Since posting a couple of days ago about how Byte has erected toll gates around a decade’s worth of historical computing content (including two years worth of my own), some very interesting threads have been exchanged between Byte authors in private mail.
Everyone understands the advertising crunch, everyone knows that salaries have to come from somewhere, but no one likes the remedy, or is even sure that it is one. No matter how you slice it, Byte has broken probably tens of thousands of incoming links to piles of historical technical content. For virtually every person following one of these links, the “Please register!” page they meet will simply be a dead end.
The author’s rights are just what our original contracts say they were. As it turns out, we have the right to repost content as submitted on our own sites three months after it appeared on Byte. Of course, that would still leave the content hovering in mid-air, unconnected to the rest of the Byte and CMP empires, and without their masthead, without the Byte imprimatur. The meat without the dish.
It is interesting to me that none of the discussion is about the $12 fee – all of it assumes that the content has effectively been killed – I read this as an effective prediction by all of these old salts that charging a subscription fee is pretty much the same as killing off content. It’s brave of CMP to go for it, but I personally don’t hold out much hope.
Ultimately, 95% of the content we’re talking about is irrelevant today. My BeOS content is of interest only to hobbyists and freaks, or possibly people preparing certain lawsuits. Discussions of Be’s object-oriented format translator or reviews of 50MHz (!) 486 computers are little more than historical footnotes today. But there is demand for this content – I was amazed to start receiving notes about my disappeared content just days after the tollgates went up.
Now I’m torn. I support Byte and am not eager to do an end-run around their revenue model. On the other hand, my contract says pretty unequivocally that I can do just that. And I can still suggest that people go register if they appreciated the read. I did already informally tell one Byte editor that I would not be reposting the content. On the other hand, I’m feeling very glad I wrote all those columns in HTML to begin with – I could have them online in very short order…
See also: Jon Udell’s A disturbance in the force