How to Pay the Writer
May 3, 2010 1:48 AM   Subscribe

Writers get pirated too - so how can they still earn money? Here are some ideas, but are they workable?

Perhaps this AskMefi asker can get his answer?
posted by divabat (184 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Important points you need to be aware of before going further:

1. In the pre-internet age, traditional dead-tree books effectively came with DRM built in, in a manner quite unlike LP or CD records -- it's not easy to take a book and make a usable duplicate. (If you don't believe me, you're welcome to go pick a fight with a photocopier.)

2. A book is not the same thing as a manuscript (whistle-stop tour explaining how books are made and why the cost of producing an ebook edition tends towards 90% of the cost of producing a paper edition -- counterintuitive, I know).
posted by cstross at 2:17 AM on May 3, 2010 [11 favorites]


1. In the pre-internet age, traditional dead-tree books effectively came with DRM built in, in a manner quite unlike LP or CD records -- it's not easy to take a book and make a usable duplicate. (If you don't believe me, you're welcome to go pick a fight with a photocopier.)
It's a lot harder, but it's not impossible. I mean, someone is doing it, because you can actually find a lot of pirated books online these days. Either scanned PDFs or (I assume) OCRd documents for older books. If you take the binding off a regular book you can run it through a form-feed scanner.

You can find a lot of textbooks, and I guess it probably makes economic sense for students to pool their money, buy a book and scan it, but fiction seems to be available too.

But I don't think it's caught on the same way that music and movie piracy have, you rarely here people in the industry complain about it as something that's happening now, it's always concerns about the future when eBooks become more popular.

Right now people who pay $300 for a kindle can probably afford to buy a bunch of $10-$20 books, but what happens when there are e-ink displays or tablets for $20? Then you're going to start getting people who are going to be more interested in saving a few bucks by finding some PDF instead of buying books from an online store.
posted by delmoi at 3:24 AM on May 3, 2010


whistle-stop tour explaining how books are made and why the cost of producing an ebook edition tends towards 90% of the cost of producing a paper edition -- counterintuitive, I know

Counterintuitive is right. And I don't seem to gather the 90% figure from the (fascinating and highly interesting nonetheless) link. I mean, two or three of those steps seem to be made moot, not to mention the greatly reduced material costs of ebook production. Could you elaborate a bit?
posted by JHarris at 3:34 AM on May 3, 2010


mean, two or three of those steps seem to be made moot, not to mention the greatly reduced material costs of ebook production

You're missing the fact that material costs are only a relatively small fraction of the cost of a real book. Also, which steps are made moot? The only ones I could see are shipping and printing and, as I said, printing and materials are only a small fraction of the cost. All the really expensive stuff is the same for an e-book or a physical book. Editors, marketing, etc.
posted by Justinian at 3:42 AM on May 3, 2010


Interestingly, TorrentFreak thinks that fiction ebook piracy was virtually non-existant until the iPad. eBook readers have been traditionally designed using eInk screens, which make reading easier, improve battery life, but lack flashy effects. Apple's insight that flashy effects will attract more readers than actual readability has apparently attracted more piracy too.

I'd expect these ebooks were actually always available via the specialty book sites like gigapedia.com, gigle.ws, etc., but now people are posting them on media pirate sites too. I'm certain virtually all university text books have been on gigapedia for years, well I've only once been disappointed by a gigapedia search. By comparison, thepiratebay returns only three results for the extremely common math term "algebraic", the gigapedia search for the more specific term "algebraic geometry" dies at their 1000 result max.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:42 AM on May 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


jeffburdges: you're looking in the wrong place -- try usenet. ebook piracy has been rife there for years.
posted by cstross at 3:49 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


There was plenty of ebook piracy on IRC too.
posted by divabat at 4:06 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've got one writer friend (a few reasonably well-selling books under his belt but now seemingly unable to get anything published) who's really singing the blues right now. A lot of writers are probably gonna have it increasingly tougher than musicians in this brave new world of the free download. At least musicians can still play live for some money. Writers gonna, what, go get on stage and talk, down at the local bar?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:28 AM on May 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


flapjax FTW.

The median age for first selling a novel is around 35 -- meaning the majority of working novelists are somewhere north of 50. It takes time to learn enough about human beings to have something interesting to say about them. It's also a profession that lends itself to introverts.

Some of us can perform on stage -- but most of us can't. To make matters worse, storytelling doesn't lend itself to large audiences and venues the way music does. The biggest event I've ever done was in front of a live audience of around a thousand people -- normal author readings are more likely to be 20-80 folks. And they're not going to pay the price of a hardback (half the price of the last gig I went to) to hear you talk for a couple of hours on stage.

There are winners, of course, as well as losers. So far I'm doing okay. And I try not to get worked up about pirates because, back before the internet came along, we had a special word for people who buy a single copy of a book and then encourage their friends to read it for free: we used to call them Librarians. (Yes, I know the argument about file-sharing allowing infinite replication. It still doesn't matter; if someone's willing to read a book from a library, or a downloaded warez copy, but not to pay for it, then they are not a lost sale -- they were never a sales prospect in the first place.)
posted by cstross at 4:33 AM on May 3, 2010 [33 favorites]


Obviously an ebook produced in the same proprietary, "expert"-laden, middle-man-strewn process as a physical book is going to cost a lot. That doesn't mean ebooks cost a lot, it means your process has a lot of overhead. In your list, you've got an author, an agent, an editor, a marketer, a copy editor, at least one and probably several artists, a typesetter, MORE marketers, salespeople, delivery people and accountants.

But if there's one thing that open source software has shown, it's that quality work can be done with a lot less "professionalism" (i.e. cost and inertia) than this.
posted by DU at 4:39 AM on May 3, 2010 [10 favorites]


we used to call them Librarians.

Also, we still do call them that.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:44 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


At least musicians can still play live for some money. Writers gonna, what, go get on stage and talk, down at the local bar?

Well, if you read the stuff over at BoingBoing on this subject, yes, that's exactly how they expect writers will earn their living in this "information wants to be free" age. Jetting all over the map, giving lectures and talks to any and all groups that will have them. In the future, apparently, creative people will pay their bills by doing everything other than what they're creative at. I'm not sure where the incentive is in there.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:45 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


You're missing the fact that material costs are only a relatively small fraction of the cost of a real book. Also, which steps are made moot? The only ones I could see are shipping and printing and, as I said, printing and materials are only a small fraction of the cost. All the really expensive stuff is the same for an e-book or a physical book. Editors, marketing, etc.

The specific steps mentioned that don't seem to apply are binding, returns, pulping, and making large print runs. There is also the lessened risk of not having to print a large run that might sell only very little. Typesetting is something that one might expect to eventually go away, but is probably an ingrained part of the current system.

If material costs are such a small part of the system, then why do hardcovers cost so much more than paperbacks? Really, there must be some sizable economic advantage to publishing ebooks above paper books, or else why would publishers be interested? Or are they not?

(Not intended as an accusatory comment here, I get the feeling there is something I'm missing.)
posted by JHarris at 4:47 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


When you buy a hardback you're paying for early access. For most books with a hardcover version (like fiction or popsci stuff) that version precedes the softcover version by up to a year. So you want to read the new Dan Brown novel the week it's published? You pay up. If you can wait, you get it cheaper. Wait long enough and the prices trends toward zero. (Remainders, cheap paperbacks, "classics" etc.)
posted by chavenet at 5:01 AM on May 3, 2010


A physical book is a thing, a fetishistic item with texture I feel on the cover, with pages I can turn and words I can underline.

I have seen comments like this in many articles extolling the virtues of a physical book over an electronic one. Maybe the underlining point is a valid one, I do not notate my books all that much. But I have not read articles which mentioned how much easier it is to handle an ebook. You can read a paperback with some difficulty with one hand, but you can't turn pages too. With my iPad I can lay it on the table and eat breakfast without having to weigh the pages down with the salt and pepper shakers like a regular book.
posted by digsrus at 5:03 AM on May 3, 2010 [11 favorites]


If material costs are such a small part of the system, then why do hardcovers cost so much more than paperbacks?

Price discrimination.

In publishing, price discrimination is accomplished through “windowing.” Traditionally, the hardcover comes out first, at the highest price, so price-insensitive customers, whose thrift is outstripped by their impatience, are enticed to shell out. Once that market is exhausted, the paperback comes along, and price-sensitive customers put their money in the pot. Some customers, of course, would buy the hardcover regardless of whether there was a cheaper option available, but publishers (rightly) believe that if paperbacks and hardcovers went on sale on the same day a sizable fraction of the hardcover market would buy the cheaper paperback.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:07 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


If material costs are such a small part of the system, then why do hardcovers cost so much more than paperbacks? Really, there must be some sizable economic advantage to publishing ebooks above paper books, or else why would publishers be interested?

Hardcovers cost more because it's a different market: people who want the book NOW will pay a premium. But then you produce a cheaper edition later to get the sales to people who are prepared to pay less. Now, you want to sell to eBook readers because they're a new (maybe) market segment. Segmenting your market and charging what each segment will bear is the basics of marketing: look at Microsoft Office pricing, or varieties of cars, or produce in your local supermarket.

Because you don't charge what it costs to make something, you charge what you can get people to pay. The market brings selling cost closer to production cost over time through competition, not through reductions in production cost.

The complexity comes in because we're not talking about a market for widgits, where if Company A makes a HUGE profit on them then Company B will enter the market and make widgits too and compete the profits away by charging less. We're talking about a market where Company A has an artificial state-granted monopoly on making widgits (copyright) so Company B cannot enter the market. So Company A's profits do not get competed away, and the gap between production costs and profit remains large, and so we end up saying "hey, why doesn't price reflect cost?", and we get piracy. See also, for example, smuggling to evade duties, counterfeiting, and people using Microsoft Home Edition Office at work.

So price is not set by cost. It's set by competition. It's complicated by the problems inherent in the artificiality of the market for intellectual property goods. The state is attempting to buck the market and prevent entrants. Piracy is the result. But the state's motives are not unreasonable: intellectual goods are a Good Thing and if we come up with a compensatory mechanism for their creators then this will produce more of them. The problem is that the cost of evading this state-granted monopoly is now approaching zero while the cost of producing the intellectual property goods is non-zero - writers have to eat. So profit turns negative, and writers wait tables to survive.

What's the solution? Logically if we can get the author paid for the first copy of a book, and nothing thereafter, then the difference between cost and price matches throughout the life of the good, and we won't get any piracy and authors will still write books. How on earth do we make that happen? I have absolutely no idea. I mean, I'll PayPal cstross £10 as my contribution to his next book if he agrees to let me pirate it off the Internet, but that model doesn't scale and is too prone to people free-riding...
posted by alasdair at 5:11 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, we still do call them that.

Whatever, grampa! I'm not a librarian, I'm a Deluxe Infonician Proselvangelist! Those folks aren't ILL staff, they're Contentualized Retrieval Medianauts! The catalogers are fired! Up is down, black is white, and web is 2.0 in the brave new world of Library Science!

I mean, Leveraged Information and Content Science!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:13 AM on May 3, 2010 [10 favorites]


Since cstross is reading this thread, I'll use a real life example.
I heard about his writing on MeFi. I checked out one of his titles from the library (sadly, they only had one book then). It was great.
I then searched for other titles. My local chain bookstore could order in some titles at $25+.
The Internet gave me a pirate version of Accelerando for free (which he later gave away free legitimately).
Now The Book Depositary will deliver me paperbacks of 90% of his back catalogue for about $8 each, so for Xmas I got a box full.
I've also since read another title via the library, and another e-book called Scratch Monkey I'm reading on my iPhone for free via Stanza (I assume legitimately).
I read a fair bit, about half from the library and half purchased, usually from second hand sources, or the bargain bin.
I don't kid myself cstross has received more than a dollar or two from me for half a dozen books read - but if $25 hardbacks were the only way to read him I probably would have bought nothing and relied on the library and assorted online freebies.
Sure, there is a hard core of readers who buy from the best seller lists, or first run hard backs, but I can't fathom there are many that are happy to drop $25 for a hardback who will suddenly wait around for a poorly OCR'd ebook some indefinite time in the future.
Book pirates are the people who can't afford expensive books, and ebook filesharing is displacing libraries, borrowing from friends and the bargain bin, not the purchasers of first run hardbacks.
posted by bystander at 5:13 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


For physical reading, trade paperback is superior to both hardcover (too unwieldy) and mass market paperback (margins too small, too fragile for long-term use).
posted by orthogonality at 5:15 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


In your list, you've got an author, an agent, an editor, a marketer, a copy editor, at least one and probably several artists, a typesetter, MORE marketers, salespeople, delivery people and accountants.

Oh yeah, writing without editors works out real well.
posted by kmz at 5:17 AM on May 3, 2010


Oh yeah, writing without editors works out real well.

It's possible to do, although I did not suggest it.
posted by DU at 5:23 AM on May 3, 2010


The catalogers are fired!

To be fair, catalogers should probably be caged, not fired. Otherwise we will have gangs of feral catalogers roaming the landscape, and that will not be pretty.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:23 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


To be fair, catalogers should probably be caged, not fired. Otherwise we will have gangs of feral catalogers roaming the landscape, and that will not be pretty.

Sally Struthers looking all sad in front of a grainy black and white picture of a tattered cataloger picking dirty MARC records out of a trashcan.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:34 AM on May 3, 2010 [11 favorites]


DU: But if there's one thing that open source software has shown, it's that quality work can be done with a lot less "professionalism" (i.e. cost and inertia) than this.

Wrong.

Recent research shows that on open source projects, roughly 75% of the work is contributed by programmers doing it on behalf of their employers, who want some feature or other supported -- for example, new device drivers for the Linux kernel, or security patches for Apache. Other projects are funded by obscure but not-unbusinesslike routes -- the Mozilla Foundation by selling search engine placement in their search bar (as I understand it), or OpenOffice being maintained by Sun (and now Oracle) in order to Stick It To The Man get up Microsoft's nose.

And if you think Open Source is free of inertia, tell me when X11R8 is due for release?
posted by cstross at 5:46 AM on May 3, 2010 [13 favorites]


it's not easy to take a book and make a usable duplicate.

When I was six, I copied out a Hong Kong Phooey Little Golden book. I traced every picture, wrote out every word, replicating the font, including the serifs, with a black biro. I coloured it in. Then I gave the book back to my friend.

When I was 11, I did the same with a copy of the manual for Rambo for the Commodore 64, having painstakingly dubbed the tape. I also copied the cover and made an identical label, all by hand with pen and paper. I would do this for Outrun, Wizball, Barbarian, Druid...

Last week I used my office photocopier to make a full colour, OCRd, searchable PDF of a chapter from a text book (which I own, but which I prefer to read on my netbook on the bus). It took about a minute. The copier helpfully straightened the pages, removed the edges, separated the pages and so on, then emailed the PDF to my Outlook account.

Today I snapped a picture of a recipe in a magazine in Borders with my phone.

Copying anything has always been trivial for somebody with free time and motivation (or cheap time and few alternatives for earning a living with it).
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:49 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


In the future, apparently, creative people will pay their bills by doing everything other than what they're creative at. I'm not sure where the incentive is in there.

In the fairly recent past, too. Quoth brother Hedberg:

I got into comedy to do comedy, which is weird, I know. When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say “Alright, you’re a standup comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.” They want me to do things that are related to comedy but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though I was a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook and they said “Alright, you’re a cook. Can you farm?”
posted by mintcake! at 5:49 AM on May 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


Today I snapped a picture of a recipe in a magazine in Borders with my phone.

I work for a big ol' chain bookstore. If we see you taking cell photos of copyrighted material we have to ask you to stop. If you don't stop we have to ask you to leave. Please, please don't do this. We are 100% not trying to be jerks.
posted by mintcake! at 5:52 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Forgot to add:

There was plenty of ebook piracy on IRC too.

Was? Jump on IRC now and see how many of Amazon's current top ten bestsellers (fiction and non-fiction) are available in #bookwarez. These things are cut out of their spines and thrown through the office's magic all-dancing photocopier within days of being released. The people who do it are intrinsically motivated - external rewards, economic costs and the like don't even factor into it.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:52 AM on May 3, 2010


If we see you taking cell photos of copyrighted material we have to ask you to stop.

I memorised another recipe (a cocktail - short and easy). Do you have to pry it out of my brain with a soldering iron? What about when I take photos of book covers so I remember to Google them (or buy them on Amazon) or even buy them from you later?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:55 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eh... colour me sceptical here.

I've pirated books before. It's difficult.

Unless you're looking for a book that's old and reasonably popular, it's damn near impossible. It's not like movies or music or TV shows where you can torrent it the day (sometimes hour) it comes out - it takes a lot of Googling to get an ebook, or perhaps one needs to peruse specialized sites I haven't come across yet. It's frustrating, because every time I pirate a book it's because it's just released and I can't find it but I must read it now. Argh. It's hard, it's slow, I'd rather buy the damn book.

(That sais, I am the kind of book pirate who will download the book illegally and then buy the hardcover anyway when I can get my hands on it. The publishing industry earns a lot of money from me regardless.)
posted by Xany at 5:58 AM on May 3, 2010


or even buy them from you later?

