Friday, December 04, 2009

Kathleen on Digital Angels and Demons

This is Jill and Kevin. You've seen them on TV and on YouTube. You haven't? You must. This is the way Minnesotans do "Here Comes the Bride." And you thought we were a staid bunch. But more about Jill and Kevin later.

Did anyone see Sherman Alexie on "The Colbert Report" Tuesday night? Alexie is a National Book Award-winning writer who does not allow his books to be published in any digital format, and Stephen--with his usual schtick on books--asked him why. If you didn't see it, and you have about 6 minutes to get a well-respected working writer's viewpoint on the matter, check it out. He talks about how much author appearances and book tours have changed. The interview ends on a gotcha that stuns the audience.

Helen gave us a lot to think about a couple of weeks ago with her "E-Piracy Rant." (If you missed it, check out our archives, November 17.) I've been thinking about this a lot lately. (If you haven't, just work with me. I'll get back to Jill and Kevin in a moment.) I have more questions than answers. The only thing I know for sure is that while piracy might not kill the music industry, it could cripple commercial book publishing. If writers can't hope to earn a living from publishing their work--and, believe us, most published writers can't afford to quite the day job as it is--there won't be much to read. (Or pirate.) Musicians pay the bills by doing live concerts these days. Folks, I know all the words, but you don't want to hear me sing.

It's difficult to protect intellectual property. Artists have always struggled to earn a living. Stretch your imagination a bit and consider the pop fiction writer something of an artist. We don't have patrons. We have publishers. Publishers need to make a profit, and writers need to earn a living. Since there's no advertising space in a novel, generally paying public is required for this model to work. Over the last half century or so, mass market have been a particularly good value compared with other forms of popular entertainment.

But now we're digitized, and according to Alexie, once that happens, the work is free for the taking. I didn't think it would be a problem until the e-readers became so user-friendly. And now that a cellular phone can do everything but cook breakfast, I don't think Alexie is too far off when he says that the professional writer could soon be out of a job unless the techno-geniuses find ways to protect intellectual property.

I have to say, I'm really excited when I hear that someone has purchased my book on Kindle. (Deb!) I saw one of my books on an iPhone (or was it a Blackberry?) for the first time a couple of months ago, and it was like seeing my first book in print all over again. So cool! But is the genie out of the bottle?

There are a few comments about the Alexie interview posted on the Colbert site. Some of the who-does-he-think-he-is variety, others telling the writer to get with the digital program. I don't think most people realize that many long established authors, good writers, are suddenly finding that their income has decreased so dramatically in such a short time that they can't continue to support themselves with their writing.

What's the future of books in general and popular fiction in particular? And what about writers? How will they make a living in the digital age?

About Jill and Kevin from St. Paul. Can anyone watch their wedding procession without smiling? Now that's what I'm talking about--digital joy. I love the internet, really. I love that you can post your original stuff at your discretion for all the world to see for free. Jill and Kevin made the front page of the Mpls Star Trib again this week. They're nominated for Beliefnet's Most Inspirational Person of 2009 award. And for all the smiles they've brought us in a difficult year, I say, go newlyweds!

Once again, ONE COWBOY, ONE CHRISTMAS just came out, so I'm giving away a copy of the first book in the series, IN CARE OF SAM BEAUDRY, to one of today's comment contributors in celebration. May our books make you smile like everybody's watching!

36 comments:

Laurie said...

I have really slow dial-up so I don't download books onto my computer.

I only have a regular cell phone.

It's sad when tech instruments get abused. I hope that they find a way SOON to protect your hard work!

If you want to read for free go to your local library before they are obsolete too.

Mandy said...

I had the pleasure of seeing Sherman in person a few weeks ago (Thank goodness I didn't go into stalker fan mode - I've been a fan for so long). He made some good points about digital books. I agree with him on many levels - you can't beat the way an actual book feels and smells. I see the appeal of digital books, but I think I'll stick to packing my four or five hardbacks and travel on.

