TIME Companies

Amazon’s Dispute With Hachette Might Finally Be Hurting Its Sales

The book industry nurtured Amazon's growth. Now the online retailer's war against publishers is a thorn in its side

The book business launched Amazon to success, and now it’s hurting the online retailer’s growth.

Amazon announced its worst quarterly loss in 14 years Thursday, losing $437 million in three months. One of its worst-performing segments? Amazon’s old core business: North American book, movie and music sales. The segment’s sales increased a mere 4.8% from 2013, the slowest growth for the category in more than five years. That compares with a 17.8% growth in that segment a year ago.

Amazon chalked up the slow media segment growth to fewer students buying textbooks, but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. In fact, the company’s woes may in part be related to its damaging publicity spat with the publisher Hachette.

Here’s a quick recap of what happened: earlier this year, Amazon demanded Hachette give up a larger cut of its book sales; Hachette demurred. Amazon then increased shipping times on Hachette books, raised Hachette book prices, and redirected customers to other publishers on its website. Hachette, determined to hold its ground, rallied authors to its side. In August, 900 authors, including Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, John Grisham and James Patterson, signed a letter to Amazon defending Hachette, accusing Amazon of “selective retaliation” against writers.

There isn’t much visibility into what’s going behind closed doors and in sealed accounting documents at Amazon, but by targeting Hachette, Amazon is making it harder to buy the retailer’s own books. A customer deterred by an artificially long shipping time on a Hachette book is a sale lost. For a huge company like Amazon, that may be little more than a self-inflicted scratch, but it’s likely making difference.

And more importantly for the online retailer over the long term, the dispute may be hurting Amazon’s image and turning customers away. For book readers who love particular authors, it’s hard to forget when a bookstore is accused of having “directly targeted” a favorite writer. A literary-inclined crowd, already more likely to side with the letters people than the money people, may see the Hachette dispute as a turning point. “It’s logical that readers identify more with authors than with Amazon,” says Colin Gillis of BGC Financial. “Amazon is a service. You may like the service but you build a relationship with authors.” If book lovers ultimately decide that Amazon is bad for authors, Amazon could lose its hold on the very business that nurtured its growth.

 

 

TIME Media

In Cable Ebola Coverage, It’s the Story Versus the Facts

Israeli-US actor and musician, member of the band Kiss, Gene Simmons poses during a photocall for the TV serie "Gene Simmons" as part of the MIPCOM, on Oct. 14, 2014 in Cannes, southeastern France.
Israeli-US actor and musician, member of the band Kiss, Gene Simmons poses during a photocall for the TV serie "Gene Simmons" as part of the MIPCOM, on Oct. 14, 2014 in Cannes, southeastern France. Valery Hache—AFP/Getty Images

As the disease comes to New York City, 24-hour news wavers between science and sensationalism. But what does Gene Simmons think?

The guest on Friday’s Fox News’s panel show Outnumbered gave a damning assessment of the government’s response to Ebola, after a Manhattan doctor who had recently returned from West Africa was diagnosed with Ebola Thursday night. “In point of fact, we are completely unprepared for things like this,” the guest said. “We can’t even take the simple precaution of not letting anybody from a certain part of Africa come into America before you pass a health test. The fact that this doctor and this nurse [in Dallas] were just allowed to run around… is lunacy.”

The guest was Gene Simmons. As in Gene Simmons from the face-painted ’70s rock band KISS.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that Simmons lacks the medical authority to talk about Ebola policy. He did, after all, write “Calling Dr. Love.” He’s practically a diagnostic professional! But that comment summed up where a story like Ebola is eventually bound to go once cable news has had enough time with it.

In any breaking news incident, you have the facts and then you have the story. The facts are what happened. The story is why you care–the details, quotes, opinions and fears that make the facts juicy. In cable news, the story generally wins.

So Thursday night, the facts were: Someone in New York City had Ebola. Dr. Craig Spencer, who had been volunteering with Doctors Without Borders treating patients in Guinea, had come back to Manhattan. He’d followed the accepted guidelines for self-monitoring, checking his temperature twice daily, and watching, per the medical organization’s guidelines, for “relevant symptoms including fever.” When he detected a fever that morning–before which, he would not have been infectious–he went to the hospital.

