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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pauses as he speaks to the media outside Ellingham Hall, the home of his friend, journalist Vaughan Smith, in Norfolk, England December 17, 2010. (PAUL HACKETT/Reuters)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pauses as he speaks to the media outside Ellingham Hall, the home of his friend, journalist Vaughan Smith, in Norfolk, England December 17, 2010. (PAUL HACKETT/Reuters)

Globe Editorial

Julian Assange proves some information is still worth paying for Add to ...

He didn't want to do it. But he says he had no choice.

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, recently told The Sunday Times of London that he has agreed to a book deal worth a cumulative $1.7-million. "I don't want to write this book, but I have to," he said. "I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat." (As if to emphasize his ambivalence, the Times photographed Mr. Assange sitting on a fence.)

Raising money quickly has become a necessity for Mr. Assange. WikiLeaks was recently cut off from its online sources of income, and he must also defend himself against accusations of sexual assault in Sweden. And so while this Internet provocateur may have only reluctantly consented to write an autobiography, his choice of money-maker should hearten those opposed to him. His decision seems a clear vote of confidence in the traditional information business - something Mr. Assange ostensibly set out to destroy.

The "radical transparency" practised by WikiLeaks has made it much more difficult for governments, corporations or anyone else to keep secrets. But for all the walls he has torn down, Mr. Assange's new contract proves that some information is still worth paying for. Putting his autobiography in book format, whether printed or electronic - and charging admission to read it - is an obvious recognition of this fact. So why are books still relevant in a WikiLeaks world?

The release of hundreds of thousands of U.S. embassy cables through WikiLeaks has provided an incredibly detailed look at the inner workings of the U.S. diplomacy. But such a massive dump of information without context is entirely meaningless. Information requires order. Books - in whatever format readers prefer - serve the valuable purpose of sorting through large swaths of information, retrieving what is relevant and putting it in manageable form. This is a need that transcends technology. And it is because of this that readers will be prepared to pay to read Mr. Assange's book, even if the raw material exists for free on the Internet.

Whether he wants to admit it or not, Mr. Assange's seven-figure deal stands as tangible proof that books will be with us for a long time to come, and that they're still worth paying for.

 

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