Paying for Content: It’s About Time

The New York Times announced today that – surprise! – starting March 28, people are going to have to pay for their content beyond a generous 20 free articles a week.  No doubt a lot of people out there on the interwebs are decrying the injustice — What? Pay for news content? Ridiculous! — but I firmly stand by the side of the Gray Lady on this one.  If anything, I feel like it’s something that should have been done ages ago (and I’m not talking about the ill-conceived TimesSelect function that they thankfully axed in 2007).

Look, the concept of “you get what you pay for” applies just as much to media as it does to anything else in our capitalist culture.  If you seriously think that reading the minimally researched and un-fact-checked insights of a 22-year-old blogger is anything like reading the dispatches of Nicholas Kristof, then go ahead and keep refusing to pay for anything.  But the fact of the matter is that actual journalism is an expensive endeavor. If a society starts taking it for granted (and we’ve clearly already started going down that slippery slope), then you can essentially start saying goodbye to checks and balances.  The more a media outlet begins to rely on “clickability” and subsequent online ad revenue over a core subscription base, you get into the kind of sensationalist title-bating that you find in deeply irresponsible headlines like this gem from Slate.

The Times was arguably starting to fall into the same trap as well.  I mean, how do you compete with the HuffPo’s 40-pt fire-engine red font surrounded by thumbnails of Charlie Sheen?  Ironically, these all-caps headlines usually just link you back to the Times anyway, only it’s Huffington walking away with the most clicks.  So please people, listen up.  Don’t be so cheap that you don’t want to pay $15 a month to have unlimited access to quality news on your $300 iPhone.  The world needs good journalists…and guess what?  Just like you they need to get paid!

 

For What It’s Worth

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — the polarization of media consumption keeps on escalating.  The day after Borders went out of business I find myself reading on Grub Street about how a set of $625 cookbooks are rapidly selling out.  I’ve long found it fascinating how mega-brands like Newsweek struggle to turn a profit while over on Mercer Street, the folks at Visionaire have been churning out deluxe magazines typically costing at least a couple hundred dollars since 1991 without a hitch.  Apples and oranges in terms of content, perhaps, but the point is that in the realm of media publishing, as things get more crap and diluted overall with the majority of product becoming either free or extremely affordable, there’s a simultaneous growth in demand for a truly luxury experience.

Radiohead’s controversial experiment with their release of In Rainbows back in 2007 was truly a harbinger of post-consumption consumption.  Their release of their digital album for free in conjunction with a super-slick and pricey LP offering basically reflected today’s consumer landscape to a T.  Some people just don’t want to pay for anything or don’t care enough to pay for something, while others will sell their internal organs for a piece of something they love.  The band is back this week with an announcement that they’ll be releasing a new album, The King of Limbs, digitally (not free but on the cheap) via their website on February 19.  What they are calling their deluxe ‘Newspaper Album,’ which consists of two clear 10″ vinyl records in a purpose-built record sleeve, a CD and ‘”many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradeable plastic to hold it all together,” will be shipped out in March for fans who pre-order for the obviously worth it price of $48.  Around the same as a face-value ticket to see LCD Soundsystem for their farewell show at MSG!  That is, if you are an evil scalper bot who was actually able to procure a ticket at the price. (Another example of astounding consumer demand in this era of Free! but I digress…)

You're so very welcome...

Anyway, as usual my train of thought seems to have been hijacked by Thom Yorke.  I believe what I was originally trying to say is, dude, check out these luxury books in a custom Goyard trunk I saw in a bookshop window in Montreal!

Traveling Luxury Library by Goyard -- spotted in Montreal

Flavor Thesaurus

This book by Niki Segnit is already out in the UK and is available for pre-order on Amazon here in the US.  This Guardian review makes it sound pretty awesome.  They should have kept the British cover — the American one looks so blah.  Why do they always do that to book covers here?  And Flavour with a u looks better too…but I digress…

Books for Looking

Andy Spade of Partners & Spade

I stopped into Partners & Spade yesterday and had a little chuckle over Andy Spade‘s wall installation of framed clothbound books, which if I recall correctly, was titled something along the lines of “An Argument for Looking at Books Not Reading Them.”  Cheeky and so wonderfully in touch with the current book-fetishizing zeitgeist!  I noticed the other day while browsing an Anthropologie store that those gorgeous clothbound Penguins designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith which I’ve been coveting for ages had made their way across the pond and were now available outside of the UK.  It’s admittedly a tad depressing to see editions of Dickens and Hardy scattered between cashmere twin-sets and shabby chic hand towels at an Anthro store, as it pretty much confirms the crossover of the book from vessel for content to object for display.  The vast majority of these books will presumably live out their lives on a whimsically curated antique shelf, their glued spines never to be cracked.  However, given the current state of the book industry, I have to applaud any and all attempts to revive interest in literature even if the tactics used are entirely aesthetic.

Clothbound Penguin Classics designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

As further evidence of the fetishizing of books, take a look at these amazing Book Lights by Design Studio MS in the UK.  Sadly they are currently only available with UK voltage plugs but I suppose I can always buy a converter.  I want, I want!

The Book Light (2009) by Design Studio MS

Continuing on this train of thought, the lovely photographs of book spines by Mickey Smith also come to mind, as well as the series of bookshelf illustrations by Jane Mount — both available on Jen Bekman’s 20×200.  Don’t have a bookshelf in your apartment?  Just put up some pictures of books and presto!  Nah, I’m just kidding.  Like Andy Spade’s collection of framed books, presumably this kind of book-inspired art appeals most to people who actually do read quite a bit.