But then there’s the story! The story was that the day before Spencer went to the hospital, he went bowling! He rode in an Uber vehicle! He went jogging and ate at a restaurant and walked in a park. He rode the subway–the crowded subway! None of this, according to medical science on Ebola, presented a danger from a nonsymptomatic person. But it felt wrong in people’s guts. And that makes a better story.

Thursday and Friday’s cable coverage showed plainly this struggle between story and facts. At times, the dichotomy was present in the words and images of the same report. Friday morning on CNN, the top-of-the-hour news noted that Spencer was not contagious, according to authorities, when he went out Wednesday–but only after it ran down the subway-taxi-bowling story and said the city was “on edge.” Anchor John Berman interviewed experts including Daniel Bausch of the Department of US Medical Naval Research, who said “it looks like everything was done right” in the Spencer case. The on-screen graphic: “EBOLA IN NEW YORK: REASON TO WORRY?”

The coverage, like so many stories, has also become an extension of partisan politics. There are midterms coming up: Republicans are invested in a crisis-of-confidence narrative while the Democrats must convey an everything’s-under-control narrative. So on Fox, Sean Hannity was hammering the government for being unprepared, and seemingly every host was hitting the refrain that Spencer was “fatigued” when he went out Wednesday. MSNBC, on the other hand, emphasized the low risk this case posed to New Yorkers along with the generally positive response to New York’s public-health response to date.

As for CNN under Jeff Zucker, it is biased as always toward the juicier story. In a noontime report, correspondent Jean Casarez noted that an NYPD team had photographed some trash outside Spencer’s apartment, and then left. “So it’s still sitting out there right now?” Banfield asked, adding that she’d seen police throwing latex gloves into street trash. Had the gloves been anywhere near any dangerous fluids? Is any of that trash an actual risk? Who knows? There was no further information. But the detail sounded spooky, so the report just left it sitting there, like the recycling bags on the curb.

By midday Friday, the general tone of coverage shifted to one that was less anxious, partly because better news had broken: Dallas nurse Nina Pham was declared Ebola-free in her recovery, and Spencer, it turned out, had not had the 103 degree fever first reported Thursday night, but a much lower 100.3-degree fever–undercutting the insinuations that he might have been sicker on Wednesday. Then too, there seemed to be a growing awareness that Spencer had, after all, contracted the disease by risking his life to help others, and it was maybe unseemly to present him as some kind of arrogant bowling menace.

For now, the news fever seemed under control. But it was a reminder all the same. Ebola may only be spread through contact with infected bodily fluids. Fear and anxiety are much more easily transmitted, through the air.

TIME Television

Time Is a Round Donut: The Graze-Watching Possibilities of Simpsons World

THE SIMPSONS: Join (L-R) Maggie, Marge, Lisa, Homer and Bart Simpson for the 21st season premiere episode "Homer The Whopper," of THE SIMPSONS airing Sunday, Sept. 27 (8:00 - 8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2009 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
'The Simpsons' Fox

The addictive new Simpsons website proves that there's more than one way to binge on TV. Mmmm.... TV.

Make 550-some episodes of any TV show, and some unusual coincidences start to turn up. Tuesday, I was playing around with Simpsons World, the immersive website/app that allows cable subscribers access to every Simpsons episode ever made. The very first two episodes I watched–one randomly served for me by the site, the other chosen after I did a search on “Marvin Monroe”–both began with Homer wrecking his car after a toy got lodged under the brake pedal. As one does. (The episodes: season 21’s “Rednecks and Broomsticks” and season 15’s “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife.” You can check it for yourself.)

I mention this not to criticize The Simpsons as repetitive–again, 550-some episodes–but as an example of the different kind of experience that this new kind of TV streaming promises. Put hundreds of hours of TV programming online in a searchable, customizable form, with 25 years of TV equally accessible, and you’re going to find yourself discovering some strange connections.

