Harper's publisher says Teletubby Bye-Bye

The silence of Harper's is again broken for one of publisher John R. MacArthur's rants about the internet age. This time, Google is the target; he regards it as a parasite whose "logistical support for piracy" has destroyed the media.

Well, perhaps this will get to a useful discussion of Google's relentless cheapening of advertising markets?

Whenever I hear these silly corporate names invoked with sanctimonious awe, I imagine Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po, and Tinky-Winky singing their hit single “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh’ ” as they shake the change out of some two-year-old’s pocket. Come to think of it, Eric Schmidt’s new playmate, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, bears a more than superficial resemblance to Po. Where will it end, as the dumbing down of America accelerates and Google becomes ever more dominant? A psychoanalyst friend tells me that listening to baby talk may be gratifying up to a point, but that constant subjection to it produces unconscious rage in adults. This unending assault of babble potentially could lead to revolutionary conditions in which

MacArthur invokes "free information" and "Don't be evil" as Google's duplicitous cris de coeur: so insightful! Nothing meaningful is said about any of its questionable practices, which are already the subject of intense public debate. But what are such things to readers of Harper's? In his rehashing of the mid-2000s' worst case against search, MacArthur is an avatar of magniloquent ignorance, of more use to his enemies than to his fellow travelers.


  1. Remind me: who was it that ranted about the people who post their works for free online, calling them something like… dirty cyber-feudal-scab-something or other? That rant prompted a yearly event (well, for a couple of years anyway) in which people were encouraged to post free works online. But I can’t remember what it was called and my Google-fu failed me.

      1. Interesting. As a lifelong science fiction fan who was born and raised in the same city as him, and was reading a half dozen sci fi novels a week in high school and college during his most productive period, I had never heard of him. Must be because: interweb.

        Time to read some Mike Resnick to wash the taste of that guy out of my home town mental associations.

      1.  I think it’s a reference to a Monty Python joke.  In this joke the “shaft of gold” is a stream of urine IIRC.

        1. Ah, thanks for the correction.  Honestly, I thought Kevin was just employing sarcasm in its’ purest form.

        2. It occurs to me that we have the Godwin Rule when Hitler is invoked, so I think we need The Circus Rule appellation when Python is invoked, neh?

  2. I fully admit that I got trolled into responding. I’m not proud. I couldn’t read the article without instinctively skipping over the the deplorable Cress Theory Telletubby rambling.

  3. OMG! someone’s about to introduce software to hide ads!

    I’ve been using that for many years. It’s called AdBlock Plus, and it’s also free.

    Wait a minute… isn’t Harper’s a magazine that publishes prose for the purpose of obtaining money from booze companies for hawking their poison?

    1. Yes, I use AdBlock Plus too, as do most sophisticated users. But the whole reason web ads make millions for Google and the like is that the vast majority of users *don’t* block ads. He had a point in the beginning when he mentioned the French ISP that was blocking ads for the user. He didn’t really expand on it well, but there’s a point there — web technology will ultimately eat its own profit generating mechanism — and then how will content creation be supported?

        1. As someone who worked in the background of SEM/SEO (content guy), I’ve never really understood the point of whitelisting.

          Almost nobody charges per impression unless their clients are imbeciles or it’s a branding exercise, and higher impressions (with the same amount of clicks) mean a lower CTR.

          If you do click, but don’t buy, you then lower the conversion rates, and the sponsors will likely pay less money per click.

  4. Guys, guys, he’s fighting the good fight. Defending the washboard industry from the dread scourge of auto-matic washing machines! Jack Valenti (praise be to the man who single-handedly SAVED the film industry from the dire threat of home recording!) would be proud.

  5. I wish google were a bit better, so I could search “magazines that publish essays and aren’t run by editors who think progress is fine as long as it doesn’t effect their revenue stream”…

  6. Ah yes, Harpers, the publication that devolves in a concerted effort to turn back time. Here’s another great example of how well they manage this thing called progress: in 2010, their overall gender balance was 29.78% (meaning, only 29% of published authors/ reviews were either about books written by women or articles/ reviews written by women). True to their efforts to turn back time, the figure for 2011 is 26%.

    Figures for 2012 haven’t yet been released but I’d put them at an optimistic 24% continuing the trend. MacArthur probably mumbling in a corner “We don’t need any google or chicks around here, we do just fine with the boys”.

    (Source for 2010: http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2010 and for 2011: http://www.vidaweb.org/the-2011-count )

  7. One wonders if he knows the real reason no one is finding him on Google is because he just isn’t relevant.
    Just relax and stop thrashing mr dinosaur… we need more oil.

  8. I stopped reading Harper’s 15 or 20 years ago when it stopped printing substantive articles and devolved into one-page lists, “Harper’s Index”, separated by advertisements.

  9. On the other hand, he must be seething about companies’ willingness to pay insane rates for CPC campaigns.


    For instance, I guess I could imagine paying $5 per click to sell a “Zumba dance dvd” if the conversion rate were 100%.  But in real life  it probably works out to something like $100 in CPC marketing per DVD sale.  Does this make more sense if the seller’s cost of goods sold per DVD is 30 cents or am I missing something?

    It’s off topic, but Google seems to be fairly useless for small businesses, and the marketing ad choices seem to be increasingly machine-to-machine transactions, creating ads like “Best prices on the web for traumatic brain injury” or “Get leprosy at Sears!”

