[OPE] Workers of the World, by Marcel van der Linden

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Wed May 28 2008 - 04:44:58 EDT


I am not sure you are correct about the disappearance of physical books vis-a-vis digital texts. From long experience in information services, I know that people often prefer handling physical books because it is more practical and easier to get information that way, than scrolling through hundreds of pages of text.

"The number of books alone is staggering. Some 1,000,000 titles are published each year worldwide. One estimate suggests that the existing world stock of books might be approximately 65 million titles. Amazon.com claims to have 4,000,000 titles. In 2000, there were 158,000 unique periodical titles in the world and the total number of serial publications was over 600,000 around the globe. About 1.1 billion books were sold in the United States in 1999. The total number of US magazines circulated annually exceeds 500 million." http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/mar2006/dwa1-m21.shtml

UNESCO monitors both the number and type of books published per country per year http://stats.uis.unesco.org/unesco/TableViewer/tableView.aspx?ReportId=202  http://www.uis.unesco.org/ev_en.php?ID=3754_201&ID2=DO_TOPICSCO states:

"The category of printed media comprises books, newspapers, periodicals and other printed matter. Together, they represent 30.8% of the share of total [global] trade of cultural goods, of which 19.1% represents the trade of books, which is the major component within this category (see Table 1). In 2002, trade of printed media as a whole amounted to US$ 18.2 billion, including US$ 11.3 billion on the trade of books, US$ 4.5 billion on newspapers and periodicals, and US$ 2.4 billion on other printed matter." http://www.uis.unesco.org/template/pdf/cscl/IntlFlows_EN.pdf  That means that qua product sales there is not much money in printed material. 

The strategy of first bringing out hardback and then paperback is quite common and traditional in the publishing world. My puzzle is, why they do not bring out more cheap paperback editions, i.e. what the economics of it are. Presumably they must have some confidence or rational basis for believing that the books will sell in a niche market. But that aside, why not publish digital editions?

After scanning 750,000 books and 80 million articles, Microsoft has now abandoned its Live Search project. Why? Presumably not just practical reasons, but also profitability. Microsoft has just revealed a new search system called cashback where consumers get money back if they buy goods and services they found via Live Search. Here is a clip:

"Given the evolution of the Web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer, and content partner. For example, this past Wednesday we announced our strategy to focus on verticals with high commercial intent, such as travel, and offer users cash back on their purchases from our advertisers. With Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, we digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles. Based on our experience, we foresee that the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries. With our investments, the technology to create these repositories is now available at lower costs for those with the commercial interest or public mandate to digitize book content. We will continue to track the evolution of the industry and evaluate future opportunities.  As we wind down Live Search Books, we are reaching out to participating publishers and libraries. We are encouraging libraries to build on the platform we developed with Kirtas, the Internet Archive, CCS, and others to create digital archives available to library users and search engines."  http://blogs.msdn.com:80/livesearch/archive/2008/05/23/book-search-winding-down.aspx

Just as the mobile phone utilises people's "propensity to talk" as a source of moneymaking, the aim is to use the "propensity of people to search for information" as a source of profit. So in the end you cannot search for anything at all without getting ads and offers, or, you have to supply information or money to extract information, etc. As I argued before, I think in rentier capitalism the game is to extract money income from any type of asset irrespective of who technically owns it, and on the terrain of information and knowledge, the battle is for an "enclosure" so that some control an intellectual resource which others need to use, or cannot do without. 

Marcel's book does sketch the development of workers' credit unions, and he mentions how they ran into competition from ordinary banks. One theme is to show what cooperative strategies and organisational methods workers devised for themselves, in response to the conditions they faced. A classic Leninist thesis was that socialism had to be introduced into the working class "from the outside" by the intellectual middleclass elite, but Marcel shows that throughout history workers devised dangerously socialistic methods all by themselves, often without any help from middleclass intellectuals. I guess this is ultimately the biggest threat for the Marxists - that the workers do not need their leadership anymore.


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