I’m out of toothpaste, I need a haircut, and my car needs an oil change. I must be… studying for the bar! See you in a few weeks.
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I’ve had almost no time to post here in the past few weeks, as I just began studying for the bar, but I wanted to take a break from studying Evidence and Torts for a second. I have owed my friend Brad Greenberg, a fellow UCLA law new-grad, some attention. Brad’s most recent contribution to the world of legal academia is available here, and it covers a topic that should be interesting to law nerds and normal nerds alike – the survival (or, alternately, impending doom) of the newspaper industry. And the discussion is currently as alive as ever, with recent discussion of the topic focusing on the New Orleans Times-Picayune laying off staff despite it’s profitability.
Brad’s paper can be broken down into a few key arguments:
- Newspapers need to make more money than they are making now to survive,
- Collusion to set paywall prices could save them, but antitrust law bans such action,
- Congress should endorse and promote an exception to the antitrust laws to save the newspaper and the United States itself (I added that last part…).
Typical for a guy with multiple published pieces who also blogs on the side, Brad’s piece is refreshingly easy to read for a law article – but that doesn’t mean I agree with his points. Actually, I disagree with just about every one of them. Originally I thought of reasons why each point was wrong – newspapers can make money without paywalls, newspapers could probably escape antitrust charges through signaling their concerted action anyway, points about how the last government-endorsed entertainment/news monopoly (cable) has set us back by a decade. But really, none of those things matter, because ultimately the newspaper is dead and our children simply won’t care because the world will be just fine without them:
Welcome to the 21st Century, now with 100% less Newspaper -
Newspapers were lazy, crappy, overachieving businesses for decades. These weren’t glamorous jobs, necessarily, but they weren’t well-run businesses either. Major newspapers lived off of two major cash cows – the natural monopolies of the classifieds and print ads. The network effect of having everybody in town looking at the same few pages of paper everyday let newspapers turn 10 cents of ink into a $1,000 ad or a $100 classified. If you needed to fill a job opening in the pre-internet era, you went to the newspaper, and you paid whatever it cost. Couch to sell? Car to sell? Plumbing services to offer for consumption? Same deal. Call the newspaper. The rest of the business wasn’t particularly fine-tuned, because it didn’t need to be.
A decade of Facebook, Google Adsense, and Craigslist later, and suddenly those ad monopolies are gone. Newspapers now offer an unattractive product (ie we pick the news that’s important, deliver it to you in a physical format once a day, and you pay for it) compared to what the internet offers (ie you pick the news you want, whenever you want it, and you don’t pay for it). It’s a lot like what’s happening right now with cable: people are realizing they shouldn’t have to pay for the 200 channels full of shows they don’t watch when all they want is Mad Men and Game of Thrones, and they can watch those on-demand online (if not completely legally at this point). The fundamental problem facing newspapers is the same one facing cable, but the newspapers don’t have any unique content. The papers that do have unique content (for example, the Wall Street Journal) are having less trouble staying profitable, because they have something they can charge for and make a margin on. The ones that don’t are struggling to drive readers to their website, because in all likelihood those readers are already getting that same news from the few sites that have successfully transitioned online already. Content with value will always find a way to get out – but most papers just don’t have much content of value, and that’s a business problem, not a societal one.
But Brad would tell me that I’m focusing too much on the business and not enough on the societal benefits of the newspapers; ‘why don’t you lament the loss of our bold muckrakers, Dan?’ he might contest. For the most part, I just don’t think there is any risk that the sort of injustice newspapers cover will go uncovered in a digital world. As newspapers die and websites take their place, journalists will make careers (though likely fewer) of breaking and covering the same stories as they did when those stories were cast in ink. Will that make it easier to “corrupt” the news with bribes? To corner the market on an area of journalism and subvert it? Who could say at this point, but the bottom line is, newspapers are on the way out and personally curated digital news has already taken over. I’m almost certain we wouldn’t have missed Watergate if we had only had Twitter to rely on, but only time will tell.
