In his Entrepreneur column in the FT Luke Johnson reflected on the cultural and commercial threat of the Internet, and re-hashed some of the themes of The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen, which we recently discussed with the author at the Innovation Reading Circle on Amateurism, culture and excellence (see The web bonanza that will damage us all, Luke Johnson, FT, June 26 2007).
For a paper of record, it would be appropriate if Johnson at least acknowledged the provenance of his thesis. His Entrepreneur column would make a fairly comprehensive praesie of Keen's book, with who the FT recently published a Q&A. Keen himself claims little credit for his ideas and, as Charles Hazell intimates (Letters: The invention of printing was an even bigger threat, June 29 2007), techno-cultural scare stories have been around for centuries.
Johnson's key mistake is to assume that technology drives society, and that by making available these tools we are encouraging destructive behaviour. In fact, the phenomena he describes pre-date widespread use of the Internet, and its take-up may in fact be as much a product of those behavioural trends. As Tony Foster notes (Letter: Successful companies embracing internet, June 29 2007) smart companies have seen that these trends portend new forms of entertainment that are of the network. To the extent that they are, these entertainment forms will be less easy to pirate. As the IT industry has discovered with 'software as a service', the Internet makes it easier to prevent piracy. You won't find copies of Salesforce.com on an underground file sharing service.
I outlined this thesis in a recent essay in Wordrobe (see Media Futures 'Not your father's media' Nico Macdonald, Wordrobe, Issue .1, August 2006) where I argued that if media incumbents are to survive and prosper they will need to cultivate more imagination, be bolder and take more risks.
Johnson's piece stimulated a number of other interesting responses. Michael Keary argued that the music industry isn't central to music anyway (Letter: Internet lets new acts survive outside the mainstream, July 3 2007) and Martin Percy countered Johnson's claims for the negatives effects of computer games, noting that their technology "generally lends itself to games centred on chat, co-operation and turn-based play" (Letter: Alarmist claims on ultra-violent games don't fit online technology, July 3 2007).
Incidentally, as well as failing to flag or link to related ideas, I have not found one newspaper which links from letters published to the original article or in the other direction. Nor have I found any which prioritise published letters in any comment- or trackback-based discussion of an article. I would welcome counter-examples of good practice here.