Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Something that drives me nuts . . .

As someone deeply interested in the philosophy of Ayn Rand and its various implications upon my life, it drives me silly just how difficult it is to get a hold of the various lectures by Ayn Rand and Rand scholars in a format that I want and at a price that I can afford. It seems that the only option these days is to spend a fortune (for me at least) to go to the Ayn Rand Institutes' yearly conference, or pay nearly as much for the audio tape (and by audio tape, I mean actual cassettes or CDs. Heh—remember those?).

And even when the Institute outright gives away access to speech or lecture (like it does here), I can't download it to my Ipod and listen to it when I walk the dogs or mow the yard. I have listen to it while anchored in front of my computer like a big fat dummy.

Now don't get me wrong. I honor the Institute for the excellent and valuable work it does advancing Objectivism (especially for making these lectures available in the first place), but come on--we live in the Internet age. If I can buy a book by an Objectivist thinker in the $10 to $40 dollar range, how can it profit anyone to charge hundreds of dollars for an audio lecture that same book is based upon? And whatever the price it decides to charge, why can't the Institute put the audio up on iTunes?

I for one would like to see the Institute revisit and rethink its bookstore strategy, and come up with a plan that makes it easier for an even larger audience to get access to Objectivist ideas.


Jack Galt said...

I agree. In many ways, the Institute is a content provider. It would be nice to see it use the most up-to-date and under-friendly technology to provide its content—as well as a price strategy to match.

Jack said...

Agreed, the format isn't friendly, but you can certainly listen to these on your ipod.

1. Download the file -- use flashget (win) or mplayer (linux)

2. Translate the file type from rm to mp3 (google: "change rm to mp3", there are plenty of free converters).

Anonymous said...

Nick, since you mentioned it... I'll go you one better and wonder aloud how we expect to propagate and advance a philosophy over time when the new work is restricted to audio and visual formats? Critical consideration of ideas doesn't seem to work too well unless we can all share, and agree on, the text under consideration - or at least compare versions. Come to think of it, this is how Gutenberg messed up the monopoly held by the Church... And to hammer it on more time, there's something about print that makes this easier and better than oral. For every Tara Smith, there's a David Harriman.

Jack Galt said...

I for one would love to see a transcript service for the audio lectures. I recently saw that Leonard Peikoff did not want to have his lectures transcribed into text because the context is different and subsequently there would be something lost in the transcription. Well, thank you, but I am not retarded; of course the two mediums are different and that difference must be taken into account by the reader when reviewing a transcribed lecture. At the same time, I could save myself a lot of time being able to read with Objectivist thinkers have to say rather than have to tediously listen to the raw audio.

Of course, it’s his IP and he will do with it what he wants. I wish he would be more willing to consider the benefits to his audience however.

z said...

Is it legal to have one's own copy transcribed for one's own personal use?

Rational Jenn said...

Here, here! I heartily second the download ideas and the transcription ideas.

As someone who is very much a visual learner, listening to lectures can be difficult for me. It helps me absorb the concepts more efficiently when I can see the words on a page, or even a visual of the person speaking. Of course, listening to the inflections of the speaker delivering the speech has its value, but when I want to really study something, particularly complex ideas, it's much much easier for me to read it.

I'd really like to read adaptations of the speeches, revised to take out the "ahems" and so forth that might make reading a literal transcription cumbersome.

Nevertheless--the ARI is to be commended for the quality and quantity of the lectures it sells and makes available for free.

Mel McGuire said...

Leonard Peikoff discussed a question about transcribing his lectures in the Q&A for April. (http://peikoff.com/) Find "transcribe" on his home page.

The concluding sentence of his interesting answer is:
"Of course, if I knew an editor, both qualified and unemployed, who wanted to do this sort of reconstruction of my lectures, I would happily support the project. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is no such person."

Anonymous said...

for z: since I'm not a lawyer & don't even play one on TV, this is strictly FWIW... under US copyright law, sound recording copyrights cover the text, and "fair use" is limited to very small quotes. So, no, doesn't look good.
Best option is as Mel alludes - make those lecturers an offer! There's at least one looking for qualified help!

JR said...


Peikoff has published, I believe, all of 2 books of original material. I think it's very debatable whether he wants his work "out there" to be reviewed given the rather negative reviews he has recieved thus far.

