Thursday, February 17, 2011

Who will buy the cheese sandwiches?

Lots of reports coming out of the Tools of Change Conference which finished up yesterday. Writer Margaret Atwood presented this year, offering a different, more nuanced perspective than the relentless and ubiquitous "Technology is full of awesome!"

Atwood talked about the importance of book creators, and wondered aloud, “From the point of view of an author, if the future of the Internet is free, who is going to pay for the cheese sandwiches on which authors are known to subsist?“ You'll find more about Atwood's presentation here.


(Photo courtesy PDPphoto.org)

Ron Hogan, the founder of the litblog Beatrice, seems to agree with a lot of what Atwood had to say. He wrote up his thoughts on the TOC Conference at Shelf Awareness. His write-up includes this incredible bit:

"On Wednesday morning, Kevin Kelly of Wired blithely said, "I can't really figure out what books should be more expensive than a song, and I don't think consumers will believe that, either." Thus he predicted the price of e-books could fall as low as 99 cents, as easy technological reproducibility strips away the value of a work of art, forcing creators to turn to "that which cannot be copied," such as immediacy, authentication, personalization and embodiment. One of the slides he used to illustrate this new economic model? A live music performance."

In other words, it's okay or at least inevitable that books will be stripped of all their value. We book artists make up for any lost income by entertaining folks with our authentic and immediate repartee, opening kissing booths, and playing the interpretive flute.



It seems that not everyone was advocating that book creators turn into pageant contestants (thank goodness). Some emphasized "Transmedia storytelling." That is, creating stories that could be translated from books into websites, apps and other forms (something that many of us at eisforbook are already trying to do.)

According to a piece in Publisher's Weekly, Jeff Gomez, president and CEO of Starlight Runner said, “books get respect; they’re the crazy grandpa that Hollywood executives keep in the basement. Hollywood was born out of books.” And game designer Flint Dille "emphasized that while authors and publishers should focus on creating solid stories for books, they should also realize that every idea is essentially media agnostic."

Frankly, trying to develop stories across different media sounds like a better idea than flute lessons. Though I have to admit I'd pay to see Neil Gaiman try something like this:



-- Laura Ruby

9 comments:

  1. Thanks Laura! Great!

    I just want to say this: Though I used to think books should be cheaper in ebook form (say, quality paperback prices but with creators getting at least 50-60 percent of the sale). But now, I've gotten used to paying Kindle's prices -- in fact, they seem normal. I am happy paying whatever (I'd pay hardcover prices) for the convenience of downloading my books anywhere I want, and not having to lug around a heavy book. (I'm a wimp.)

    AND I often buy paper copies too: For books I'm using for research, or stories I want to share with people.

    I wonder if all those people who are chattering about free, free, free or 99cents are people who are a) not big readers, or b) haven't lived with an e-reader for a few months and seen what they're truly like when they use it, or c) are not thinking that the person who wrote the book is a real person, just like them, with a life and a mortgage to pay.

    Frankly, as an author, I don't think I could fathom giving away something I spent three years writing away for free or 99 cents. Forget it. Honestly, it's a big devaluing of my work, and of the arts in general.

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  2. "I wonder if all those people who are chattering about free, free, free or 99cents are people who are a) not big readers, or b) haven't lived with an e-reader for a few months and seen what they're truly like when they use it, or c) are not thinking that the person who wrote the book is a real person, just like them, with a life and a mortgage to pay."

    Some of them don't seem as if they've ever disappeared into a story themselves, so can't imagine its value beyond its physicality.

    And then some of them give off a real 60s and 70s vibe. You know, the future of publishing is...love. Community. People coming together to weave virtual baskets or something. All the book creator has to do is be open and free and available and, I don't know, people will buy them dinner.

    I don't get it.

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  3. Here is a NY Times op-ed on this very topic:
    Would the Bard have Survived the Web?

    It tells the history about when theaters were built and began charging to see a play and thus actors and playwrights could make a living...brilliant! Goes on to discuss current piracy issues.

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  4. Thanks for the link, Loreen. I like this:

    "a creative person should have some assurance of being rewarded for his innovative work."

    I don't want to imply by the above post that I'm anti-technology. I'm hoping that ebooks and apps will help more artists make a living from their art. I just have a little trouble with some folks who believe that stories have no intrinsic value, and that we're all going to have turn into Las Vegas acts to keep doing our jobs.

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  5. "You know, the future of publishing is...love. Community. People coming together to weave virtual baskets or something. All the book creator has to do is be open and free and available and, I don't know, people will buy them dinner."

    HA!!! Great post, Laura. Do people realize they buy a song for $.99, and they can hear that whole song in about 3 minutes? But a book can take hours to read, and the characters might live in your head forever. I'm not trying to diminish the power of music, but a book is a totally different thing.

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  6. I had not thought of the love vibe -- Groovy!

    We need to take that back: We need to design hippy style tie-dye shirts with our own support the artist vibe (or something). There's got to be a designer that can do this for us!

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  7. Brenda -- that was something that Ron Hogan pointed out, that the work required to write a song, and time it takes to enjoy the song, are not equal to the time it takes to produce a book nor to read one. Also, that writers are not musicians (unless they actually ARE musicians, too) and the comparisons are specious.

    Amy -- we need groovy merch!

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  8. Laura, excellent post! And also another great link from Loreen. This is a huge issue, that can be a little demoralizing...

    Meanwhile, if I wasn't so highly uncoordinated, I would consider learning how to twirl a baton :o)

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  9. I'm very conflicted by the 99 cent price point. Perhaps the question we should ask would be...will I make more money at 99 cents (because of increased volume) than I would at 2.99 or 4.99. There are all sorts of arguments on both sides (and I have no idea who is right). JA Konrath posted about the 99 cent price point on his blog today @ http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/02/list-experiment-update.html

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