Word Study by Mickey Smith
Bookshelf 20 by Jane Mount

To blather on even further, I was at a charity benefit the other day where limited edition art books were being auctioned off for thousands of dollars.  At those kind of prices they’re obviously more investment vehicle than actual thing to be enjoyed (imagine spilling coffee on your $4000 book!), but it really spelled out for me the reality that in the world of books, content has largely become divorced from the object.  Kraken Opus, which recently released a Michael Jackson Opus for a relatively cheap $250, quite literally describes their limited edition books as an alternative investment that helps to “diversify your wealth.”  I’m sure that while among these buyers of $4000+ limited edition books on everything from Arsenal to Prince will be die-hard fans who just want to own it no matter what, I suspect the majority of Opus’ customers never even break open the wooden crate it comes in and send it straight to their vaults to appreciate in value alongside their Château Margaux.  The only time I ever saw an Opus book was under a glass case at Heathrow and that particular edition (Super Bowl XL) weighed a whopping 80 lbs.  It takes “coffee table book” to a whole new level.  You probably need to be in the NFL yourself to actually turn the page so it certainly is not a book meant for reading.  So then what of the mundane task of reading?  We have the Kindle and Nook for that!

Kraken Opus' limited edition books

Ghetto Gourmet

I am totally in awe of this new cookbook, Cookin’ with Coolio, which, according to the Village Voice, REALLY DOES EXIST.  From the Voice:

Chapters are titled “It’s Hard Out Here for a Shrimp,” “Appetizers for that Ass,” and “Salad-Eatin’ Bitches.” Salt is not measured in teaspoons, but doled out in “dime bags.” Chicken isn’t carved into breasts, but “breastesses.” The pantry is the “pimptry.”

WOW.  I had no idea that Coolio (of “Gangster’s Paradise” fame) had been cooking in online webisodes on My Damn Channel.  Leveraging social media to get a book deal!  Sound familiar?  So entrepreneurial.  God, I love this country.

Coolio interview here.

Cover Up!

Swoon!  These paper bag book jackets by Book City Jackets in Williamsburg are so beautiful and nostalgia-inducing!  Love at first sight!  Emma Gaines-Ross and Jeremy Schwartz founded Book City Jackets in 2008 and they have so far released two “artist-editions” featuring the illustrations of Eveline Tarunadjaja, Matthew Caputo, and Morgan Blair in the first edition, and Nishat Akhtar, Cheeming Boey and Michael C. Hsiung in the second.  It’s great cus I’ve often wondered out loud why the Japanese ritual of wrapping books never really made it over here outside of public school requirements.  Hope to start seeing beautifully covered up books on the subway now, just like in Tokyo!

Book City Jackets will be at the Brooklyn Flea’s Gifted holiday market which opens November 27 at their very first Manhattan location on E. 4th and Lafayette.  Should be chock-full of lovely stuff as usual!

AI/AP Party

Great party last Thursday to celebrate the publication of American Illustration 28 & American Photography 25 at the Angel Oresanz Foundation in the Lower East Side. Fabulous art, people and venue.  The annually published AI and AP are the go-to directories for illustration and photography talent across all creative industries.  A mammoth tome, it also makes a classy doorstop or murder weapon.  Perfect gift for the holidays!

American Illustration 28

American Illustration 28
From the pages of AI28
Angel Oresanz Foundation
Angel Oresanz Foundation

Awesome work by Yuko Shimizu, Adam Kidder, Melinda Beck and a hundred other talented people. Briefly met Felix Sockwell, who by random coincidence is the guy who illustrated my friend Hua Hsu’s cover story for the Atantic a few months back.  New York is full of surprises.  Thanks to June Kim for the gatecrashing tip!

The Invisible Library

A fortuitously timed Facebook posting by author Ed Park just as I was getting ready to fly out to London a couple of weeks ago alerted me to a wonderful little exhibit called The Invisible Library.  I had no idea that in addition to writing hilarious novels, editing, teaching and being a good daddy, Ed had been busy cataloging phantom books that don’t really exist but are alluded to in works of fiction.  Turns out 40 of these ‘hidden novels’ were chosen by art collective INK to have their covers illustrated and displayed as part of a ‘library’ that invited visitors to write whatever they want between the pages.

The Invisible Library was cleverly tucked away in Cecil Court, an appropriately charming street near London’s Leicester Square that is lined with old book shops (or shall I say shoppes?).  One Chinese visitor had scrawled a page-full in the book Who is This God Person, Anyway? by Oolon Colluphid, a book alluded to in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, itself a book named after a book that doesn’t really exist. I wish I could tell you what this person had written, but I don’t read Chinese.  I imagine it was enlightening.

The Invisible Library will close shop(pe) on July 12, so if you happen to be in London, you know where to go this weekend to unleash your creative juices.

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I’ll have the Foie Gras, hold the Cheetos

ft-17-cheiffetz2Props to the lovely Julia Cheiffetz of HarperStudio for a great interview in this month’s Fast Company. Cheiffetz talks about the various things her imprint is doing as part of an R&D strategy to adapt to the manifold changes in book publishing. Whether it’s giving Flip cams to authors to videoblog their upcoming titles or experimenting with dynamic e-books, HarperStudio is certainly trying to do more than just tread water. I’m also glad to hear Cheiffetz acknowledge that not all marketing experiments are appropriate for every subject. “With each project, we think about what kind of experimentation is appropriate. We don’t want to sprinkle Cheetos on top of foie gras.” Couldn’t have said it any better!  Check out HarperStudio’s blog here.