Editor’s note: Roger Ebert died in Chicago on April 4, 2013. He was 70.
The future of print media seems dire, and people are struggling to make money from Web reporting. You’ve even said that the Chicago Sun-Times probably won’t make it to its 50th anniversary. Where will your writing live if the Sun-Times doesn’t survive?
Since it has survived bankruptcy and been purchased, I am no longer as pessimistic. But I do own the rights to all my material, and could doubtless find a home for it.
In your own experience at the Sun-Times, what are some of the business model problems you’ve seen as the newspaper transitioned to the web?
The same as everyone’s: Monetizing the site. You’d think I’d have more movie ads, but one studio actually told us, “We don’t advertise on Ebert’s site because he’s too influential.” Many studios prefer fluff sites with gossip, screensavers, premiere photos, etc.
You’ve said that you don’t particularly enjoy experiencing a novel on an e-reader. Who is the e-reader for? Why would they prefer a digital experience to a tactile book?
I don’t know. I’m just finishing Dombey and Son. I experimented with it as an e-book on my iPad, but I simply couldn’t read it. The experience was maddening. My eyes kept slipping off the page. I go into another room from the computer, sit down, and lose myself in a book.
You’ve recently confirmed that you’re working on a memoir, your first book of the iPad and Kindle age. Were there any notable differences when you negotiated this new contract?
eBooks are now part of contracts. I personally don’t use them, but a lot of people do. A friend of mine in London, one of the most avid and widely-read people I know, says she prefers her Kindle to a book. Whatever rocks your boat.
Are books headed towards the same path as newspapers and magazines? If so, how can writers make any money doing what they love?
There will always be books, newspapers and magazines, and people will have to write them. I think Nicholas Negroponte at MIT was right in Being Digital, his book at the dawn of the Web, that we will move toward two models: A free web, and a micropayment web. Some people will pay a fraction of a cent for my review rather than read a free review from Joe PropellerBeanie. Of course, I could be wrong…
Blake Eskin, the New Yorker’s Web editor, describes magazines as a meditative experience – something you “sit with” – and the Web as a “distracted” experience. Where do your reviews and your online journal fall? How much time do people want to spend with your reporting?
I agree with him. My average review is around 700-1000 words, and for that you don’t need to be meditative. My blogs are longer, but judging by the comments, a lot of people read them.
What are some of the newspapers or magazines you like to “sit with?”
The [Chicago] Sun-Times, The New York Times, Discover, The Economist, The Spectator, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Sight & Sound, MacWorld, Scientific American, New York Review of Books, McSweeney’s…
Here at Sparksheet we’re always interested in the way people consume media and content when they’re in transit. Having recently returned from the Cannes Film Festival, what were you able to observe about your own media consumption habits when you’re on the move (and, incidentally, on a borrowed computer)?
I spent most of my time online. I read the daily trade papers (in print), and such newspapers as the International Herald-Trib and the Independent.
What about when you’re on a plane. Do you prefer to read or watch inflight movies?
I’ve never watched an in-flight movie. I take a novel, magazines and newspapers.
Read Part II. We speak to Ebert about personal branding, film criticism, and his exclusive Ebert Club.