Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: state of NY publishing

Date: 13 Nov 2009

  • Next message: Patrick King: "Re: RARA-AVIS: early Lehane"

    Warning! Warning! I'm going to meander even more than I usually do on this list, where I constantly endeavour to take a view from so far outside the thread topic that I suspect many of you don't get what I'm on about, ever.

    As a published but not especially successful author I find this woes-of-technolgoy thread somewhat amusing, having gone through so many of the arguments five, ten, even fifteen years ago up here in Canuckville. I recall mostly the blank looks on occassional mid-list American authors and fans at crime-writing cons when locals addressed the impact that changing technologies were having on a fragile industry in an already small marketplace. Visitors from just across the border could not seem to grasp that even their much bigger markets could be fractured by the proliferation of media. It's difficult to understand from within such situations, that we are reacting to an already accomplished fact, and that as destructive as it may be perceived to be, especially personally, the change is consistent with much longer termed trends.

    We forget that consumers have not directly paid for popular culture content for a very long time, and that the primary medium for content such as popular crime fiction shifted away from print decades ago, to television where advertisers directly footed the bill (consumers indirectly picking up the tab with their Wheaties- it's a bit like "free" parking at the shopping mall.) Advertisers needed content that drew mass audiences (to support industrial era mass consumption and mass production) and that meant popular culture ran on the star system that even back in the '50s and '60s, and I suspect though perhaps to a lesser degree much earlier than that, many writers and other creative types toiled with little liklihood of achieving the significant financial success achieved by a very few. But they persisted nevertheless, and the sheer volume of free content (good, bad or indifferent) available through the now much broader range of digital media (from POD to YouTube) puts to rest
     any concerns that cultural production will decrease, let alone cease, without the promise of financial reward.

    Not that this doesn't come with its own set of problems, but I think perspective is gained when we remember that it is probable that through the last fifty years at least, however many people earned their livings from writing fiction for popular media consumption, they were still the tip of the writing iceberg. Most had second jobs, if they were lucky in related fields such as academia, advertising and arts administration, or even more often in entirely unrelated fields. Ross Macdonald was a teacher. Hammet, Chandler and others even tried, with varied success, writing Hollywood screenplays to supplement drinking habits that short stories and novels could barely keep afloat.

    This situation should renew our appreciation for the intelligence of Henry Ford, whose vital contribution to the industrial/consumer economy was to harness mass production so that even his assembly-line employees could afford the products they were producing. Our problem in the creative, digital information economy is that by and large we cannot, and mostly haven't for a long time. This becomes a bigger problem when the availability of those second supportive jobs are threatened by shrinkage in the industrial-based economy. But there do appear to be some practical steps, again not entirely new, that point a way forward.

    I don't think that restricting access to creative product through copyright legislation will significantly enhance financial reward, even for those at the top of the old star system, let alone mid-list writers and even lowly wannabes such as myself. Enhanced distribution is a boon, not a threat to culture. Musicians encounted this problem long ago when radio played their records for listeners to hear free, and again when tape cassettes allowed fans to copy and share recordings without paying the original artists. The "solution", limited as it was, was to collect small fees from radio stations and the producers of blank tape cartridges and based on representative surveys of whose music was being consumed and copied, send cheques to registered, qualifying musicians. This isn't perfect, perhaps not even just, but it focused on providing financial incentive for creativity through the expansion of cultural participation, rather than trying to squeeze more bucks by limiting access.
      It's better than most alternatives considered, in other words.

    I'm not sure what's happening stateside, but up here in South Ont. I get a couple of cheques, happily around Christmastime, one from Access Canada based on the possibility/probability that some of my work has been photocopied in the past year, and one based on a similar possibility/probability that my books may have been borrowed from a public or institutional library. They aren't big cheques, but they are more than I earn in direct royalties. A similar system could be established for work copied via the internet, the money collected from the manufacturers of digital media capturing devices (computers basically) and/or the providers of internet connection services. Trying to collect fees from end users is tough. They're small, nimble, mobile, elusive. Computer manufacturers and internet service providers tend to be larger and advertise their whereabouts and activities in local media and telephone directories.

    In addition to providing the means for individual consumers to skirt paying directly for creative content, computers and digital software make it much easier to keep track of consumption trends and to registered creators. It's just a matter of determining at what point the dollars can be accessed. I don't even get a cheque for one of my annual payments. The cash (can I still call it that?) goes directly to my bank account, or rather, is registered directly under my account number on my bank's computer. I just love how money, which is increasingly important in our daily lives, is not even worth the paper it is no longer printed on. Money is a blip, an electronic + or - on my computer screen. Do I digress?

