This morning Les Schaffer, the technical coordinator of Marxmail, and I got an email from the webmaster of Harper’s Magazine:
I’m the web editor at Harper’s Magazine. I’m afraid we don’t allow copies of our articles to be hosted on other sites. Will you please remove this article — http://www.marxmail.org/EagletonMarx.pdf — immediately? I trust you understand; I’d rather not have to send a formal DMCA notice, but will if necessary.
Thanks very much.
There were a couple of things that popped into my mind right off the bat. How in the world did Keehn get wind of my “pirating” their intellectual property? Did one of my thousands of enemies snitch on me? Or is part of Keehn’s job description to police the Internet to make sure that nobody is purloining Harper’s material? I am sure that the actual web chores take up little of his time since the Harper’s website is notoriously underdeveloped, a policy decision made by their publisher John R. Macarthur, about whom I will have more to say momentarily.
The first thing I did was Google DMCA. What the hell did that stand for? Don’t Mess with Corporate Assets? Dickwad Micromanaging Commodified Archives?
It turns out that this stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, legislation enacted in 1998 to protect the rights of “content providers” in danger of being hijacked by people like me. What makes the legal focus on Youtube, bit torrent, and other Internet technologies so interesting is that it can’t possibly be argued that anybody is benefiting financially by putting the Eagleton article, a Bob Dylan performance, etc. online as if my posting an article will rob Harper’s out of millions of dollars. In reality, they will benefit from my posting of an article since the average Marxmail reader or Facebook friend has no idea what Harper’s Magazine is about. Maybe they’ll buy one because they liked the Terry Eagleton article. After all, the music industry figured out that Youtube clips were a good way to boost revenue by raising awareness about an artist. Too bad that Harper’s is so backward that it can’t see an upside to my bad behavior.
Harper’s has been published since June 1850. I have been a subscriber since the early 80s and have stuck with the magazine over the years because of the occasional investigative journalism piece like one on mountaintop removal in West Virginia from about a decade ago. But the real attraction is the British-style “difficult” crossword puzzles that I enjoy doing. The Nation Magazine has them as well and I might even shell out money for an electronic subscription just to be able to do them even if it means putting up with all the “why Obama should do this or that…” manure.
The Atlantic Monthly used to have those kinds of crossword puzzles as well but discontinued them a few years ago. Speaking of which, all of the Atlantic Monthly’s content is online and they are running a profit unlike Harper’s that relies on John R. MacArthur’s largesse.
John R. “Rick” MacArthur is the grandson of John D. MacArthur who died in 1978 at the age of 80. He established the MacArthur Foundation in the year he died. It sometimes sounds like half the shows on PBS are funded by this foundation that is also known for its yearly “genius grants”. In 1980 Rick engineered a takeover of the magazine by the MacArthur Foundation. Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s inherited wealth keeps The Nation afloat, just as Rick’s does for Harper’s. At least with Harper’s you don’t get the pro-DP slop even though Thomas Frank, one of his top editors, made the case for an Obama vote in 2011.
All evidence points to MacArthur being primarily responsible for the strict DMCA enforcement his webmaster is carrying out. He really seems to hate the Internet:
This for-profit theft is committed in the pious guise of universal access to “free information,” as if Google were just a bigger version of your neighborhood public library. Acceptance of such a fairy tale lets parasitic search engines assert that they are “web neutral,” just disinterested parties whose glorious mission is to educate and uplift.
This is nonsense, of course. Google’s bias for search results that list its own products above those of its competitors is now well-known, but equally damaging, and less remarked, is the bias that elevates websites with free content over ones that ask readers to pay at least something for the difficult labor of writing, editing, photographing, drawing, and painting and thinking coherently. Try finding Harper’s Magazine when you Google “magazines that publish essays” or “magazines that publish short stories” — it isn’t easy.
Oh well, now that my favorable references to Harper’s articles will be coming to an end, there’s at least one less route to his magazine that can be relied on.
I first began to question MacArthur’s competence after I discovered that he had fired his very capable editor Roger Hodge in 2010. Hodge was the author of a very good critique of Obama that I reviewed for Swans in 2011. In an interview with Guernica, Hodge described his differences with MacArthur over the web:
Guernica: What are your thoughts on the current state of Harper’s and its prospects for the future?
Roger D. Hodge: Frankly, I despair for the future of Harper’s Magazine. Although I am grateful for all the money Rick MacArthur has contributed over the years, it’s just not possible to publish a great national magazine in 2011 using a business plan that was devised in 1984. The world has changed; the audience has changed. Harper’s used to be at the heart of the national debate. It was also the most vibrant and exciting literary magazine in the world; nowadays many people don’t even realize that it still exists.