Thanks for posting the interview link Kathleen!

LSUReader said...

I don't often watch internet videos, but even I saw--and enjoyed immensely--this couple's unique wedding party walk down the aisle. Too cute!

Virginia C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Virginia C said...

Hi, Kathleen! Congratulations on ONE COWBOY, ONE CHRISTMAS! It took me years to become a PC & Web aficionado. Once I learned how to use my computer and surf the web, I really became a PC fan. I use my computer on a daily basis for work, home and when I went back to college. I realize that it is a mixed blessing, one to be used with discretion. I wish that people would be more honest and respectful of others, but greed often overcomes basic need. I live in a very small town, and my PC and the web allow me access to the whole world with the click of the mouse. However, I love my books, and I prefer the print on paper kind. I do read e-books, but I'd rather curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a good book.

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Helen Brenna said...

I know eventually I'll be a Kindle convert. I don't travel much but can see the appeal there. What's going to get me is reading in bed at night. THAT looks like an awesome way to go.

The music industry had to reinvent itself and book publishing will have to as well.

I was thinking the other day about iTunes - you can buy 1 song at a time by an artist. Why couldn't the same concept work for books? You buy the 1st 5 chapters of a book for some small fee. Like it, you keep buying. Don't, you're done.

We might sell a lot more that way and readers win too. They make the financial commitment only on books they really love.

Cindy Gerard said...

Love the Kevin and Jill video (if you haven't seen Jim and Pam's wedding on The Office where they replicate the 'wedding march' you've got to see it - it's hilarious)
Anyway, I ponder the digital book issue with much concern and trepidation. Just as most readers don't give two figs (and why should they?) about WHO published a particular author's book a reader doesn't think twice about how the method of delivery affects the author. Again, why should they? I mean - when making a book purchase, you look for the author or you look to see if the title sounds fun but you DON'T look to see who published it, right? At least I don't - or didn't before I became a part of the business.
So, by the same token, if I'm a consumer and I like the idea of an e-reader rather than a hardcover or paperback, I'm not going to think about how the purchase affects the author. I'm going to think about how it affects me and how I will best enjoy it and how to get the most bang for my buck. I've earned that right by laying out my hard earned cash.
As someone trying to make a living in this business, I totally get it but it's a sobering reality and sadly, the very technology that should be helping promote 'author financial stability', is in fact undercutting our income. Yet what kind of fallout do authors face if they refuse to have their work released digitally? It's lose lose no matter how you slice it.
My hope is that SOMEONE who can actually do something about protecting us from piracy (ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION PUBLISHERS???) will initiate safeguards to prevent out and out theft.
In the meantime, I figure I'm speaking for all of us on Topdown when I say that we love our readers and are so grateful that they invest their hard earned cash in our hard working efforts to entertain them.

Linda Henderson said...

I hope they find a way to protect your rights. I hope print books are around for a long time. I love the feel of a print book in my hand. I certainly don't get the same satisfaction reading a book on the computer.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I absolutely share the attachment to the look and smell and feel of a physical book. It's a good feeling associated with wonderful moments and memories. I don't think that's going away anytime soon as long as we keep reading to kids from books.

Also love libraries. Some of the things I loved about them are gone, like the card catalog in drawers. But I see the advantage to the computerized card catalog, so I can live with that. And libraries are more fun for kids now than ever before. I tell the grands that we're going to the library, and they jump up and down. And it's not just about the puppets. They come home with books. So that's a good thing.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Virginia, you're so right about the boon the computer has been for small towns and people who are somewhat isolated. It's been terrific for our family in North and South Dakota.

And life is all about mixed blessings, isn't it? Seems like there's a down side to everything we want or need, from sex to atomic energy. There's no substitute for ethical human behavior.

Anna Dougherty said...

