There's two things about writing professionally. First, it's all about what people have to say. Second, it's about the money.
So, here are two different You Tube videos.
It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
So, the Harry Potter trailer has nearly four times the number of views than Peanut Butter Jelly Time.
At Book View Cafe, we have been discussing the ideas raised in Cory Doctorow's Guardian UK review of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, by Chris Anderson. So, that's a book review, and therefore, this is commentary on the review, and not the original book, whose ideas may be quite different than those presented in the review. The review is illustrated by a photo of a lovely Anthony Bourdain-worthy grouping of fruit at an open-air market, with the caption, "Stalls at Borough Market in London have vastly different characteristics to online service markets." That caption is not only worthy of one of my academically-oriented nonfiction books for schools and libraries, it's also WTF???
The main gist of the review is a discussion of creative products, and their distribution and sales - i.e., books and music. The main argument is that "it's impossible to exclude people from stealing these creative products," and "the cost of inventory at big online stores like Amazon and iTunes is next to nothing, or nothing," so - in Cory Doctorow's opinion, this type of "information" or "product" is easily distributable for free, and that people who pay for these products are essentially paying for convenience, i.e., "the banana one buys at at the cafe for eight times what it sells for at the grocers next door." Other than the convenience factor, for which people will theoretically pay, Cory sees no way in which people would pay for those products.
My reaction to this is - books aren't bananas. Movies aren't bananas. Television shows, of which only a few are premium products for which people pay subscription prices, aren't bananas. Recorded music isn't a banana. Or, to put it another way, Beekeeping for Dummies (a real book) isn't the same as Twilight. A few people who want to become beekeepers are going to buy Beekeeping for Dummies. I'm willing to bet that fewer still would be interested in downloading a pirated copy. The Dummies books are, after all, heavily reliant on their type design and illustration. There is no way that the Dummies people or the author of Beekeeping for Dummies figured it would suddenly leap off the shelves and outsell Stephanie Meyer. On the first day of its sales, the last book in the Twilight series sold 1.3 million copies. As I explained to a friend the other day, even a moderately-popular TV show has more viewers in a week than most movies have in their first run in a theater. Enormously popular books like the Twilight series and Harry Potter, sell more book copies than the films do tickets.
Later in the review, Cory discusses distribution of resources and stuff one can get for free, which, to this day, no matter how much PR occurs, is still more along the lines of Beekeeping for Dummies than Twilight.
Then, he addresses the ideas of Malcolm Gladwell, who's apparently made a simple point regarding online services that rely upon free contributions of members, asking "How is You Tube making money?"
Some, such as Malcolm Gladwell, have faulted Anderson for failing to be sceptical enough of the businesses enabled by free, pointing out that services such as YouTube lack any sustainable revenue model (something that Anderson states in Free, contrasting it with its rival Hulu and making some shrewd observations about the potential future for both). Gladwell's criticisms ring hollow to me, blending a hand-wringing grievance about "theft" of information with special pleading for Gladwell and his fellow journalists.
Actually, I think Malcolm's point was more like - Who's going to be enough of a dumbass to pay for Peanut Butter Jelly Time? Malcolm Gladwell doesn't have to worry about massive copies of Outliers being pirated. Unlike other smarter people than me, I don't have daily access to BookScan numbers, but I can take a wild guess and say that between Outliers and the Tipping Point, Malcolm won't be worrying about how much he pays for bananas any time soon. Reason being: these are GREAT BOOKS.
All this discussion of "free information, freely provided" - it isn't just information. It's not "just words." It isn't solely-created product, given away freely. And, in the absence of some sort of structure or cultural influence, one gets whatever. Among the whatever, certainly there may be, and likely will be, some "gems". But the person who is supposedly the "editor" is not the only one who plays a key role in what used to be the traditional publishing process. There are also sales, design, art, accounting, management . . . and more. The lack today is not only "the distributor". And all of these things are misnomers. It's a business, and every segment plays an important part. I have yet to see any of these online discussions about payment for creative work addressing those who know how to market and sell that work to the public - for real.
Wikipedia is free. What is some of the effect that it is having? Well, despite the rampant promotion and everyone "working together," Wikipedia kind of sucks more often than not. Just one example of its suckitude in its English version is its weakness in literature. It's a horrible resource for literature and I would flog any student using Wikipedia in preference to primary sources that are easily available through heir online library databases, and many different college and university resources, and I hesitate to mention it, but . . . real books. One aspect of all this free information is a relatively small group of people telling each other stuff they already think they know, and then reinforcing it. That's like, awesome for them. But they're not buying Twilight too much, or Outliers. Millions of other dumbasses are, not realizing they could download pirate versions and read them for free on their computer screens. Or maybe, not wanting to.
In another way, this idea of "free" vs. "something people will pay for" is like the difference between a free ballpoint pen from the Holiday Inn (which is low-cost, long-term advertising for them) and a Waterman pen. There is nearly an infinite number of Holiday Inn pens out there. Every business has some type of free pen or pencil. If you wanted to never pay for another writing implement again, you could easily do so, or you could take the pirate mentality approach and just steal 'em from your work! Anywhere from 18 to 67 percent of office workers admit to having done so, according to various surveys. This being the case, it can easily be seen that since these materials are easily accessible for free, and office thieves can't realistically be excluded, no pens of any type are sold to private individuals. However, for some strange reason, Waterman continues to successfully make and sell their beautiful writing instruments. Bic even sells pens to regular people that don't say "Holiday Inn." Little girls still buy special colored paper and gel pens. I'm sure there are some "open source" glittery gel pens and fancy paper and stickers out there. Aren't there?
Oh, I forgot. Open source software people don't write with glittery gel pens or draw ponies. They are busy using their new ASUS and downloading stuff for free.
It's as simple as this: the old paper publishing models had important parts of their business -- the sales force. Who's the Amazon sales force? It's pretty passive, rudimentary selling. Regarding genre and other fiction writing efforts - people are still buying books in large numbers. More and more people are buying Kindles and acquiring eBooks and reading them in that somewhat different way that device works. The giant inventory models work by selling large numbers of a few items, and then being able to stock and sell over time, a vast number of additional items with a smaller, sporadic demand. Some people view that this makes it "bad" for the people who are creating the material in the large, sporadic inventory section. That's a problem that is going to find a solution for itself over time.
Right now, yes, it isn't rewarding to write a book that sells 5,000 paper copies, and then 1,000 eBook copies. But, that's kind of a product of false expectations, because I just did an overview of "A Distant Episode" by Paul Bowles, and I am doubting that 750-copy cloth cover Black Sparrow editions made stampeding amounts of cash; they were and are also not free. There has never been any great, stampeding number of people making a working living writing fiction - and most certainly not making the type of $$ I make by not writing genre fiction. I recall Cassie Edwards, the bestselling romance author who plagiarized the ferret descriptions from the nature writer for her Native American romance books? I took Cassie's large number of titles and divided their number into her self-stated amount earned over her 20-year romance writing career. It came out to less than $7,000 per book. With that amount of money being made per-book, I'd probably cut-and-paste ferret action myself after a while.
If one is doing it for the money, of course, and that's an entirely different conversation.
Oh, and by the way, all 7 billion people on this planet don't want to "create" in preference to "consuming." What nimwit thought up that? When somebody invents matter compositors, we'll all just design and make our own clothes, too. Or paint ourselves up in bioreactive glowpaint and walk around like cuttlefishes. Ugh.