As if! ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:59 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


For me, one of the great pleasures in life is a glass of wine, a book, and a hot bath. I can and have accidentally dropped my book in the bath while unwinding from the day. If I drop my paperback, I just need to go buy another. If I drop my ereader, I'm suddenly out several hundred dollars and have electricity coursing through the water.

I never have to worry about the amount of charge remaining on my book. I can toss my book in my purse and not worry about damaging its delicate cover. I can drop my book. I can take my book to the beach and the sand and salt air will not destroy it. I can loan my book to a friend and then encourage them to buy their own damn copy and return mine.

I can own my book, secure in the knowledge that it will not disappear in the night. I can buy a book, with cash, and never have anyone know that I like to read Nora Roberts novels. I own a few ebooks, mainly OoP roleplaying games, and it's very difficult to find what I need to find quickly. Readers just can't replace books for me yet -- they make reading harder for me rather than easier.
posted by Concolora at 6:00 AM on May 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


cstross: A book is not the same thing as a manuscript [followed by explanation of the costs of producing books].

Then, and I genuinely mean this with respect and good will, perhaps we need to think about changing how we produce books, then, so the costs reflects the value. There aren't a lot of elevator operators these days, either, and yet lifts still work, we all avoid the stairs, etc. etc.

I'm not trying to trivialise the work that goes into producing and selling a published novel; indeed though I'm not a novelist or fiction writer myself, I am quite familiar if not intimate with the process. But I have trouble weeping for companies that have successfully fucked both consumers and producers over, by and large, for decades, and continue clinging to an increasingly outmoded production and business model at the expense of the goodwill and/or wellbeing of both their customers, and their writers.

The idea that modern, western publishing as we know it is the only publishing model that's effective is, well, outlandish to say the least. And as former journalist myself, I feel at peace when saying that being paid to write is neither an inalienable right, nor necessarily a prerequisite for top quality prose.

I look forward to the future: the workers have seized the modes of production!
posted by smoke at 6:03 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Recent research shows that on open source projects, roughly 75% of the work is contributed by programmers doing it on behalf of their employers, who want some feature or other supported...

I said that it was possible to do quality work with less cost and inertia. You just proved that at least 25% of the work on huge projects like the kernel and Apache are done that way, so thanks for proving my point. Although I dispute your numbers and/or their relevance. Did this research even look at projects that only scratch itches for 2 or 3 people? And does the fact that work is done by programmers with "real" jobs necessarily disprove my claim that it is less costly and inertia-y?

More to the point, how would this apply to writing? Would big companies be hiring writers to contribute passages to a wikipedia-like novel? (Sounds like a good idea for dystopian story, actually.) I think I'm envisioning something a little more small scale and/or long tail. Independent musicians already put stuff out there with a little paypal type link, why can't writers do the same?

And to forestall the inevitable "but you can't feed your kids on $20/month": Indeed, I agree, the past was wonderful but now it is gone. No one owes Big Media a living and technological progress is not going to halt, or civil rights be eroded, to make it so.

And if you think Open Source is free of inertia, tell me when X11R8 is due for release?

I do not think that.
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


it's not easy to take a book and make a usable duplicate

Hate to disagree with you, cstross, but delmoi is right -- it seems there are quite a few people out there with automated scanners who are perfectly willing to slice off the bindings and scan in entire books. I've written more books than Little Miss Twilight has, but of course I'm not nearly as popular. Still, someone out there has bothered to take the time to scan in entire 100+ page books I've written on felting and spinning, and offered them up on various download sites. I've contacted my publishers about them when I find them (usually by the title popping up in a Google Alert), but they haven't been able to do anything about it.

The one tactic I have found effective now that I'm self-publishing (after 12 books with big publishers and seeing how much money I made them compared to what I made...sigh) is the "personalization" one from the above posts -- I write about the process of making the book, I have an entire About page on my publishing website that explains why I think it's important to produce books that people actually want, etc.

(I was also sick of fighting with publishers who thought something was too weird, then came running back the second B&N asked for That Exact Same Thing, or who wanted me to turn a book about a technical topic into a 101-level pattern book with incidental tech -- we're self-pubbing that one next after turning down a $20,000 advance to do a bastardized version of it...and our online class on the subject sold out immediately and has a giant waitlist, so I think it's fair to say the book version is going to sell fairly well, too)

But I digress. The other point I wanted to make is that the publishers I've worked with were far too tech-resistant. People pirate for a lot of different reasons, one of which is getting the book easily. I have readers abroad who don't want to pay ungodly shipping or can't otherwise get their hands on it. Problem solved. My next book will be available in paperback, PDF, .mobi and .epub. Many, if not most, of the electronic editions are being ordered by people in Australia, Germany, England, Denmark, you name it... In 2008, my agent and I sent a letter to all the publishers I was working with then, more or less begging them to make my books available digitally. No dice.

The stupidest publisher of the bunch only sent me an email saying my book was now up for digitalization because (like I wasn't going to see through this one, guys?) I was about to get the rights back to it. I declined.

As for converting the book to the digital formats? Not difficult, if you have 1998-era HTML skills. I'm a one-woman show here without major financial backing and somehow I'm managing. So I don't want to hear sob stories from the publishers about how hard it is to digitize, and wah wah waaaah, either.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:19 AM on May 3, 2010 [19 favorites]


Concolora: Michael Moorcock once remarked that the ideal information-retrieval device would be portable, private, silent, usable with no extra equipment, able to scroll forward or backward at any user's chosen pace and need no external power source. "We have such a device," he concluded. "It's called a book."
posted by Paul Slade at 6:27 AM on May 3, 2010


That first article was refreshing in that it did a good job covering the issues, without taking an artificial stance or giving easy answers. I'm fed up with reading about how "the future implications of piracy are obviously that [at this point the author pulls an arbitrary something out of his/her ass]".

We're used to a good-enough business model that no longer reflects reality. All this time what we've actually been paying for is distribution, not creation. And so now distribution has become trivial, we're in trouble. The obvious (by which I mean impractical and untested) solution is to reward the act of creation. The ransom model looked promising, but hasn't taken off.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that the problem isn't coming up with a system that works - it's coming up with a system that will be widely accepted by people. It's a social problem, switching people over from traditional purchasing to this new stable state.

In my imaginary magical happy land, for example, people subscribe directly to creators. The financial support frees the creator to do their creating, and they thrive or fail based on the number and generosity of their subscribers. Keeping your subs happy and involved via work in progress reports and blogging would be an improtant aspect, just like most small creators now.

Of course the exact mechanism of this subscription system is reliable and universally accepted and I will not insult your intelligence by actually describing it in any useful detail.
posted by Lorc at 6:29 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can read a paperback with some difficulty with one hand, but you can't turn pages too.

Grow bigger hands, and practice more. I have held books and turned pages one-handed for years; even hard covers work ok as long as they aren't too heavy or stiff.

And as former journalist myself, I feel at peace when saying that being paid to write is neither an inalienable right, nor necessarily a prerequisite for top quality prose.

I agree that enough people seem compelled to write that paying them isn't a mandatory step.

However, I think that we lose something if we decide to no longer have a class of paid, more or less full-time, writers. They add something to society -- something quite civilized, as a matter of fact.

That said, I was reading an article about the state of the publishing world the other day, and there was the interesting (to me) point made that major publishing houses used to far, far leaner in terms of management -- being run by a few editors, an owner, and a support staff. That has changed dramatically in the past few decades, which is great for all the people in the new jobs, but also puts a lot of pressure on for bigger sales.
posted by Forktine at 6:32 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Michael Moorcock once remarked that the ideal information-retrieval device would be portable, private, silent, usable with no extra equipment, able to scroll forward or backward at any user's chosen pace and need no external power source. "We have such a device," he concluded. "It's called a book."

grep i rest my case
posted by DU at 6:32 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Grow bigger hands, and practice more. I have held books and turned pages one-handed for years...

Same here and I don't have particularly large hands.

With my iPad I can lay it on the table and eat breakfast without having to weigh the pages down with the salt and pepper shakers like a regular book.

No way am I putting a $N electronic device on the breakfast table while I'm eating. Spillage, greasy fingers, etc, etc.
posted by DU at 6:34 AM on May 3, 2010


A friend of mine is a professional writer (novelist / essayist). She won her country's major literary prize more than a decade ago. Her book was a best-seller, and she bought her house with the royalties. However, she never repeated this success: her books are well received by critics but the sales are small (even her prize-winning book is hard to find now). From what I understand, her income now comes mostly from public grants, articles for magazines, teaching in writing workshops and co-hosting literary shows. Of course, part of the reason (in addition to her writing talent) she's able to find work is that her name is still well-known due to the prize, so I don't know how sustainable this model is for new writers.

(btw, I've known people who borrowed books in the public library and used their company's photocopier to make their own copies, and that was in the 1970's. It was blatantly unethical, the quality was awful, the paper stank, the copies weighed a ton, but it didn't prevent them from doing so.)
posted by elgilito at 6:36 AM on May 3, 2010


No matter how low you make the price, no matter how many supposedly inessential people you cut from the book business, writers can't win when people insist on paying zero dollars for books.

Online piracy is something like WalMart would be if shoppers found out there was no effective security system between them and the door: "Uhhhh. You mean we can take as many as we can carry? And come back for more? No one is going to stop us? Well... these shoes were overpriced anyway. Stores are an outmoded delivery system. This place has made enough money off me in the past. Those rich bastards will never even notice. I'll try them and come back later to pay if I like them. We should pay proportional to our income, and I don't have a job. If they've been on the shelf a certain amount of time, they ought to become public property. It's not theft, it's re-appropriation of our rightful resources as citizens of this country. All people have a right to own barbecues and binoculars and batteries and Barbie dolls and basketballs and..."
posted by pracowity at 6:38 AM on May 3, 2010 [30 favorites]


Here is an interview with Paul Theroux about publishing and e-books. This jumped out at me:

Literary life used to be quite different in Britain in the years I lived there, from 1971 to 1989, because money was not a factor—no one made very much except from U.S. sales and the occasional windfall. And many of us were reviewing books or writing pieces for the same poorly paying magazines. Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Raban, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, and I—all well-paid today—were regulars on the New Statesman.

Unexplored in this brief interview are the other ways those authors were supported -- working spouses, government grants, university positions, etc.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 AM on May 3, 2010


In the future, apparently, creative people will pay their bills by doing everything other than what they're creative at. I'm not sure where the incentive is in there.

You would not believe how much Umberto Eco makes from those t-shirt sales.
posted by malocchio at 6:41 AM on May 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


Today I snapped a picture of a recipe in a magazine in Borders with my phone.

I work for a big ol' chain bookstore. If we see you taking cell photos of copyrighted material we have to ask you to stop. If you don't stop we have to ask you to leave. Please, please don't do this. We are 100% not trying to be jerks.
posted by mintcake! at 8:52 AM on May 3


The irony here is that, except under special circumstances, recipes can't be copyrighted.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:46 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The stupidest publisher of the bunch only sent me an email saying my book was now up for digitalization because (like I wasn't going to see through this one, guys?) I was about to get the rights back to it. I declined.

Awesome.

In my imaginary magical happy land, for example, people subscribe directly to creators. The financial support frees the creator to do their creating, and they thrive or fail based on the number and generosity of their subscribers. Keeping your subs happy and involved via work in progress reports and blogging would be an improtant aspect, just like most small creators now.

Amen. Todd Rundgren tried this with that PatroNet service back in '98 or '99 - I remember watching so much potential awesomeness chug by in tiny, constantly-buffering chunks on a Mac Performa. But he's usually 10 years gone on an idea by the time the tech catches up with it. I love the way Robert Fripp & his label DGM do things right now - they constantly unearth amazing Fripp/King Crimson vault stuff, clean it up and put it up for direct download from their own site. $13-ish for a full concert worth of FLAC files doesn't seem too much to ask. He also writes a refreshingly candid diary entry pretty much every day.

Lorc - who's doing this effectively & with flair in the writing world? I can only come up with musical examples.
posted by mintcake! at 6:49 AM on May 3, 2010


No matter how low you make the price, no matter how many supposedly inessential people you cut from the book business, writers can't win when people insist on paying zero dollars for books.

Of course they can. If a million people download a copy of some writer's book for free, and they love that book and pass it around to their friends, that book is going to get optioned for a movie, and that option is probably going to be worth more than the crappy royalties the writer would have gotten from the subset of that million willing to pay $8 the print copy.

Granted, Philip K. Dick is dead now, but I am almost certain that merely the options on his stories generate more revenue for his estate than royalties from the stories themselves.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:51 AM on May 3, 2010


flapjax at midnite: "At least musicians can still play live for some money. Writers gonna, what, go get on stage and talk, down at the local bar?"

elgilito: "From what I understand, her income now comes mostly from public grants, articles for magazines, teaching in writing workshops and co-hosting literary shows."

And this is how people used to make money composing music, back before recording came around. Compared to with musical composition, there is a much bigger market of people looking to pay you to write.

Not to say that all art should be made for the love, or sold to the highest bidder. We need more infrastructure for public support of the arts. If the arts are an end unto themselves and we would lose if the economic incentive for the arts are lost (which I would contend is the case), then we need a bailout for musicians and writers much moreso than we ever needed a bailout for bankers - at least the musicians and writers did not destroy their own market with sleazy practices.
posted by idiopath at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


Pastabagel: how many authors do you suppose ever see a million readers, aggregated across all their writing in their entire productive lifetime?

(Hint: the correct answer is very few.)
posted by cstross at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


What's even funnier, mintcake!, is that the editor at that publisher, when presented with my Kindle in person at a tradeshow (one other publisher did release my book electronically, and I pulled it up for her to see) could NOT HAVE BEEN MORE BORED.

(You ever see the Buffy episode "Doppelgangland"? Ok, you know how Vampire Willow just rolls her eyes and says "Bored now"? Yeah, that was her).

Meanwhile, her sales guy, her tradeshow organizer guy, all the staff couldn't keep their hands off it and thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen. So, you know, the editors are not always exactly forward-thinking...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2010


The idea that modern, western publishing as we know it is the only publishing model that's effective is, well, outlandish to say the least.

It's true that business models for publishing are definitely going to have to change. There are things about the traditional model that need to be jettisoned, and there are ways to bring down costs. I don't think anyone would disagree with those statements.

However, there are several functions that publishers perform that we need to keep around. Maybe we can come up with some new ways to accomplish these same goals, but all of them require skilled labor and are going to continue to be expensive for that reason.

1) Gate-keeping. I know this first one is going to be controversial, but it really is important. Agents and publishers do reject things they shouldn't, and it's not a perfect system. But they also reject tons of stuff that really does need to be rejected. I like to be able to find a book that doesn't suck without first having to wade through a slush pile of crap. Agents and publishers perform this function for me.

2) Book design/typesetting. This isn't just about fitting text to the printed page. It's about making the book aesthetically pleasing and readable in whatever format it's going to be displayed. To some extent, we can automate this, but so far displays that simply shuffle text into roughly the right parts of the page are much inferior to displays created by professional designers.

3) Editing. The need for this should be obvious. It's expensive, because it requires hours of work from someone with a specialized skill-set.

4) Marketing. Most authors aren't also good marketers. In order to make sure readers actually hear about books they might be interested in, there has to be some form of marketing.

So, sure, we can get rid of the traditional publishing model. But we need some way of performing all of these functions if we want high-quality books to continue to be available. And it would be nice if authors could still get paid a living wage for their work, too. As cstross and others have pointed out before, if authors can't make a living from writing, the end result will be fewer good books on the market. Anyone who appreciates having a wide variety of new good reading material should be enthusiastic about finding a way for authors to get paid for their work.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 7:01 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The author of this article uses the execrable construction "Bzzt. Wrongo" which should be reserved for obnoxious fathers trying to humiliate their children or drunk people trying to get you to throw the first punch. Nobody else should ever ever use that annoying phrase.
posted by idiopath at 7:11 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I like to be able to find a book that doesn't suck without first having to wade through a slush pile of crap. Agents and publishers perform this function for me.

And yet Stephenie Meyer has sold how many copies now? Sigh. Seriously, I've read work by plenty of less-well-known people (MeFi's own kittens for breakfast is a freaking genius of a writer -- no joke) that deserves the audience "books" like Twilight have gotten.

Also, in my particular writing niche (crafts), the publishers want to publish the same exact thing over and over and over. My joke is that everyone wants to publish 50 Easy Projects on Size 50 Needles -- i.e. dumbed-down, mass-market garbage. Which is sad, because our audience wants MORE and BETTER and ADVANCED. There are 600,000+ knitters and crocheters who are active on Ravelry.com, who are out there showing every day that they want advanced, awesome projects and to learn how to do complex techniques. So what do the publishers publish? 50 Easy Projects on Size 50 Needles, AGAIN.

Or they take a book proposal like mine (a techy one) and whittle it down like the frog in the pot of water that's heating up. By the time my ass boils off, I surely won't notice they've convinced me to slip in 15 easy-peasy patterns into this book on technical editing for knit patterns, right? Even though that's the book they initially said they wanted?

