Tag Archives: obsolescence

When newspapers are gone, will you miss newsstands?

Marketing guru Seth Godin asked the question today, “When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?” Before getting into the various sections and showing how the web covers each of those areas better, he offers this opinion:

Woodpulp, printing presses, typesetting machines, delivery trucks, those stands on the street and the newsstand… I think we’re okay without them.

But are we?

The presses and trucks — the machinery of creating and delivering the paper — are transparent to most people. But the newsstand is a user interface. Any UI designer will tell you that the interface influences the type of interaction you have with the underlying system. What type of interaction do you have with a newsstand?

Newsstand in web terms

First, the newsstand serves as a “portal” to divergent news sources. It provides a rough snapshot of what the different publishers think is worth reading about today, all in one place. No matter what your interest, you can go to the newsstand and know that it’s represented there.

Then there are the cases where someone discovers an interest while at the newsstand. The user who knows what she is there for, but sees the same screaming headline in 144 pt type on three different papers and decides she wants to see what’s happened in the world. Or the user who wants to read something, but doesn’t know what until he browses. This second type of user is very common in airports.

The newsstand also serves as a feed reader, always showing the most recent issue of periodicals and dailies, with older issues sometimes available behind the counter. Just as there are people who don’t know or care about RSS readers, there are people who have been reading magazines for years who don’t track when the new issues will be out. They just check the stand every day or so until they see something new they want to read.

Don’t make me think

Both of these functions, the portal and feed reader analogues, are zero maintenance for the users. At most they might ask the proprietor to start carrying a new title. But the mechanics of delivery, storage, display, are all handled for them. With no subscription, no ongoing cost, and the incremental cost entirely under the user’s control.

So Seth is right, we probably won’t miss the newspapers. But will we miss the newsstands?

Can someone give me the name of a good buggy whip maker?

No really, I want to talk to one. There should be several in every large town, just like there used to be. Because it would be immoral to deprive them of their “right” to make money in the way that they want to.

“But that’s absurd,” you say, if you’ve never heard the argument before. “You’d have to outlaw cars to protect the buggy whip manufacturing business.” Yes, and that’s exactly what the buggy whip makers tried to do: ban the car.

Copyright does the exact same thing buggy whip makers tried to do: it protects a specific business model. The “right to control copying” exists to encourage people to go into the business of creating new works.

We, as a society, benefit from having new works. We have agreed to grant creators of those works a temporary monopoly on reproducing and selling those works. If the specific method that we’re using to encourage creation actually serves to restrict creation, our method needs to change.

Everyone who thinks the RIAA is responsible for increasing the net creative output of the world, raise your hand … Everyone who thinks the MPAA is the creative force behind independent film, raise your hand …

Copyright law was a specific solution to a specific problem. It doesn’t codify some inherent human right. If the “solution” has been pushed too far in one direction, which I believe it has, it’s time to re-think the balance. Or maybe come up with some new way to encourage creation of easily-copied works.