One of the major influences on TV’s current cultural glory days is “binge-watching”–the marathon viewing of a show first enabled by VHS and DVD sets, which really took off after services like Netflix made it frictionless. Bingeing allowed new audiences to discover great serials like Friday Night Lights, while turning dramas like Breaking Bad from cult shows to blockbusters as they addicted viewers between seasons.

Besides bringing in viewers, bingeing helped elevate TV’s cultural status, by underscoring its similarity to the novel. If the original airing of The Wire, week by week, recalled Dickens’ publishing serial novels in English newspapers, bingeing it several episodes at a time allowed you to go through it the way we read Dickens now.

Bingeing, however, tends to confer that prestige on a particular kind of show: the ambitious serial drama, which compels you to begin the next episode after the last ends. This is one genre that has taken advantage of the TV medium’s strength for telling linear stories, which begin at a beginning and can take much more time than movies to drive forward toward an end.

But that’s not the only kind of expansive storytelling that TV’s open-endedness makes possible. Sitcoms, in particular, don’t generally drive in a straight line from a beginning to an end–not even, necessarily, more serial recent ones like The Office. Comedies, like The Simpsons, create immersive worlds rather than propulsive narratives. You can certainly binge a sitcom as much as you can a drama–Netflix, for instance, is counting on you to do that in the new year with Friends. But you don’t need, or necessarily even want, to do it in a particular order.

If a serial drama creates its effects by driving forward along a track, like a train, something like The Simpsons expands outward, like a cloud, or maybe a spiral galaxy extending from a center. You can live inside it, jumping from point to point, discovering new corners or echoing themes, skipping from season 2 to season 23 as if through a space-time wormhole.

The Simpsons World site is still incomplete; it went live Tuesday but has yet to add features like allowing people to find and share customized clips. (You’ll know when that feature is added, because they will be everywhere on the damn Internet.) Yet you can already see that this kind of format has the potential to do for this kind of TV show what binge-watching did for serials. You can search for terms, for instance–episodes involving the inanimate carbon rod, or Hans Moleman, or gambling. You can skip around and explore the series like a character inside a massively-layer online game universe.

It’s not binge-watching, exactly, though it could be just as time-suckingly immersive. Maybe we can call it graze-watching. (Or gorge-watching, for those with more Homer-like appetites).

And while it’s not every show that could take advantage of this kind of destination viewing, it could work for more than The Simpsons. If Friends hadn’t done a streaming deal with Netflix, for instance, I could easily imagine a Friends World, letting you customize clips, search for favorite quotes and skip around through every possible permutation of who’s dating whom. It doesn’t even need to be comedy-only: imagine creating a Law and Order World, with the rights to each season and spinoff of the franchise, searchable and drilled deeply for data and themes. (I’m envisioning a vast crime map of NYC with everyone murdered by L&O plotted on a block-by-block level.)

TV is still figuring out what it’s going to do with streaming and what streaming will do to it. But one thing that excites me about Simpsons World is that it suggests that different kinds of streaming can work better to show off TV’s different strengths–and thus to celebrate different kinds of TV greatness. Not all “Golden Age” TV–or whatever you want to call it–is about stories that drive in a straight line from this thing to the next thing. Some is about world-building that allows you to skip from this thing to that thing to that thing.

One of the new patron saints of serial drama, Rust Cohle, said that time was a flat circle. In Simpsons World time is, maybe, more like a round doughnut.

TIME Media

Jill Abramson: Ben Bradlee Was Luminescent

Ben Bradlee on Oct. 1, 1995.
Ben Bradlee on Oct. 1, 1995. Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte—Corbis

Jill Abramson is the former executive editor of The New York Times.

The former top editor of the New York Times remembers the man who ran the Washington Post. 'Ben had total joie de journalism,' she writes. 'It oozed from every pore'

“[Ben] Bradlee is luminescent.” The Washington Post April 19, 1981.

This is the best description of him ever. Oddly, it was published as part of the long, painful autopsy written by Bill Green, the ombudsman of The Washington Post, after the Janet Cooke scandal, certainly the Post’s, and Ben’s, lowest moment.