You try, as an author, to compromise -- I argued that by allowing us to also publish just those patterns on Ravelry.com (with the more complex tech stuff stripped out, just as straight up patterns) it'd be like have 15 little full page ads for the book on a site with 600,000 potential buyers. Reasonable people, who, if they liked 2-3 of the patterns, would just go buy the whole book instead of the downloads at $5 a pop. The people who only liked 1 pattern could just buy that one...they weren't going to buy the whole book anyway.

The publisher refused, so we walked away from the $20,000 they were offering ($9000 of that would have gone to the photographer they wanted...and about $8000 to people other than us, the co-authors, by the time it was all said and done, and have I mentioned that the chances of ever seeing a royalty on the book = slim, since I've sold over 30,000 copies of my first books and still haven't seen any royalties there, either?).

Publishing is broken in many different ways, depending on the niche you're in. It doesn't HAVE to be broken, though, but if the publishers refuse to change their models, it's going to stay broken, and those of us who know what they're doing are going to run screaming in the opposite direction.

There's a young knit designer/author I know who has sold so many copies of her self-published books that she's in a whole new tax bracket now. I wish I'd known what I know now when I was her age, I'd probably be a lot better off!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:16 AM on May 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


The idea behind Fictionaut is to begin reinventing publishing models from the ground up, one step at a time, and to start with a format that is the easiest to handle online: the short story. On Fictionaut, "gate-keeping" is crowdsourced, and stories rise in the recommended list according to popularity. Fictionaut started as an experiment crossing social networking with a literary magazine, and it's been working very well. Many Fictionaut regulars are publishing in elsewhere, magazines use the site's groups section as a hub, and we've featured writers like Amy Hempel, TC Boyle, Rick Moody, Frederick Barthelme etc.

The Internet has solved "publishing" as such -- getting your work out there is now as trivial as setting up a tumblr account. Getting it read, and getting paid for it, as another matter altogether.
posted by muckster at 7:20 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yet Stephenie Meyer has sold how many copies now? Sigh.

Well, yeah, crap still does get published. But I see slush piles on a regular basis, and it could be much worse. Worse than Stephanie Meyer? Worse than Dan Brown? Yes. Worse than that.

And I really do agree that publishing needs to change. I just think it would be a good idea not to throw out the baby with the bathwater here.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 7:24 AM on May 3, 2010


"Thieves aren't going to be customers."

--Wil Wheaton, LA Times Festival of Books panel, April 25th.

Of course, Wheaton's got the pre-existing audience to be able to focus on his customers and not worry about his thieves-- with 1.65 million Twitter followers, he's got a lot of eyes on his content already, and some percentage of those people will give him money for his work. But there are people who just have no interest whatsoever in paying for content, and there's not much you can do about those folks-- they will circumvent whatever restrictions you attempt to impose on them, and they won't pay you for your words.

Wheaton's strategy is to ignore those people and focus on his actual paying customers-- since he's already well outside of the traditional publishing model anyhow, he can spend the time he's not dealing with agents and so on developing strong connections with his readers and hiring people to put his content into desirable containers (audiobooks, nice-looking PDFs, attractive print-on-demand books). And, yeah, for him that means doing speaking gigs, recording podcasts, and fielding 100+-person signing lines at book festivals (really, it was a pretty fucking epic line), which, again, dude's an actor, he can handle people and appears to sincerely welcome any and all fan contact. I don't know that that would work out for everyone in the writing professions.

He's obviously put a lot of thought into getting his work out there and seen, though; watching him and former Tor.com producer/ current Open Road Integrated Media producer Pablo Defendini speak to the digital-publishing topic was a delight. I summarized as much of it as I could on my own blog; under the theory that it would add to this discussion, you can grab that post here. (The comparison between it and the Publishers Weekly rundown, written by a reporter who self-describes as a "dinosaur," is... instructive, I think.)

I've seen a fair amount of "oh, bah, digital publishing" in old-guard comics authors, too. They either don't have to care (Mike Mignola, who would get eyes on Hellboy if it were distributed solely on stone tablets), or seem kind of proud of not being at all familiar with any sort of digital distribution. It seems to me that assuming your fanbase is that loyal to your printed work is... a dicey proposition, unless, you know, you are a dude like Mike Mignola, but I could be wrong.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:27 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I memorised another recipe (a cocktail - short and easy). Do you have to pry it out of my brain with a soldering iron?

Oh for christ's sake. This rebuttal is getting so tired.
posted by Ratio at 7:44 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


fairytale of los angeles, reading the difference between that post and the PW one was night and day! (And I speak as a bi-publishual author who lives with an independent comic book creator).

(We started saying "bistitchual" for people who can both knit and crochet -- how about "bi-publishual" for those who've done both kinds of publishing, old school and new? Ok, ok, it's a stretch).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:54 AM on May 3, 2010


In simple, Hulk-esque terms:

Piracy bad!

Theft smash!

Really? You want to write an article about piracy and you start off by ripping off these famous cartoons? Are there any new ideas here or is this the same stuff from ten years ago?
posted by euphorb at 8:00 AM on May 3, 2010


Pastabagel: how many authors do you suppose ever see a million readers, aggregated across all their writing in their entire productive lifetime?

(Hint: the correct answer is very few.)
posted by cstross at 9:55 AM on May 3


This is true, but has absolutely nothing to do with e-books or piracy. Very few of anything get very many of anything. It's true of authors, books, movies, etc.

Let me rephrase my comment. If you get X readers through piracy where the price is $0, you are not going to get X readers at any other price > 0. You will always get fewer. However, certain secondary/derivative creative markets (like film and TV rights) rely heavily on the number of consumers of the original work, not the profit obtained at them. So if the key to securing a film option is to demonstrate a readership of a certain size, the way to do that is to drop the price as low as possible. (This assumes that consumers of the work like it.)

To further extend the model, to make a living a being creative requires that the secondary or derivative-work markets are less susceptible to piracy, or for which the cost of piracy is higher. Films are more difficult to pirate than books. Transcoding is more difficult than OCR and photocopying, the size of a pirate film is powers of ten greater than the size of a pirated ebook, and downloading a pirated film takes time. Furthermore, the pirated film is usually lossy, whereas a pirated book is not. (And consider that 3D movies are currently impossible to pirate and playback in their original format. This wont be true forever, but the point is that it is true now.)

The money in creativity will be made in those markets where piracy is more costly (not in terms of money, but in terms of other factors) for the pirate and the downloader, where enforcement is easier, and where further technological innovation in the medium itself inherently complicates piracy.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:06 AM on May 3, 2010


And if you think Open Source is free of inertia, tell me when X11R8 is due for release?

If there is a god-like-being, never.

(I only sort of kid. The right answer to X is to nuke it from orbit -- it was sort of the right answer to a problem that used to exist, but doesn't now, and there's too much kluge there.)
posted by eriko at 8:12 AM on May 3, 2010


It's a lot harder, but it's not impossible. I mean, someone is doing it, because you can actually find a lot of pirated books online these days.

30 something years ago, you could go to the basement of any shopping center in Singapore and find entire shops filled with people photocopying books, and reselling the spiral-bound copies. Even the expensive private school all the American kids went to would only buy a single copy of each book per class, and had photocopies made for all the students. There are still lots of places in the world where labor is cheap, yet technology is also accessible.

No way am I putting a $N electronic device on the breakfast table while I'm eating. Spillage, greasy fingers, etc, etc.

I feel like having the ipad on the table is actually safer for things like grubby fingers and grapefruit squirt-y-ness, because it's glass that I can clean. I can't count the number of books I owned as a kid that have pages stuck together from cheetos-fingers.
posted by nomisxid at 8:14 AM on May 3, 2010


euphorb: "Really? You want to write an article about piracy and you start off by ripping off these famous cartoons?"

Not only that, but he is totally using the catch phrases wrong. Based on the quoted text,"theft Smash" implies directly that "theft" is the name of the one who is angry, and who is declaring his intention to smash something. Why would "theft" be so mad about piracy that he would want to smash something? Totally nonsensical.
posted by idiopath at 8:22 AM on May 3, 2010


One nice thing about piracy is that it will get better terms for consumers. Right now ebooks are often more expensive than print books, there's multiple incompatible DRM'd formats, the publisher can recall 'your' books at any time without your permission, etc. Frankly, those terms are utterly ridiculous. I really can't blame people who look at that and run away. I personally love the idea of ebooks, but I won't touch the current system with a ten foot pole. You have no idea if the library you buy now will work in ten years - what if the company you buy into fails miserably and leaves the market?

I can't help but think that without music piracy, that market would be exactly where it used to be - with each publisher offering only their terrible DRM'd up format, with devices not necessarily playing the format of other publishers, and with publishers going dead and their format being rendered obsolete on a regular basis. Piracy has eventually driven most of these anti-consumer forces out of that market, and I'm hoping it'll do the same for ebooks.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:24 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the article:

First, piracy of media is not the same thing as stealing someone’s physical stuff. Maybe it’s better. Maybe it’s worse. But any time you treat it the same, you’re going to fail in any solution.

Can we please now begin all internet "piracy" discussions with this mantra?
posted by philip-random at 8:37 AM on May 3, 2010


"Thieves aren't going to be customers."

Is there even a single study that supports that statement? Because every actual investigation of the matter that I've ever seen indicates that people who engage in illicit downloading actually tend to buy more than people who don't. I mean, just because Will Wheaton says it doesn't mean it has any truth or value.

Also, if the reason hardcover books are expensive is because of windowing, why do they retain their price after the paperback comes out?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:43 AM on May 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


The money in creativity will be made in those markets where piracy is more costly (not in terms of money, but in terms of other factors) for the pirate and the downloader, where enforcement is easier, and where...the medium itself inherently complicates piracy.

That's right, folks! The real money is in theater!
posted by Iridic at 8:43 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I buy hardcovers. Almost always for the artists I know I'll re-read, because my hardcovers will stand up to a lot more punishment than a paperback of any stripe. They also stand up to repeated lending better. I have also had one too many hard drive crashes to ever be happy only owning ebook copies of things. So, there's that.
posted by Jilder at 8:44 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


However, certain secondary/derivative creative markets (like film and TV rights) rely heavily on the number of consumers of the original work, not the profit obtained at them. So if the key to securing a film option is to demonstrate a readership of a certain size, the way to do that is to drop the price as low as possible.

This is essentially the newspaper model. Traditional papers had (have) a cover price, but that represented a small fraction of their income; the vast majority of income was earned from advertising. Ads were driven by number (and local concentration) of readers. The alternative/weekly press has flourished following this relationship to its logical conclusion -- giving away their papers free to all readers, driving up their readership, and thus ad demand.

Information wanted to be free. To readers. In terms of cash. But it's not free from the annoyance of ads, which are purchased in cold, hard coin.

Maybe what authors and publishers need isn't copyright protection, but advertising. A way to leverage rampant multiple distribution channels, file-sharing and unauthorized re-distribution. (I suspect this holds truer for self-published and technical works, but it might could function for established novelists, too, who have name recognition.)

Books could be free to readers, supported by ads. Piracy? Good! Please pass my book along! The wider the distribution, the greater the demand by advertisers...in my next book. This would likely create pressure for smaller volumes, because a writer might only be paid once, in advance, by advertisers -- epic fiction might be published as 10 volumes of 100 pages each, rather than 1 1000-page doorstop.

I merely suggest. I may be missing something in my pre-caffeinated state.
posted by slab_lizard at 8:45 AM on May 3, 2010


slab_lizard - I own several pulpy books from the 60s or 70s that do, in fact, have ads on cardboard, like in magazines, in the middle. They are all for cigarettes, except for one, which was for Norwegian tourism. I don't know how well it worked - probably not so well, since I haven't seen them since.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 8:49 AM on May 3, 2010


In my imaginary magical happy land, for example, people subscribe directly to creators. The financial support frees the creator to do their creating, and they thrive or fail based on the number and generosity of their subscribers. Keeping your subs happy and involved via work in progress reports and blogging would be an improtant aspect, just like most small creators now.

This is basically "it" as far as I'm concerned. Wanna be a successful writer (ie: your stuff not only gets published but you make some cash from it too)?

1. Start by getting known. Have a cool radio show, be connected with some weird comic, marry (or perhaps kill) somebody already famous, PUBLISH A BOOK THAT PEOPLE DON'T JUST READ - THEY LOVE IT ... and so on. It doesn't matter if you make no money at any of this. This is just step 1.

2. Write your next big thing and make a big deal of letting your fans know you're writing it.

3. Finish your next big thing and then announce that nobody's going to see it until you've been paid for your trouble. Maybe you want ten grand, maybe you want a hundred. State your price and hold to it. Start accepting "donations" (maybe a thousand bucks minimum). Once you hit your magic mark, don't just send your donors a copy of the book, send them everything (PDFs, whatever).

4. Let your donors handle distribution any damned way they want.

5. Write your next big thing.
posted by philip-random at 8:55 AM on May 3, 2010


I memorised another recipe (a cocktail - short and easy). Do you have to pry it out of my brain with a soldering iron?

When you see the B&N employee coming down the aisle with that long electrified ice-pick thing? Then you will know the answer to your question.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:57 AM on May 3, 2010


I've seen that, too, WCC. One issue is that the ads then were unnecessary -- transparent gimmicks used to squeeze a few extra dollars -- because pirating was so limited. I'd suggest the issue today wouldn't be that ads in the front/back pages of a book will rile readers (no one kicked up a fuss in recent years when newspapers began selling ads on their front pages), but that ads are transitory. (Perhaps ads in books would create pressure for ad companies to create longterm brand campaigns.)

Still, I'd suggest ad-selling represents a viable experiment for certain content -- say, self-published how-to or travel volumes.
posted by slab_lizard at 8:58 AM on May 3, 2010


Oh yeah, writing without editors works out real well.
Even if we add editors back into the equation, how much cost does that add? It's the typesetting and formatting that can be done without. It just seems like the costs, once you have a word doc, text file, to get it to an ebook should be zero. Obviously marketing is an interesting problem. Perhaps marketing could work on a royalty system too? Just split sales between the author, editor, and marketer (based on whatever agreement they all reach) Or one of the others could pay for the third.
1) Gate-keeping. I know this first one is going to be controversial, but it really is important. Agents and publishers do reject things they shouldn't, and it's not a perfect system. But they also reject tons of stuff that really does need to be rejected. I like to be able to find a book that doesn't suck without first having to wade through a slush pile of crap. Agents and publishers perform this function for me.
Reddit. Digg. Those things aren't perfect either, but they're certainly cheap. Maybe people could volunteer for filtering duty in exchange for free ebooks. (People with a lot of time on their hands)
posted by delmoi at 8:59 AM on May 3, 2010


I wrote a couple of fantasy novels, years ago. They're out of print now, and my publisher has no interest in either republishing them, or, in fact, in publishing anything new of mine, because it's been so long since my previous work came out. My life as an author is probably over. But I still get people emailing me and asking, please, for a copy of my first book, because they geuinely loved it and used copies are hard to find. I wish I could just point them to a download site; I'm not getting any money from the thing anymore anyway. I'd set up my own download site, maybe with a "Donate" button, if I had the tech-savvy to do such a thing.
posted by The otter lady at 9:01 AM on May 3, 2010


The economics and ethics of 'free' are... interesting.

At the time of and excluding this post, there were around 9500 words in this thread. The market I know best is news and features, where a good rate is around £250 a thousand words, so that's, oh, say $3000 dollars worth of work you guys have done. For nothing. In direct competition with people like, say, me, whose own paid-for words are up on Tinternet - the exact same market.

Thanks. Thanks a lot.

I don't know how much money MeFi makes. Enough to keep going. How many millions of words does it spew forth? And, being MeFi, these aren't YouTube comments or Fox News. I give this place a lot of time, more than I do the NYT, and I'd be surprised if that wasn't true for a lot of people.

Is it ethical for people to work for nothing in direct competition with those who depend on that work to eat? Is it ethical for me, who's on a wage, to freelance as well in competition with pure freelances, who have far more overheads than I do?

You can make a case that this too is tantamount to theft. It's not a case I subscribe to, but I understand it and have some sympathy for it. The arguments against - that freedom shouldn't be circumscribed in the name of vested interests, that the more good stuff is out there the more people get involved and the market grows, that if you do work that people value there will be value that accrues to you and you get to choose how to take that - are better.

You can - we have, and the world is having - much the same debate about copying for free. Twenty years after the Web kicked off, the giants are getting a hang of it and the debate is about to change again - the latest fun is combining three strikes with the "all digital video must be licensed at every instance of creation, distribution and consumption" thrust that's just kicked off, which is going to make torrenting seem like the Loony Tunes opener before Apocalypse Now.

What is universally true is that the market changes. However, it's not going to be that different for writers, most of whom have never, do not and never will make more than a living wage. Writing to keep the belly full has always been a really, really, REALLY stupid thing to do, economically, and because it works for you today is no guarantee that it'll work tomorrow. Never has been. Check the best-seller lists for a decade ago, two decades ago - how many of those people are still having champagne for breakfast? And mid-list is another story again. So saying that the Internet and piracy are intensely destructive isn't that true for content creators. (It is intensively destructive for content distributors, and my empathy for them is in direct proportion to their honesty).

