Sunday, 10 April 2011

I hate free shit ( And so do you. )

In my previous post, I mentioned in passing that you should appreciate your local library because of the debt involved. What does pay for that library is your city or county taxes, donations from generous people, and late fees.

Now, I said one dirty, filthy word in that past sentence - taxes. We'll get back to that.


The commercial viability of the arts is either dead, or seriously diseased.

"Whoa, whoa - wait a damn minute," you say. "What about Twilight, Harry Potter, and Disney Popstars!?"

Believe it or not, those things are the minority of their respective industries. Most authors, musicians, actors, painters, etc. are just kind of getting by. Some earn respectable wages doing what they love to do, others are forced to augment their earnings with what might be considered a "real job," and that's just taking into consideration those who have "made it" at all. Most languish in obscurity, and that's still not even taking into account those who are just too shitty to ever succeed. [Hey, someone has to say it. Not everyone who aspires to something will ever be any good at it.]

Things are currently going in a direction where the arts are most widely appreciated when people either don't have to pay for them, or pay very, very little - and artists capitulate to this demand for free or low-cost entertainment. Hell, you know that this past summer I saw Tears for Fears for absolutely free? I wasn't given free tickets by a friend, it wasn't a surprise show at a bar, nor was it some kind of low key invitational thing. It was an announced show in a very public place in Orlando, Florida and had a pretty awesome turn-out.

And for the consumer this all seems pretty great. Between libraries, Netflix, iTunes, etc. why should you ever pay more than a dollar for anything? Even fast food has gotten on board with this.

Well, the problem is that all this shit you're getting for free? It all cost money to produce somewhere along the line, and some-one is paying for it. With the Tears for Fears show it was pretty clearly paid for by area sponsors. There were lots of flags, promotional booths and events for local businesses, and a whole lot of beer.

With the libraries, the taxes are a hefty percent of it.

Those seem pretty legit. What's the issue? Let's present a bit of a touchy subject.

Sex is pretty often at the leading edge of technology and culture. The recent film Middle Men showed a slightly dramatized version of the events that led to your ability to put your credit card information in a form on the internet and buy shit. Yes, that really happened. The same technology that drives PayPal and was originally created to sell porn discretely. The blackmailing, the mob, and the murder, however, were probably fictional.

The point in mentioning this is that for the life of the internet, most businesses have been eating porn's dust. But these days, who the fuck buys porn? As a good friend of mine mentioned: it's all free on the internet.

And the people paying for this on the whole are the people who make porn.

What does this have to do with us? We're ARTISTS, say ye of such holier than thou attitude as you're probably thinking up a filthy sex scene for your gay romance novel, with characters from Dragon Ball Z, Lord of the Rings and Star Trek.

Well, music hit the net next and we know what happened there.

Musicians "kinda" won that one, and now iTunes is just as popular as piracy. So, there is that 99 cents. But do the math: royalties on 99 cents are kind of cruddy compared to the same number of sales of $10 - $20 albums [which were the only choice before A La Carte sales through the net. Even singles were pretty pricey, if you even knew where to find those.]

Movies hit the same barrier when internet bandwidth increased dramatically. Visual art has never been all that profitable and thus is irrelevant to this conversation except for a brief mention of DeviantArt. Mention over.

But this is where we stand with books now, as e-publishing becomes a "thing." The libraries always kind of stuck it to us, but they were limited. Now products are being distributed instantaneously world-wide, and e-book file sizes are MUCH more reasonable than movies and music, lemme tell you.

But as an industry, publishing has been even more dependent on the concept of royalties than music. Musicians could make up for low royalties with great concert sales and public appearances, or licensing their songs out for use in TV and movies.

When was the last time you heard about thousands of people gathered in one place to see just one author? How often do people pay to see an author write? Or even read, for that matter. Contract payments and royalties are most of what we've got, and we get hit big if our book is only 99 cents on the NookStore.

Now, there are some authors who will say this: Go independent! Keep more of that 99 cents!

It's a valid argument, but the independent market is just as - if not more - competitive than the established market. You're not -just- competing with other established authors, you're competing with them and other indies, and all those really god awful motherfuckers I mentioned earlier: all for a small section of the market who are even willing to look hard enough to find you without that amazing placement at Barnes & Noble.

Phew. Got all that out. Last week left kind of a guilty, dirty after-taste.


  1. Let's see if I can put my thoughts in an order that makes sense to those who are not me.

    1) On behave of Harry Potter fans everywhere, I am offend that you put HP in between sparkly vampires and sparkly balls of hair gel.

    2) In a perfect world, I would finish a book, it would sell, and I would never have to get a real job. That's what I've been telling people is my plan for years.

    3) If Spock and Legolas had sex the world would implode due to pure awesomeness colliding.

    4) iTunes is fantastic.

    5) DeviantART is also fantastic.

    6) E-books and the like scare me.

    7) I would pay to hear some authors read.

    8) I think I actually made some sense.

  2. Listen, I understand what you're saying about artists not getting a fair cut. I absolutely do.

    However, I also understand that I personally would not have access to near the amount of entertainment that I do right now if all of the near free things were taken away from me! I'm waaaaay to selfish to lobby for change.

    Oh, also? I still buy CDs and real books.

  3. Don't get me wrong. As I said, I took advantage of that free concert. As a consumer, it's pretty great. Producers get shafted, and as the economy as a whole gets crushed, it's definitely affecting those producers.

    People who can't afford to feed their families because minimum wage at McDonald's was the only job they could find, despite their masters in English, don't really have much time or motivation to write books.

  4. Found this blog, a good approach at the very comparison you made: