3 Sep 2000 raph   » (Master)

Looks like I touched a chord with my ebook rant.

Ok, let me rephrase one of the points I tried to make. It would be cool if the ebook infrastructure that ended up had the property of paying authors reasonable amounts of money. If it doesn't, ebooks will still probably be useful tools, and there will be good reasons to write them. For example, a consultant who knows a lot about a field and is looking for more business might well find it justifiable to put up an ebook. But I do worry for the health of the media when the only works that get created are those subsidized by some ulterior motive.

Dave Winer also spent time at Seybold SF and wrote a good essay about ebooks and DRM. He rightly points out that DRM is no different than copy protection for software.

The only payment system that I can think of that makes any sense is voluntary payments, ie tips. The obvious problem with tips is freeloaders. Probably only a very small percentage of people will be willing to part with their hard (or soft) earned cash just to subsidize the artist. Even so, without middlemen skimming off the lion's share of the revenue stream, the minority who does is probably enough to fund artists about as well as they are right now.

A more subtle problem, and one I haven't seen articulated as much, is the distortion that tip-seeking behavior will cause. It's basically inevitable that the artists who succeed in a tip-based system will be those who have set out to maximize tips. Promotion will border on spam - for the mp3.com station I run, I see this line already beginning to blur. Further, how many people are going to be scrupulous about only tipping real people rather? On the Internet, nobody knows you're a corporation.

Nonetheless, I have hope that a vital tipping culture can emerge based on people who really appreciate art and are willing to find the good stuff and tip the artist. It is not essential for the majority of sheep to participate. The temptation to sell out will always be there, of course, but it always has been.

Book recommendation: Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud. He talks about a lot of the issues surrounding digital production and distribution of comics. Not surprisingly, the issues of who has control over the distribution channel and how the artist gets paid are central. Scott is an enthusiast of micropayment systems, but ignores the fact that micropayments are unenforceable. Nonetheless, the book is quite thought-provoking and is a fabulous demonstration that you can present serious, complex issues in a comic book format.

Resolution

Am I the only one unimpressed with the results of ClearType? Radagast posted a screenshot of it running. It only works on LCD screens. Conversely, you can turn it off by converting to grayscale (ie, load in Gimp and press Alt-G). I see an improvement, but it's pretty subtle.

By contrast, the improvement from increasing resolution is massive. Yet, high-res displays are not popular, largely because most software will draw little tiny illegible icons and so on. You'd think Apple would have fixed this in Mac OS X and their Aqua UI toolkit (a rewrite from the ground up), but no. Windows and X software is not a whole lot better. At least the greater configurability of X software offers some hope, but it's still a hassle to get a consistently good display at higher resolution.

Doing a non-scalable display is the Y2K bug of user interfaces. By the time high-res displays arrive, we will have mostly fixed the problem, but only after considerable difficulty. Are you doing a user interface? How easy is it to scale? No? Then don't make fun of the programmers who used 2 digit date fields because it was easy and efficient.

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