This fall was a big season for console games – basically every major release of the year came in the last 2-3 months, and very few blockbusters debuted outside the fall season. All of the blockbuster sequels are on an annual, November release schedule at this point, and this past month or two saw heavyweights like Call of Duty, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, Elder Scrolls, Gears of War, Zelda, Marvel vs Capcom, and the Batman franchise release new entries. Fall has always been a popular release target, with the hopes of a small price cut for Christmas boosting sales after the real fans already jumped in, but this year has really been lopsided.
I’m the kind of fan who believes that games have the potential for art, even if they don’t all realize it, and as such I had reason to be skeptical of the fall schedule from the start – There is no original game in the entire schedule. Every single major release has been a sequel, if not the third or fourth or fifth entry in a series. That’s not necessarily terrible, and plenty of my favorite games have been sequels (MGS4, to name just one, is one of the greatest games of all time), but the trend of game developers cranking out sequels rather than working on new properties concerns me as a consumer looking for works with more artistic content. What’s even more concerning is how these games have been received.
So what did the reviewers have to say about this fall lineup? Here’s IGN’s article on the topic, with a spoileralert title of “Was Fall 2011 the Best Season in Gaming History“. I don’t have a huge problem with many of the games (I also haven’t played a majority of them, so I refrain from mentioning those), but some of the scores really don’t reflect the major flaws in the games, and the criticism reflects a lack of perspective on the season as a whole. Some of my biggest gripes: 8.5 for Assassin’s Creed: Part 4, a game which, in my experience, has the buggiest multiplayer of any game I’ve ever played (it wavers in and out of being completely unplayable, and often freezes to the point of needing a hard reset… a truly grave offense given that Part 3 had the same issues but less frequent). A 9.0 for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3: a sequel to a sequel that’s seen a spinoff, but it has added remarkably little to the multiplayer experience in two renditions, the campaign mode’s story reads even on paper as if it was written by an ADD seventh grader from a military family after a sugar binge, and the main addition to the franchise still isn’t even functional. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 adds 12 characters to the game before it, nothing more, and got the same 8.5 as it’s predecessor. Battlefield 3 received a 9 despite the fact that the reviewer described the campaign as forgettable, and the multiplayer takes hours of grinding to achieve parity with your opponents, and was so buggy that hundreds of players were banned within weeks of release for exploiting glitches. Many of the other games on the list suffer from questionably high scores, but my gripes are less concrete, more along the lines of “how can adding almost nothing to a good game yield a higher score” sort of gripes.
The problem of inflated reviews for entertainment on websites that make their money advertising for entertainment isn’t new or unique to console games, but there’s a disturbing trend in game criticism to actually berate critical reviews. IGN recently ran a piece where they got a
psychologist professor of psychology psychology major to look at scores on Metacritic, and have him corroborate their complaints that too many users are giving Modern Warfare 3 a zero with some cold hard science. The student seems to understand the user complaints better than IGN -
reviews suggest that there is at least a significant minority of players who feel that the Call of Duty franchise is no longer delivering along those long-held gaming values of originality, innovation, what-have-you
Seems like a valid complaint to me, and when all anybody wants to do is give the game a 10, I feel like I’d give Call of Duty a 0 as well (Full disclosure: I have never reviewed anything on Metacritic. And I’d give call of duty a 7). When the media charged with critiquing games is minting every big-budget release as a 9 or a 10 just for being playable, can we really expect more discretion from anonymous users on Metacritic? And it isn’t just IGN, though I focus on them here.
The industry really has no critical perspective on games as a medium, as component pieces of a large entertainment medium that will keep pumping out derivative works if we pay for them and review them favorably, and it’s not doing much for the argument that the field can produce an experience with artistic merits. It definitely still can, but the November blockbusters aren’t heading in the right direction, and I’d appreciate it if at least one mainstream site would acknowledge that. End rant. I’m off to play Catherine for a third playthrough.
A while ago, a story about Warren Buffet gained a lot of traction in the tech world. The story focused on a description of Google made by Buffet, who said that great companies have core products (castles) that they then build features and services around to prevent competitors from getting to the core product (moats). Google’s castle is search, and the moat is gmail, google voice, chrome, and the other products Google puts around the search to control the user experience.