Long term, I suspect the signs are that now we've finished mining the sixty-year post-war boom we're all going to be earning a lot less money and consuming a lot less things - except in places where things are cheap or free. Which is online (and yes, if we want to, we could build an Internet with vanishingly small creation, joining and running costs. We might like to start to think about that). And in that economy, being able to make a bit of money online counts for a whole lot more than it does today, and maintaining a high cost structure just because we can stops working altogether.

Mid term, the interesting thing will be to manage the transition in the face of unthinkably powerful, reactive forces who'd see us in jail first.

Short term, here's another 600 words to throw on the fire.
posted by Devonian at 9:01 AM on May 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


The thing that gets me about the people who put things online - torrenting, posting to YouTube, mp3 blogging or whatever - is that they have such delusions of creativity - why do people post clips to YouTube and add a credit for themselves? What exactly have they done other than rip something from a DVD and transcode it to a compatible video format? Whenever one sees a bootlegged item, the bootlegger has added their own mark to it, as they're somehow part of the creative team. It's not a creative act, and even if morally defensible doesn't deserve a credit any more than my postman deserves his own theme tune.

I'm vaguely involved with the company behind a moderately well-known band, who found some of their recordings available on an MP3 blog, so their legal representative got in touch with Blogger or whoever and it was taken down. So the blogger put it back, including the same albums of the band in question. It was taken down the second time, and at the third attempt, he reposted the blog saying "maybe this time we'll get lucky", as if the takedown notices were somehow a regrettable force of nature. It might have lasted a bit longer than a few days if he'd had the smarts not to include the recordings that had got the blog deleted on the two previous occasions - at the very least that band wouldn't have noticed. On reading his comments, it was clear that he was very proud of his "work", and that people ought to be properly grateful to him for his generosity in making all these albums available. But, again, what work had he actually contributed (considering the music came from other people's CDs and the site came from Blogger)? Nothing.

Very odd.
posted by Grangousier at 9:14 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we please now begin all internet "piracy" discussions with this mantra?

No, because it's stupid. The real situation is way more nuanced, and since people aren't good with nuance, the fight will reoccur again and again. If you want a mantra, it needs to be:

First, piracy of media is not quite the same thing as stealing someone’s physical stuff. Maybe it’s better. Maybe it’s worse. Maybe it's somewhat similar, maybe it's mostly dissimilar. Maybe the losses can be roughly equated, maybe they can't. But any time you treat it the same, you’re going to fail in any solution because your discussion will be drowned out by people trying to fit a round peg into an elliptical hole, and the moral weight of "theft" will skew things in all directions.

It kind of needs to be treated as a third rail, that shouldn't be touched by anybody, because it's completely possible to have a discussion of copyright and ethics without referring to theft of physical property. It's difficult, but it's no harder that talking about computing without car metaphors.
posted by bonaldi at 9:19 AM on May 3, 2010


Would shareware work? Get the first act for free and then pay for the rest? This is similar to how Amazon samples work I suppose.
posted by hellphish at 9:23 AM on May 3, 2010


Is there even a single study that supports that statement? Because every actual investigation of the matter that I've ever seen indicates that people who engage in illicit downloading actually tend to buy more than people who don't. I mean, just because Will Wheaton says it doesn't mean it has any truth or value.

His point is that he's not going to bother attempting to prevent theft, via DRM or otherwise, since the people who are interested in stealing aren't what he defines as his customer base, to whom he's providing a service in exchange for money. He's not saying that book pirates don't buy things; he's saying they're not his focal point when he's doing business.

He spent a good portion of that panel calling for open ebook formats, the downfall of proprietary ebooks, and DRM-free solutions.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:24 AM on May 3, 2010


Maybe what authors and publishers need isn't copyright protection, but advertising. A way to leverage rampant multiple distribution channels, file-sharing and unauthorized re-distribution. (I suspect this holds truer for self-published and technical works, but it might could function for established novelists, too, who have name recognition.)

Oh, I've made this argument to publishers, too. One company wanted to monetize old patterns they had sitting around and put them up as paid downloads, but couldn't come up with the money to pay someone to convert all the old print stuff (from back in the day when it was all laid out on paper, not in InDesign or even something older like Quark XPress). So I said have the samples reknit in new yarns and ask the yarn companies to pay for it -- 80%+ of all knitters knit a pattern in not only the same yarn but the EXACT SAME COLOR as the sample shown. It's free advertising for the yarn companies, you get to put the patterns up for sale and earn an unlimited amount of money, and everyone wins.

Needless to say, they didn't.

Meanwhile, my arts lawyer friend said to me recently "are you getting paid when you use X Yarn Brand in your projects?" And I looked at her blankly and said "Wha?" Apparently in other creative fields, it's not only common but expected to get a kickback from product manufacturers when you use their products to make your published products.

So, for the record, Apple, Adobe and the internet owe me kickbacks when this next self-pubbed book of mine hits shelves. (Ha, I wish).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:24 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Consumers: If someone performs a service that benefits you find a way to pay them back for it. If you do not then you are freeloading jerk. Further arguments as to why being a freeloading jerk is a moral and awesome position simply make you a bullshitting freeloading jerk. The end.

Artists: Most people are freeloading jerks, but they are also kind of lazy. The easier and more convenient it is for someone to pay you, the more likely they will. The fairer the price, teh more likey they will. of course for some people the only fair price is zero, fuck those guys.
posted by Artw at 9:24 AM on May 3, 2010 [21 favorites]


Or, yes, what Art just said.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:26 AM on May 3, 2010


First, piracy of media is not quite the same thing as stealing someone’s physical stuff. Maybe it’s better. Maybe it’s worse. Maybe it's somewhat similar, maybe it's mostly dissimilar. Maybe the losses can be roughly equated, maybe they can't. But any time you treat it the same, you’re going to fail in any solution because your discussion will be drowned out by people trying to fit a round peg into an elliptical hole, and the moral weight of "theft" will skew things in all directions.

Bonaldi, to be fair, this is a better, more accurate statement than the one I appropriated. But it sucks as a mantra. Mantra's need to be short and easily memorized.

Bottom line, we're never going to get anywhere in the filesharing wars as long as certain interests/individuals seek to reduce the myriad issues to a single argument (info-wants-to-be-free vs good old-fashioned THEFT). Thanks to all in this thread for not going that way thus far. I'm actually learning a thing or two and having a few assumptions challenged in ways that might just help me professionally.
posted by philip-random at 9:33 AM on May 3, 2010


And now, because this thread had me wondering, and Artw and fairytale of los angeles REALLY made me wonder when I hit refresh -- here's the breakdown of my presales on my next (admittedly, highly specialized) book: the number of PDF-only sales is 3x higher than e-book reader formats (.mobi/.epub). The number of print copies sold is 2x higher than the PDF-only. But the number of print+PDF packages sold is 3 times that of the PDF-only and double the print-only. I can only assume that means that people really like owning both formats, and will make the choice if given it.

Take note of this, publishers, for what it's worth.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:34 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe people like the instant gratification of the PDF while they wait for the book? That's the only thing I can think of. Nevertheless I am also self-publishing and am doing quite well but I have stayed completely away from PDFs and ebooks because I fear pirating. However I may test the water with one book title and see what happens. I think it's inevitable, anyway, as it costs $12.95 to ship a book Priority Mail overseas and a good chunk of my business is in Europe and Asia.
posted by crapmatic at 9:44 AM on May 3, 2010


People are cheap. Behind all of the idealistic anthropomorphizations of what information does or does not want, people want stuff for free. "Stuff" can be anything short of, say, scabies. Ketchup packets, bookmarks, whatever — no price is too low for some. With the technical means in hand to get things for free, many people will do so. Between the people who would never pay and the people who would definitely pay, let's not conveniently exclude that middle group of people who would have paid, ahhh, but now it is easy not to.

Art will go back to either patronage or advertising. And then folks will be boo-hoo, Pepsi Blue in this novel. Oh, sure, we'll get some part-timers, squeezing out a novel in between paying jobs, but that'll be what the future looks like: amateur hour and ads, with the occasional flash of brilliance or labor of love.

The good news is that we won't know what we've missed. I'm not kidding about this, at least, not in America. Go eat at McDonald's or watch some reality television — we are used to consuming junk. Maybe Europe will do it better and find a way to pay the freakin' artists without making them into little organ-grinder monkeys banging away on cymbals as the unpiratable, "authentic" experience for which they receive their peanuts.
posted by adipocere at 9:45 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel a bit strange quoting him seeing as he's been posting in this thread, but here's: Charles Stross on why he doesn't have a tipjar on his site, and why he'd like you to buy the books:

"If I put a Paypal tipjar on this blog, to take conscience money from folks who've downloaded a (cough) unauthorized ebook or two, the money would come to me, not to the publisher. And without the publisher those books wouldn't exist: wouldn't have been commissioned, wouldn't have been edited, wouldn't have been corrected and marketed and sold in whatever form filtered onto the unauthorized ebook market. (Yes, they commission books, and pay authors for them up-front — a vital part of the process, because most of us can't afford to take a year to write a book on spec and then hope somebody liked it enough to buy it. And if you think my bank manager would front me the kind of advance money that Ace, Orbit, or Tor have no difficulty offering for a novel that isn't even written yet, let alone doing so without charging interest or asking for their money back when the product's late, well ... you might want to think again.)

Your typical book publisher is not like the music or movie industry; they run on thin margins, and they're staffed by underpaid, overworked folk who do it because they love books, not because they're trying to make themselves rich on the back of a thousand ruthlessly exploited artists. I think their effort deserves to be rewarded appropriately.

Luckily there's a simple solution that should make everyone happy.

If you've downloaded unauthorized copies of my books, instead of hitting on a tipjar button, I urge you to buy a (new) copy of one of my books."
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:48 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously, what we need to do is to establish a revenue system that will take a bit of money from every device, medium, etc. and establish a general fund that will then be distributed to pre-press people.

Disclaimer: I am a pre-press person
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:56 AM on May 3, 2010


this thread makes me wanna chop my head off.
posted by The Whelk at 10:07 AM on May 3, 2010


and establish a general fund that will then be distributed to pre-press people.

and how much of this "general fund" gets filtered away into the pockets of various functionaries, middlemen etc before it actually makes it to the pre-press people?
posted by philip-random at 10:08 AM on May 3, 2010


the number of print+PDF packages sold is 3 times that of the PDF-only and double the print-only.

A serious question: is PDF a sustainable document format? It's bletcherous on these new ereaders which want to be able to reflow text.

Are PDFs going to be produced in five years as a primary format? Is it going to devolve to a niche producer/printer communication format, used mostly for producing print-ready copy and little else? Are ePubs (or .lits?) going to replace it?
posted by bonehead at 10:09 AM on May 3, 2010


this thread makes me wanna chop my head off.

Can I scan it before you do?
posted by loquacious at 10:15 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it ethical for people to work for nothing in direct competition with those who depend on that work to eat? Is it ethical for me, who's on a wage, to freelance as well in competition with pure freelances, who have far more overheads than I do?

You can make a case that this too is tantamount to theft.


Both of the situations you describe are not only completely ethical, there is no dilemma about whether or they're ethical. I have no idea why you would consider them not ethical. Your final statement boggles my mind. I'd be really interested in what the argument is that calls (un-reimbursed) writing on the internet "tantamount to theft." Unless there's something I'm really missing, I have no idea how this argument could even get formulated.
posted by OmieWise at 10:19 AM on May 3, 2010


The Otter Lady wrote ...I still get people emailing me and asking, please, for a copy of my first book, because they geuinely loved it and used copies are hard to find. I wish I could just point them to a download site; I'm not getting any money from the thing anymore anyway. I'd set up my own download site, maybe with a "Donate" button, if I had the tech-savvy to do such a thing.

No tech-savvy needed.
posted by nicwolff at 10:23 AM on May 3, 2010


Consumers: If someone performs a service that benefits you find a way to pay them back for it. If you do not then you are freeloading jerk.

Oh crap. I love the funny/creepy Burger King commercials, but I don't eat at Burger King.

I'm a bad, bad, man...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:31 AM on May 3, 2010


Hey guys, pirating books is easy with Legos!
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:34 AM on May 3, 2010


me: the number of print+PDF packages sold is 3 times that of the PDF-only and double the print-only.

bonehead: A serious question: is PDF a sustainable document format? It's bletcherous on these new ereaders which want to be able to reflow text.

PDF is a readily-accessible format for my readers who don't have e-readers of any kind (for them, I offer the .mobi and .epub). Not only that, but it's become an established form of transmitting paid-for information in my audience's world... knitting patterns are sold as PDF downloads, generally for ca. $5 each, and knitters who are online and comfortable with THAT downloading/reading/using technology are just as comfortable with reading longer-format works as PDFs, or so it seems to me.

(In addition, for readers abroad -- some of the PDF preorders are from Europe, some from Australia -- they can avoid having to pay 2x as much for the print copy, since a book that weighs a little over a pound is going to cost as much to send as to buy).

And someday, when e-book readers cost $30 and EVERYONE has one, the PDFs might not be as popular, but by then, I'll have converted all my books that I have the rights to into whatever format is dominant at the time. It's all about keeping up!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:35 AM on May 3, 2010


Dear publishing industry: please don't collapse until after my best-seller.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:50 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pastabagel:

"If a million people download a copy of some writer's book for free, and they love that book and pass it around to their friends, that book is going to get optioned for a movie, and that option is probably going to be worth more than the crappy royalties the writer would have gotten from the subset of that million willing to pay $8 the print copy."

Some of the things that are wrong about this:

1. The number of self-published books put up for free that have been verifiably downloaded by a million people (who then told two friends, etc) is so small that you could probably count them on one hand and have four or five fingers left over, so already we're supposing something extraordinarily rare;

2. The assumption that because a million people download something that there is a movie option in the offing makes that assumption that anyone in Hollywood is spending time out of its usual option path of scanning Publishers Weekly for starred reviews and/or scanning the NYTimes bestseller lists and/or simply rehashing the franchises it already owns;

3. Speaking from no little personal experience, the typical option offered to a writer for his or her work is not that much larger than the typical advance offered by a publisher, i.e., not that much to begin with. These options improve the closer a book gets to being made into a movie, but the vast majority of properties never make it further than the initial option;

4. There are plenty of bestselling authors who have never have work optioned for film/TV;

5. The sort of casual notation that sure, Philip K. Dick is dead now but his estate is doing great elides the fact that Dick spent much of his professional life struggling financially and that he had been writing professionally for three decades before the first movie based on his work came out -- and he died before it hit the movie screens. In Dick's own field of science fiction, it's far more frequent to see films made of books which are decades old than newer novels.

I am personally less worried than many writers about our ability to make money directly from our writing evaporating, but at the same time the sanguine belief that the money writer are currently making could somehow be replaced by secondary sources is one that in my opinion is not based on a solid understanding of the market for secondary rights, or an understanding of how work comes to the attention of the sort of people who would wish to license those rights.
posted by jscalzi at 10:57 AM on May 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


But the number of print+PDF packages sold is 3 times that of the PDF-only and double the print-only. I can only assume that means that people really like owning both formats, and will make the choice if given it.

This might be a pattern and recipe specific thing, though. Your reader is only going to need one or two pages of the book per session-oftentimes it makes more sense to make a copy than lug the book around and struggle to keep it open to the right page. And printing something from PDF is easier than copying the entire thing down by hand. . .
posted by dinty_moore at 10:58 AM on May 3, 2010


There are plenty of bestselling authors who have never have work optioned for film/TV

Though I'm up for it. Anyone want to make a crazy hit movie about knitting? Come on, Drew Barrymore, you can just repeat that roller derby movie except put knitting in it instead. Maybe Lindsey Lohan can stab someone in the face with a knitting needle. I'm even ok with Diablo Cody doing the dialog, as long as she promises to learn the different between a knitting needle and a crochet hook first.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:01 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


dinty_moore: This might be a pattern and recipe specific thing, though. Your reader is only going to need one or two pages of the book per session-oftentimes it makes more sense to make a copy than lug the book around and struggle to keep it open to the right page. And printing something from PDF is easier than copying the entire thing down by hand. . .

The book I'm referencing here is a book book and not a book of single patterns, though (it's on the business side of knit design). I could see your point if it was a pattern book and therefore a good candidate for "just print out the 5 pages you need to cart around with you"-dom, but it's not.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:04 AM on May 3, 2010


No matter how low you make the price, no matter how many supposedly inessential people you cut from the book business, writers can't win when people insist on paying zero dollars for books.

The problem with statements like this is where the blame is placed. "People insist." What people? I don't see them here. You must be trying to knock down a straw man. The people who pirate aren't the root of the problem. It's like saying we'd be fine if people just didn't steal so much. Good luck changing human nature.

What we need is a better distribution model. Spending your energy being angry at downloaders is not productive and will usually start arguments. Sure, people suck, some of them will take advantage and lie and steal in little ways, quite a few if given the opportunity. Trying to fight that battle by shaming people into paying is a losing proposition.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:23 AM on May 3, 2010


Oh for frak's sake. ALL THIS CRAP is made up! Didn't exist a couple centuries ago. At least, not until people started to realize they could impose artificial levies on things they didn't do.

