Aug 222012

“Print is dead.” – Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters, 1984

The Vancouver Sun and Province are moving to a paywall system.

This new “metered” system will help generate revenue to invest in the insightful, award-winning print and digital journalism expected from the biggest and best news team in Western Canada. We remain committed to investigative reporting and working to ensure transparency from governments and public agencies.

All our print subscribers will receive free, unlimited access to and The Vancouver Sun’s mobile apps, included with delivery of their daily newspaper. Once registered, our customers can enjoy all digital content from any computer or mobile device, and join online conversations with journalists and other readers on a range of topics.

I’ve written a few articles for the Vancouver Sun, none recently, and I believe they no longer buy from freelancers anyway. (I’m not a regular reader of the Sun or the Province, and when I do read a print newspaper or check a news site, I prefer the Globe and Mail.) In fact, over my career, only a minority of my paid writing has seen print, and that minority gets smaller every year.

(OTOH, my last magazine piece, with only a small excerpt published online, got the attention of a publisher and my first meeting with a book editor. So there is something to be said for both print and exposure in the right circles.)

I realize that making money in publishing is hard, but I don’t think paywalls are viable in the long run. Maybe for high-status publications like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, but not for the Vancouver Sun or the Province.

Here’s a minor satori I had about publishing and media. While doing research for a job search last year, I found an index of employers in Canada. Skimming the table of contents, I couldn’t find anything regarding publishing. I checked the index and found “Publishing. See Pulp and Paper products” That gave me an unpleasant moment of clarity.

So, from a lot of people’s perspective, on a deep, ancestral level, the publishing industry is not the business of ideas or even entertainment. It’s merely one subset of the larger business of moving tree product around. On the big org chart, the newspaper and magazine business, the paper of record, the first draft of history, is somewhere between the people who make toilet paper and the people who make little paper umbrellas in tropical drinks.

However, the business of ideas has been gradually diverging from the business of pulp and paper, into a new medium with new characteristics. Paywalls represent a last ditch effort to hoard ideas instead of letting them be promiscuous.

The flipside of the paywall model, for the publishing business, is the ad-supported model, where you don’t charge for the content but sell eyeballs to advertisers. If you can figure out how to generate content for free, even better.

A friend just got picked up to blog on the Huffington Post, based on the excellent citizen journalism work he’s doing on his own site. HuffPo has given him a byline, exposure, status (people return his calls when he mentions he works for HuffPo), the rights to his output… everything a journalist could want, except actual money.

I wish him the best, but I won’t be joining him. Years ago, I made the choice not to write for other people for free. I’ve fudged that a few times, but for the most part I’ve stuck to it. That means I’ve spent so much time on certain stories that paid so little that, if I worked it out to an hourly rate, I’d cry. But I still got paid: money in the bank, groceries in the fridge.

Sure I’ve invested a hell of a lot of time and work in my two blogs, and seen only a tiny financial return for it (I still haven’t broken the $10 threshold for Amazon affiliate payback.) But I’ve been working for myself, with my own editorial control, my own rights, etc. I work for free, but I don’t toil for free. If I’m alienated from my labour, you’d damned well better fork over some cash.

So where does this leave my writing career? I’m still going to insist on compensation. My big question right now I how to break into the next tier of paying work.

Aug 202012

My latest article is on the City of Vancouver, after years of non-enforcement, starting to enforce zoning bylaw for adult stores.

This means, interestingly, that stores like London Drugs (which are basically department stores) would be classified as Adult Retail Stores because, right above the condoms and lube, they sell vibrators, discretely packaged as “personal massagers” and often with no illustration or photo on the box. Under Vancouver bylaws, those are “sex objects” and selling those makes your store an “Adult Retail Store”. The law was set in 1995, and since then there have been a lot of upscale adult boutiques like the Art of Loving or Honey, or feminist-oriented adult stores like Womyns’Ware. These stores fit just fine into residential neighborhoods like Kitsilano and Commercial Drive.

Sketchy stores like Fantasy Factory, where they have peepshows in the back, are becoming an anachronism in the age of Internet porn. The guy who runs Fantasy Factory says that 60 per cent of his customers are women buying vibrators and other toys. This is a case of the law not really keeping up with the times.