    Well, here's another benefit of this reward system: the more I use digital technology to adapt my content for multi-media distribution (POD print, YouTube shorts, recorded readings, cell-phone ringtones, the mind boggles) the more such payments I might/should qualify for. Oh what a happy, happy, perfect world it turns out to be afterall!

    My point, I think, if I have one, is that the challenges of changing technology are not especially new, and certainly not unique to the creative community. In fact, what I think has happened is that the decline of industrial manufacturing in North America has produced a need to focus on the long-lacking importance of developing economic models that will support the growing production of creative content in the information economy. This shift in employment from manufacturing things to manufacturing information is fully underway regardless of the limitations in financial support for creative producers, and won't be turned back. Unlike Henry Ford's workers, we don't need to make the products they make more or less affordable. Cheap and free creative product is all over the internet, television, radio etc. But we do need to make it possible for the producers of creative product to buy groceries and pay rent, now they've lost their assembly-line jobs and/or pensions. The expansion
     , in both reach and value, of fee-related services such as those I've described would at least be heading in that direction.

    Oh, and here's another thought, the result of a comment dropped on a local TV show during a discussion about the recent anniversary of Sesame Street. Apparently the cost of producing most children's television programming is not met directly through sales of broadcast rights. This creative production is also supported by merchandising. This is interesting to me because I'd have to say that of all the free content available on multi-channel telly, kids programming is the best in terms of quality in both production and content. Much better than the endless Popeye and Betty Boop cartoon re-runs that made me the man I am today. So to get more bucks from your creative endeavours, trying thinking of the dick in your latest work-in-progress as an action-figure doll. Or maybe as an avitar (is that the right word?) you can sell on a fantasy-world website.

    There. That should bore the piss out of you, and I think it's worth a nickel at least, especially as I've had to look up the spelling of "nickel." Kerry

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: A.T. Stanford
      Sent: Friday, November 13, 2009 5:14 AM
      Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: state of NY publishing

      To add my newbie 2 cents:

      I would say that obviously making a living is on every writer's mind (speaking from personal experience) but every good writer also has within them the drive to write. To continue writing, they would find a way to make a living to continue that drive - whether it be teaching, a second job, the movies or whatever they can find.

      While I agree that POD is not a positive thing for the book/writer market, I also agree that if you took money away from writers they'd still do it - though in far less numbers and I agree, we would have lost a great deal of fine literature.

      I also agree that money helps just as much as it hurts. I will add the example of million dollar advances from outside this particular genre (though it happens all the time) - "The Nanny Diaries." Absolute drivel of a novel, pointless in every way - in a literary sense - but made a lot of money with brainless nitwit readers (and a few movie fans later.) And so it goes.

      The age old adage, "Writers write" comes to mind. I'd add, "Writers write and good writers write regardless"

      Someone once told me, "Good books get published, bad books get published. But some good books don't get published, and other bad books don't get published either."

      AT Stanford

      --- In, "davezeltserman" <Dave.Zeltserman@...> wrote:
    > Mario,
    > Do you think Hammett, Chandler, Westlake, Stout, Jim Thompson, Spillane, etc. would've written the books they did if they didn't have a real prospect of earning an income with their writing?? Under your scenario, probably none of the great crime novels written from the 30s to the present day that we enjoy discussing here (when we discuss books!) would've been written.
    > --Dave
    > --- In, "jacquesdebierue" <jacquesdebierue@> wrote:
    > >
    > > I would add something to Dave's commentary: ironically, it's a great time to be writing. Basically you have the collapse of industrial civilization to work with, not exactly a small subject... And the period where it will be kept on a respirator may be the most interesting of all. Provided one does not starve, of course.
    > >
    > > I think toning down expectations is a good idea. Also, think of how many books did James Joyce sell during his lifetime? A ridiculously low number by today's standards. But he wrote, he watched and wrote.
    > >
    > > I think that ultimately, those who really want to write will write, and we will see a golden age of writing. The corporate structures will probably wither away, but that doesn't mean good stories will stop. The need to write and to read good stories is innate in us. That's the big picture. So, if an era closes (dies), another one will come. It's always been like that.
    > >
    > > Best,
    > >
    > > mrt
    > >


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