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Jan 27, 2010

The death of the book?

Crikey readers weigh in on e-books, the significance of Australia Day and the new ABC 24 hour news channel. Plus, the abandoned trolleys debacle continues.

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The E-book revolution:

Guy Rundle writes: Re: “E-Books: Publishers need to get with the program” (Monday, item 4.) Mark Davis is a little quick to dismiss ‘end of the printed book’ theories and his analogies are a little self-justifying.

I wasn’t aware of many suggesting that radio or movies would kill the book — only of people suggesting that these forms would kill theatre. And they did — leaving existing theatre as a mix of largely subsidised, state and philanthropic funded events, non-commercial avant-gardes and occasional large spectacles, most of them musicals based on movies. In like mode, photography largely killed painting and drawing — as a mode of depiction and recording at least. The record killed the sheet music industry as a mass product, and so on.

It’s those analogies that may be of more use in assessing the future of the printed book – at some point it may become uneconomical to release a whole range of publications in mass printed form.  Once the demand for printed versions of a given title fall below a certain number, the unit production cost rises correspondingly – at that point there’s no market, save for boutique books which are bought as a distinct aesthetic experience.

I suspect that one reason why many writers are so desperate to find reasons why the book won’t radically diminish is that they simply can’t bear to think about it. In past decades, other people’s life worlds — working class, relatively homogeneous suburbs, manufacturing, gender relations etc. — have vanished or been transformed, and bookish-type people have welcomed such globalisation and cosmopolitanisation. Now it’s happening to us. No wonder so many radicals discover their inner conservative.

Great Firewall of Australia:

Melanie Farris writes: Re. “Conroy frantically spins Clinton speech” (Monday, item 14). Mr Jacob’s piece comes across as a little unbalanced. The Secretary of State’s speech to The Newseum is clearly a statement against political censorship and governments or regimes that suppress their people’s right to free access to information. It is against oppression. It is for political freedoms. When making the speech, was Clinton thinking of the Australian Government’s ban on RC content and sites containing child abuse material? It’s hard to say.

Clearly though, she and the US government are concerned with protecting the rights of the world’s citizens — in so far as the vision of the US founding fathers prescribes. “Now, ultimately, this issue isn’t just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit,” she said.

Fortunately, the founding fathers did not have to deal with an internet that allowed for child sexual abuse to be broadcast, nor did they have to determine how to maintain freedom of expression but prevent child grooming in an unregulated marketplace. How can Facebook be “urged to switch off hate sites” on the one hand, but the Australian Government criticised for implementing internet controls on the other?

Larry Flint fought long and hard in the US Supreme Court and won his countrymen’s right to publish and buy adult magazines. Whether we like adult magazines or not, that process promoted and upheld the vision of the US Constitution. Let those who publish and profit from child abuse have their day in court to fight their battle. Let us see if they win. If they do, so be it. In the meantime, may the nay-sayers remember exactly what (and whose) freedoms and protections we should be fighting for.

Australia Day significance:

Niall Clugson writes: Re. “The absurdity that is Australia Day” (Monday, item 15). I find it hard to take seriously Charles Richardson’s suggestion that Australia Day has no “national significance”. The fact is, for better or worse, that the landing of the First Fleet founded modern Australia. It led to British dominance of the entire continent, which was subsequently confirmed by the establishment of other colonies. If the French had got in first, the history of Australia would have been very different. To suggest it is a “local Sydney holiday” is a bit absurd. Sydney was chosen for obvious reasons as the beachhead for British colonisation. Everything else followed from this, starting with the destruction of Aboriginal Australia.

By contrast, Anzac Day commemorates a failed stab at the Ottoman Empire, which is not significant even as a failure — as the second stab, through Arabia, was successful. The Western Front was a far greater catastrophe in human life. Contrary to mythology promulgated here, Gallipoli was not a predominantly Australian battlefield, nor was it even the first battlefield of Australian troops, as New Guinea preceded it. To describe this as a “real event of real importance” is hard to understand.

The impact of Gallipoli on national consciousness was due to the shock of the death toll and to misleading reporting by Keith Murdoch. Subsequently, Anzac Day became a fixture on the national calendar, fiercely guarded by the stalwarts of the RSL. But whatever the emotional freight of the different holidays, to suggest that the Gallipoli landing is more historically significant than the First Fleet landing is monumentally ludicrous.

