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TheStreet Open House

The Digital Skeptic: Your Summer Reading List Destroys the Internet

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's no surprise a crime lawyer and novelist such as Scott Turow knows a scam when he sees one.

"It's pointless to have rights," he said to me last week, "if anyone can go to a search engine and pirate your work."

Turow -- who wrote Presumed Innocent, The Burden of Proof and about a half-dozen other hit legal novels back when the law was still a good gig -- is not just another artist pissed at how Google (GOOG), Bing (MSFT), Yahoo (YHOO) and other Web services openly direct users to stolen material. He's president of the New York-based Authors Guild and very much literate in the ways of making money in new media.

Though he declines to talk specifics about his success in e-books and online content, those close to the frontiers of e-publishing confirm that established writers such as Turow are thriving in these digital days.

"For the bigger writers, times have never been better," Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, told me last week.

What makes Turow the angry new-media man, therefore, is a deeper realization: His digital-age success comes at the expense of the larger publishing market.

"The value of copyrights is being quickly depreciated," he wrote in a popular op-ed piece in The New York Times this month. This is "a crisis that hits hardest not best-selling authors like me, but new and so-called midlist writers."

The news is, Turow is far from the only serious author wondering about the deep dysfunction in the digital age. In fact, investors face a fast-organizing school of skeptical scholars who collectively question the core values -- and valuation -- of the Information Age.

The school for skeptics
The right intellectual doorway to use to enter this new "School for Digital Skeptics," I think, is Chris Ruen's book, Freeloading: How our Insatiable Hunger For Free Content Starves Creativity.

Ruen recalled to me his skeptical epiphany: "I was a hipster working in a Brooklyn coffee shop," he told me. "And I realized that the famous musicians in the place were making as little as I was."

It didn't take Ruen long to figure out what made pro musicians as poor as he was: The "freemium" Web economics of giving away content and hoping to make it up with volume and live performances. It simply was not paying the bills.

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