An Additional Factor!


William Overington

The seventh story in The Eutotokens of Learning, which is a collection of stories speculating on a future infrastructure for free to the end user distance education on the internet.

Copyright 1998 William Overington.

"But clockblocks were tolerated, even regarded with some affection, because they were part of the campaign to get the concept of free to the end user distance education onto the agenda as a seriously practical route for some of the distance education on the internet" says John.

Edith looks at him gloomily. She has asked John his opinion on adapting the clockblock concept to placing advertising material in learning packages.

"The message that appeared for the first ten seconds was 'A free usage block intended to encourage free to the end user distance education' not an advertisement for some commercial advertiser. Clockblocks are an important part of the historical culture of free to the end user distance education. They were the clip art of free to the end user distance education material when the concept of free to the end user distance education was largely regarded as something to know about, something in which to be mildly interested yet something which very few people were prepared to openly enthuse about."

Edith takes this in. She speaks.

"So, your opinion is that it is not the route to follow then?"

"Well, that's a policy decision for you and others."

"But you don't like the idea?"

"Well, not really. However, I appreciate the financial problems concerning the advertising revenue. Clearly something will have to be done. The problem is, how are you going to consult the membership without risking another massive drop in IFDEP's share price?"

"Yes, that is a problem" says Edith "I was rather foolish in promising consultation with the membership there and then. I got carried away."

"Well, why not telephone Jane Hove and tell her that you have realized that such a consultation with the membership could possibly affect IFDEP's share price again and that adapting clockblocks may not be such a good idea after all."

"Yes" says Edith "I'll do that. What do you think of the idea for the open day here and for the banquet ...." she hesitates and speaks a little sheepishly "and the 'show' that we talked about."

"Fine" enthuses John, perhaps a little self-consciously, "We can show advertisers what we do well enough, we can put on good displays and hold seminars. As for the banquet and the show, well, if IFDEP are paying for it all, well .... fine."

"Are you against it, the banquet and the show I mean?"

"No, not against it, I just wonder what good it will do. Yes, they may all enjoy themselves, they may feel that we have made a good effort to explain what we do and what we would like to do in the future and they may indeed feel that we are doing a splendid job and wish us every success." He pauses. He continues, his voice somewhat softer. "Yet, when it comes to the bottom line I fear that they will just not be willing to put any money into paying for advertising." He pauses. "Or, even if they are, it will be a very very small token amount so that they can get a bit of prestige from sponsoring education."

Edith looks even gloomier.

Edith's secretary enters the room. She speaks.

"I thought you might like to know that Ms Hove has telephoned. She sounds rather anxious."

"Thank you" says Edith. She looks at John who nods in reply and Edith returns to her office to ring Jane Hove.

"Jane, you were trying to telephone me" asks Edith half way between question and statement.

Jane Hove is despondent.

"I'm terribly sorry, David Albert has insisted that I ring you to ask that you do not consult your membership as you offered yesterday. He is very concerned that our share price may be affected again, and, frankly, I had wondered about that last night and ...."

Edith interrupts.

"Yes, I had realized the same, I was wondering how to tell you! I'm afraid that I got a bit carried away!"

"So did I!" says Jane. She continues "Unfortunately that is not all that I have to tell you. I am afraid that David Albert has said that IFDEP will not fund my idea of a banquet. He did say, if it is any comfort to you after such dismal news, that he likes the idea of the open day and publicising your work to potential advertisers and we will be pleased to put on a display stand."

There is a pause.

"Edith, is that alright, the display stand I mean?"

"Oh, certainly" says Edith, diplomacy to the fore!

Jane somewhat apologetically takes her leave. Edith looks into the distance. Edith is thinking.

'Where are we now then?' she thinks. 'The open day can go ahead and if IFDEP want some space to have a display stand, well, I'll not object, but frankly ....'

It is some time later and Edith has relayed the news to John.

"So, no banquet, no show' says John. "However, we can have the open day."

John pauses. He continues, looking rather solemn.

"Do you think, terrible to face though it is, that the utopian dream is going to go pear shaped."

"Perhaps it is" says Edith "Perhaps it is."

"Maybe free distance education on the internet supported by advertising revenue is just not stable" says John. "Just because we've both been enthusiastic for years and involved in it all for years and it was seeming to work does not mean that it is long term stable. I wonder what IFDEP will do."

"What?" asks Edith.

"Well, it was Jane Hove who came over here in crisis mode yesterday when you were quietly issuing display eutotokens. If we cannot get them out of a crisis, sure, Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited may well go out of business, but, I suggest, rather later than IFDEP will go out of business."

