Joel Turnipseed Interviews Cory Doctorow and Jennifer Love Hewitt
November 8, 2007
Joel Turnipseed recently sat down to chat with Cory Doctorow, noted information liberator, and Jennifer Love Hewitt, actress, internet imagineer, and all-around hot chick. The original interview was edited for content in order to appease Kottke’s advertisers. What follows is the original interview in its entirety.
JT: Let’s talk about the ‘Pixel-Stained Technopeasantry’ discussion in the sci-fi community this summer. I thought it was sort of ironic that—
JLH: You’re opening with Pixel-Stained Technopeasantry? [Turns to Doctorow.] He’s opening with Pixel-Stained Technopeasantry.
CD: I have no idea what that is.
JLH: Honestly, no one’s interested.
CD: Not even the Technopeasants.
JLH: Why don’t you just ask a question and we’ll take as read the part where you convince us that you know as much about the internet as we do.
JT: …Right, OK. [Fumbles with notes.] What’s the deal with giving away your stuff for free?
JLH: You should not give away your stuff for free.
JLH: [Shakes head.]
CD: There are three reasons why it makes sense to give away books online. The first is that publishing has always been in this kind of churn and flux—who gets published, how they get paid, what the economic structure is of the publishers, where the publishers are, all of that stuff has changed all of the time. And it’s just hubris that makes us think that this particular change—the computer change—is the one that’s going to destroy publishing and that it must be prevented at all costs. We’ll adapt. If we need to adapt, we’ll adapt. And today, the way that we adapt is by giving away e-books and selling p-books.
CD: …So that’s the economic reason.
JLH: Wait, that wasn’t a reason.
CD: Yes it was.
JLH: You said some stuff about change in the publishing industry and some unnamed entity being worried that computers will destroy publishing. I don’t think we’re ready to bring this to the Central High debate team, Martin Luther.
CD: So then there is the artistic reason: we live in a century in which copying is only going to get easier. It’s the 21st century, there’s not going to be a year in which it’s harder to copy than this year; there’s not going to be a day in which it’s harder to copy than this day; from now on. Right?
JLH: [Shakes head.]
JLH: You’re talking about music, not books.
CD: I’m talking about books.
JLH: Who copies a book? It’s hard. It’s as hard now as it was in 1440. [Mouths the word “Gutenberg” to Turnipseed.]
CD: And so, if your business model and your aesthetic effect in your literature and your work is intended not to be copied, you’re fundamentally not making art for the 21st century.
JLH: FYI, as King of the Internet, Cory gets to decide what’s art. They voted on Fark or something. Was it Fark?
CD: …It was Slashdot. And you knew that.
JLH: Slashdot then.
CD: So that’s the artistic reason. Finally, there’s the ethical reason. And the ethical reason is that the alternative is that we chide, criminalize, sue, damn our readers for doing what readers have always done, which is sharing books they love—only now they’re doing it electronically. So telling the audience for art, telling 70 million American file-sharers that they’re all crooks, and none of them have the right to due process, none of them have the right to privacy, we need to wire-tap all of them, we need to shut down their network connections without notice in order to preserve the anti-copying business model: that’s a deeply unethical position. It puts us in a world in which we are criminalizing average people for participating in their culture.
JT: Jen? Comment?
JLH: Cory’s a little Sturm und Drang when he’s got his polemic hat on, but he’s not wrong. [Reaches out to tussle Cory’s hair.]
CD: Thank you.
CD: [Patting down his hair.] What.
JLH: Again, you’re talking about music, not books. No one’s sharing books electronically. People don’t even read long blog posts. No offense, Nottke, you’re doing a great job. But no one reads a book online and goes OMG BEST BOOK EVAR before YSI’ing it to all their friends. This is a counter-argument where there’s no argument.
JT: What was it that the philosopher J. L. Austin said? “Things–
JT: J.L. Austin.
JLH: There’s no such person.
JT: He’s in Wikipedia.
JLH: I wrote that entry. I just wanted to see how long they’d leave it up.
CD: Why did you start that sentence with “What was it that the philosopher J.L. Austin said?” You have what he said written right in front of you. Just say “The philosopher J.L. Austin—”
JLH: No such person.
CD: “—said blah blah whatever.”
JT: He said: “Things are getting meta and meta all the time.”
JLH: I believe that quote is actually from the Roman philosopher, Yourus Momicus. I’ll edit the entry when I get home.
JT: Almost of necessity, because if you don’t have meta-level discussions and filters (and we have MetaFilter), bloggers like kottke and boing boing—in academia I’m going to Arts & Letters Daily and Crooked Timber—you’d never be able to fire through all the cool things to which we now have access. By making use of a small number of editorial nodes, we can cover lot more of the network. But it’s more interesting—
JLH: [Whispers to Doctorow.] Hey I will literally kick your ass in Guitar Hero.
CD: You’re clearly mentally retarded, which will somewhat dampen my spirits upon mopping the floor with you. [They leave.]