During that time Ben showed what he was made of. He had to return a Pulitzer Prize that Cooke had won about a made up 8-year-old heroin addict. He had to invite his boss, Donald Graham, to have breakfast at his house and tell him that he and his vaunted team of all-stars, made famous in the movie All the President’s Men, had failed the Graham family. He had to face his own crushed newsroom and, ultimately, the Post’s disappointed readers.

This would surely have brought down any other editor. So why did Ben Bradlee survive and triumph? It wasn’t simply because he was so powerful or well connected, having transformed the Post during Watergate into a national newspaper and showcase for the blazingly talented writers he hired and nurtured. Bob Woodward tried to explain Ben’s durability after the top editors at the Times lost their jobs in the Jayson Blair scandal. “Bradlee was a great editor and loved by everybody,” Woodward said. “Not just the people who knew him well, but down the ranks.”

But it was more than that. It was his great strength of character and gutsiness under fire that made him indestructible. David Halberstam, writing about Ben two years before the Cooke affair, understood this about Bradlee. In his great book, The Powers That Be, Halberstam wrote, “his own personal self-image, developed long before he went to the Post, simply did not permit him to show fear.”

Bradlee has been criticized for being too chummy with JFK and praised for the intrepid investigative reporting that brought down Richard Nixon. Watergate inspired a new generation of journalists, me included, to come to Washington and be investigative watchdogs. But lately, watching the scandal-obsessed Washington pack snarl at every pol’s ankles, it’s hard not to wonder about the proper relationship between the press and the president. Ben’s legacy as the most consequential editor of our times should provoke some thoughtful questions about this.

Ben had total joie de journalism. It oozed from every pore. No one had more fun chasing a big story and no editor made the chase more fun. He wrote his first newspaper story at age 15 as a copy boy for the Beverly Evening Times in Massachusetts. But the reporter was a born editor and during his tenure at the Post the paper won 23 Pulitzers, doubled its staff and nearly doubled its circulation. The Bradlee period was truly a golden time.

Asked by the Harvard Business Review to describe his management style in 2010, he said, “Everyone knew I had an overpowering interest in finding out the truth and getting it in the paper. They saw what made me tick, what made me smile, what turned me on. I surrounded myself with people who shared my fervor.”

Bena & Jill -- 2 shot
Henry Griggs

One of the sadnesses of my career is that I never worked for him. I met him when I first moved to Washington in 1983 and was profiling his pal, the super lawyer Edward Bennett Williams. Ben and Ed and their third wheel, Art Buchwald, had a lunch club that had only one reason for being: to keep other people out. Katharine Graham was desperate to join, but she kept getting blackballed by one of the Three Musketeers. Finally, on her 65th birthday, she was invited in. But there was a catch: club rules required members to leave at 65. Ben roared when he told the story.

Ben loved women. Around Mrs. Graham, it was said, his walk was even jauntier and his sexy voice became raspier. He was just crazy about his wife, Sally Quinn.

He got a kick out of my climb at the Times. When I hit a rough patch there in 2003, Ben advised me to come to the Post. We met one afternoon at his favorite table in the bar at the Jefferson Hotel. Mostly, we gossiped and laughed. If he had still been in the editor’s chair, I wouldn’t have been able to resist.

One of the final times I saw him was at the last party he and Sally threw. He had started to fail and was sitting in the kitchen, surrounded by a coterie of loyal friends. Everyone still wanted to sit next to him for awhile. He was luminescent.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME remembrance

Benjamin Bradlee, Esteemed Editor of the Washington Post, Dies at 93

Became famous for editing the newspaper during its groundbreaking coverage of the Watergate scandal

Benjamin Bradlee, who edited the Washington Post during the period when the newspaper published articles based on the Pentagon Papers and broke the Watergate story which eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, has died at age 93.

Bradlee helmed the Post from 1968 to 1991, and became famous after the paper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, when burglaries of the Democratic National Committee offices were linked to Nixon’s office, setting off a chain of events that eventually forced the president to resign. He was played by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men, which told the story of the Post’s discovery and coverage of the scandal.

He became close friends with John F. Kennedy when he was assigned to cover the his presidential campaign for Newsweek, but he had an advantage over the other reporters; he lived on the same Georgetown block as the young candidate, and they shared a back alley.

