting. I didn’t say it was right. He’s half-right.

The traditional newspaper business model is dead, but he’s too dismissive of it. Even today, I wouldn’t exactly call the New York Times crossword puzzle “mediocre,” and the Washington Post still carries the best comic strip today (Pearls Before Swine). In older times, much of what was in a typical newspaper was actually the best — admittedly, sometimes by default. It had the best local news except in the rare market in which the newspaper sucked and a TV station managed to delve into the issues. (Still true.) It had the best comics aside from Mad magazine — which, alas, is also disappearing. It had the best classified advertising by default, and local newspapers’ inability to cover the shortfall for losing that revenue is the biggest reason local newspapers are going under. I’m not sure how he determined that the recipes weren’t that great. In any case, in the 19th and 20th centuries, newspapers were a pretty good deal.

He’s absolutely right about clickbait and the difficulties of making money through advertising. I’ve always thought it’s a little silly that an advertiser will pay big money to have a logo on the right front fender of a race car but only hands over money to a local newspaper if they can come up with some “metric,” but I can understand why such money simply isn’t going to pay the bills. I once got $100 from Google Ads when tons of people clicked on the Olympic medal projections that took maybe 200 hours of labor, which may explain why I consider myself my own worst boss.

So, yes, it makes sense for any news organization that can’t bring in money on subscriptions (NYT, WaPo, WSJ) or donations (Guardian, ProPublica) to focus on a niche. Even ESPN is “niche,” though “sports” is rather broad, and their coverage includes live events and plenty of video highlights.

Then you can sell ebooks and other merchandise, depending on your topic, and you’re freed from having to game the system with SEO so you can get a million page views and make ends meet.

Here’s where he’s wrong …

People are going to tire of having a multitude of subscriptions.

If you’ve researched cord-cutting, you know how tricky this is. OK, so you’ve kicked Verizon to the curb. Now you have to pay for Internet access, and you’ll probably have to pay more than you were in your old bundle because you need faster speeds for everything you’ll be watching. Then you pay for Netflix. And Hulu. And HBO. And SiriusXM. And Spotify. And Pandora. And NBC Sports Gold (freelance client-shilling here). And so on.

And that’s just for video, which he notes has more pull for subscribers than the written word.

So how should we expect readers who already subscribe to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker and/or the Economist to pay to subscribe to every blog we read on occasion?

The error here is a misreading of “freemium,” which he describes as “the practice of publishing free content to give readers a taste of what you offer, and then up-selling them to other products and services over time.” In some cases, that’s true. But it’s also the practice of opening your door to people who just want one story.

In another bit of coincidental timing, I was referred today to a Dutch news organization for an important soccer story. That news organization asked me for a subscription. Yeah, no.

A handful of services — Trim, Truebill and others — actually advertise their capacity to find all the things to which you’re subscribing and help you get rid of them. You’d think anyone who can read a credit-card statement could do such things for free, but go figure. The point is there’s a market for getting rid of the very thing this writer is trying to sell.

Here’s a little experience. Check your browser history for one day. Exclude the things you read for work, and exclude anything to which you subscribe. Here’s what I had today:

  1. PC Magazine (for one of the links above)
  2. A curling news site
  3. A local parents’ message board
  4. StackExchange
  5. The Nation
  6. A blog on a video game (ironically, a freemium game)
  7. A soccer satire site
  8. The BBC
  9. A soccer refereeing site
  10. Another soccer refereeing site
  11. A TV review site
  12. A Reston news site
  13. A Tysons Corner news site
  14. MacWorld

Now imagine that I pay $5/month to all 14 of those sites.

Now imagine that I pay $5/month to 10 more sites that I visit tomorrow.

And so on.

The “five free views” model has some utility. Most of a local newspaper’s content is going to be of interest only to locals, and that’s who the newspaper should target for subscriptions. But every once in a while, something will attract a wider audience. Maybe it’s something on a local sports team. Maybe it’s a weird crime story. Either way, there’s a benefit to letting everyone in on the fun.

If you’re counting on advertising to support all of your content, you’re probably not going to survive. If you’re reaping the advertising benefit of that one story that gets 200,000 page views, great. And if 10 of them decide to subscribe, so much the better.

I can’t really speak to Medium’s pay system, having not yet earned any money from it. (Haven’t really tried. You probably don’t even know I’ve posted on Medium.) And I can’t speak to this specific blog.

But in general — we have to find a way to accommodate people who “graze” for news from many different sites. It’s a valuable thing to do. One of the wonders of the Internet is that we can get different perspectives and chase different pursuits.

And frankly, those of us in mass media (which still exist) can’t afford to leave anyone out.