Repeating things that you've heard is criminal? Made up!

Making 'derivative' works based on stuff that everyone has heard is criminal? Made up!

Calling your crap something that might possibly remind a moron in a hurry of something else is criminal? Made up!

Give it a godsdamn rest already. Make new shit, or at least show you have the potential to make new shit, so you can be hired by people who want new shit.

The whole "I did that one thing that people liked, so I should be taken care of for the rest of my life, and BTW, it's going to be on your dime" mentality needs to have a stake driven through its black brain.

*inhales from paper bag repeatedly*
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2010


Anyone want to make a crazy hit movie about knitting?

I could imagine a movie about a nice lady who knits who, just as she's about to finish a [whatever it is knitters do that's like a masterpiece of knitting], is gang-raped to death for some reason. In her understandable rage, she rises from the dead as a zombie knitter and seeks revenge on those who wronged her, stabbing them to death with knitting needle or just murdering them in the usual way and then knitting a sweater out of their circulatory system. Title: I KNIT ON YOUR GRAVE.

Alternately, a movie about a person who, when the moon is full, knits things. And when this person stabs you with a knitting needle, you also acquire this urge. Title: CURSE OF THE WERE-KNITTER.

Third option: a serial killer who kills babies and then knits them together, and the knitting police officer who chases him. Title: ADVENTURES IN BABYKNITTING. Sequel: DON'T TELL MOM THE BABYKNITTER'S DEAD.

And of course, even if your book is optioned for one of these FABULOUS movies, you're likely to see the eventual product listed late on those special channels as MILF-PLOWING 238: KNIT ME A BONER. The info-caption will read "Sensuous women please their men. While they knit."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:42 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Repeating things that you've heard is criminal? Made up!

Making 'derivative' works based on stuff that everyone has heard is criminal? Made up!

Calling your crap something that might possibly remind a moron in a hurry of something else is criminal? Made up!


So? So what if it's made up? What isn't made up?

You seem to be confusing the changeable nature of social conventions (and laws) with the idea that they don't matter as a result. They do matter. I wish they were different too, but pointing out that copyright isn't "natural" isn't going to make it less of an issue right now. Marriage isn't natural but pointing that out isn't the same thing as getting divorced.
posted by OmieWise at 11:44 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my concern regarding current DRM trends in electronic publishing is this.

I love fiction. In specific, I love speculative fiction. What got me hooked into my current 3-book-a-month-habit included when I was a broke teenager:

1: discovering books on family bookshelves
2: the public library
3: used bookstores, yard sales, and charity used-book sales
4: books loaned to me from family and friends.

Just about every book that gets delivered to my house gets read by two people, if not more once I pass them on to other people. I routinely buy used books that are apparently not available in electronic form for any price.

I can buy the idea that publishers and writers probably can't survive as we know it in the face of widespread piracy.

But on the other hand, I don't understand how publishers can survive by locking down a culture of literacy that's critically dependent on libraries, loans, gifts, and thrift.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:53 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Stardock, one of Steam's competitors, has a somewhat similar take as Wil Wheaton. Their primary focus is on the people who buy their stuff, on serving their needs. They believe focusing on the people who are NOT buying their products is exactly the wrong way to go about doing it. So they use really minimal copy protection, sometimes none at all, and get very robust sales on most of their titles. They're not, you know, Activision, but they keep a lot of people employed and seem to be growing steadily.

And I'll tell you, dealing with Stardock customer service, while not terribly FAST, is always very pleasant. They'll usually take a day or so to get back to you, but they do a fantastic job of solving problems. And they don't screw up your computer to make sure you're not stealing their games.

Because of that, whenever I have an option, I always buy from them. Valve's not abusive as far as I can see, and they make good games, but I like Stardock's attitude better, and I think it's important to patronize companies that treat you how you want to be treated.

Someone wise once observed to me that about half of all the people you ever meet will like you, and about half won't. So which, he opined, should you be giving your attention to?
posted by Malor at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2010


"Right now people who pay $300 for a kindle can probably afford to buy a bunch of $10-$20 books, but what happens when there are e-ink displays or tablets for $20? Then you're going to start getting people who are going to be more interested in saving a few bucks by finding some PDF instead of buying books from an online store."

Don't discount the people driven to piracy because the works they want aren't available at any price.

"If they've been on the shelf a certain amount of time, they ought to become public property."

Uh, This is EXACTLY how copyright works. Creators get exclusive reproduction rights for a limited time in order that the public domain be enriched. Just because Disney and their ilk have managed to grossly overextend the limit while simultaneously strip mining the public domain doesn't change the functioning of the system.

"This would likely create pressure for smaller volumes, because a writer might only be paid once, in advance, by advertisers -- epic fiction might be published as 10 volumes of 100 pages each, rather than 1 1000-page doorstop. "

IE: Serialization which used to be so common.

"What exactly have they done other than rip something from a DVD and transcode it to a compatible video format? Whenever one sees a bootlegged item, the bootlegger has added their own mark to it, as they're somehow part of the creative team. It's not a creative act, and even if morally defensible doesn't deserve a credit any more than my postman deserves his own theme tune. "

Man I'd love it if my postperson had their own theme tune. Why shouldn't everyone have their own theme music? Having said that bootleggers mark stuff not as claiming credit for a creative act but as a branding exercise so that, if they are good, consumers can find their stuff in the future. This is desirable to the bootlegging system because despite it not meeting you idea of creative act it's something that apparently takes skill. A skill that a very small percentage of people seem to possess.
posted by Mitheral at 11:56 AM on May 3, 2010


Speaking of movie/TV option deals, people here seem to have really unrealistic expectations of them.

I've had a novel optioned for TV/movie rights, by an outfit with an address on Beverley Hills Drive.

The deal is worth US $7500 for three years' exclusive rights to bolt together a production based on the book. After those three years the option lapses, unless they want to cough up more money. If they secure studio backing, then it's back to the agents -- and the media rights lawyer -- to thrash out a contract with the studio. In the best possible case of a major Hollywood blockbuster (there are about 10 a year based on novels, of which maybe 2-3 are SF or fantasy) I might get $500,000 -- of which 20% goes to the agents and 40% of the rest goes in tax -- plus a percentage of gross (you may now giggle, if you're familiar with media accounting practices). More likely I'd be looking at a mid-range production, yielding $50-100K. Or a TV mini-series, good for about $5000/hour of TV running time, plus residuals.

Yes, it's nice work, money for nothing based on something I already did. But it's not going to fundamentally change my life. And if you think I can live off $2500 a year in option money, you need your head examining.
posted by cstross at 11:58 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The thing that gets me about the people who put things online - torrenting, posting to YouTube, mp3 blogging or whatever - is that they have such delusions of creativity - why do people post clips to YouTube and add a credit for themselves? What exactly have they done other than rip something from a DVD and transcode it to a compatible video format? Whenever one sees a bootlegged item, the bootlegger has added their own mark to it, as they're somehow part of the creative team. It's not a creative act, and even if morally defensible doesn't deserve a credit any more than my postman deserves his own theme tune.

I of course have no experience of downloading TV shows, and certainly haven't downloaded Supernatural every week for the past couple of years, but I am given to understand that if I were the sort of person to do that, I would want to look for the upload from a particular release group that uploads a very high-quality copy of the show every week.

There's lots of people uploading content that has to be converted to an upload-friendly format. Some people just slap something together, give it some random filename, and throw it on The Pirate Bay. Others actually take the time to encode the format in a friendly format at a high resolution and put metadata and/or a descriptive filename on it. By putting their release group name in the metadata and/or filename, as well as by putting their name or ASCII art or whatever in their torrent site page for the file in question, they establish themselves as the purveyors of high-quality (if totally illicit) goods.

Or so I would say, were I the sort of person who downloads things illegally.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:00 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Omiewise - It has its roots, I think, in the early days of the labour movement, where employers had all the power. If you cost them too much -- in other words, more than the absolute minimum they thought they could get the job done for -- then they'd sack you, and bring in cheaper labour. If you caused problems, by asking for more money or not having to breath in those toxic fumes for 12 hours a day, they'd sack you and bring in a fresh lot who didn't care. Or wait for you to be too sick for work. Workers weren't people, they were part of the machinery.

Thus, by dint of a huge amount of very hard and painful struggle over a long time, workers' rights came to be. These aren't universal (I'm guessing you're in the US, where the equations are somewhat different to the UK; they're different again in other European countries and yet again elsewhere in the world), and they can be abused. But the sense that being a worker is not just an exchange of time for money but a recognition that you're a participant in a system which will protect you is a valid ethical position with ramifications that extend beyond whatever it is you're doing right this minute.
posted by Devonian at 12:03 PM on May 3, 2010


Right now people who pay $300 for a kindle can probably afford to buy a bunch of $10-$20 books, but what happens when there are e-ink displays or tablets for $20? Then you're going to start getting people who are going to be more interested in saving a few bucks by finding some PDF instead of buying books from an online store.

I'll just point out that setting any price on literacy or requiring internet access is going to exclude people in ways that reinforce existing class structures.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Devonian--I'm familiar with the arguments for labor rights, and I support them. Your comment suggested that people who were not employees were somehow engaging in something "tantamount to theft" by producing the same thing that some employees somewhere produce. I still have no idea how that argument works, and I have no idea how your second comment is supposed to make it any more clear. Your first and second comments don't even seem to be related. That is, the subjects of your first comment (people who produce for free what others get paid for) and the subjects of your second comment (people who are paid by an employer) don't necessarily have anything to do with each other. I'm not trying to be obtuse, I'm honestly confused by what you're trying to suggest.

Incidentally, as I understand your first comment, having sex with my wife would be tantamount to theft because there are people who make their living charging for sex. Similarly, cooking my own food would be tantamount to theft since there's a diner up the block from my house. Can you see why I'm confused about what you're asserting?
posted by OmieWise at 12:15 PM on May 3, 2010


You seem to be confusing the changeable nature of social conventions (and laws) with the idea that they don't matter as a result. They do matter.

Oh yeah, no argument there. But it's a law by convention (e.g., which side of the street do you drive on?) while the proponents seem to think it's a law of morality (e.g., you're robbing me of potential income.)

My argument is that there's no conflict (in that the "copying=kleptomania" argument is a non-starter.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:18 PM on May 3, 2010


Let me rephrase my comment. If you get X readers through piracy where the price is $0, you are not going to get X readers at any other price > 0. You will always get fewer. However, certain secondary/derivative creative markets (like film and TV rights) rely heavily on the number of consumers of the original work, not the profit obtained at them. So if the key to securing a film option is to demonstrate a readership of a certain size, the way to do that is to drop the price as low as possible. (This assumes that consumers of the work like it.)

But the market will respond by increasing the number of consumers required to have accessed material before options are purchased. Plus, since it is more difficult to assess how well the new consumer group actually likes the product outwith the financial indicators of expenditure in the current model, then their is potential for greater risk relating to secondary investment, which will lower investment on that market.
posted by biffa at 12:18 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Offered only in the spirit of "more data":

File-sharers are content industry's "largest customers"

Included in the study: music, film and games, but not books.
posted by bonehead at 12:30 PM on May 3, 2010


He spent a good portion of that panel calling for open ebook formats, the downfall of proprietary ebooks, and DRM-free solutions.

Heh, I remember seeing him promoting the Video Toaster at CES in the early 90s calling for the downfall of Networks and Studios and the rise of independent production.
posted by Tenuki at 1:45 PM on May 3, 2010


Incidentally, as I understand your first comment, having sex with my wife would be tantamount to theft because there are people who make their living charging for sex. Similarly, cooking my own food would be tantamount to theft since there's a diner up the block from my house.

Teehee! We're all Writer's Guild scabs by virtue of commenting in this thread! Hell, amateur World of Warcraft players are taking jobs from Korean gold farmers this very moment!
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:46 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I read the Silmarillion, the Narnia books, and Neuromancer on a Palm III in 2001 or so. Also, most of the Harry Potter books. I forget how I found all that media, though - I think either at a lan party or on irc.
posted by heathkit at 1:50 PM on May 3, 2010


I kind of love you A LOT right now, ROU_Xenophobe. Know any movie people? I'll happily do the scripts...especially the zombieknitter one.

cstross, sure, everyone who's never been optioned probably thinks it's worth a lot more than it actually is, in the same way that everyone thinks I am rolling around naked in piles of cash on the bed because I've done 12 major-publisher books. (I'm not, and also: eewww)

But coming from my perspective where $15-20,000 is a REALLY hefty advance (and one you're not getting in my publishing sector until you've done as many books as I have), well, 40% of $100,000 would be the equivalent of what I'd see on 2 new books if I was very very very lucky. 40% of $500,000 would be more than I've made on all 12 books altogether. So, you know, even individual author's mileage may vary.

(Also: clearly I am in the wrong section of the bookstore money-wise and should take my agent's advice and start cranking out books for tweens. Sigh. Anyone up for a YA novel about zombies who knit?)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:55 PM on May 3, 2010


I may be missing something, but it has recently seemed to me that a world in which all written information was free would have more upsides than downsides.

The downsides are the ones discussed here: few writers would be able to make a full-time living at it, though there would probably be some remuneration available via NPR-type models, grants, etc. Some would quit writing altogether, and many others would write less, in their spare time. I have no truck with the arguments that go "if you love it, you should do it for cheap", whether they pertain to art or teaching or non-profits or whatever, so forcing writers to do something they love less and write on the side is a big downside. And from the consumer's point of view, there would be many fewer books "published" -- though how many fewer is hard for me to guess. As for non-fiction, from my point of view, the best stuff is written by academics, who would have almost the same incentives to publish without remuneration as they do now (though textbook type-setting would suffer). So there would be less of a loss on the non-fiction side: a few academics would be a bit poorer, and for consumers, there would be fewer new books on arctic explorers, etc.

But the upside to such a world is fairly substantial. As the price of computers/e-readers declines below, say, $10, and the internet becomes ubiquitous, literally billions of people in developing countries will have access to that technology. At a price of $0, hundreds of millions of children (and adults) would have access to a gigantic trove of non-fiction and fiction, a staggering educational opportunity. Books are (arguably) different from movies or music: giving people access to books changes who they are and what they can be in enormous ways. Education changes what you can become and your economic output enormously, and not just bookless education like multiplication tables, or just non-fiction books. Unleashing such an opportunity -- even if 99% of people fail to take advantage of it -- would be a huge upside, both economically, and in terms of the human development of those readers.

So the downside is that current writers (and publishers) would be hurt, future writers would mostly be unable to produce their art full-time, and first-world consumers would see new works produced at a slower rate. The upside is a potentially substantial educational opportunity for hundreds of millions of children and adults who cannot afford books now -- not just in the developing world, but even in our high-poverty USA. I may have over-looked something, but that upside looks at least as powerful as the downside.
posted by chortly at 2:26 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bitter-girl.com:

"40% of $100,000 would be the equivalent of what I'd see on 2 new books if I was very very very lucky. 40% of $500,000 would be more than I've made on all 12 books altogether. So, you know, even individual author's mileage may vary."

It's worth noting, however, that this is the best case scenario, in which cstross' book is in the .01% of optioned works which get made into a movie. In the real world, the $7500/3 yr option is likely to be the all the money he sees out of it.

Which is a shame -- I would totally be there for a movie based on a Charlie Stross book -- but a scenario much closer to the typical writer's journey with a movie option.

Chortly:

"I may have over-looked something, but that upside looks at least as powerful as the downside."

Yeah, really, no. First off, there is already a huge amount of information available for free on the Internets, fiction and non-fiction, easily offering the utopic educational bonanza you describe in such glowing terms. So all your scenario really offers is a substantial diminution in the welfare of creative people and the industries which thrive on their output.

Rather than imagining the world where you needlessly cut writers and publishers off at the knees, try instead to imagine a world where libraries and public education are the last things cut in government budgets, rather than the first.
posted by jscalzi at 2:38 PM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The thing that gets me about the people who put things online - torrenting, posting to YouTube, mp3 blogging or whatever - is that they have such delusions of creativity - why do people post clips to YouTube and add a credit for themselves? What exactly have they done other than rip something from a DVD and transcode it to a compatible video format?

Generally with "scene" releases, nothing is added to the content itself to show what group released it, the group's name is included in the file name and there is a separate nfo file with details on the release and the group. The only groups that regularly add themselves to the credits are anime fansub groups (which are not really part of the scene), probably because it's extremely easy for them to do (they are already creating subtitles) and because they actually do a significant amount of work to translate the content.

As for why the release groups exist and care about getting their names out there, that's pretty much the only reason they do it in the first place. Since all of this content is getting released for free, the "fame" that groups get when they consistently put out releases is the main reward. Also, within the scene there are rules about duplicates and proper releases, so it's relatively difficult to get content posted and distributed as a scene release without having consistent access to pre-release content and/or a sophisticated technical system.

It's not a creative act, and even if morally defensible doesn't deserve a credit any more than my postman deserves his own theme tune.