Google has had a history of launching some pretty mediocre products and making some strange acquisitions, but a week after Google+’s launch, it is starting to look like there was some semblance of a plan behind the seemingly crappy launches. Google Buzz, Wave, Picassa, +1 and Blogger were hardly search related, unlikely to become castles, and unlikely to serve as moats, but now seeing the Google+, circle-based social network, it actually seems like they are moats for the new castle. All of those products either taught Google something about how to build the new social castle, or will help “moat” that castle. And Google+ actually seems like it’s being widely praised – a great comic I saw noted that the only way to describe the service is as a Facebook that isn’t like Facebook, which is a testament more to how strong Facebook’s grasp has been on everything social for last 6 years than a statement about our collective distate for Facebook.
If Google+ catches on, users will be faced with a choice of either using both services, or staying exclusively on one or the other. The real risk for Facebook is that, even if people choose the former, it may cut time on the site in half. Half the eyeballs = half the time spent viewing ads = half the ad revenue, which is obviously not a good thing for a company that makes a lot of it’s money off of ads. The other issue is social games – Google+ will definitely become a games platform eventually, as early reports are already considering. So far, the main criticism of Zynga’s IPO has been that Zynga is tied to Facebook, but that looks like it should really be a criticism of Facebook at this point, as Zynga now has a major player they can jump ship to, or at least use as negotiating leverage. One wonders what the exact contents of that non-compete deal Facebook and Zynga signed back in late 2010, and if there is any chance it considered some sort of exclusivity for Facebook. The negotiations at that point in time probably looked an awful lot different though, with no clear alternative for Zynga to publish games on besides Facebook. Now, however, Zynga might actually be in a position to push for a better % of their own revenue (Facebook takes 30%) given that Zynga could potentially swing hundreds of millions of users over to Google+ pretty easily. That move might be too risky for a company waiting to go public, but it will definitely be an interesting standoff between Facebook and Zynga whenever Google+ does open a games platform to the public. A public games platform on Google+ would only help social games as a whole – though the 30% cut seems like an industry standard for all game-hosting platforms, at least it will allow developers to have some sway over the policies that Facebook and Google come up with, and react to them by investing more heavily in one platform over the other. Another interesting thing will be whether game development for Google+ looks more like game development for the Android platform, or if it will be an entirely new experience. It seems the possibilities for games on a new platform similar to Facebook would be more inspiring for developers than just a new version of Android, but on the other hand, opening up the Android platform to Google+ would allow minimal investment from current developers, and give Google+ instant access to games available on the platform. All in all, Google+ will have a big impact on social games, we just don’t know what that impact will be exactly until Google makes their move.
Pretty unsurprising news today, as the Supreme Court handed down their decision in the patent case of Microsoft v i4i. I’ve written about the case before, back when the oral arguments were heard, and noted that Microsoft was extremely unlikely to win.
Well, Microsoft actually did worse than I could have imagined, somehow losing Judge Breyer’s vote and falling to i4i in an 8-0 decision (one justice recused himself for owning a significant share of Microsoft, and even HE said he would have voted for i4i). It was really an uphill battle for Microsoft from the get-go: they were trying to lower the bar for the standard applied when a patent is challenged, from a clear and convincing standard to anything lower, but decades of court precedent and complicit silence on the part of Congress made it unlikely that the Court would step in and reverse standing law without good reason. Sotomayor wrote a snarky opinion, basically dismissing Microsoft as having no case, and the clear and convincing evidence standard will live another day (and likely for a very, very long time).
Unfortunate, because the patent system could really use some more editing and the Court had shown a willingness to adopt change by brute force in some recent cases. But alas, the patent system remains broken, to the surprise of nobody.
be back in a week
Just when it seemed like there couldn’t be any more exciting copyright news in one week, Amazon launches a cloud storage service aimed specifically at music. Copyright and music are simultaneously the best friends and enemies; we need copyright to have music (maybe), but the music industry has been spending more money on copyright infringement lawsuits in the last decade then they could ever hope to get back in the courts.