Let's not forget that Peikoff has authorized the publication of lots of Rand's lecture courses. How difficult can it be for someone to transcribe the stuff and for Peikoff to edit it?

Jack Galt said...

I wonder if a transcription of Leonard Peikoff's lectures would include something to indicate that cough he coughs every time he begins one of his talks. :-P

All kidding aside, what bothers me is that some squeaky wheels (like for one example, George Riesman, who flamed Robert Mayhew in a over-the-top criticism of Mayhew's editing of Ayn Rand Answers) more or less ruin it for the rest of us. I can just see some rationalist moron claim that because Peikoff's burped in mid-sentence he is rejecting Ayn Rand's theory of concepts and that failing to document the burp on the transcript is evasion.

Such people should not define the market for Objectivist ideas. My time is precious and the ability to scan lecture transcripts would be of great value to me. If they must be, they can be bundled with the actual lecture, but releasing these transcripts would only assist serious students of Objectivism, not hurt them.

Jim May said...

I have been bellyaching to myself about this almost since I first became an Objectivist. My main beefs with it are two:

1. audio is like sucking information through a straw. It's slow, noisy, it isn't random access, and it can't be annotated!

2. the business model is all wrong.

The latter means specifically that I think that the ARI should consider waiving copyright on all its nonfiction, and throw it up on the Web for all to see, at no cost, as e-books, HTML and plaintext.

The two values being weighed against each other are the value of the financial return from the current publication model, versus the value of maximum exposure of people to her ideas.

As I understand it from Harry Binswanger, the fiction titles are the lion's share of the book revenues; the nonfiction, including third-party works by Objectivist intellectuals, is relatively small. So the profits I'm proposing to forego are actually not a very big slice of the pie... and I'm not convinced that Web access would result in zeroing-out sales anyhow; at most it will slow them down somewhat.

There is also the benefit of all of us being able to link to relevant parts of her work in forums, blog comments and email correspondence with individuals. We could inject her original work directly into debate, again and again. More than once I've wanted to be able to drop a link to "Why 'Buy American' is Un-American" into a debate over free trade somewhere... but currently I can't reference it at all.

I understand that financial remuneration is an important way to keep things going (and I confess ignorance of the ARI's cash flow), but with the accelerating rise of religion in this country amid the intellectual wastelands created by the Left, I'm wondering whether the time is now for us to go all out.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

When people criticize ARI in my presence, it's rarely philosophic. Instead it usually has something to do with how ARI compares to similar non-profit groups in getting Ayn Rand's texts and ideas into people's hands.

Now I do think that much of this criticism is unjustified. For example, the essay contest is a very effective way to introduce young thinkers to Rand's writing, and I know of no other program that has as large an impact. The Institute deserves great credit for its leadership here.

At the same time, essays like "Philosophy: Who Needs It" should be allowed to be freely reproducible. The essay offers a profound introduction to the field of philosophy and I think its easy availability would go a long way to help introduce Ayn Rand's ideas to new people. Every campus club and Objectivist community group should have that essay on their website. That they can't is a great shame—a missed opportunity to communicate Rand's ideas in her own words.

I'm not so sure about releasing title to all the nonfiction; that seems like too large a give-away. But at minimum, I think it would be very interesting to see what the results of posting the text of one of the non-fiction titles on the Internet would be. For example, if Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal was freely available, I'd gladly host the text on CAC's website. I can only imagine that doing so would put Rand's ideas before even more eyes, and at the end of the day, isn't that the most important thing we can do at this stage of the game?

Jim May said...

I agree with that; I'm not dismissing the good stuff the ARI does at all. In fact, I'm getting more and more impressed with their efforts as time goes on, in light of their recent efforts and based on Dr. Binswanger's occasional report on what's going on inside the Institute.

But regarding how much of the nonfiction should be considered for online access, I have doubts about putting only parts of AR's work online, however, because it's an integrated whole; someone who reads CUI will have questions that are best answered by Virtue of Selfishness, for example, and so on. It leaves too many excuses to deliberately misunderstand, the way her detractors usually do.

Anotehr idea might be to put up her original nonfiction & periodical work, relying on it to stimulate interest in later works by others, such as OPAR and The Objective Standard, for those who are really interested in digging deeper to see where Objectivism has gone since then. If it goes off well, the ARI could see a net gain in cash flow AND public attention.