Again, leaving the moral aspect aside and the relative merit of release groups, it's not as if only people and companies that contribute to a work creatively get a credit. When I go to a movie theater, I see a big fancy 3D intro letting me know what theater I'm watching it in, even though they had nothing to do with getting the film made. And although postal employees don't get theme songs, USPS as an organization certainly does put their logo all over their trucks, packages, and uniforms, even though they have nothing to do with the content they deliver.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:39 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting, however, that this is the best case scenario, in which cstross' book is in the .01% of optioned works which get made into a movie.

Oh, of course, jscalzi, I'm just going for the hypothetical here (plus his work, or yours for that matter, have an 200% greater likelihood of getting optioned than mine ever would), so I have to either be content with the scraps that make their way to me or start publishing my books myself. Preorders on the new one have already netted me more than I saw from royalties on 2 of my best-selling books combined last year (the only 2 that earned enough to issue me a 1099, so I know the number off the top of my head) so I think I made the right call! :)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:20 PM on May 3, 2010


ChurchHatesTucker: Oh for frak's sake. ALL THIS CRAP is made up! Didn't exist a couple centuries ago. At least, not until people started to realize they could impose artificial levies on things they didn't do.

First, all legal principles are made up. Unless you have an omnipotent deity handing you stone tablets with immutable laws inscribed upon them every single law we have is a societal compact we've made up out of whole cloth. Some are a lot older than others, true. But that doesn't mean that even the oldest laws such as those against murder aren't "made up".

Second, even giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you are absolutely and utterly wrong. The history of copyright is very old. We have records of a proto-copyright issue coming up in like the 6th century. There are medieval records of what we would recognize as copyright type issues. And, lastly, even confining it to ironclad examples of moden copyright law we go back over 300 years. And arguing that means it's some modern bullshit contrivance is completely disingenuous for rather a lot of reasons. Here are two: First, legal and judicial systems as a whole have evolved greatly over the last 400 years. Secondly, copyright issues become much more crucial with the introduction of mass production. When books are the work of massive numbers of man-hours by skilled scribes and binders it's not quite as much of an issue as when you can use moveable type to print off large-scale print runs in relatively little time.

So you're completely wrong in a great number of blatant ways.
posted by Justinian at 3:37 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


WHOOPS, that completely incoherent sentence should be "Second, even giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you understand this, you are...". Also, channeled Usenet a little there.
posted by Justinian at 3:38 PM on May 3, 2010


jscalze

First off, there is already a huge amount of information available for free on the Internets, fiction and non-fiction, easily offering the utopic educational bonanza you describe in such glowing terms. So all your scenario really offers is a substantial diminution in the welfare of creative people and the industries which thrive on their output.

Rather than imagining the world where you needlessly cut writers and publishers off at the knees, try instead to imagine a world where libraries and public education are the last things cut in government budgets, rather than the first.


Responding to the second first, why is this an "instead"? Surely you don't think that someone espousing free information doesn't also strongly favor libraries and public education?

As for the "it's already out there" argument: With a few exceptions, no major fiction since the 1920s is available for free. And with a few more exceptions, most major textbooks and works of non-fiction aren't available either. Sure, there's wikipedia, etc, but as a teacher who has worked in a number of different fields, not only is most of the stuff out there pretty junky, but even the best of it isn't that good. Proper textbooks on microbiology, or economics, or greek history, or whatever, have very little that compares to them in quality for free -- indeed, that's (in part) why they can command the prices they do. And as someone who has also taught English, it would be ridiculous to try to cobble together a 20th/21th century fiction or poetry class out of what you could currently find online. Sure, there's lots of good stuff out there, but it's 99.99% junk, and even the best is scattered, messy, and difficult to assemble. An education consisting of wikipedia and stuff you can find on the internet -- particularly as found by a curious but untrained kid -- would be like trying to learn surgery by watching ER.

I agree, my scenario does indeed offer "a substantial diminution in the welfare of [professional] creative people and the industries which thrive on their output." That's the downside. And I don't think an upside where 99% of the people out there miss the opportunity and remain as benighted as ever is very utopian. But 1% of billions of people (now and in the future) who could have real textbooks and post-1920 fiction available for free is a major educational opportunity, and a pretty big upside.
posted by chortly at 3:44 PM on May 3, 2010


Sorry, "jscalzi". I know who you are, it was just a typo.
posted by chortly at 3:46 PM on May 3, 2010


I am rolling around naked in piles of cash on the bed because I've done 12 major-publisher books. (I'm not, and also: eewww)

You want to launder that money first.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:52 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


you can actually find a lot of pirated books online these days. Either scanned PDFs or (I assume) OCRd documents for older books. If you take the binding off a regular book you can run it through a form-feed scanner.

I realize I'm relatively flat footed, but can someone explain to me why an individual would do this? Is there a money angle I don't know about? Do torrent sites demand you put up material before you can download? Just seems a lot of trouble for no great payoff. (I don't understand it for music or video either, but there at least the work input is a lot lower, and the novelty factor in the early days provided, I suppose, a bit of a frisson.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:03 PM on May 3, 2010


No disagreement here, jscalzi, that a 'world where libraries are the last things we cut"... is better than current realities, and needed.

But truly, I cannot agree with what is suggested.- "there is already a huge amount of information available for free on the Internets, fiction and non-fiction, easily offering the utopic educational bonanza you describe in such glowing terms."

No, just no. I cannot agree with this.
Not only is most of it "buried" in mountains of piles of garbage... not only is most of it mired in junk science, and not only is much of it misinformation, but in the process we are turning our kids into "criminals"... no, we aren't literally "turning" them... but we are calling them criminals.
Stigma is a serious thing; if you CALL someone some thing long enough, eventually they will not only "believe it" but they will also 'live the label'... there is widespread sneering mocking of "creative remixers", I can only guess that these people have simply not been exposed to people who really do use culture to produce their own unique art.

This starts with the assumption that "everything will be ruined and society will fall apart" if anything gets "changed", assuming first that it is "always theft"- when so many ideas, and concepts, and explanations of concepts (is it fair if a "popsci" writer is the "first", or "best" to "explain" some concept that is VITAL to being a logically thinking human person in modern society, say some concept like evolution... Yes, sure... there are many websites that "talk about it"... but go type in "evolution" in the googles... are half "results" things that contain misinformation, misleading statements, or flat out lies? Who is "reliable"?
(I say this not to say "save us from the unreliable information; merely to point out that the things which "ARE" available to people around the world with low/no incomes... are NOT any good... and in fact are likely helping the worst sorts of misinformation to not only spread, but to be adopted.)

Now do we want a world where this, and SO MANY other similar things are "locked up", only available to "academics" and to "publishers" who will mete out the valuable "convincing argument" locked in a copyrighted work?

Please indulge a question; imagine this for one moment... imagine the worst scenario you can; anarchy reigns, or by government legislation, publishing houses are torn down destroyed, burned and sacked. Does anyone honestly believe that there would not be a rise of a NEW group producing creative works? Seriously? Does anyone think that we are so "precarious" in our advancements and culture and creativity that even in this hypothetical ultimate worst scenario that published works would not spring up again?
(and if anyone is still wanting to spread the news that we "can't change a thing, lest publishers die, and then obviously (wait, why?) all authors could not exist... Let me ask, wouldn't some kind of shakeup give people something to write about?

I submit that by keeping information in vaults, we are creating a society that 'Fears' the "legal implications" of "messing around with old ideas in new ways"... and in this age of such rapid advancements... it is foolish to do anything which further stagnates our advancements, and keeps our ideas protected by state instruments.

Isolated ideas are of no use to anyone.

By the age of 20, how many official looking "public awareness ads", with scary music, and jail cell door slamming sound effects have the current generation all seen?
HOURS? days?
These are ads that say it is CRIMINAL. Full stop.
To mess with ideas, sounds, words, works, images, and more...

No... I don't mind if this puts me on "the other side" as suggested; I feel that yes... it IS "our" culture... publishers can buzz off with the suggestion that it is anything BUT that.

Those publishers could not exist were it not for us, just as some suggest that "writers" or "creatives" or "thinkers" could not exist were it not for publishers... could they do anything without our roads? Could they do anything without the advances and production of thinkers by our schools, and educational institutions? No... so, please, publishers, stop keeping books and information based on who can afford enough of them.

Someone above laughed at the idea of a "bank" loaning someone the requisite funds to "take a year to write"... so; I wonder aloud... is this something that makes people say "keep allowing the publishers to run roughshod"... or... wow. that's odd... can we fix this? Are "publishers" really the only people who can "fund" writers? I just think to myself that this is not how it is for ALL artists... so why does this make a "good" argument for needing publishers... seems like this "only those who publishers deem worthy get funds" seems like it is causing a bottleneck, and stagnation of the industry?

As human minds, we "learn" and "incorporate scientific/inquisitive worldviews" when we see ideas "communicated" multiple ways... it takes reading many people on something like "evolution" to "get it"... not just "here's some random info about Darwin from the internet..."
Having sensible copyprotection isn't about "everything for FREE"... it is about universal ACCESS to the materials of culture.

By all means, attack people who run black markets... but please don't hinder progress by dumping "everyone" in a bucket that says "criminal pirate" on the label, and trying to start the discussion from that lead point...

Good ideas need to be spread, REAL solutions to people making 'copies' of published works involves finding ways to help people make a living by being creative and sharing the ideas and thoughts that come into their heads... and at the same time, recognizing that to "know" all the ideas that are a PART OF OUR SOCIETY... one would have to be a millionaire to get to have some access everything in a reasonable time-frame.

Or should the millionaire have first access, and more access to information and ideas... they are after all millionaires... they must be better than others... they have easier access to legal assistance, post secondary education is just a signature on a check away, they must be more deserving of easy access to all those ideas, and concepts, and explanations of those ideas, which conveniently will help to make MORE money.

yes, why would we want those ideas to be easily accessed and manipulated by "poor people"... they are poor right... so why should they have the same "level" of access to all of our culture, all of our collective wisdom as a millionaire.


And quite honestly... if I download some "britney spears" or equivalent "nickelback" song(I didn't, and wouldn't)... it would be to know just exactly how messed up the ideas and messages are that are SEEPING through the brains of almost all of our culture today. Is there no distinction between 'wanting to know what the media is which society is being fed is all about'... and "gimmie gimmie free mine". Nuance?
posted by infinite intimation at 4:18 PM on May 3, 2010


Books are not like CDs, movies, and video games.

If you pirate a CD, movie, or video game, you get almost exactly the same experience as you do when you buy it (maybe slightly better, maybe slightly worse, but mostly the same). Almost anyone who can listen to a CD, watch a movie, or play a video game can also use a pirated version using the same technology that they use for the original.

Reading a book differs significantly from using an e-reader or reading a .pdf on your computer monitor. The jury is still very much out on whether this will be a widely-adopted technology. Paper books are ubiquitous, ancient, and continue to enjoy significant advantages over e-books. 99.999% of book readers would have no idea what to do with a pirated e-book if you handed it to them on a USB drive.

Worrying about e-book piracy at this point seems to me about exactly the same as worrying about the piracy of books-on-tape (or CD, or mp3, or whatever). Yes, that's probably going to cut into book sales a little bit, but it's only a tiny, tiny piece of the book market.
posted by straight at 4:36 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


that'll be what the future looks like: amateur hour and ads, with the occasional flash of brilliance or labor of love.

As opposed to currently? Where there is a deluge of top quality content regularly getting the hosannas it deserved and all but thrust into my hands?

More seriously, though, your comment displays some ignorance about how publishing has evolved in recent years. The success of "mega-books" like Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, etc. has applied so much pressure that the major publishing houses are essentially involved in a lottery, mass-publishing bevies of books that are destined to fail in hopes of finding the next Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. What's happening is actually the opposite careful discriminatory taste-making. I don't think it's great for books, or for writers or publishers, but that's an arguable position. What's inarguable though, I think, is your characterisation of the role that publishers play, and how they play it.
posted by smoke at 4:51 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


You want to launder that money first.

There's a block down in Chinatown with ten barbershops in a row. Recommended.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:02 PM on May 3, 2010


But the upside to such a world is fairly substantial. As the price of computers/e-readers declines below, say, $10, and the internet becomes ubiquitous, literally billions of people in developing countries will have access to that technology. At a price of $0, hundreds of millions of children (and adults) would have access to a gigantic trove of non-fiction and fiction, a staggering educational opportunity. Books are (arguably) different from movies or music: giving people access to books changes who they are and what they can be in enormous ways. Education changes what you can become and your economic output enormously, and not just bookless education like multiplication tables, or just non-fiction books. Unleashing such an opportunity -- even if 99% of people fail to take advantage of it -- would be a huge upside, both economically, and in terms of the human development of those readers.

I'm actually with you on this to a point; however, I think the relevant part is people in developing countries. If every person in an impoverished, struggling nation were given a Kindle or an iPad or a Nook with unlimited (free) downloading capacity, that would be wonderful. And -- beyond the cost of the device and the cost of keeping it wirelessly connected to the internet -- this would cost nothing, because the cost of an ebook is basically zero and the distribution of an ebook to every person in such a country would represent 0.00 cents in lost sales. This is a magnificent idea, and I hope someone with a hell of a lot more money than I've got makes it happen.

On the other hand, a large part of what would make that possible -- if Apple or Amazon or, unlikely as it seems, B&N put forth the capital to make it possible -- would be Viewers Like You...i.e., westerners with the scratch to pay cash money for their shit. Because let's be honest here: Even the most desperately poor Americans can probably get to a library. I have no desire whatsoever to be homeless in America, I know it would be horrible, but I also know you are so much better off being broke here than in much of the globe. I don't want to eat dinner in a soup kitchen, but I can; I don't want to sleep in a homeless shelter, but I can; I don't want to dress myself out of a box of other people's old clothing, but I can; I don't want to get walking pneumonia or hepatitis or body lice or, you know, cancer, or any of the other maladies common to neglected people and then have to visit a charity clinic or an ER because those places are depressing and the staff is always overworked and I might be there for hours before anybody can see me and I'll probably be in pain and wondering where the fuck it all went so wrong but I can. The west treats its people THAT well. It may not seem great. It may not BE great. What it is, however, is good enough that most people can afford to buy their own damn copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Point blank, if everyone stops paying for the stuff they like, the stuff they like goes away. We all like roads that you can drive down without hitting huge potholes, we all like schools that our children can go to and get educations that will keep them from growing up to talk like something out of Riddley Walker and kill us in our beds for crack money and enjoy the music of T. Pain, and we all know that these are things that are only possible if we pay money for them, and yet everyone bitches about their taxes and refuses to vote for school levies. This "information wants to be free" bullshit? The same.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:25 PM on May 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Chortly:

"As for the "it's already out there" argument: With a few exceptions, no major fiction since the 1920s is available for free. And with a few more exceptions, most major textbooks and works of non-fiction aren't available either."

Well, no. Libraries can and do have electronic copies of works available. Heck, even my little local public library, serving a population of 1,900, has downloadable work available via a consortium of other libraries. This includes all sorts of recent books, ont just ones available in the public domain. Textbooks? You can also find them, and some of them are in fact currently being used in schools. It's also worth mentioning some of the libraries above stock textbooks as well. And then there are universities like MIT placing course work online for free. And so on.

The issue isn't whether a vast repository of information, both for knowledge and for entertainment, is available for free online; it is, and it is accessible to all sorts of people provided they have an online presence. It may be that people seem to think that the only repository of information online is Wikipedia. But, you know, every link here was found with just a few minutes of Google action, which rather goes against infinite intimation's claim that most of this information is "buried in mountains of piles of garbage."

The issue for me is why you seem to think that for millions (and eventually billions) to access and share this information, the people who produce it have to, you know, see their livelihoods disappear. One does not imply the other.

"And as someone who has also taught English, it would be ridiculous to try to cobble together a 20th/21th century fiction or poetry class out of what you could currently find online."

I don't know about that.
posted by jscalzi at 5:56 PM on May 3, 2010


The issue for me is why you seem to think that for millions (and eventually billions) to access and share this information, the people who produce it have to, you know, see their livelihoods disappear. One does not imply the other.

Agreed, but on the other hand, nor does it imply that the current way of doing things is the best and only way, and furthermore that being paid to write - novels in the main - for a living is both a net good, and a right that readers should *have* to pay for.

God knows, I'm the last person to support unfettered free-market wet dreams, however I reiterate: there is a disjunction here between cost and value, and books are no different to any other kind of product in this respect. If the cost/value ratio is out of whack, you need to change production models. The current method of making and selling books isn't an evolutionary model; it's historical, and social, and promoted largely by those who stand to make the most money from it.

If books are too expensive for people to buy them, make them cheaper. Perhaps I'm so het up about this issue because here in Australia, publishers have been gouging us in comparison to the rest of the world for literally decades. New b-format (large) paperbacks here are now selling somewhere between $35-$45 dollars. It's outrageous, and the idea of supporting the industry doing that - who has the gall to act like they care about more people reading books (as opposed to buying them) - makes me nauseous.
posted by smoke at 6:28 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Smoke:

"If books are too expensive for people to buy them, make them cheaper."

Here in the US, this isn't too much of a problem, as paperbacks can be had new for less than the cost of a movie ticket in most major cities.