Amazon’s Cloud will surely lead the music industry back into court. It’s a free, 5 gig storage on the web that can be accessed from any internet device (except for iphones…), or 20 bucks for 20 gigs for a year. You upload your music, and it stays in your Cloud to be accessed wherever. Amazon has no plans to pay any content creators, which, if you ask me, is fine. Everything you upload has to be yours to start with, so I’m not even sure what the copyright claim could be, especially given Cablevision, which allowed essentially the same and more for television shows. But the music industry is apparently stunned by Amazon’s move, and now sitting with lawyers in wait hoping for somebody to find a flaw in a system that Amazon’s own lawyers no doubt spent months examining themselves.
I don’t actually think Amazon will see that much success with Cloud, though I admire their brash entry into a space filled with copyright timebombs. Amazon made a big mistake in not allowing access via an iPhone, though. I’m not sure what motivated that decision: Apple is obviously a competitor in music distribution but denying the value of mobile access to a huge number of your potential users is going to cripple the technology’s adoption rate. And it’s hardly like Google, purveyor of the Android platform on which a Cloud app will be released, is that much less of a threat to enter the mobile music storage space. Anecdotally I’ve heard that the upload client doesn’t work on Linux and the site for it crashes on Chrome, and it doesn’t work at all on Opera, so I’m not too certain this launch isn’t already a disaster. At least the copyright blogs are talking about it!
I’ve always been a fan of the hacker group Anonymous… or at least, until recently. Anonymous, the large group of moralistic hackers who have terrorized the church of Scientology and most recently companies who withdrew support from wikileaks, made more mainstream news when they hacked Gawker and stole millions of email addresses linked to users.
That’s where I lost them as a supporter. I appreciated their hacking of the mega companies as a form of protest against pulling support for wikileaks (a stand that, if illegal, was at least principled). And plus, all it really did was shut down the websites of a few companies with DDoS attacks, which a site usually recovers from pretty quickly and causes little long-term damage. But attacking Gawker and releasing private information of innocent people for no reason? That’s just meaningless harm.
A few days ago somebody may have gotten their revenge for the Gawker hack, and it may have been for the same reasons. A member of the group apparently leaked chat logs and personally identifying information of lead hackers to Gawker in a sort of karmic retribution. The logs, if real, display the paranoia and egocentric nature of a pseudo-hierarchical group of hackers, and basically little else. They reference hacks they’ve made, they freak out once when they think they’ve been made, and that’s basically it. The logs might be fake, sure, but based on how boring most of the chats are, I’m more inclined to believe that a fringe member just scraped up every log they had and thought it might be enough to give him credibility as a snitch.
It’ll be interesting to see if the information purported to identify the hackers pans out, but in the meantime it looks like Anonymous is still alive: They may have just attacked another website today.
I’m a lakers fan, and as such I’m likely to overanalyze the behavior of Kobe Bryant. Here’s my latest theory: Kobe threw the Lakers last game down the stretch. For those who didn’t see, the lakers were visiting the Heat, who had just been widely reported to be crying in the locker room after a close loss to the Bulls. The game was close the whole way, with the Lakers doing a pretty decent job working inside-out through their big men, who were guarded by undersized or untalented players the whole game. Kobe knew that was the way to win, keep feeding the post and pressing their advantage. But, instead, Kobe takes a number of terrible shots down the stretch, hogging the ball and going one-on-one with Wade for most of the 4th quarter. He later tried to justify some of the shots [http://bit.ly/hfPhOW], but Kobe is a pretty smart guy, he knows going one-on-one with an All-Star is not the best approach to attacking a defense.
So my theory is that Kobe did it on purpose. Now, I’m more than capable of admitting that Kobe can just be a ball hog who abandons the offense at points. But this game was different for two reasons: The Heat were getting slammed in the press for crying after the Bulls loss, and Kobe went out after the game and shot around for 2 hours, until midnight when they forced him off the court, because he wanted to work on his shot after the loss. This was Kobe making a statement that he could only make in a loss, and he set it up for himself perfectly. The story now is about how Kobe has a crazy motivation, a drive unmatched in the NBA and its why he has 5 titles. And Lebron is a crybaby. If you told Kobe that all he had to do was shoot 2-11 in the second half of a relatively meaningless regular season game, then go shoot for 2 hours after the game and in exchange he might get a lasting anecdote about his legendary work effort while also making Lebron look like a wimp, he would at least consider it.