JT: —than simple efficiencies, isn’t it? I interviewed Douglas Wolk earlier this week and he said something pretty profound: “Each blogger is a gravitational center, great or small, but there’s no sun they’re all orbiting around.” Yochai Benkler, too, with his idea of the bow-tie model, talks about how, because of shallow paths and the small world effects of the Internet, this idea that there are these multiple centers of gravity mean it’s not like there’s one giant “culture” that’s omnipresent, along which there’s this Power Law distribution that drowns everything out. Instead, there are tons of these smaller gravitational centers, each with their own orbits; each with their own authors, interests, inclinations to reach outward and bring other things in… it pretty well vanquishes certain notions of centrality, the cry that says, “Holy shit: I’m not in The New York Times! Nobody in our culture will ever find me!” That’s nonsense. You can have an audience of millions, maybe none of whom have ever read The New York Times.
[JLH and CD return, carrying bags from Taco Bell.]
JLH: Sorry, loser had to buy. [Tilts head to indicate Doctorow.] We’re tried texting you to see if you wanted anything. Anyways. Continue.
JT: In another interview I did, the one with Ted Genoways—
CD: Oh yeah, that one.
JT: —He said something that I hope a lot of people pick up on, because I think it’s incredibly important to this discussion. What Ted said was that, after doing their big South America in the 21st Century issue—for which they got a lot of good press: authors on NPR, segments on PBS—they got a small amount of traffic from mainstream media. But then Jason posted a small link and they got 25,000 visits that week from kottke.org.
CD: I think the most important thing about that anecdote isn’t the amount of influence that kottke.org wields, although that’s an interesting component of it, but how cheap it is to become kottke.org—to maintain Kottke Enterprises, Ltd. It’s so cheap it’s the rounding error in the coffee budget of the smallest department of one of the main publishing conglomerates. That’s all it costs Jason to run his website.
JLH: Uh, yeah. He has spent just about all day every day for the last ten years running it. Not exactly low-cost. Ask his wife.
CD: So, a lot of bloggers can wield tremendous influence, and become disruptive forces in the media marketplace, very cheaply. If you have someone who’s enthusiastic and compelling and that person is very close to the purchase decision—you know, it probably drops off with the square of the distance, right? So you can have a person like Oprah, who’s so compelling that the fact that she’s extremely distant from a book she’s pitching is not wildly important, because she sends such a strong signal that even though it attenuates quickly that signal is still very strong. Who was the President who popularized the James Bond novels? Kennedy? He mentioned it and he turned James Bond into a phenomenon. The corollary of this is that a weak signal heard close in is also an extremely powerful way to sell books. So, we’ve historically relied on strong signals at great distances, but the other way to do this is weak signals close in. And we have new ways to get close: with things like Amazon links, the signals don’t have to be very strong at all.
JLH: God damn it, Cory, when this interview gets posted I’m going to sit you down and force you to read out loud what the fuck you just said. Jason Kottke, Oprah Winfrey, President Kennedy and Amazon.com as examples of why it benefits you to post free copies of your music. I mean books.
CD: This is also an essential component of the value of the free electronic copy. The microcosm for that is “here’s a free electronic copy… talk about it in IRC with two other people.” And that gets you the same thing. You don’t even have to send out a physical review copy & those people, if they like your book, will start sending the book to their friends.
JT: Yeah, that happens.
JLH: Good one, Nottke! [They high-five.]
JT: OK, if a publisher started selling a book written by “Frank Smith,” but that contained only your words—isn’t that a danger to giving your stuff away electronically, for free?
CD: I guess it depends on the kind of profit and how they’re profiting by it. I don’t get upset if a carpenter sells a bookcase to someone and makes money because that person needs somewhere to put my book. Even though that carpenter is benefiting from my labor.
JLH: You did not just say that. Cory honey, if you want to change people’s mind about something, you have to use examples from this planet to illustrate your point.
CD: I’m just saying I think reasonable people can agree that there are categories of use that you have no right to recoup from. And that’s not the same thing as objecting when a reader reproduces my work. I think that we’ve always had a different set of rules for what non-commercial actors do than for what commercial actors do. What commercial users of a work do is industrial—that’s copyright; what non-commercial users of a work do is just culture, and culture and copyright have never had the same rules, although according to the law books they do. But the costs of enforcing them culturally—against the person who sings in the shower—those enforcement costs are so high that historically we’ve treated that activity as though it weren’t an infringement, when in some meaningful sense it is. So, the fact that the Internet makes it possible to enforce against certain cultural users I don’t think means that we should enforce against cultural users, or start pretending that schoolchildren should be taught copyright so they can understand it better and not violate it. If things that schoolchildren do in the course of being schoolchildren violate copyright, the problem is with copyright—not with the schoolchildren. [Looks around, sees he’s the only one in the room.] Hey. Where is everyone.
JLH: [Pokes head around corner.] Nottke’s in here, getting his ass handed to him in Team Fortress 2. I tried to warn him, Cory. I told him he was unprepared for the devastation, but he just insisted. There…there was nothing I could do.
JT: [Shouting from other room.] Cory get in here, I have no idea what I’m doing and I owe Jen $200.
CD: I’ll just stay in here, I’d like to talk about this some more.
JLH: OK you have fun, sweetie.
CD: OK where was I. Right, violating schoolchildren. So—