The Internet Is The Biggest Threat to Publishing Since the... Xerox Machine?

Harper's Magazine publisher John R. "Rick" MacArthur is a man who was born wealthy and has used some of his wealth to publish a great magazine. That's good. Where he pays his staff notoriously meager salaries and fights against their efforts to form a union. That's bad. Rick MacArthur, though, has one overriding redeeming aspect: he is fucking hilariously dumb when he talks about the internet.

Here is the text of a new speech by Rick MacArthur (ignore the fact that it is published on a blog, okay), in which he rants in a somewhat rangy and unhinged fashion about how the internet is destroying publishing, and how lots of newspapers and magazines were stupid to put their content online for free. Which, look, is very much true. Newspapers shouldn't have given all their shit away for free. Harper's itself has an online paywall, and they are probably wise for having one. Now. That said, did Rick MacArthur say anything else incredibly stupid?

The Internet, I told [Harper's staffers], wasn't much more than a gigantic Xerox machine (albeit with inhuman "memory"), and thus posed the same old threat to copyright and to the livelihoods of writers and publishers alike.

Photocopying had long been the enemy of periodicals - why buy a copy or pay for permission to reprint when you can copy one article or photo cheaper on a machine multiple times? - so I had good reason to beware

Has photocopying actually "long been the enemy of periodicals?" Has it really? Have people been venturing into public libraries, grabbing magazines, and photocopying them, to take home? If so, why, since that would cost more than just buying the magazine? Or just reading the magazine, and putting it back? Who are these rogue photocopiers, bent on defying copyright law? Was Rick MacArthur molested by a Xerox engineer at some point in his life? I thought I had heard every last grumbly old-timey publishing argument against newfangled technologies, but this is a new one on me. What else?

Out of physical sight, out of mind. At some point you've got to turn off your computer or your iPad, but the mail and the brochures and printed matter just keep coming.

Do they? Do they "just keep coming?" Is Rick MacArthur arguing that the average consumer spends more face time with things that come in the mail than they do with things online? That the mail placed in your mailbox is more likely to occupy your mind than things on the internet? Because mail just, I guess, follows you around the house, whining, until you play with it, like a dog? Interesting.

To avoid blockquoting a thousand more words, we'll just let you know that MacArthur goes on to state his support for SOPA, calls the publishers of The Atlantic a bunch of liars, and goes on at length bemoaning how hard it is to be a writer these days, what with the low pay and all. Which is pretty rich, coming from an anti-union executive who takes advantage of his own magazine's editorial quality in order to pay below-market wages. (Also, Harper's does not make money. Maybe they're not the best case study of what publishers should do?) More broadly, Rick MacArthur is just another self-important rich guy who lives in a bubble. Ho hum:

But I'm still offended by the whole Internet pretension of universality, freedom, and democracy. An even more radical critic than I, Patrick de St. Exupery, insists that the Internet, whether paid or unpaid, doesn't just reduce the value of writing; it destroys value. This may stem from a whole generation growing up never learning to distinguish between a blog and an edited, thought-out piece of writing. But it also might be that the promoters of the Internet publishing model really hate writing and writers - that to justify their bottomless obsession with Web magic, they need to destroy the ideological competition. That is, me and my French allies.

Oh, Rick. Nobody's out to destroy you. If websites didn't pick up your little screeds for entertainment value, nobody outside of a teeny, tiny media bubble would even know who you were.

[MacArthur's full essay, via This New England Blog. Heh. Photo of woman destroying publishing: Alan Cleaver/ Flickr]