He pauses. He adds.

"Do you think that you should suggest a meeting of the committee?"

A few days later. The meeting at IFDEP headquarters is solemn. It is notionally a meeting of the committee and all the members are there, but there is no formal agenda. The unspoken agenda is that something needs to be done, but what?

David Albert introduces the meeting outlining the severe crisis of the shortage of advertising revenue. He asks if anyone has any ideas.

"I have an idea" says Henry Lambert. He continues.

"What if we become a movie or a television series and some of the revenue is used to fund free to the end user distance education."

David Albert looks puzzled.

"Well," continues Henry "at present we are all characters in a book, what if we were turned into a movie or a television series?"

Jane loses her temper. She turns on Henry.

"Are you back to that again! This is just too much!"

"No, wait" interjects Edith "Let us consider what Henry has to say."

Jane looks furiously at Edith.

Edith gently raises her hands as if to placate Jane's feelings while still wanting to hear what Henry has to say.

"It simply occurs to me that the goal is to achieve free distance education on the internet ...." adds Henry.

"Funded by advertising revenue." Jane interrupts.

"Yes, ideally" continues Henry "yet what if that goal is perceived as impractical and cannot be sustained? Is it best to stick closely to the original idea or to try to give it a chance by a variation on the original idea? It may be that, given extra funding as a result of revenue from a movie or a television series that the system can be stable and that the concept of the eutotoken based scheme can proceed."

"Who would get the money?" queries Edith.

"An independent trust fund that would invest the money and then use the income from the investments to buy advertising on free to the end user distance education schemes that are supported by advertising. There would then always be some advertising money about."

This mention of advertising money makes David Albert sit up and take notice. He leans forward and speaks.

"So, would IFDEP receive money or eutotokens?"

"Oh, money, as if the trust fund were an advertiser. You would have to win the contract, yet the trust fund would have money that had to be spent on advertising in free to the end user distance education schemes supported by advertising revenue. The trust would be looking for value and the money would not necessarily go to IFDEP, it would be up to IFDEP to win the advertising contract."

"I'm not worried about competition" adds David Albert "IFDEP has a good product and I can win contracts when the money is there to be won."

Jane interrupts.

"This is ridiculous, it just creates all manner of logical paradoxes and ...."

"Quiet Jane, this is important" says David Albert somewhat firmly and sharply, then turns again to listen to Henry.

Jane looks shocked and looks at Edith in embarrassment.

Edith realizes that she clearly cannot pretend that she has not noticed, and looks uncharacteristically embarrassed herself.

"So how" asks David Albert "does this concept of openly talking about a movie and a television series resolve our present problems? What do we need to do? Do we need to set up a production company or something?"

"Oh no! We just carry on as normal and the matter of IFDEP finding advertising revenue is no longer an issue. And we have the open day and we have a banquet and we all have many adventures. And each time an adventure is shown on television more money goes to the trust fund and so the whole system goes on. You might even find that the money from the trust fund acts as a catalyst to you getting some real advertising revenue!"

David Albert is intrigued. He speaks.

"This money, from where does it come? Does the author give up his royalties or something? Do the actors and musicians work for nothing?"

"Not a chance!" adds Henry rather emphatically "The whole financing of the movie or television series will have to be worked out with the feature of setting up the trust fund built into it by the legal people. It will be quite an amount of money, far more than an author's royalties or the fees for the actors. There will need to be a board of independent trustees who administer the funds according to the rules, the trustees being professional trust fund administrators paid for their services. If a movie company or a television company wants to buy the rights, then they will want to do so with the special financial arrangements, for that is what makes the project so gloriously sparkling."

"So" says Jane to Henry, as people turn to look at her "You are only mentioning this out loud so as to seek to give credibility to the notion that the goal of free distance education on the internet is a goal that might just be achieved in real life. You are seeking to add an extra factor into the discussion so as to keep the concept alive as a possibility."

"Exactly" responds Henry "I may have slightly modified the original concept that the funding is entirely from advertising revenue, yet I have managed to keep my remarks within the realms of the free market without needing to resort to suggesting state funding."

Jane looks around her and sees Edith gently nodding in agreement.

"So" asks John "Does that mean that I can proceed with the idea of the replica third world school in our grounds so that we can show visitors to the open day how the one way broadcasting of software from a direct broadcast satellite can be used for education."

Everyone nods.

"And does that mean that we can all get back into story mode so that we can proceed to a real adventure about setting up the open day and the banquet!" asks a very harassed looking Jane Hove.