The industry is changing, the industry is changing, HOLY FUCKING SHIT, THE INDUSTRY IS CHANGING. And I’ll just throw in the usual disclaimer that I’m no industry expert, I’m barely even a part of this industry that I’m about to rant about, BUT, I am a writer—both traditionally and self-published—and I’m a reader.
This all started when a friend read one of my unpublished manuscripts and suggested I should self-publish it because the genre is weird and will make it hard to market to an agent or publisher. I thought about self-pubbing, but my eventual goal is to get an agent and I wasn’t sure if self-pub would be the truest route to that end. Then today, a different friend sent me a link to this article on Anne R. Allen’s blog about how self-publishing isn’t as clear of a route to an agent as it used to be.
All this information has got me thinking, and bitching about ‘the industry’. Publishing has gone through a whole slew of shit in the last decade. It’s gone from, ‘you aren’t on the big five, no one has ever heard of you’ to ‘HOLY SHIT THIS SELF-PUBLISHING ON KINDLE THING IS GOING TO MAKE EVERYONE FAMOUS’ to ‘MY GOD, THERE ARE 17 BILLION SHITTY, FREE BOOKS ON KINDLE WHY CAN’T I FIND A GOOD ONE?’ to ‘Kindle Unlimited is making books free and cutting into indie author profits how we will carry on?’ and so on. In short, the industry is changing.
I think if the publishing industry is smart, they will take a look at the music industry, because everything is changing. Technology is changing the world, for everything. I think the music industry has handled this change particularly shitty, and books can easily fall into the same hole. The biggest problem is free. Everyone wants everything for free and they want it now.
In response to expensive shit–$20 for an album, $30 for a book, $25 for a movie—people have started stealing shit. Piracy is a big deal and it’s not going away. Now, I’m not here to bitch about internet pirates. Honestly, I don’t know exactly how I feel about piracy. BUT people are taking shit because #1: everyone is broke and #2 they feel ripped off by ‘the industry’. Books are especially shitty in this case because they are charging $13 for an ebook. If you are going to charge $30 for a hardcover, at least the reader is getting a sexy book that looks nice on the shelf. Paying for ebooks feels like paying for air. You can’t see it so it’s hard to justify. Piracy is a big deal.
The next big thing is bundling. Bundling is HUGE and publishing has been stupid slow to react. You know why it’s huge? Because people USE e-whatever. They listen to music on their phone. They read books on their phone. They have sex ON THEIR PHONE. Okay, I’m not sure how that last one relates, but I said it anyway. People love the ease of electronic copies, but since they are paying for air, it’s hard to justify.
Easy way around that? You guessed it, fucking bundling. You bundle an ebook and physical copy. People read the ebook because it’s convenient, and then they put the physical copy on their shelf to show that they paid for something. Same with music. You know how I listen to music? On a record player because I’m kind of a hipster like that. You know what I won’t pay? $12 for an album on my phone. You know what I will pay $24 for? That same album on vinyl with a free digital copy. Best of both worlds.
The next factor in this whole mess is streaming services. Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, and now Kindle Unlimited. These services are a godsend for people who devour media. I personally love Spotify, I have converted many friends to its wonders. I pay for my subscription. TV watchers feel the same of Netflix (a service I also pay for), and readers probably feel same of Kindle Unlimited. As far as I know, artists hate these streaming services. Taylor Swift had all her music pulled off Spotify because art shouldn’t be free or some shit like that. I still haven’t figured out why she took her music off, though.
I’ve seen multiple articles about how Kindle Unlimited has murdered indie author salaries. The way artists get paid is changing. What absolutely sucks about is this: the biggest people it’s hurting are the indie artists. Whether it’s on Spotify or not, Taylor Swift is a multi-millionaire. Whether Fifty Shades of Gray is part of Kindle Unlimited or not, EL James has a boatload of money. Through whatever mix of money, marketing, and luck, those people have established their fame.
Do you think it matters to Cutthroat Shamrock if their music is free? Your fucking right it matters because in your mind you just said, ‘Who the fuck is Cutthroat Shamrock?’. Do you think it matters to me if people get my book on Kindle Unlimited and I get a few cents instead of a dollar? It can, yeah. I’m not a career author, but I’d like to be. Do you know how I can be a career author? Getting more people to PAY for my work. That matters to me, probably not to you so much. BUT if you like my writing and want to see more of it, I need time. Writing takes time, books take time. There’s an old saying something that includes time and money…*snaps fingers* what was it? Oh yeah, “He who doesn’t have a fucking dime, doesn’t have time to waste on art because food and gas and diapers are expensive and shit”.
So, the industry is changing. Do I have answers? Not really, other than the bundling thing. But we as artists all need to adapt, we need to get ready for the changing market. We need to get more creative. You know something I’ve seen in music for a while, but have only just now seen in books? Pay what you please media. I’ve seen more than one high-profile musician say ‘want it free? Take it. Enjoy it? Pay whatever you feel it’s worth.’ I can’t remember who, but I saw that same approach with a book the other day. Creative marketing is a big deal. The few super successful authors will always be successful and the rest of us are going to have to figure out how to change to keep up.
The last thing I have to say is a repeat: Art shouldn’t be free. I mostly agree with this. There is a lot of work involved in creating a book. I have put lots of time and effort and energy into each and every one of my books. Whether I make a million dollars or three cents, I will continue writing. It’s something I can’t shake. How many other authors can say the same? How many talented authors write for a living? Lots. If we don’t pay for their art, they will quit creating it. They won’t have a choice, we all need paid. So if you want to pirate a book, go for it. And in a decade when all your favorite authors quit writing books because everyone stole all their work, you don’t get to be angry.