“I don’t want to disappoint too many people, but … the number of interesting political, historical conversations we had, you could stick in your ear,” recalled Bradlee about his friend. “We talked about girls.”

Bradlee’s Newsweek remembrance of JFK after his assassination became a book, That Special Grace. In 2013, Bradlee was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

TIME Media

Conservatives Cluster Around Fox News, While Liberals Vary News Sources

And liberals make fickle friends

Pew Research Center

The most ideologically extreme Americans, both liberals and conservatives, have this much in common: they dominate our politics and drive our political discourse with far more influence than people with more mixed views.

But when it comes to where they get their information the two groups could hardly be further apart, according to a survey out Tuesday from the Pew Research Center’s Journalism project.

The survey results reflect a longterm trend of balkanization in American media, as the Internet and cable television, by giving people a wider array of choices, opened the way for news outlets increasingly tailored to particular ideological positions.

Nearly half of “consistent conservatives” go to Fox News as their main source of news about politics and government. Though the same group distrusts 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey, 88% of them trust Fox News. They’re more likely to have friends with the same political views and more likely than any other ideological group to hear views in line with their own expressed on Facebook.

Compare that with “consistent liberals,” who depend on a wider variety of news sources—chiefly CNN, MSNBC, NPR and The New York Times—and who tend to trust news outlets much more so than conservatives. Perhaps because they’re more likely to see political views that diverge from their own on Facebook, consistent liberals are more likely than anyone else to de-friend someone on a social network, or even end a good old fashioned brick-and-mortar friendship, over a political disagreement.

If you yearn for a less contentious, ideologue-driven version of American politics it’s not all bad news.

Pew Research Center

A strong majority of people who pay attention to political posts on Facebook (98%) say that at least some of the time they see posts with views that differ from their own. And among web users Facebook is far and away the biggest social media site and among one of the top sources of political news.

TIME Media

Leave Renée Zellweger’s Face Alone!

2014 ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards - Arrivals
Renée Zellweger arrives at the 2014 ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 20, 2014 in Beverly Hills, Ca. Steve Granitz—WireImage/Getty Images

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

There is a very real reason why the actress would want a whole new face: we were all incredibly mean to her old one

Last night Renée Zellweger did something totally normal for a celebrity of her magnitude: she went to a red carpet event. But something different happened when the photos from her trip in front of the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards step and repeat hit the wires. Everyone freaked the hell out. “Is that you, Renée Zellweger?” CNN asked. “What has Renée Zellweger done to her face?” the Daily Mail cried. “Stop what you are doing: Renée Zellweger has a whole new face,” Metro implored, past the stage of mourning where we ask questions and are moving toward acceptance.

Yes, it’s clear that Zellweger has had some work done. Welcome to Hollywood. I would like to introduce you to Meg Ryan’s lips, Nicole Kidman’s forehead, and everything that is currently going on with Bruce Jenner. The reaction to Zellweger’s big reveal seems more than a little bit unjust.

Most outlets are taking the tack of asking readers if her new look is good or bad, and there are some people that will fall on either side of the debate. However, the subtext to this question is always, “Holy hell, what did this lady do to her face and how is she going to fix it?!” If it was a text from your best friend, it would have about 100 times more exclamation points and probably the emoji of the girl crossing her arms in front of her body. Everyone is very concerned that Zellweger doesn’t look like herself anymore. Her signature squint is gone, her lips seem a little more full and less pursed, and her cheeks just aren’t quite as puffy as they used to be.

It’s always dicey for an actress to mess with her looks. When her face is unrecognizable, it distracts from her work as an actress (and any lack of mobility in the face can certainly make it harder for her to ply her craft). Why would Zellweger want to look like someone else when she makes money partially off of her appearance? That seems to be a bad decision. Just ask Jennifer Grey’s nose and Kate Gosselin’s new haircut. (Actually, please don’t ask Kate Gosselin anything, it’s better that we just keep on ignoring her for the time being.)

