Sunday, March 28, 2010

Whither Fiction?

In Jack Vance's "The Book Of Dreams", the hero was a newspaperman. Newspapers were still printed and distributed. I inferred that would-be readers paid for them.

Is this a sustainable business model? While staying at a Wyndhams motel, I noticed that I could receive .75c credit on my stay if I opted to decline a morning copy of "USA Today". That was a shock. I've always accepted that my "complimentary" morning newspaper is part of the package.

I don't subscribe to a newspaper. My mother does. I don't. Initially, I did not appreciate the oxymoron of paying for the "Free Press" and I wasn't offered "The Telegraph" or "The FT". Now, I'm accustomed to getting my news from AOL and Google.

Ultimately, I suppose that I pay Comcast for it, since I pay Comcast for my internet connection... just as I paid the Wyndham motel for "USA Today".

For the record, I'd prefer it if Comcast would charge me less for my internet access, and allow me to break out whatever I don't want. I'd rather pay for that to which I subscribe. I don't approve of the "entitlement mentality". I think it's a bad precedent. Mr Murdoch is trying to put the news genie back in the bottle, but it's always harder to monetize something once people are accustomed to getting it for free.

Same with music. Same with movies. Same with fiction.

For that reason, I don't approve of Amazon, and I don't approve of Baen. One needs clarity, and they've muddied the waters. Copyright was pretty straightforward. An author has the right to control the reproduction, distribution and performance of her work. Copyright means that a reader cannot create a new copy of a book (or several copies) in any form (photocopy, CD, email etc), nor may he re-sell or share the copies.

There are two paranormal romance authors whose e-books are continually  available on EBay auctions. I assume that those two authors don't mind if their novels are (rightly or wrongly) believed to be in the public domain by thousands of EBayers. Other vampire-and-paranormal authors who need the income from legal sales of their ebooks, and whose books are included in auctions of "191 Vampire and Fantasy Books" are hurt by the lack of clarity.

An apparently overwhelming number of internet users seem to believe that all fiction ought to be free. If they own a computer, and they have an internet connection, everything on the internet ought to be available to them at no further charge. The Net Neutrality advocates seem to believe that someone who spends his entire day and half the night up- and down-loading "free" movies and romance novels ought to pay the same for his internet usage as someone who checks his emails twice a week.

"If we like it, we'll donate what we think it's worth" seems to be the attitude towards creators. So, will we authors return to a Shakespearean business model? Will we rely on holding out the collection cap in cyberspace?

I think not. Allegedly, EBay cannot find copyright owners to notify them of an infringement report, even when the author's name is on the cover of the infringed novel. Allegedly, Google cannot find the authors of "orphan works", especially if they live overseas. So, how likely is it that someone who clicks a link on Astatalk and reads "Forced Mate" and very much enjoys my creative writing is going to find me, locate some means of paying me, and send me money?

It has never happened. It is not going to happen.

By the way, MediaFire has introduced the functionality allowing thieves and all their friends to "share" files to Twitter, Facebook, Stumble Upon, Digg It, and MySpace... and also to embed illegal links.

In my opinion, just because MediaFire posts small print saying that their registered users agree that they are responsible for the content they post does not absolve MediaFire from responsibility. Their "agreement" is with their users, not with their victims. It is MediaFire that makes it possible for an URL to be shared with millions. Like this

So, how else did The Queen's Men earn their living? By pleasing a rich and powerful patron. That's how.  It won't be good for creativity, accuracy, journalistic integrity. Nor will it be good for the reader. But, as they say, "You gets what you pays for."

I wonder what kind of powerful crackpot would sponsor alien romance authors? The future would probably offer slim pickings for those who would make heroes of vampires and werewolves, too. Bodysnatcher romance might be okay.... but I won't go there.

Seriously, the world changes really quickly. I was listening to a 2010-set Tom Clancy novel. NetForce. Tom assumed that Britain would have a King by now. Some things don't change that quickly! If we write speculative fiction, it's likely that future heroes and villains will still want sex, power, and wealth not necessarily in that order. What else they do for fun and profit might not involve ink and paper. It's more likely to involve multiple choice and pixels.

The other possibility I foresee is a return to the oral tradition of troubadours and travelling storytellers. The only way not to be ripped off and to get people to pay for our creativity would be if we could be more like the evangelists... Joel Osteen?... Fill a ball park with people who'd come to hear us tell a story.