Aug 202012

Note: While the Occupy Vancouver camp was set up on the lawn and plaza  of the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown, I visited frequently. I wanted to write something about this event, but I wanted it to be something different from what everybody else was saying; a fresh angle. A friend in my writer’s workshop told me about another “temporary autonomous zone” in Vancouver, four decades ago. That led me to a whole history of “seized spaces” in Vancouver, squatting and otherwise. Unfortunately, by the time I did all the research and interviews, Occupy Vancouver had ended, and the moment for the story had passed. As selling this story seems increasingly unlikely, I post it here free.

Continue reading »

Jul 162012

My article on Vancouver’s comics society Cloudscape Comics, and their upcoming urban fantasy anthology Giants on Main Street, is now up on Openfile.

Personally, what I took away from the interview for this story was how tough it is for comics artists. You want to work in this particular medium, and there are so many obstacles to actually getting your work out to people so they can see it. The American comics industry is dominated by a Coke-and-Pepsi duopoly. If you want to get your self-produced comics out there, you might be able to get them into one of few remaining direct sale comics stores, or you might be able to get it into Chapters, if they feel like it. Otherwise, you’re better off doing webcomics or self-publishing, but even that makes it hard to get out of a particular subculture. If you’re still determined to do comics, after all that, it must be love.


Jun 212012

My latest article is about a new video game lounge trying to get a liquor license that lets them have game consoles at the tables where they serve food and liquor. I don’t drink, so this is an academic issue for me, but I don’t like arbitrary and restrictive government regulations.

I do like the idea of a place where you can try out video games. I’ve never owned a video game console, nor do I currently own a PC that could really provide the full effect of a video game experience. (I also don’t have the time or the money really). However, I feel like I’m missing out on a medium that means a lot to a lot of people. It’s a generational thing, I think: millennials relate to Mass Effect and the like the way my generation related to Star Wars, but on an even more intimate level. I watched Mark Hammill and Harrison Ford as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. People today design their own version of Commander Shepherd and control him or her.

This was also an experiment in decreasing my turnaround time for articles. One of my biggest time sinks and also the most tedious part of the business is transcribing interviews from my digital recorder. I usually do very thorough transcripts, with an eye towards using the same research and interviews to write a different article for a different market. For the last few pieces, I’ve been trying to only transcribe the good quotes and just convert everything else to notes, to save time and aggravation. It seems to be working, as I did the last few articles much faster than I usually do.

Jun 132012

My article on sousveillance of police in Vancouver is up on I hope I can go a little further into this area in the future.

Interestingly, this piece has also come to the attention of a blog called Genuine Witty.

The blog posted a picture of me, captioned that I am “Shilin’ it for the DTES povertarians…” The author says that “Peter wrote a great informational piece about CopWatch- that said, it is a bit fluffy, and misses out on some of the meat of the story.”

As far as I can tell, this blog is mainly personal opinions about some kind of argument between people formerly involved with Occupy Vancouver, and the article is an attempt to subsume my article into that discourse.

Well, at least somebody is reading.

Mar 162012

My article on the polygamy court decision’s impact on polyamorist families is finally up on the Vancouver Courier. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to interview an established poly family for this.

I’ve already received an email arguing: “You know as well as I do that in the human experience of groups there is always an alpha male and alpha female; also, children are more apt to be abused by those adults in a group who are not their biological parents.”

Personally, I’m far from convinced that enforced monogamy/nuclear family is necessarily better for people than any other family structure. What surprises me is the instinctive, visceral aversion some people apparently have to alternative family structures, expressed as anything from deflected-hostility/anxiety humour to outright contempt and hatred. In that, it is quite like homophobia.

Jan 312012

My latest is a short piece on the state of surveillance in Vancouver. This wasn’t my idea, but I’ve been interested in privacy and surveillance issues for a while, and I took the gig.

I had assumed there would be clear laws about where you can put surveillance cameras, whether as private citizens or as business, but the laws regarding this are pretty vague. There are stronger laws about keeping records of other people’s personal information (which includes their likeness.) There’s also a lot of obfuscation about the city government and police’s use of surveillance.

Surveillance is becoming a big issue. When you get right down to it, Google and Facebook and Twitter aren’t offering all these services for free out of generosity. They are businesses, and a large part of their business is selling information about the people who use their services to other businesses. It may be anonymized or otherwise restricted for people’s privacy, but that is still what they do.

Google is rapidly becoming something like the Minds in Iain M. Bank’ s Culture books: nearly all-knowing artificial intelligences so powerful, and so essential, that the humans can only cross their fingers and hope that they aren’t doing anything bad, or if they are, it’s for the humans’ own good.