But there is a very real reason why Zellweger would want a whole new face: we were all incredibly mean to her old one. Here is a post likening her to Mr. Magoo and making multiple stabs at her appearance. Here is a mock up for Renée Zellweger’s Extreme Sour Lemon Candy, making fun of her pout and squint. Here is her Urban Dictionary entry calling her a “cure for a case of the boners.” Here is Dlisted saying she looks “like she’s staring directly into the sun after swallowing a cup of Sour Patch Kids dust” right before retiring her nickname Squinty Zellweger forever. Here is me making a really lame cheap shot on her back in 2009. Oh, I have been mean to the Zellweger myself, and I should be ashamed.

Now, you wonder why Zellweger would want to do such extreme things to her face. Maybe it’s a reaction to the extreme things that are constantly said about her old one. If people always made fun of a giant mole on my neck, I would have that removed too. If I was bullied for being overweight, I might think about going on an extreme diet just to shut the haters up. Maybe Zellweger did the same thing and, now that she fixed the squint and pout that have created a million “looks like she’s having an allergic reaction to shrimp” jokes, everyone is being just as mean.

The celebrity media is fascinated with bodies. Headlines are constantly made out of “baby bumps” and “bikini bodies,” as if these aren’t real people but instead lumps of flesh for our inspection, like breeding animals at the state farm. (The women certainly get it worse, but we’re increasingly critical of men without Gosling-esque abdominal muscles, too. )

I sincerely hope that the media’s fascination with Zellweger’s appearance didn’t lead to her undergoing such extensive surgery. As we’ve seen, her detractors aren’t going to let up. There is no appeasing the beast. The only solution is to disappear from public view entirely. Harsh scrutiny is the price anyone has to pay to pursue a very public career and we shrug our shoulders and say they should know that. But is that clause in the unspoken celebrity contract really non-negotiable?

Maybe we should just leave Renée Zellweger’s face alone altogether? It’s her body and she can do whatever she wants to it. If she wants to get “I am Bridget Jones” tattooed across her forehead, then she should feel free to go ahead and do it. Sure, her changes might cost her some jobs, but that is a decision that she made and she can deal with it.

Now that her new face has been revealed, we’ll all get used to it, just like we have Cher’s, Madonna’s, Kenny Roger’s, and the countless iterations of Dolly Parton’s and Joan Rivers’ (RIP). Pointing, gawking, and screaming about it says more about our media, our vanity, and the type of society that would lead a star to completely rearrange the most personal part of her body than it ever will about Renée Zellweger.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New Yorkmagazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

Read next: Renée Zellweger: ‘I’m Glad Folks Think I Look Different’

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

What John Grisham Got Right About Child Pornography

2014 Bookexpo America - Day 3
Author John Grisham attends the 2014 Bookexpo America at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on May 31, 2014 in New York City. Taylor Hill—Getty Images

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a syndicated columnist.

There is clearly something wrong with a justice system in which people who look at images of child rape can be punished more severely than people who rape children

Last week John Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers, triggered a storm of online criticism by arguing in an interview with The Telegraph that criminal penalties for possessing child pornography are unreasonably harsh. Grisham, who has since apologized, spoke rather loosely, overstating the extent to which honest mistakes account for child porn convictions and the extent to which those convictions expand the prison population.

But he was right on two important points: People who download child pornography are not necessarily child molesters, and whatever harm they cause by looking at forbidden pictures does not justify the penalties they often receive.

Under federal law, receiving child pornography, which could mean downloading a single image, triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of five years—the same as the penalty for distributing it. Merely looking at a picture can qualify someone for the same charge, assuming he does so deliberately and is aware that web browsers automatically make copies of visited sites. In practice, since the Internet nowadays is almost always the source of child pornography, this means that viewing and possession can be treated the same as trafficking.

The maximum penalty for receiving or distributing child porn is 20 years, and federal sentencing guidelines recommend stiff enhancements based on very common factors, such as using a computer, possessing more than 600 images (with each video clip counted as 75 images) and exchanging photos for something of value, including other photos. In a 2009 analysis, federal public defender Troy Stabenow showed that a defendant with no prior criminal record and no history of abusing children would qualify for a sentence of 15 to 20 years based on a small collection of child pornography and one photo swap, while a 50-year-old man who encountered a 13-year-old girl online and lured her into a sexual relationship would get no more than 4 years.