I checked the cost of my books at Angus & Robertson down there in Australia, and they seem to have most of the paperbacks at $12.95 AUS (about $12 US), which seems slightly above reasonable, and also at Dymocks, which has them at $20 - $21, which does not seem anything close to reasonable at all.
posted by jscalzi at 6:42 PM on May 3, 2010


"Again, leaving the moral aspect aside and the relative merit of release groups, it's not as if only people and companies that contribute to a work creatively get a credit. When I go to a movie theater, I see a big fancy 3D intro letting me know what theater I'm watching it in, even though they had nothing to do with getting the film made."

People not contributing creatively for a project, however you want to draw that line, getting credit is easier to show than that. EG: The movie I watched today gave individual credit to the lead's personal chef and his driver along with the honeywagon driver, about two dozen accountants and the insurance agents.

"I realize I'm relatively flat footed, but can someone explain to me why an individual would do this? Is there a money angle I don't know about? Do torrent sites demand you put up material before you can download? Just seems a lot of trouble for no great payoff."

One reason is personal itch. Way back when TSR was still running D&D they published a set of books tailored to every class and race. My gaming group successfully made the effort to transcribe those books to text files by typing them simply because the rule set was getting crazy byzantine and you can't grep a dead tree.

Secondly there is a lot of prestige riding on who consistently releases good stuff early and often.

Thirdly there are a lot of people like RMS who not only acknowledge the truism that information wants to be free in the same way your average person acknowledges that unsupported objects want to fall to the ground; they actively work to distribute information because they think it is the moral thing to do.
posted by Mitheral at 7:13 PM on May 3, 2010


So you're completely wrong in a great number of blatant ways.

Legally, yes. But I've got physics on my side.

Good luck.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:26 PM on May 3, 2010


> if someone's willing to read a book from a library, or a downloaded warez copy, but not to pay for it, then they are not a lost sale -- they were never a sales prospect in the first place.)

I think this idea can be easily disproved.

Put a CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FREE link right next to your CLICK HERE TO BUY link, and watch what happens to your sales numbers.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:41 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


darth_tedious:

There's some (I presume) unintentional irony there, in that one of Charlie's best-selling books is Accelerando, which he released for free as an ebook. Additionally Accelerando sold better than the book immediately previous to it.

For that matter, I've had a novel, Agent to the Stars, that has been available online for free for eleven years now, but that hasn't stopped the book from selling a nice big number (or from being published in German, Spanish and Russian).

I'd also mention how well Cory Doctorow's Little Brother has sold despite the freely downloadable e-version that's available, but I know how foamy people around here get at the mere mention of Cory's name, so I won't.

Point being, this idea is possibly less easy to disprove than you might think.
posted by jscalzi at 9:27 PM on May 3, 2010


> ...Additionally Accelerando sold better than the book immediately previous to it.
...online for free for eleven years now, but that hasn't stopped the book from selling a nice big number

Point being, this idea is possibly less easy to disprove than you might think.


Perhaps.

To test my point, I think, again, you'd have to put two piles of one of your books in the bookstore, right next to one another-- one with a price, and one marked free, and then notice what happens.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:16 PM on May 3, 2010


So all your scenario really offers is a substantial diminution in the welfare of creative people and the industries which thrive on their output.

Rather than imagining the world where you needlessly cut writers and publishers off at the knees, try instead to imagine a world where libraries and public education are the last things cut in government budgets, rather than the first.


I'm immensely sympathetic to authors, but there is nothing in this thread that shows why they shouldn't have the same market forces thump them just like other artists.
In music, a few superstars make a squillion dollars, an order more make very good money, and order more get by comfortably and an order more struggle along. At the bottom of the pile are the part timers who aren't good enough to support themselves through music. They continue to do music for intrinsic rather than financial rewards.

It's similar in movies and books.
I don't begrudge writers a living, but if the amount people will pay for a book is declining - which is what we are really talking about here, as iTunes has shown there is a price people will pay for the convenience of a legit media copy - then the total number of writers in each of the groups above, except the last group of part timers will decline.

To draw an historical parallel, in the 1950s a hand made dinner table cost two months wages, and was the only option, so that many US cabinet makers made a good living, but have since been replaced by machines and off-shore labour. I wish there was an alternative that sees a lot of highly skilled cabinet makers employed at high wages making quality furniture, but the market spoke and they were superfluous.

In the 2000s recording artists found there was a lot less money around, not because their jobs were off-shored or automated (some exceptions!) but as people pirated music rather than paying for it. The industry continues to fight it, but it looks pretty apparent they can't put the genie back in the bottle.

In the 2010s authors might find piracy (or competition from free online authors) takes a bite out of their incomes. I feel bad about it, but it may well happen, and if it does, the genie will be out and no amount of wishing or hoping will but it back. I'd much rather we come up with a way to get enough funds to Scalzi and Stross et. al. that they continue to create, but I recognise the wider public would rather Harry Potter or Twilight.
posted by bystander at 12:47 AM on May 4, 2010


omiewise:

To understand it, I think you have to put yourself in the position of someone who's spent half their life doing something that feeds their family and gives them status, who then finds the money and status going away because of somebody else doing the job who doesn't need it to for either and can thus compete on unequal terms. To the person who's losing out, it feels as if something's been taken from them unfairly, and that feels like theft. Since we evolved workers' rights we have the notion that you can't have your work taken from you unfairly without redress, so that feeling of theft is bolstered.

[Your analogy with sex and food doesn't work, because people have _always_ cooked for themselves and there has always been a reasonable expectation that part of the deal with partners is that you get to sleep with each other. In both cases, the commercial suppliers of such services have always competed with free, on the grounds that they offer more convenience, higher quality or exotic alternatives that are worth your dime.]

Whether you agree with it or not, that argument exists, people believe it dearly, and there are good reasons for this. It needs to be understood.

As I said, I don't think this argument actually works. Industries mutate or die when the environment changes, and the status quo can't be maintained in such a situation without long-term harm. Managing the change to militate against the harm it causes is the responsible, and hard, thing to do, and the temptation for politicians and others is to pretend otherwise by capitalising on the distress to sell their own agenda (see the Tea Party and infinite other examples from history). You can find it in spades in the "Google is a thief" attitude that Murdoch et al have tried to foster, to general disdain, and "We're just trying to get paid for what's ours" approach of certain IP holders in tech.
posted by Devonian at 12:50 AM on May 4, 2010


To follow that negative comment, I don't actually think authors will suffer much from piracy.
The people who drop $25 on 1st run hard backs are the people in every thread on ebooks who insist actual books can never be replaced because of the feel/smell/features that a physical book has. These people care about the aesthetics of their reading experience and will pay up.
Their analogue in movies are the "you have to see it on the big screen" types who continue to fill movie theaters every blockbuster weekend.
I should note there is also a huge market of people buying books or movies as gifts. I'm not going to give my mum a warez copy of Avatar or a poorly OCR'd copy of Twilight for Xmas, so there is a substantial market that will persist because piracy is not a substitue.
There are a bunch of less serious readers or movie goers who might wait for a library or mass paperback copy to become available, or for the movie to get to Netflix or TV. These are the people who might pirate stuff, if it is less hassle than getting a legit copy.
For movies, it pretty much is. A pirate download is about as difficult as a drive to Blockbuster.
But for book pirates it is harder to pirate anything except best sellers reliably.

So maybe the business model is to have first run hardbacks as before, with a window until the paperback is released, then release an ebook at an iTunes style price point ($1.99?) at the same time.
The hardcover, which I am told is where most mid-list authors hope to make any money, hopefully turns a profit off the back of keen readers and the gift market. Its production costs are sunk, and the extra to make an ebook release is a pittance, so a $1.99 price point would be pretty close to all profit.
The low price point, warm glow of buying an electronic copy legitimately from the author or publisher and the lack of hassle a legit sale has would suck the oxygen out of the casual piracy market - and a legit download would cost less than the petrol to go to the library.
There is still the paperback market for those who don't want ebooks, and the window for illegal pirate versions of a book to have any value is cut to a few months.
Now for those few months there will be some leakage as ebook desiring readers download pirate copies, but the number of keen "I need to read this straight away" fans that would prefer to pirate a copy rather than own the hardcopy and also support the author must be small.
posted by bystander at 1:11 AM on May 4, 2010


To follow that negative comment, er, my negative comment, not Devonian's.
posted by bystander at 1:13 AM on May 4, 2010


Oh for christ's sake. This rebuttal is getting so tired.

Ooh, drive by snark. No explanation needed from you. Everything you say is self-evident, axiomatic. It's a done deal, fuckers, 'coz ratio said it.

But for us mere mortals, perhaps you could take a second from what must be a life of immortal wisdom to explain why it's 'so tired'? Because the only reason I can think of for telling people not to photograph magazines and books is because they'll derive a benefit from somebody's intellectual property without paying for it. But I can also do this in all sorts of perfectly legal and socially acceptable ways, too, including just browsing (or even, as seems to be encouraged in Borders, taking a comfy chair with a coffee and just reading the whole damn thing from start to finish).

So what's so special about this case? Is it that I have a permanent copy I can take away with me? Because I remember and write all sorts of stuff I read for free; I photocopy stuff in libraries; I tear pages out of old magazines from the dump...same result.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:08 AM on May 4, 2010


I bet subscriptions would work by keeping the payments low and the anticipation high. You would pay a low monthly fee to get ongoing access to an author's book stream chapter by chapter as they were written (edited, advertised, etc.) and released. If you didn't like the content or frequency of the author's output, you could cancel the monthly service. It would be a bit like the Victorian model. Dickens would make just a rough sketch of what he was going to write for an entire novel and then start banging out chapters and publishing batches of them each month.
posted by pracowity at 2:45 AM on May 4, 2010


darth tedious:

"To test my point, I think, again, you'd have to put two piles of one of your books in the bookstore..."

There's no "again" there -- you've changed the setting from online to the real world, and fiddled with the parameters of your test when it's pointed out that your original test wouldn't necessarily work the way you want it to.

Beyond this, your test doesn't prove much of anything other than that people are happy to take a free book that's legitimately provided for free. People like free; just ask the Costco lady with the sausage tray. It doesn't mean (going to Charlie's original point) that they then won't buy other books from that author if they enjoy that free book. Speaking from anecdotal and personal experience, I find I get a lot of new paying readers who have first read me for free in whatever fashion -- they like what they read and then go get the other books. Heck, I've even been in a signing line where people have brought me the Advance Reader Copy of one of my books, which they received for free, and the hardcover of that book, which they've bought.

So, no, in my opinion, even changing the parameters wouldn't test your point particularly well, either.

bystander:

"In the 2010s authors might find piracy (or competition from free online authors) takes a bite out of their incomes."

But to go back to Charlie's point, the sort of person who gets his or her reading material solely from piracy -- the sort of person who will not under any circumstances buy reading material -- isn't a lost sale because you were never going to sell to that person anyway. You focus on the people who will buy from you, and you make it easy for them to find your work and buy it.

What authors are benefiting from that musicians didn't is that when mass market specialized machines for accessing their medium debuted, there was retail infrastructure in place. It's easy to legitimately buy electronic books -- indeed it's generally far easier to get an electronic version of a novel off BN.com or Amazon or wherever than it is to troll the internets looking for scanned version of the work.

What we also benefit from is that fervent book fans generally do have a different retail profile than music fans -- they do tend to be older and more disposed to paying for their entertainment (provided they don't feel like they're getting screwed in the deal).

Which is why, ultimately, darth tedious' test doesn't work particularly well, and why "free" is not necessarily a writer's enemy: Because our audiences on balance are inclined to financially support the artists they like. What the key is making it easy for the audience to do so.
posted by jscalzi at 6:58 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


pracowity: You would pay a low monthly fee to get ongoing access to an author's book stream chapter by chapter as they were written (edited, advertised, etc.) and released. If you didn't like the content or frequency of the author's output, you could cancel the monthly service.

Knit designers are already doing something like this, although rather than a monthly fee, it's "buy the book and get the patterns THE VERY SECOND THEY ARE READY instead of waiting til the end when they are ALL ready." It's a model that can work well for anything that's easily compartmentalized into standalone-ish chapters or sections.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:40 AM on May 4, 2010


bystander: I should note there is also a huge market of people buying books or movies as gifts. I'm not going to give my mum a warez copy of Avatar or a poorly OCR'd copy of Twilight for Xmas, so there is a substantial market that will persist because piracy is not a substitue.

The problem isn't just that piracy is not a substitute. The problem is that current distribution models of e-book DRM is not a substitute either. I pass my copy of The Good Fairies of New York to my uncle at a funeral. I can't do that with an e-book copy easily at this time.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:17 AM on May 4, 2010


> It doesn't mean (going to Charlie's original point) that they then won't buy other books from that author if they enjoy that free book.

No, it doesn't mean that; loss-leaders are used in marketing for a reason.

However, if every book is made available for free, so that every book becomes a loss-leader for the next book... which doesn't profit either, because it, too, has become a loss-leader... ad infinitum, then a fairly intractable problem develops.

Your argument seems to be, in part, "Sometimes people like my work so much that they tell me, 'I bought your work because I liked it so much... which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't read it for free'". Which is nice; I've gotten the so-good-I-had-to-come-here-and-pay-you report too, and indeed the feeling that flows from it is a warm and fuzzy one. I'll even add that I've never bought Peter Watts' work at a bookstore-- I read his online versions, then decided I liked them so much I'd send him some cash.

>> There's no "again" there -- you've changed the setting from online to the real world, and fiddled with the parameters of your test when it's pointed out that your original test wouldn't necessarily work the way you want it to.

My original test was, when/if you place two things side-by-side, one version priced and one version free, whether or not people-- even those who might otherwise buy-- would choose free.

You argued that you, Stross, and Doctorow have placed things not side-by-side but in different formats and contexts-- the bookstore versus the website, the hardcopy versus the download-- and thrived.

And, again, I suggest you place free vs. paid, side-by-side, and watch what happens.

But, you might argue, these things aren't side-by-side.

Well, not yet. But as the experience of reading things online becomes commonplace and comfortable for more and more people, they'll soon be perceived as being so. Equally accessible, and near-equally comfortable, one priced and one free, the advantage of one over the other will be reduced to sentimentality. And even that sentiment-- I paid the author, to whose work I feel indebted, and am proud of doing so-- can be very quickly downgraded into, Well, I didn't pay him... but I told tons of people about him... so I'm sure he got something out of it.

My point is that the walls of format and context will dissolve, as the technology of display improves. For now, yes, reading a (paid-for) book is lovely, while reading via a (free) computer (especially for those not used to reading online) is an off-putting experience. But this wall thinned with the Kindle, will thin further with the iPad, will thin further yet in time. Eventually there'll be very little difference, aesthetically, in reading digital and physical versions... so what will be left as a reason to buy, when you can read for free?

And we're back to the sentimental notion of Loyalty to the Author. But when we reach the point that not just the works of Scalzi, Stross, Watts, and Doctorow are presented online for free... but everyone's works are online for free (voluntarily or otherwise), then Look-My-Stuff-is-Online-for-Free ceases to be much of a distinguishing sales element. (And it's even less so if one steps beyond the emotional world of literary fandom, and into the less personal world of the sales of information.)

Giving one's stuff away online won't last as a distinguishing novelty; more and more books will be available online.

Reading online will be seen as less and less of a burden; more and more readers will migrate to the act and expectation of reading online.

Ultimately, more and more readers will expect to find the books they want immediately, for free, online... and in a comfortably readable format.

The tactile and aesthetic appeal of the book makes, ultimately, for a very thin wall.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:36 AM on May 4, 2010


I really fear for the artistic landscape if we can't somehow resuscitate the idea that creators getting paid for their efforts is a good thing.
posted by Zed at 9:45 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really fear for the artistic landscape if we can't somehow resuscitate the idea that creators getting paid for their efforts is a good thing.

I fear for the artistic landscape if we decide that somehow EVERY giant whose shoulders have been stood on needs to get paid.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:16 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


So it's a good thing there's a difference between what I said and a crazy straw-man version of what I said.
posted by Zed at 10:26 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


darth tedious:

"And, again, I suggest you place free vs. paid, side-by-side, and watch what happens."

And, again, all three of us have done so, since each of us have offered the free electronic versions with clear links to paid versions either embedded in the free version or on the landing pages where those free versions were housed. Naturally, those links go to retailers who offer electronic versions as well, which is very much an apples-to-apples comparison.

Now, I understand you will feel free to slice your definition of "side by side" as thinly as possible to actually make your argument, but out here where people are selling books, offering up the free work electronically has not been a detriment to making sales. So again, I feel pretty strongly that my actual experience with this -- which is what you seemed to be wanting -- is more pertinent than your theoretical definition slicing of what counts as "side by side."

Nor do I think that the existence of work available for free necessarily cuts into the ability of an author to make money, if as noted before the retail avenues for purchase are easier to use and the works are offered for a reasonable amount. As it happens, today is the day I got my semi-annual royalty statement from Macmillin, so I happen to know rather precisely how many electronic versions of my books are selling (as well as other formats), and they happen to be selling quite nicely in the electronic formats. Now, it's a trivial matter to find my work online -- Agent to the Stars is on my Web site, and Old Man's War was offered as a DRM-free freebie by Tor a couple years ago and is really not difficult to find (and is exactly the same, experientially, as the for-sale version). But the retail versions of each take no effort to locate and both are reasonably priced. So they sell just fine.

