Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Krugman's prescience & the value of curating

Paul Krugman... veterinarian.
The Baffler, a magazine written and edited by idiots with a superiority complex has two articles in a recent issue ripped right from the NYTimes' favorite genre "liberals are to blame for Trump" as I mentioned a few days ago.

The more ridiculous of the two was about the dangers of "curating" to wit:
A world without fake news might really be awesome. So might a shop where every bottle of wine is excellent. So might an electoral system in which everyone heeds the urging of the professional consensus. But in any such system, reader, people like you and me can be assured with almost perfect confidence that our voices will be curated out.
Curators are the bad guys eliminating the voices of the prosperous centrists like poor Thomas Frank who publishes books and articles for a living.

Frank is a co-founder of The Baffler and of course deciding what will be selected to be included in each issue of the periodical isn't curating, it's editing, so Frank & company are the good guys. Got that?

But I happened to be reading Krugman's brilliant piece, written over twenty years ago, White Collars Turn Blue - the conceit of the piece is that Krugman is writing from the year 2096, a hundred years from the actual publication date - and it got me to thinking about the Frank piece when Krugman writes:
Most important of all, the long-ago prophets of the information age seemed to have forgotten basic economics. When something becomes abundant, it also becomes cheap. A world awash in information is one in which information has very little market value. In general, when the economy becomes extremely good at doing something, that activity becomes less, rather than more, important.

But actually information does have a big market value, but it depends on what kind, as any insider trading convict can tell you. The world is indeed awash in so much information that filtering is the big problem. That's where editors come in - or, in other words curators.

Curating is basically what I do with NYCPlaywrights - I decide which calls for submissions are included. That's why playwrights come to the site, because not only does it save them the trouble of searching for the information themselves, but I make sure that the opportunities do not charge submission fees. That's a value judgment on my part and no other calls for submissions sites  (there are about four other regular, reliable sources in addition to NYCPlaywrights, by my count) filter those out - they all include submission calls that charge fees just to email or snail-mail your work to somebody.

The Huffington Post includes original work (including the review of my play) but it got its start basically reusing the work of other newspapers as a news aggregator.

So I think it's clear that people who are willing to curate the information tsunami are going to be ever more important to the economy. I just did some calculating and if I had about 50 web sites that earned as much in a year as NYCPlaywrights does I could make blogging my full-time job. It's worth thinking about. The only trick is figuring out what kind of information people need you to curate and whether it's profitable to get it to them. I stumbled upon the money-making aspect of NYCPlaywrights almost accidentally - I started out just trying to share info with members of my group which met up in-person. Then I realized that the international reach of the Internet meant I could make money sharing that information. Although of course we are limited to the anglosphere - until I learn French.

I put about 4 hours a week into running NYCPlaywrights, on average, so if I had 50 sites I'd be working 100 hour weeks, unless I hired help or figured out how to do a site in 2 hours per week in which case I could work a more reasonable 50 hours a week. Hmm... worth thinking about.

Krugman ends his 1996 essay in a way that really hits home for me - he's talking about scientists but it goes double for playwrights:
Luckily, the same technology that has made it possible to capitalize directly on knowledge has also created many more opportunities for celebrity. The 500-channel world is a place of many subcultures, each with its own heroes. Still, the celebrity economy has been hard on people -- especially for those with a scholarly bent. A century ago, it was actually possible to make a living as a more or less pure scholar. Now if you want to devote yourself to scholarship, there are only three choices. Like Charles Darwin, you can be born rich. Like Alfred Wallace, the less-fortunate co-discoverer of evolution, you can make your living doing something else and pursue research as a hobby. Or, like many 19th-century scientists, you can try to cash in on a scholarly reputation by going on the lecture circuit. 
But celebrity, though more common, still does not come easily. That is why writing this article is such an opportunity. I actually don't mind my day job in the veterinary clinic, but I have always wanted to be a full-time economist; an article like this may be just what I need to make my dream come true.