Nine out of 10 federal child-porn prosecutions involve “non-production offenses”: downloading or passing along images of sexual abuse, as opposed to perpetrating or recording it. As a result of congressional edicts, the average sentence in such cases rose from 54 months in 2004 to 95 months in 2010, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The penalties have become so severe, the commission noted, that judges frequently find ways to dodge them, resulting in wildly inconsistent sentences for people guilty of essentially the same conduct. In a 2010 survey, 71% of federal judges said mandatory minimums for receiving child pornography are too long.

State sentences can be even harsher. Dissenting from a 2006 decision in which the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a 200-year sentence for a former high school teacher caught with child pornography, Vice Chief Justice Rebecca Berch noted that the penalties for such offenses were more severe than the penalties for rape, second-degree murder, and sexual assault of a child younger than 12.

These draconian sentences seem to be driven largely by the assumption that people who look at child pornography are all undiscovered or would-be child molesters. But that is not true.

The sentencing commission found, based on criminal records and additional information in presentencing reports, that one in three federal defendants convicted of non-production offenses in the previous decade had known histories of “criminal sexually dangerous behavior” (including prior child pornography offenses). Tracking 610 defendants sentenced in fiscal years 1999 and 2000 for 8.5 years after they were released, the USSC found that 7% were arrested for a new sexual offense.

Even allowing for the fact that many cases of sexual abuse go unreported (as indicated by victim surveys), it seems clear that some consumers of child pornography never abuse children. “There does exist a distinct group of offenders who are Internet-only and do not present a significant risk for hands-on sex offending,” says Karl Hanson, a senior research officer at Public Safety Canada who has co-authored several recidivism studies.

Another argument for sending people who look at child pornography to prison, emphasized by the Supreme Court in its 1990 decision upholding criminal penalties for mere possession, is that consumers create a demand that encourages production. Yet any given consumer’s contribution to that demand is likely insignificant, and this argument carries much less weight now that people typically obtain child pornography online for free.

Defenders of harsh penalties for looking at child pornography also argue that viewing such images imposes extra suffering on victims of sexual abuse, who must live with the knowledge that strangers around the world can see evidence of the horrifying crimes committed against them. But again, any single defendant’s contribution to that suffering is apt to be very small.

Tellingly, people who possess “sexually obscene images of children,” such as “a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting”—production of which need not entail abuse of any actual children—face the same heavy penalties under federal law as people caught with actual child pornography. That provision, like the reaction to John Grisham’s comments, suggests these policies are driven by outrage and disgust rather than reason. There is clearly something wrong with a justice system in which people who look at images of child rape can be punished more severely than people who rape children.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a syndicated columnist.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

CNN and Other Turner Stations Pulled From Dish Network

It's the latest sign that the pay-TV business model is under strain

CNN, Cartoon Network and other stations owned by Turner Broadcasting were pulled from the Dish Network lineup late Monday after negotiations between the two companies stalled. The incident is the latest flare-up in the pay-TV industry as television distributors balk at paying increasingly high programming costs to networks.

“In the past year, DISH has successfully renewed agreements with many large content providers,” Warren Schlichting, DISH’s senior vice president of programming, said in a statement. “As a result, we are confident that we have offered a deal to Turner that reflects an appropriate value for our customers.”

Turner fired back by claiming that Dish was the one who had led to the blackout. “Turner has worked diligently for months to come to a fair agreement including multiple extensions and compromises, and it’s unfortunate that Dish is once again operating in a disruptive manner that takes away networks and programming from their customers,” the company, a subsidiary of Time Warner, said in a statement.

Dish Network has about 14 million pay-TV subscribers, making it one of the largest providers in the U.S.

Spats between pay-TV operators and network owners have gotten increasingly contentious as operators have begun to shed video subscribers in recent years. A blackout of CBS on Time Warner Cable last summer lasted about a month, and the cable operator Suddenlink dropped Viacom channels indefinitely at the start of October. In their statements, both Dish and Turner indicated that they are trying to come to an agreement soon.