Banking on our fear:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Obama takes on the banks — what will Rudd and Swan do?” (Monday, item 2). Bingo. See the headlines. Election 2010 election won by Labor. Pledge to “confine banks to lower risk activities” in return for “continuing reasonable depositor guarantees” a big hit with the electorate.

Have we forgotten what just happened? No
Are we scared it could happen again? Yes
Do we think the big four banks are greedy? Yes
Do we believe the government did the right thing during the GFC? Yes
Should the government reign in the big four banks? Bloody hell yes!

Obama’s move in the USA is, together with his health reform, clear indication that he actually does have some substance. Kevin Rudd has the opportunity to demonstrate that he also has substance in moving in the same direction as Obama — and being extremely popular with “working families” at the same time.

It’s a no brainer, but then again…………

ABC 24 hour news:

David Lenihan writes: Re “ABC v Sky News smackdown: it’s on” (21 January, item 1). It would appear Sky News are running scared of the ABC’s proposed 24 hour News Channel already, months before it is scheduled to go to air. Sky are running self congratulatory we are the champions of News, Sport and Current Affairs promos of between one and two minutes duration with, you guessed it, monotonous regularity. It always makes me smile to see the only domestic ‘almost 24 hr’ news service, promoting itself to the converted. I say almost 24 hours, they do cheat a bit, in the wee small hours they dock with their sister ship Sky in London so their pretty girls can have a little shut eye and good ole Terry prepares for another brekkie stint, what a trooper.

So the arrival of the ABC with their international staff, excellent technical facilities, well trained news readers, sports reporters who don’t appears to have a permanent toothy grin cemented into place and joy of joys, no commercials is a welcome addition to the TV news and current affairs family.

Guess Sky will just have to grin (argh) and bear it. Competition like laughter is good for the soul. I’m sure Sky’s new pinup boy Tony Abbott would readily agree.

Andrew Haughton writes: Last night at about 7.20pm ABC1 News said “Pakistan has got off to a shaky start and are 20 for 1. One click on the remote established that Pakistan was 47 for 1. The ABC will have to do a lot better with a 24 hour News service.

Chunky bits:

Shirley Colless writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (Monday, item 16) I don’t know whether Richard Farmer, unlike Dick Smith,  has ever looked out the window of a high or even a low flying jet on his way OS, but if he had he would have noted what Dick Smith evidently has:  in contrast to some of the heavily populated areas to the immediate north and northwest of Australia, there is darned little water between the Great Dividing Range and the Indian Ocean.  Richard, get away from the coast and have a close look at the Dead Heart of Australia — it was not called that for no good reason.

Abandoned trolleys:

Ava Hubble writes: Re. (Monday, comments) May I add to the discussion by pointing out that some supermarkets have strategies designed to encourage their customers to do the right thing:

You rarely see an abandoned Aldi trolley – perhaps because customers have to pay a refundable $2 deposit to use an Aldi trolley.

The staff at the IGA supermarket in Pyrmont, Sydney, strictly enforce the store’s rule that trolleys can’t be removed from the premises. You would probably have more chance of taking a trolley out of Fort Knox than out of IGA at Pyrmont.

Other managements affix “auto-magic” alarms and clamps to their trolleys. These devices are only activated if a trolley is pushed beyond their store’s domain.

Yet many supermarkets don’t seem to take advantage of the many avenues of communication at their disposal to advise customers of their house rules. Despite the often urgent admonitions to customers to rush for the day’s bargains, I have yet to hear a PA announcement warning customers that it is an offence to take a trolley off the premises. This suggests that some managements tacitly encourage the practice. Maybe they think their customers are more likely to shop up big if they are able to wheel their purchases home in a trolley. And, as your correspondents pointed out Monday, who would object — if only customers could be relied on to return their trolleys.

So why not a mandatory, refundable deposit? Perhaps a $5 deposit. Even if a trolley was abandoned, paupers like myself would welcome the chance to wheel it back to the store and claim the cash.

In the meantime tens of thousands of trolleys are being abandoned around Australia.  Many become long-neglected, vermin-attracting rubbish bins. More importantly, abandoned trolleys are often the cause of accidents involving children who, apparently, have been known to use them as go carts.