It’s a damn shame. And the story didn’t have to end this way. Harper’s remains a very good magazine—it still publishes excellent journalism and fiction, outstanding literary criticism. And, with the exception of the cover, which has been outsourced, it’s the most beautiful magazine I know. But all those riches are hidden from view. The newsstand industry is dying; direct mail is a failure; the Internet in all its gaudy diversity is the only hope. Contrary to the assertions of Harper’s management, magazines truly are using the web to build circulation. The Nation has a very successful model; the Atlantic, after a long struggle, is turning a profit; Mother Jones is thriving and has raised millions of dollars. There are people out there who know how to use the web to connect with readers. Some of them used to work for Harper’s.
At the risk of getting a cease-and-desist DMCA letter from N+1, the spunky magazine that I began subscribing to last year, I am going to quote from a piece that appeared in issue number 15 that deals with print publications and the Internet. I couldn’t have put it better:
With enough money, you can force the past into the present, or at least hold the future at bay. Harper’s, it turns out, is the Petit Trianon of publishing. Marie Antoinette had her artificially aged cottages and working dairy farm, and MacArthur has his fully operational magazine, which both embodies and celebrates the values of his old Chicago newsroom. At Harper’s, the administrative staff is largely female, the board is entirely male, the writers are almost all male, and the internet barely exists.
It would be one thing if Harper’s nostalgia were only a question of office culture or distribution. But it permeates the pages of the magazine, determining not only the approach to subject matter but what subjects are worthy of being included at all. Although Harper’s circulation is small, its reputation is such that it continues to have a say in what counts, and what subjects are worthy of serious thought by serious people: in other words, what constitutes the nation’s public life — and, by extension, which lives constitute “the public.”
We imagine asking Harper’s, What about women? Their response would probably be, Well, what about women? The voice of Harper’s is pitched such that the question can only be asked rhetorically. Matters of gender and sexuality do not actually matter. In one of the few instances where they were even raised, when Thomas Frank wrote about abortion in October 2011, the case was actually made that the pro-life movement is ineffective, and that abortion rights are a non-issue. Frank suggests that what happens on the state level just doesn’t matter, because it’s not on the national stage — an argument that willfully overlooks decades of pro-life activism that has strategically and deliberately built the movement state by state, and that this tactic has accounted for much of its growth and many of its victories.
Finally, and most importantly, MacArthur has operated just like a typical capitalist when it comes to the right of his wage slaves. If writing for Harper’s is just a form of the commodity exchange process, in which everything has a price including labor, it is no surprise that he is taking a stance reminiscent of Charles Montgomery Burns of “The Simpsons” fame. The Maida Rosenstein mentioned in this article, by the way, led a very successful strike at Barnard in the mid-90s that I remember well. You do not want to get on her wrong side:
There will be a few key names missing from the masthead of Harper’s Magazine next month. The non-profit magazine laid off Literary Editor Ben Metcalf and an Associate Editor, Theodore Ross, in January. Harper’s, which has a circulation of 200,000, said it made the layoffs for economic reasons.
“At the end of the day, we are in a difficult economy and we felt that Ben and Ted’s work could be absorbed,” said John Rick MacArthur, who has been the publisher of Harper’s for nearly the past 30 years. “Businesses are often faced with laying off employees and Harper’s is not an exception, although we have had to make very few cuts compared to our peers.”
But the union that has been representing more than a dozen of Harper’s editors since last October said that Metcalf, at least, was let go because he was one of the leaders of the magazine’s recent union organizing drive.
“We believe it’s a retaliatory layoff because he was a very public supporter of the union,” said Maida Rosenstein, the president of United Auto Workers (U.A.W.) Local 2110, which represents the editors. “We believe that layoff should be retracted and he should be brought back.”
Several Harper’s editors expressed an interest in joining U.A.W. Local 2110 last spring, according to the union. Local 2110 said that the editors, who declined requests to speak to WNYC on the record, wanted a union to give them job security and pay increases.
Harper’s declined to disclose salary information to WNYC, but the union said assistant editors start out with an annual salary of $31,000. The literary editor who was laid off on Friday after 17 years on the job, Ben Metcalf, made $99,000 a year, and magazine employees working on the business side of Harper’s make more than $200,000 a year, according to U.A.W.
My final words of advice. Don’t bother with a sub to Harper’s. Save your money for N+1.The magazine has gone downhill over the years, even if the puzzle remains tip-top. Here’s a clue from the latest: “I was fired in just one war—Europe”. The answer: Stoneware. Mystified? Look at it this way: “I was fired in just one war—Europe”.