Free fiction war?


This blog post was the result of me seeing “Hot, Hot In The Summertime And Hot Under The Collar!“, a blog post by Rob Shelsky. I’ll start by saying that I am sympathetic to the plight of professional writers. I’d be more sympathetic if a larger fraction of the money I have spent on books actually ended up in the pockets of the writers. I think we all have to ask if the print publishing industry is worth saving.

Let’s face it. Printing books is technology from a past era. It was a great idea 500 years ago, but all things change. News flash: we are now in the computer age. Information was once expensive and text was once tedious to work with. However, computers increasingly make information cheap and text easy to sling…and copy. Get used to it.

Rob wrote: “…those people who write ‘just for the fun of it,’ all the time, and who say they don’t care about any monetary proceeds and just give it away consistently, in my opinion are not helping the author community as a whole.”

Okay, that comment is targeted at me, so here is my reply….

Imagine this comment from 1850: “…those people who try to make machines for picking cotton are not helping the institution of slavery.” I’m sure that people who made a living from selling slaves were “hot under the collar” when the Southern Slave Economy collapsed, but should anyone have shed a tear for them? Now, in this analogy, Rob is more like a slave than a slave master. His plight reminds me of former slaves who were made uncomfortable by the need to become self-autonomous when the Civil War ended and they were no longer a slave.

I think what we need is a unified internet-based system for making fiction accessible to readers. Some fiction content inside that system will be free and some will be available for a fee at download. Some writers will likely only make teasers available electronically and will continue to force readers to purchase “hard copy”. I’d like to see a system where authors get the vast majority of what readers pay for fictional works. Editors and publicists should work for authors and come to authors looking for work….”I’d be thrilled to edit your next novel for a small fee”.

We need to explore new ways to channel money to authors. I’d like to see a culture “tax” that allows people to check a box on their Form 1040 and donate to a fund for creators of free culture. We need to get busy creating an electronic system that will allow the creators of free cultural works to be compensated according to the value of their contributions to society. Note: free culture does not have to mean “free as in beer“…free culture is mainly about the freedom to share and use intellectual property…there are still ways to profit within an information economy that rewards sharing. I think such a system for rewarding intellectual creativity would require that each person in the information economy have a unique personal electronic identifier. If I download and read a work of fiction, my unique personal signature would be credited towards the author of that work. The author would be paid a share of society’s free culture fund.

Rob wrote: “…we may end up with so many rank amateurs who want to give away their poor quality work free, that the discerning reader simply can’t find what’s good anymore, can’t wade through the dross to find the gem, because it is buried in an ever-growing mass of what’s bad”. Yes, a fundamental problem of the information age is finding “the good stuff”. This is nothing new. I’ve suffered my entire life with the problem of sorting through the ocean of “what’s bad” and published. Within Science Fiction Publishing there is a pattern: ignore all authors until they start to sell. Then publish everything that author ever writes, including all the crap they ever write.

I think the internet has the potential to host great oceans of “what’s bad”, but it also has the potential to provide us with tools for searching and finding “what I like”, which for me seldom matches what the publishing industry likes to publish. So I say, rather than bitch about all the crap on the internet, let’s all pitch in an make the tools that are needed to sort what we like from what we want to ignore. Let the internet flower, let the fiction flow…the more the merrier. Let’s find new ways to help creative people receive monetary compensation for their work. Let’s not mourn for the fact that the old print publishers have new competition.

Related blog post at Book Oven.

Will authors of the future need publishers? by Nathan Bransford

Future of self-publishing by thinkfeel

Image. Source. GFDL.

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