With HBO and CBS having just announced that they will offer their channels directly to consumers who don’t have cable, negotiations over programming costs may grow even more heated in the future. The growing discord in the pay-TV industry indicates that massive, expensive bundle of one-hundred-plus channels that we’ve all grown accustomed to may not be long for this world.

TIME Apple

It’s Time to Seriously Start Expecting an Apple TV Again

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Images by Fabio—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Everything finally looks like it is falling into place

Apple’s Oct. 16 “It’s been way too long” event was supposed to be all about updating products that hadn’t been refreshed in a while. And it was. The Cupertino, Calif. company unveiled svelte new iPads, an ultra-high-resolution version of the iMac, an updated Mac mini, and a slew of software and service updates. CEO Tim Cook also said that a software development kit to help programmers make applications for the company’s upcoming smartwatch would be available in November, ahead of the much-anticipated device’s 2015 debut.

About ten minutes into his opening remarks, Cook put up an evolution of man-style slide showing Apple’s line of products, from the Watch through iPhone and iPad, laptops and desktops. (Scrub to 10:00 here to see it.) One could easily imagine the same slide with an additional product on the far right: a television. That is a rumor that has been around for so long, that it’s frankly grown tedious to think or talk about. Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson before he died that he’d long wanted to make a TV and had “finally cracked” the difficulty of creating a simple user interface. And, earlier this year, Cook told Charlie Rose that television “is one of those things that if we’re really honest is stuck back in the 70s…this is an area we continue to look at.” (It’s also a product Apple already made, sort of, in the early 1990s.)

What’s changed is that television is more ripe for disruption as the ecosystem of companies around it—cable providers, content creators—try to position themselves for the future. And, arguably, Apple’s clout and ability to disrupt TV is greater than ever. A number of developments in the last couple of weeks have given the idea of an Apple television set renewed luster. Consider that:

Apple has the display. The television-making business is no picnic; just ask Sony, which has lost nearly $8 billion in the last decade on TV’s alone. But the new iMac’s display—which has an extremely high resolution—is the kind of game-changer that consumers might be willing to spend more for.

Apple is calling the display a Retina 5K screen. The high-end 27‑inch iMac has four times as many pixels as the regular 27‑inch iMac display, some 14.7 million pixels. The company created its own timing controller to drive all those pixels and is using a new type of screen technology, an oxide TFT-based panel, to deliver extra brightness.

Cable companies are starting to unravel. Two back-to-back announcements this week suggest the television content business is starting to change. This had been Apple’s biggest obstacle to creating a television device with a radically better way of watching stuff. As my colleague Victor Luckerson put it earlier this week:

By making these channels available for purchase individually, CBS and HBO are embracing the “a la carte” TV model, in which viewers would be able to select the individual channels they want to pay for and ignore the rest. It’s a concept that makes intuitive sense in a world where songs, movies, books and news can be consumed individually, on the go and at little cost. But the model poses a huge threat to cable operators, network owners and even subscribers. If every network did what CBS and HBO are doing, cable and satellite operators would have the core part of their businesses wiped out.

HomeKit is the new “digital hub.” In 2001, Jobs organized the then-struggling company around a new strategy. The computer would become the hub for consumers’ various devices, cameras, music players, video recorders, et cetera. It worked. Today, Apple is working on HomeKit, a framework that lets the company’s devices control smart gadgets around your house. (For more on the smart home, read all of this special TIME issue.) One of a future Apple television’s killer features could be acting as a central nervous system for all the wired lightbulbs, thermostats and so on in your house.

Consumers want it. The current product called Apple TV, a $99 set-top box that can pipe in streaming content from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and other digital service providers, was denigrated as a “hobby” product by Steve Jobs in 2007. Last month, Cook said the device had gone far beyond that status and has some 20 million users.

And finally, Tim Cook’s Apple is ready. The company has shown it is willing to sign the death warrant for technologies it no longer finds useful. Not to mention place big bets in brand new areas where its success is far from guaranteed. Cook said this was “the strongest lineup of products Apple has ever had and soon you can wear that technology right on your wrist.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find that amended to add the center of the living room.

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