The tyranny of free content

I'm just back from London where I spoke about the tyranny of free content at The Bookseller's "Digitalize or Die" conference. As I warned the book industry:

"The content business is in crisis, if you want to look at the way it will go take a look at the music industry and newspapers, these sectors have really been on the front-lines of a perfect storm: the problem is that content has become simply an adjunct of advertising."

I'm not the only person making this self-evident point. It is also recognized by Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times writer Timothy Egan in a piece ironically entitled "Save the Press". Egan makes the critical point that the ideology of free-content is being peddled by wealthy moralists (of the Lessig-Doctorow genus) who can afford to give away their writing for free on the opinion-papers like the Huffington Post:

And just how much do most contributors at the The Huffington Post make? Nothing! “Not our financial model,” as the co-founder, Ken Lerer famously said. From low pay to no pay — the New Journalism at a place that calls itself an Internet newspaper.

Yes, the Brentwood bold-face types who grace HuffPo’s home page can afford to work for free, but it’s un-American, to say the least.

Long ago, I was a member of the steelworkers union, and also a longshoreman. If any of those guys on the docks heard that I was now part of a profession that asked people to labor for nothing, they’d laugh in their lunch buckets — then probably shut The Huffington Post down. Doesn’t the “progressive” agenda, much touted on their pages, include a living wage?

Egan is, of course, right. Ironically, however, most of Brentwood's bold-face types would aggressively support the rights of the steelworkers or longshoremen to earn a decent wage. It's just journalists who -- according to Arianna, at least -- collectively lied to us about Iraq and thus deserve to lose their jobs.

So when will the left recognize the plight of working journalists? When will real progressives begin to understand that professional journalists are being replaced by a new leisured class of wealthy dabblers who, unlike the rest of us, can afford to work for free.