~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke
The Rise of the e-PODs ~ Monday, March 30, 2009
Exciting news for all those indie magazine printers--or wannabe magazine printers out there! I know I'm excited by the notion of what this cheaper-than-photocopied, printed and bound glossy magazines implies about the democratization of the press. Reading this article makes me want to think up a magazine right here, right now, pull it together, upload it and poise myself for distribution:
Now, on the one hand, this print-on-demand stuff means that writers are likely to be facing an end to the days where they could just write and send books to publishers who would give them a small percentage and then do all the work of marketing and so on for them, having invested hugely of their own money to put the book out(and therefore having lots of incentive to sell copies).
But, on the other, I see the beginnings of a new model emerging, with print on demand at its core. And with it, the emergence of editor/publisher/marketers who will, for a fee or for a large cut, clean up your book, put it out there and then keep a percentage of the profits. Like a publisher, but less investment up front on the part of the editor/publisher/marketer. Kind of a publisher and agent rolled into one--someone with a strong, somewhat diverse, skill set who can get out there and sell your book, or add your book to their established line of books, with the plan of building their own brand. This is what we're seeing variations of with e-publishers already. I suspect that's where we'll be going.
The prominent e-publishers are generally lean and savvy. They know their markets, and they know how to make things work with the merging of e-publishing and POD technologies. They are also very straightforward about their pricing: a goodly cut to the author, a smaller cut to the editor, a cut for themselves and then a flat rate, as one of the few fixed costs, to the artists for the "cover" images. For e-publishing, I expect that's the nature of the division--or something close to it. And then they simply add their fixed costs to the top, for printing and distribution, in the case of those readers who want to buy a physical copy of the book and own it for themselves.
The big, ponderous publishers haven't figured out the sense of this model yet. I hope they do soon--it annoys me to pay two dollars less for an e-book than I would for a print book, knowing they're saving a hefty amount on distribution (esp. if I buy the print book at a bookstore, which generally keeps up to half of the cover price for their own overheads) and printing. Presumably the big publishers are pocketing the difference--or, for now, using that difference to offset the cost of the big print runs they're putting out and possibly losing increasingly large amounts of money on, until they update their presses to some kind of large-scale system that can move between the POD paradigm and the large print-run model (for the initial shipments of new releases to bookstores) as needed.
The smaller e-POD publishers are also savvier about being fair to authors. With POD, a book need never be out of print. In the old model, it's only after a book falls out of print that the rights revert to the author, who can then resell or do what they want with it. BUT, the big publishers want to keep their rights in perpetuity now, because of that old model and the whole never-going-out-of-print issue. The e-PODs instead offer fixed-term contracts (e.g. 7 years), after which rights revert to the author, who can choose to renegotiate with the original publisher, or to sell the book somewhere else.
A Muse, a Genius, a Daemon ~ Tuesday, March 24, 2009
My friend Candice embedded this link in FB a few weeks ago, I believe--and another friend, Tamara, linked to it yesterday. I finally got around watching it today.
I'm still processing the implications, but it brought tears to my eyes. I love that it acknowledges the drudgery of the the creative process--and the notion that showing up every day, and going through the motions, does count for something, as you wait for your muse, your genius, your daemon to visit, in all its energizing, powerful, transcendent capriciousness.
My post on creative chaos also ties into this notion--in a way, it's a variation. What I call chaos--the muse of fire--is what she calls the genius or the daemon.
Death of the Professional Writer Greatly Exaggerated? ~ Saturday, March 14, 2009
My mum forwarded me this sad little eulogy to the era of the professional writer. The argument would appear to be that as we move from print culture to other forms of entertainment, the place for professional writers will be swept aside in the democratizing freedom of the internet (which democratization itself, the article concedes, is a good thing). Suddenly, with blogs and other venues, where people are willing to do for free what others were once paid to do, writing as a profession will soon be gone in the way of the dodo or the typesetter.
There's a lot of truth to this observation, I agree. I've been thinking such thoughts and wondering about such questions myself over the last while as I agonize over my next steps.
Moreover, there's a lot of this going around these days--downturns and cutbacks have meant that a flagging industry will be streamlining further, and will possibly begin to initiate whatever transformations it will require, to survive and meet drastically changing demands, all the sooner.
In addition, there has been a profound shift in our culture. For one thing, people have less use for paper. It's bulky, it feels wasteful when employed for single use purposes and it is starting to feel less relevant to us as we transition to other formats. Similarly, reading is a slower undertaking, and given the choice, many will choose to play video games, watch t.v. or avail themselves of all the other entertaiments available to us.