Based on my own actual experience as someone who has been writing online professionally for fifteen years and selling books for ten and who has rather closely examined how the two things interact with each other, I will tell you that this assertion of yours:

"Ultimately, more and more readers will expect to find the books they want immediately, for free, online... and in a comfortably readable format."

Is only mostly correct. People want to find the books they want, they want them online, and they want them in a comfortably readable format. And if you give them all of those, you can make money doing so. And indeed, as noted, since the retail infrastructure for selling electronic books already exists before most people have ebook readers (or more accurately, electronic doodads they want to read off of), the experience most people who read ebooks will have -- most people, mind you, not the geeks to the right of the tech bell curve, many of whom are here on Teh Bloo -- will be one that explicitly funnels them into a retail experience with eBooks; note Kindle (Amazon), Nook (Barnes & Noble), iPad (Apple Store) and so on. To go outside that retail experience takes more effort than to stay in it. That's not about "author loyalty," although author loyalty is not a bad thing. It's about a convenient and congenial experience to get what you want.

Will there be some people who will vomit up "information wants to be free!" as a justification for not paying for anything, ever? Sure. But I'm pretty confident that most folks won't really have a problem paying for books.
posted by jscalzi at 10:27 AM on May 4, 2010


I really fear for the artistic landscape if we can't somehow resuscitate the idea that creators getting paid for their efforts is a good thing.

The issue is the value inherent in the free and mostly unrestricted flow of cultural information (very good for basic communication concerns) versus the value inherent in remuneration of cultural creators (very good for guaranteeing that this basic communication continues). Call me an idealist but I like to think we, the geniuses that we are, can figure out a way to accomplish both ends.

And now, please, let's repeat that mantra:

First, piracy of media is not the same thing as stealing someone’s physical stuff. Maybe it’s better. Maybe it’s worse. But any time you treat it the same, you’re going to fail in any solution.
posted by philip-random at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2010


Zed: I really fear for the artistic landscape if we can't somehow resuscitate the idea that creators getting paid for their efforts is a good thing.

I don't think many people disagree that creators should get paid for what they create.

But as a consumer, owner, and educator, I have rights as well. I have the right to copy portions I find useful for my own utility. I have the right to quote limited portions as I see fit. I have the right to loan, gift, or donate my copies to other people.

The utility of the arts and letters lies between those two sets of rights.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2010


So it's a good thing there's a difference between what I said and a crazy straw-man version of what I said.

I quoted you in your entirety. If that's a straw-man, it's your own creation.

Might I suggest a carrot for the nose?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:52 AM on May 4, 2010


>> out here where people are selling books, offering up the free work electronically has not been a detriment to making sales

You seem to be continuing to argue thus: "This is working for me, right now."

Sure. (On the other hand, the comparison between what you'd sell in the year 2010 without giveaway books, versus what you sell with giveaway books, is somewhat speculative, particularly over the long-term. Selling them without an obvious and well-publicized giveaway feature, and then suddenly introducing one, makes for a somewhat better point of comparison. Really, you have to compare the number of people who know about your work and want it at a given time, against the number who know it is available for free.)

Project a bit into the future, though, when everyone's books are online for free. In a sense, right now you're competing with a literal handful of people, for an early-adopter hipster vote. Right now, in the world of new, immediately fresh-from-the-presses fiction, free is still a novelty. It won't be for very long.

>> What we also benefit from is that fervent book fans generally do have a different retail profile than music fans -- they do tend to be older and more disposed to paying for their entertainment (provided they don't feel like they're getting screwed in the deal).

>> Which is why, ultimately, darth tedious' test doesn't work particularly well, and why "free" is not necessarily a writer's enemy: Because our audiences on balance are inclined to financially support the artists they like. What the key is making it easy for the audience to do so.

I Sell to Old Rich People as a sales model can certainly work (it works for the golf industry, after all), but I suspect, in this case, it's a model of limited lifespan... because people-- even older, putatively book-buying people-- can and will adapt to new technologies, when those technologies are made sufficiently transparent and easy to use.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:10 AM on May 4, 2010


Devonian- Can you point me to someone making the "people who do something for free that others have (previously?) been paid for is tantamount to theft?" (Not the "I'm mad that the internet is taking away my livelihood," which is a ubiquitous and banal argument with which I am familiar and sympathetic.) You haven't really made the argument, and I've never seen it made before. I think I've made clear that it seems incredible that someone would attempt to make it, as it makes literally not one bit of sense (and the weird confusing conflation with worker's rights arguments makes it seems as if whoever is making the argument understands neither workers, nor rights, nor worker's rights.)
posted by OmieWise at 11:34 AM on May 4, 2010


darth tedious:

"Project a bit into the future, though, when everyone's books are online for free. "

Well, but, see. Your positing a world not necessarily in evidence, and just because you seem to assume that this is as it will be doesn't make it so, no matter how often you repeat it. Again, unlike when mp3 players were brought into the world without a useful retail infrastructure, the most popular eBook readers are explicitly tied into retail. From the start of eBooks being a significant percentage of the book sale market -- which they still are not yet, although I suspect they will be -- there is a robust solution for making it easy and convenient for people to pay for them. And so they will.

And so, incidentally, will authors offer their work through these retail channels even if they don't have publishers, because retailers themselves are making it easy for them to do so -- Amazon and Apple are both offering self-publishing options for writers, so authors can use the trusted payment system of a retailer to offer their work to audiences.

So, rather than me arguing "this is working for me right now," you appear to be arguing "this market will devolve toward free, because I think it will." But because books are entering the electronic medium later than music and movies and other media, publishers are taking advantage of a) the mistakes of those media in dealing with electronic issues and b) the sales avenues that grew up belatedly around them but just in time for books.

So, again, the declaration that all books will be free on the Internet (or more accurately that all people will demand that all books be free electronically) doesn't seem to be based on actual reality of how the market is being built now. Books are not music, and this isn't 1999. And Amazon and Apple sure as heck aren't Napster.
posted by jscalzi at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2010


Oi. Usually I speak up about how DRM is bad and counter-productive, and I get cast as a wanton copyright violator with contempt for the idea of creators being paid. Now I make about the mildest possible statement in support of paying creators, and I get schooled about fair use and making copies for personal use.

Hey, everybody! There's middle ground between supporting big media control of all electronics/permanent copyright and insisting that it's a moral good for everyone to ignore copyright!
posted by Zed at 12:51 PM on May 4, 2010


You didn't say that, Zed. You threw out a line that's used to justify everything from the immorality of fanfiction to restrictive DRM without qualification.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:05 PM on May 4, 2010


>> you appear to be arguing "this market will devolve toward free, because I think it will."

>> the declaration that all books will be free on the Internet (or more accurately that all people will demand that all books be free electronically) doesn't seem to be based on actual reality of how the market is being built now. Books are not music, and this isn't 1999.


And you appear to be arguing that the growing habit of getting stuff online for free won't grow stronger than the existing habit of buying from branded portals-- and that the literal free-for-all of Free Stuff Now, in the case of books, is mainly a product of a kind of interregnum, one that'll disappear once Apple, Amazon, et al., really get their act together.

While I'm open to the argument that improved interface, payment, pricing (and, yes, DRM) can help buoy sales-- in fact, I've made exactly this argument before-- my point is that such bulwarks are mainly useful prior to people becoming accustomed to the experience of long-form, entertainment-oriented reading online.

That said, there are distinctions to be made in terms of audience: The older and more affluent the audience, the more likely it is to pay; the younger, poorer, and more technically savvy the audience, the more likely it is to find a way to avoid paying.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:20 PM on May 4, 2010


I said what I meant, that the results of rejecting the idea of creators deserving to be paid would be bad. That doesn't mean I favor every crazy thing that's ever been asserted in the name of preserving creators' payments. If I said I favored national health care, would I have to make sure I simultaneously decried every bad thing that had ever been done in the name of socialism?
posted by Zed at 1:20 PM on May 4, 2010


Zed: I said what I meant, that the results of rejecting the idea of creators deserving to be paid would be bad.

If that was what you meant, then you said it poorly, coupled with an implication that the idea was already dead in a thread where we've been discussing at length ways that creators can make money.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:31 PM on May 4, 2010


the younger, poorer, and more technically savvy the audience, the more likely it is to find a way to avoid paying.

The younger - well, they'll get older eventually and either A. won't have the time to track down freebies that they currently do, or B. they'll be so rich they won't care anymore (either way, we'll get something from them in time)

the tech-savvy - well, they'll always be getting away with something or other, but they still won't have girlfriends (or boyfriends).

Which leaves us with the poorer, who don't have any money anyway, so what exactly are we (the artists) losing when they get something for free?
posted by philip-random at 1:40 PM on May 4, 2010


Omiewise

These are people I've talked to, I'm afraid, rather than bloggers, so you'll have to take my report as you see fit. And like all beliefs, it only seems logical to those who hold it - and it is s a belief, a reaction, a sense of injustice, and my explanation is just the best I can find for what I see.

Rather better documented is one of the more abusive mutations of the belief by the print unions in the UK newspaper industry in the pre- and early Thatcherite era, where it was entirely possible for a newspaper strike to be called if (to give one example) a journalist on deadline went to the financial wire machines and took the print-out himself instead of waiting for the appropriate employee to finish his dinner, pick it up and bring it to him. Demarcation was fiercely defended - and, rather ironically, Murdoch was one of the people to break it.
posted by Devonian at 2:33 PM on May 4, 2010


darth tedious:

"and that the literal free-for-all of Free Stuff Now, in the case of books, is mainly a product of a kind of interregnum, one that'll disappear once Apple, Amazon, et al., really get their act together."

Well, first off, I don't actually see a "literal free-for-all of Free Stuff Now" as regards books, so I don't grant that as a ground state; indeed, the biggest issue regarding eBooks recently was the fight between Amazon and Macmillan regarding $9.99 being the initial price point for new release eBooks, or whether that initial cost should float higher than that. So the issue there was what the initial cost should be, not whether the cost of books should be zero. There's no doubt people are posting and downloading unauthorized versions of books, but it's not the default state for ebook consumers.

Second off, Apple, Amazon et al already have their act together, in that a) they already have bookstore stocked with hundreds of thousands of titles and b) they have sign-off and cooperation of nearly every major publisher and most minor publishers.

Third off, it seems to me that you continue to lightly skip over what I think is an extremely relevant point, which is that the large majority of people who will ever buy an ebook reader have yet to do so -- which means that their procurement behavior, contrary to your assumption, has not been set. If the retail infrastructure for book buying was like the retail infrastructure for music at the equivalent point in time for music players, it's possible that bittorrenting (or whatever) books would be the default state. But it's not -- the retail infrastructure is much more robust and convenient (and again, the consumers of books aren't the same demographic as the consumers of music, but let's skip that for a moment). eBook readers come with retail baked in; buyers of these readers have their first experience with the books via these retail channels; most people have yet to buy their first eBook reader.

In short, Darth Tedious, you really have yet to make a compelling argument that the default path for books is zero cost -- all you really keep doing is asserting, without much evidence, that this is just the way it's going to be. Whereas I keep pointing out that a robust paid market for writing that's more convenient than the free market is a significant factor and that the end of the day it's not actually that unreasonable to assume that the average human would rather pay $6.99 to get a book from Amazon or Apple than to spend time trolling the undernet looking for a copy. Yes, if you're young/poor/tech-savvy, you might invest the time. But I don't think it's forever the default setting even for those folks. When I was younger (and poorer), I made tapes of friends' albums and borrowed books because I couldn't afford to do otherwise; when I was older and started making money, I bought the stuff that entertained me because at the end of the day I could afford it and I didn't want to jump through the hoops.

Beyond this, you make an incorrect assumption that what is to be required for books to be financially viable online is for the paid market to outpace the unpaid market. It doesn't; what it needs to do is be sufficiently large and profitable that it continues. Or to put it another way, if a million people slurp down my book without paying me, but 100,000 people buy it, I've sold 100,000 books, which is a not bad scenario for me as a writer. As noted above, people do seem to graduate into paying for things, provided they can afford it and it's easy to do so.
posted by jscalzi at 2:33 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, everybody! There's middle ground between supporting big media control of all electronics/permanent copyright and insisting that it's a moral good for everyone to ignore copyright!

No, there's not. In the end, it's either one or the other.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:20 PM on May 4, 2010


Demarcation was fiercely defended - and, rather ironically, Murdoch was one of the people to break it.

Yes, I understand those kinds of internecine workers squabbles. What you are describing isn't that, and furthermore, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that. Anyone who casts unpaid folks writing on message boards as a workers rights issue is an idiot. Seriously, there is just no comparison at all, and in the absence of the actual argument, which, frankly, I'm not sure actually exists, I can only say that anyone who would make it is someone who does not need their point of view taken seriously on this issue. But thanks for answering my questions about it.
posted by OmieWise at 5:05 PM on May 4, 2010


I checked the cost of my books at Angus & Robertson down there in Australia, and they seem to have most of the paperbacks at $12.95 AUS (about $12 US), which seems slightly above reasonable, and also at Dymocks, which has them at $20 - $21, which does not seem anything close to reasonable at all.

For what it's worth, a typical paperback in an Australian book store will be $20-22, a trade paperback for a new release will be $35, and hardbacks are essentially extinct. I haven't seen a book for $13 for more than 10 years.

I've got a Kindle on the way, and it's blowing me away that I'll be able to buy books for less than $10. I've bought plenty from Amazon already, but the $7-8 shipping per book generally sees you back to Australian book prices. For this price I'm more likely to buy books to try out new authors.
posted by markr at 6:09 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The number of print copies sold is 2x higher than the PDF-only. But the number of print+PDF packages sold is 3 times that of the PDF-only and double the print-only.

I've read through this entire thread to see if anyone else was bothered by this math like I was. I guess the nerds have given up on this thread long ago. Sorry for the derail, please return to your discussion.
posted by Crash at 8:39 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


markr: try booko.com.au
posted by bystander at 4:46 AM on May 5, 2010


me: The number of print copies sold is 2x higher than the PDF-only. But the number of print+PDF packages sold is 3 times that of the PDF-only and double the print-only.

Crash: I've read through this entire thread to see if anyone else was bothered by this math like I was. I guess the nerds have given up on this thread long ago. Sorry for the derail, please return to your discussion.

What's wrong with the math, Crash? each option is separate, there is:

* print only
* PDF only
* print + PDF (i.e. you get both for a single price)
(* e-book readers, but we'll leave those out, since you did).

So. If 10 PDF-only sold, 20 print-only sold, PDF+print sold 30 -- if you're nitpicking the last "double the print only" figure, it's because I was rounding numbers. Sheesh. I didn't think one or two copies rounded off here or there would break the internet when the larger point being made was that many more people will choose the print+PDF option when it is made available to them.

Then again, I'm not much of a bean-overthinker.

posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:28 AM on May 5, 2010


The tactile and aesthetic appeal of the book makes, ultimately, for a very thin wall.

I think most of the people in this thread are making a very speculative and unwarranted comparison between mp3 files and electronic books and assuming people will adopt e-book readers the way they adopted mp3 players. We really don't know yet if that's going to happen.

1. mp3 players and CD players are almost the same technology. Books and e-book readers are very different. Different in price, in the contexts in which they can be used, in the experience of using them.

2. CDs are only about 30 years old. Recorded music is only about a hundred years old. But people have been using books for thousands of years. They are extremely, deeply ingrained in our culture. There is no way they are going to be displaced by a new technology as easily as CD players were.
posted by straight at 11:23 AM on May 5, 2010


there are a lot of people like RMS who not only acknowledge the truism that information wants to be free in the same way your average person acknowledges that unsupported objects want to fall to the ground; they actively work to distribute information because they think it is the moral thing to do.

(Shakes head sadly.) I will never understand such people. I mean to say, the average person has some objective measurable evidence for gravity, and can pass it on to others with numbers and calculations and such. People like RMS who aver that information wants to be free seem to claim that they are spiritually in tune with the invisible volition inside an abstraction in ways the creator is not, and waddayaknow! That abstraction is just dying to come to me at no cost!

QED, if you leave out a few steps.

You can see how I wince a bit at the use of the word truism in combination with that particularly phrase. Slogans in general I take as a way of justifying a failure to reflect on an issue.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:05 PM on May 5, 2010


bystander, thanks for that, booko looks great, although it mainly confirms my point, which was that books in Australia are expensive, it obviously makes it easy to find international alternatives (In particular bookdepository.com which has free international shipping, something I've never seen before).

Just to whine about local book prices some more, take a look at Iain Banks' The Crow Road on booko. Now that's a 17 year old paperback (although by the cover, a pretty new re-issue), 8.61AUD from UK Amazon, 24.99AUD from Dymocks.
posted by markr at 7:14 PM on May 5, 2010


. I mean to say, the average person has some objective measurable evidence for gravity, and can pass it on to others with numbers and calculations and such.

I just emailed you gravity.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:29 PM on May 5, 2010


« Older Conan O'Brien gives his first interview since losi...  |  Agence France Presse's slap to... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments