May 22, 2013

Whenever something new/dreaded pops up in publishing…

…my default reaction is to look to Mr. John Scalzi’s thoughts on it first.

This is for a lot of reasons – among them, whether I should care on a general level or on a personal, terrified, this-will-absolutely-affect-my-paycheck level – but mostly it’s because he’s evolved, somewhat, into the Author’s Bulldog On All Things, always ready to scrutinize any new announcement and decipher if this hurts or helps the author’s position.

Spoiler: it usually hurts. Including in this new Amazon Kindle Worlds thing, where Amazon will pay you for your fan fiction, but keep all of your rights for doing so.

From whatever:

[...] I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer. This will have far-reaching consequences that none of us really understand yet.

Yep. Business as usual, then.

I don’t have a hugely strong position on Fan Fiction. I’m for it, mostly because I first got my taste for writing by composing (get ready) Warcraft 3 Fan Fiction in anticipation of when the game came out. And most first novels, whether someone knows it or not, are basically fan fiction, closely mimicking a beloved author’s style, putting on daddy and mommy’s clothes and posturing in the mirror.

I know if I ever got to the point where fan fiction of my stuff appeared, and got read, I’d pop some champagne – because it’d mean I did a good enough job making up a world that people feel there are untold stories taking place in them.

But I don’t think I’d sign with a publishing house that would essentially allow people to play around in my house and get paid for it. For one thing, this feels like a scam, and for another, it completely fucks up the authority structure. Who’s in charge of the show? What’s legitimate, and what isn’t? Is there any defining voice owning and articulating the thing?

But, apropos of nothing, if you want my broad feelings on the eternal “internet/e-rights/how do I get paid for this/information wants to be free” mess that’s been ongoing for the past 15 years or so, here are my general, BigMcLargeHuge, perennial thoughts, broken down:

  1. Markets are based on scarcity. The value of a thing is based on how unavailable it is.
  2. The scarcity of art is wildly unclear. Theoretically, anyone could produce art. Therefore, it is impossible to assign a fixed market value to any art.
  3. Because art has no fixed market value, the end user often projects the value onto it – “It should cost however much I say it costs!” While on the one hand, charging $11.99 or whatever for a paperback and $11.99 for an e-book doesn’t make sense from the scarcity-based approach (“It’s all just bits and bytes! This is ridiculous!”), from a producer/writer’s standpoint, when someone says an e-book shouldn’t cost the same as a paperback, the producer/writer is hearing, “The experience of your art is not worth $11.99.” In essence: “Me liking it should be enough for you!”
  4. Two things will be forever at odds here: “Information/art wants to be free!” vs. “I sure like getting paid for work.” People, like water, are always looking for the more convenient option: as water flows downhill, people will always gravitate toward easier money, and more money. If a writer can exercise their creative muscles in a satisfactory way in a more lucrative industry – movie, TV, etc. – they will do that, and will stop writing books.

I’ve had a few other thoughts about how the new marketing models endanger a lot of artistic legitimacy, but those are my overall feelings on how this big huge mess is all shaking out right now. In the future, if someone asks me my thoughts on any future e-rights mess, I’ll likely refer them to the list.