And yet, this eulogizing reminds me a little of the outcry that came about when printing first emerged as a new technology. People denounced the new medium, feeling that it took the personality out of books, made them cheap and valueless, and also represented a death knell to all the copyists who had previously been surviving on their skill in creating beautifully-penned and illuminated manuscripts.
Admittedly, some of those copyists--those who didn't take to typesetting, one might speculate--might not have done too well in the new environment. But yet, the printing press ushered in a period of rising literacy, as books became affordable and the needs of society changed to accommodate the new, widespread availability of information.
It's not a perfect parallel, but there are similarities. The situation now is more complex, which is also why I would argue that it's not as hopeless as some claim. It's about adaptation and change. Society and individuals will adapt to the new circumstances. Things will shift around. And when the dust settles, a new situation will emerge--one that is not necessarily devoid of hope for the professional writer. As I say, it's about adaptation. After all, could those denouncing the printing press have ever anticipated bound and printed books in the grocery store, or the fact that almost anyone walking by said books could read their covers at a glance? It ushered in a change, but the full repercussions of that change could never have been anticipated. And admittedly, the copyists lost their jobs, and yet, the era of typesetters began. Those copyist able to put their literacy to good use and learn to typset no doubt did well enough by the transition, as the demand for books grew and printing presses began churning them out.
So, here are some of my reasons for thinking that reports of the professional writer's death may be exaggerated:
--I would guess that with the internet, people might actually be reading more now than they have been in recent years. Articles, ideas, information, are all just a few clicks away--and available on the go, via laptops, phones and pagers. Much of it, at this point, is admittedly supplied by enthusiastic hobbyists (*ahem*) who don't expect remuneration, but are, instead, glad to share their meticulously acquired knowledge with others. Still, I suspect that as thing settle, there will be a growing demand for gatekeepers--people who ensure some baseline quality control and levels of accuracy, particularly in the case of non-fiction. This was previously the role of the publisher. The new gatekeepers might be different--and the information might be regulated in other ways. But it's likely that people will start requiring accuracy and things like small subscriptions to wiki-based knowledge databases, in which the facts are actually verified, will become valid (it's a model that's already in place--and people are willing to pay for the time saved in having ready-made, reliable information compiled for them). At that point, it becomes worth it to pay people to write those entries and check those facts.
--We have always loved story. Good, well-told narrative has compelled us. Sure, people are watching t.v. and playing games more these days. But multi-level, narrative-based video games and award-winning, compelling films and t.v. shows don't write themselves. People talk about lax standards--even the article linked above mentioned something about intellectual entropy. Hey--just because something is different and adapted to the period in which it is created, doesn't make it worse. Try renting a season of Dexter, or any of the other well-made shows out there. It's tightly-written and amazingly well done. Play through Okami. Pick up some graphic novels. These are all story. They are ways of engaging with narrative. And not a one of them sprang, fully-formed from the brow of Zeus. They were all written by people. People who were paid to do it.
--There is still demand for books, even if they are in e-format. Having discovered how uneven the quality of free e-books can be very quickly made me ready to pay money for ones that had been selected and vetted by editors, from e publishers I trust. I don't imagine I'm alone in my willingness to do that. As an aside, I will admit to being annoyed when the ebook is priced the same as the print copy (any good arguments for that, anyone?), considering it costs a fraction of the price to sell as it does to print, bind, distribute etc. the print versions. I do feel that e books should be considerably cheaper--and can be. The margins can remain the same for the publishers and the royalties the same for writers (or can even go up a little) and the reader can still get a deal out of it, with a cheaper cover price for the eformat. The epublishers get this, while the print publishers who are starting to offer eformat books are slower to catch on. But the demand is there--and with good ereaders like Stanza and devices like the Kindle, I can only see it increasing. I have over a hundred books on my ipod. I can whip it out anytime and read it--even in low light, because the screen is lit. I like print books better, but find myself turning to my ipod for reading more and more often these days instead of lugging around print copies.
I suspect there are many other ways in which the role of the professional writer will morph to suit the changing demands of readers--ways I could not begin to anticipate. But, I have little doubt that the roles of fact-gatherer, ready to compile and distribute accurate information; of discerning, skillful observer who is able to phrase things in precisely the way we wish we could and who thereby expands our perception of the world; of storysmith and insightful visionary, whose narratives are impossible to abandon once we begin them--all these roles will still be required by society, as they always have been in the past.
The professional writer is dead. Long live the professional writer, say I.