What’s encouraging is that Crikey readers are taking the trouble to suggest answers to the problem. Let’s hope the debate continues and that it sheds more light than heat.

Matthew Brennan writes: I agree that it is people who steal and then abandon trolleys from supermarkets, but arguably such bogans are a fact of nature like cyclones, earthquakes and bushfires. I think it is quite reasonable to oblige supermarkets to take steps to prevent trolley theft from happening and such obligations should be written into the building codes. Designing the areas around supermarkets to make it impossible to remove trolleys from the site surely cannot be too difficult. A not-subtle but effective solution would be to adapt the Goviatag toll sensor technology to open a shute and drop a mature and hungry member of Python Reticulatus into any trolley sensed leaving the supermarket environs.

Smoking Sigourney:

Jim Ivins writes: Re. (Monday, comments) Has anyone counted how many times director Jim Cameron lights up the forests and skies in Avatar with deadly weapons fire?  Thank goodness for Sigourney Weaver, who plays one of the few humans who doesn’t spent the entire film trying to kill anything that moves.  These days most people would take exception to anyone firing an assault rifle in a confined space, let alone getting shot in the guts as a result.  There’s plenty of material on the web about the harm these deadly weapons cause. This link is a good start kids.

But seriously, Laurie Patton, the smoking is there for good reason – coupled with one or two throwaway lines of dialogue, it shows the audience that in the future (new technology aside) Earth is still much the same as it is now (i.e. seriously f*cked up).  Cameron and Weaver have done this before, notably in the Boardroom scene from Aliens.  These people aren’t stupid: if the aim had been to encourage smoking, Jake Scully and Neytiri would’ve lit up right after all that tentacle s-x we heard about recently in Crikey.

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8 comments

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8 thoughts on “The death of the book?

  1. meski

    There was a gadget someone made as a practical joke that locked all the trolley wheels up *inside* a supermarket.

  2. Ben Aveling

    @Melanie Farris

    There are many ways to transfer information over the internet. The firewall will only block public webpages, not ‘private’ webpages, or VPN or P2P or other private channels. For obvious reasons, the sort of material you want to see blocked is not carried on public webpages. The sort of stuff that is likely to be blocked is stuff that is legal in much of the world but not here, such as information on how to commit suicide. [Don’t ask me why that information is illegal, but it is.]

  3. Sean Stephens

    Melanie Farris is absolutely right to abhor the broadcast of child sexual abuse. That is something that essentially all opponents of the Government’s excessive internet censorship program would agree with.

    What Melanie forgets however is that such material is already illegal and both the perpetrators and customers of such material are being hunted and prosecuted every day. That is a good thing.

    Unfortunately the net censorship proposed by the Government will do absolutely nothing to prevent this material being created and distributed. What it will do however is restrict the rights of citizens to inform themselves and interact on a range of issues at the discretion of bureaucrats and politicians. That is hardly good for the principles of freedom, choice and personal responsibility.

    Indeed, let those who publish and profit from child abuse have their day in court to fight their battle. But we don’t need net censorship for that to occur.

  4. meski

    I’m tired of all opponents of net censorship as being branded as sympathisers of p_edophiles. It’s the worst form of straw man argument. Conroy should realise that he, and his fellow travellers, are despised for doing this.

  5. Oakesie

    Sorry Jim. I agree with Laurie. The kids who watch Avatar are more likely to die from tobacco smoke than hostile weapon attack. There’s rarely a good reason to include smoking in a movie. It’s usually laziness and lack of imagination on the part of directors and actors. Or maybe some financial encouragement by the tobacco industry who can’t advertise anywhere else.

  6. meski

    Being against smoking in movies is ideological dogma. Most of the movies in existence have it, and haven’t yet convinced me to smoke. It’s like being against violence in movies[1], really. (or s_x, or … (fill in whatever you feel like crusading against))

    [1] or computer games.

  7. Kathy Chapman

    Actually “most of the movies in existence” don’t have smoking. Smoking is very difficult to film because of continuity, lighting issues and the multiple rehearsals and takes to get it right. Not to mention modern OH&S issues. Smoking only gets into movies these days because someone really, really wants it there.

  8. meski

    I’m talking most movies, not recent movies. Recent being, say less than 20 years old? I haven’t looked at a lot of the < 20 year old movies, because they are mostly crap.

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