  1. If you only use the internet for checking your e-mail occasionally, you could switch to dial-up and pay less.

    I remember the AOL days of measured service. I paid about what I pay now, and received far less for my money. I think if we went back to some measured service, people who only use a little bit of internet would save virtually nothing, but those of us who use more would pay a lot more.

    What aspect of Amazon don't you approve of? I don't approve of their bullying, but that doesn't seem to be what you are addressing here. Is it that they give electronic copies of public domain books for free?

  2. In regards to copyright and the entitlement mentality, I disapprove of Amazon's practice of giving away free novels and reporting the gifts as sales.

    Are all the books that Amazon sells for $0.00 public domain?

    Or, is Amazon creating confusion about what is public domain, and what is not?

    Might readers be forgiven for assuming that if Amazon gives it away, it is necessarily public domain?

  3. I don't believe that the act of giving away a free copy (or e-version) of a book in a particular place, at a particular time results in a forfeiture of copyright.

    A lot of pirates believe that an ebook becomes "public domain" if it is posted on the internet.

    This is patently not accurate.

  4. Good grief, I would HATE to go back to the bad old days of paying for Internet access by the minute. I couldn't carry on the basic necessities of my career that way (much less recreational computer use), and I doubt many people could. It would be analogous to reverting to having to pay an annual fee for Blockbuster membership instead of just paying when you rent a movie (for instance), for which customers would laugh in their faces if they tried to reinstate it. I would also scream in outrage if the cable company started charging a la carte for channels instead of offering a couple of single-priced bundled packages the way they do now. (Not that it would be a bad thing to offer a la carte access as an option for customers who want it, but I can't imagine why anyone would -- unless you KNOW for certain you would never want to watch anything but a very few channels, paying by the channel separately would be bound to cost more than subscribing to a package.)

    This point is entirely separate from the issue of stealing material that is not offered for free or legitimately as part of a package. Of course I'm opposed to that.

    As for newspapers, we subscribe to two (one morning and one evening, the local paper because otherwise we'd miss out on strictly local stuff and the Baltimore SUN in order to get a "major" daily paper). To me, getting one's news off the Internet misses the whole point of receiving a paper newspaper. I buy the paper mainly to read comics, columns, editorials, etc. -- it is one of the small, routine pleasures of my life. Even on my Kindle, it wouldn't be comfortable to read my "paper" electronically at breakfast and dinner. Also, as far as the actual news items are concerned, to me reading a magazine or newspaper on the computer or an e-reader would be similar to being able to read a book only by looking up words in the index. You have to click on the links for what you KNOW you want to read. It isn't the same as flipping through the pages and glancing at each one, stumbling across articles you DIDN'T know in advance you wanted to read.

  5. Goodness, the idea of paying by the minute is appalling, isn't it?

    (Just so you know, I wasn't necessarily advocating. Just predicting.)

    I suppose we did pay by the minute via dial-up, and still do if we Text on Virgin. It all depends on the plan.

    Also, if one is in an hotel, one pays $4.95 for an hour, or $9.95 for 24 hours unless one uses WiFi in which case, the connection is not at all secure.

    Already there are murmurings about bandwidth. Some airwaves will be taken away from the TV stations and auctioned off to accommodate paying traffic on cellphones and ipods and so forth.

    Presumably, we lost some when the government made our rabbit ears useless.

    Aside: Comcast told us we'd be OK if we subscribed to them, but that was a crock, and we had to get nasty little boxes that don't work very well and that incidentally don't work at all with TV models with built-in videos. They didn't tell us that until it was too late to get a Gvt coupon for a new TV.

    So, Margaret, it may come down to smaller users subsidizing heavy users one way or another.

    A standard marketing model is to get a user hooked on a free or cheap service, and then, when they cannot do without it, to raise the cost.

    However we look at it, I very much doubt that life is going to improve in the near or distant future. As they say, "What goes around, comes around," and "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."

  6. "However we look at it, I very much doubt that life is going to improve in the near or distant future."

    I hope your pessimism won't turn out to be predictive. :)

    In most ways, my life is better than it was in earlier decades, and as far as technology is concerned, not to mention social factors (such as seat belts being required in cars and smoking being outlawed in most public places, to mention just two), I think life in this country is miles better than it was in my childhood and youth. "Welcome to the Future," a song by Brad Paisley that I think I mentioned in an earlier post, approximates my attitude on this topic.

  7. Alas.

    I hope my pessimism is misplaced, too. I did not enjoy "The Modern Depressives" which included Brave New World, 1984, and something about which I only remember a protagonist with a toe that looked like a white slug.