    1. actually, I just looked it up.  ‘Zumba dance dvd’ goes for .53 per click in adwords.  selling low margin stuff through adwords is kind of risky anyway, but not sure what your point is.

      1. OK, , people are done bidding up Zumba DVDs. Look at “chair pads,” which is about $1.20 a click.  Note that the search results bring up $15 chair pads.   Who is paying $25 to sell a $15 item?   I can think of several rationales for this, but what is conventional wisdom of the moment?

        I guess I can see it if the thought is that the consumer will browse around and buy something else.

        1. hehe, i’m imagining you doing a zumba dance work out and then needing a soft place to rest.  true, seat cushions are quite the commodity on paid search for some reason.  I noticed Ikea is bidding that much currently, I wonder if they hope to convert on higher ticket items since you can’t buy a cushion without a chair there.

          Not that I am a fan of the ‘invisible hand’ theory of capitalism (which is as real as god or the spaghetti monster), but from my 10 year experience, paid ads typically police themselves quite well in what many call a ‘free market’.  either sellers trim their bids in competiton with each other or get burned.

          1. Thge “invisible hand” probably works quite well over say a decade, but I can think of a few things that would throw it off in the short term:

            1 – Policy decisions are often irrational “me too” behavior that imitates another company’s mistake.
            2 – Bidding may be in the hands of a bored intern who just keeps hitting the “bid” button as if he’s playing video poker.
            3 – Someone may have foolishly signed up for the “let us manage your account for you” feature (whatever that’s called).
            4 – Bids are definitely being driven by m2m transactions that are generating bullshit ads (Get Hydraulic Gravel Crushers At Walgreens!) 
            5 – Monopolistic behavior such as Google setting minimum bids without regard to the number of competitors.  If there is only one competitor, Google may still demand a bid of $0.60 to get on the first page search results, not a nickle.
            6 – People have no idea what they are doing and bid to be #1 in search results.

          2. yes, this system definitely does punish incompetence.

            by the way, on another note, I enjoyed your performance in Sullivan’s Travels (the movie that inspired “O Brother Where Art Thou?”).  I’ve even used a soundbite from your performance in this movie for a song project I was doing a few years back.

  10. “Now Larry, Sergey, and Eric are billionaires, while the average writer and teacher can barely make ends meet.”

    Yeah, I remember the good old days, back before the internet.  When all the teachers and average writers were cruising around in Cadillacs, snorting lines of cocaine off the gleaming perfection of their solid gold medallions.

    1. The ‘teachers’ inclusion seems particularly odd to me.

      A specific set of writers, one might be able to make a case for(newspaper journalism certainly hasn’t had a good time of late, though the bleeding really started with cable, well before the internet was mass-market), independent writers have always had mixed fortunes(see also: “Grub street”) and have had both ups and downs with the internet; but teachers?

      America’s Grand War on Public Servants has certainly been a problem; but that isn’t really an internet thing, and the internet is about as unlikely to get a class full of students to sit down and start learning as anything short of amphetamines… At the college level, the ruthless gutting of actual professorships in favor of permatemps is nothing short of shameful; but also largely unrelated to the…um…less than terrifyingly competitive online degree mills.

      There is definitely an argument to be made that the internet has crushed paper journalism(if, not that they’d want to say so) more by taking over the ad money than by even bothering to compete with the prose); but this guy wants to extend that into some full-scale decline of all prose-related intellectual functionaries?

      1. There was a time when entry-level salary for a New York teacher was about equal to entry-level salary for a New York lawyer.  Needless to say, it was a long time ago.

      1. Oh my god Jack, you’re right.  Back then, there really were publishers cruising around in Cadillacs, snorting lines of cocaine off the gleaming perfection of their solid gold medallions!  My mocking irony has been turned into a sad realization of truth. . .and thus, I suffer.

  11. I subscribed to Harper’s for four years or so during Dubya’s second term. I really “liked” Scott Harper’s investigations into “we do not torture” and “weapons of mass destruction” lies. Alas, one columnist/reporter could not justify an entire subscription, so buh-bye. I can still read Horton on harpers.org, but he (and Greenwald and god-knows-who-else) are too effing depressing for me to handle anymore.

    Oh, and MacArthur needs to attend anger-management classes with Alex Jones.

  12. Here’s one bit that I found very interesting:

    As a journalist and board member of the Authors Guild, I’ve watched in dismay as writers, living and dead, have suffered steep drops in income and copyright control thanks to Google’s — and its smaller rivals’ — logistical support for pirating and repackaging everything that we writers, editors, and publishers hold dear.

    Dead writers “suffer” nothing, of course, although their heirs might. Of more interest is who really made out like a bandit in the Authors Guild lawsuit against Google, and it seems to be the Authors Guild itself. Also of note on that same page is that the Guild helped remove text-to-speech on the Kindle, ostensibly on behalf of authors who might lose out on separate audiobook sales, although IMO the audience for audiobooks (and therefore the availability) is limited almost entirely to bestsellers, so the only authors who would suffer any drop in income (probably not terribly steep) would be those that are already bringing in tall coin. And then people like MacArthur wonder why readers end up pirating stuff with OCR and the like.

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