It might sound strange, but as a reader I take an interest in these things. It is important to me because I want to keep reading and piracy could ruin that. I haven't converted to e-books yet because the cost of a reader is still too steep for me and I'm in love with curling up on the couch, holding the book, and turning the page:) However, I see why others like it and someday I hope to have one. But I would always buy my books from legitimate sources because I hate the idea of an author being cheated. They work hard and deserve to be paid properly. Maybe blogs could have a list of legitimate download sources so folks don't prowl the internet looking for a way to get the book. Like a buying the book 101 section.

It's appalling to me that publishers haven't figured out a way to protect the work of writers. Technology isn't so new that a bit of forward thinking couldn't have helped stop piracy. Surely there is a code of some sort that could prevent theft. Digital photos have some weird thing that prevents them from being scanned so why couldn't books be the same?

The other day I found a book I had been waiting for only it was on the shelf early. I bought it thinking it was like a wonderful surprise. That very night when reading an author blog I discovered that this effects placement on bestseller lists. I was so upset because I thought I'd cheated this author whom I adore. I tried to take it back but the store wouldn't do it. The lesson: Wait for release day no matter how much I want the book!

When authors blog about the industry it only helps to make readers more informed and maybe prevents some from participating in piracy. I can't be the only honest reader out there.

Sorry this post is so long:(

Kathleen Eagle said...

Anna, thank you! We welcome long comments, especially from such a savvy book lover.

Your suggestion--authors listing legitimate sites for purchasing downloads for books on their own sites--terrific! Great idea!

Christie Ridgway said...

Helen: I think you might have something there with the buy of books in pieces...

Also, love the video of the bride & groom. Have watched it several times. And the # of views is phenomenal. Just goes to show how quickly something can be spread via the internet and is why we authors are very concerned about losing sales through piracy.

lois greiman said...

i have kind of been ignoring the issue...because it's easier..i mean, seriously, it's hard enough just to write the books without worrying about everything else. but next contract, i'll be giving it some serious thought.

RKCharron said...

DO NOT ENTER ME IN CONTEST!
Thank you for the nice post Kathleen and thank you to the commentors here. This is one of the most erudite comment/conversation threads I've read in a while.
All the best,
RKCharron

Virginia said...

I can't seem to get into the e-book wagon. I like to feel that paper in my hands. I guess I just don't like change. Maybe if I had a reader it would be different. I think its wrong for any one to still a book. You guys work hard to provide books for us the least we should do is buy them.

Pamela Keener said...

I still love a physical book & they are affordable as opposed to the upfront cost of buying an e-reader. I really don't like sitting in front of my desktop reading a book.

I loved the dancing bride and groom, Have you seen this video? it is also amazing tribute to breast cancer.
http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=OEdVfyt- mLw
Love & Hugs,
Pam

Pamela Keener said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEdVfyt-mLw
Lets see if this works?

It is on youtube and called the pink glove dance.

Anonymous said...

I love the feel of a book in my hand...turning the pages...and the accomplishment of completing a novel.

My first job was working at our local library.

Enjoyed this post.

karenk
kmkuka*at*yahoo*dot*com

Helen Brenna said...

Pamela, that Pink Glove dance is great! Thanks for sharing.

KylieBrant said...

Kathleen I love the wedding march. And really loved the one on the Office. That was hilarious.

Count me as one who would eliminate having my books available electronically if I could. When I compare electronic sales to illegal downloads *on one site alone* the piracy downloads are three times the legal sales. I'm not accountant but I know when I'm getting ripped off!

Maureen said...

I think if people are caught and prosecuted then there will be less piracy but I think it will always be an issue.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Pamela, loved the Pink Glove. Over 3 million views!

The office dance is cute--imagine how excited Jill and Kevin must have been.

catslady said...

I loved that video! That one and the guy that's dancing around the world.

I think I'm too old to want to switch to ebooks. I collect books - love having them around me.

It seems every time someone can prevent theft by technology there is someone who can figure out how to cheat it again. I have not answer for it unfortunately.

Kathleen Eagle said...

catslady, you hit the nail on the book. "Love having them around me." I give them as gifts. Instead of flowers, I send books to the hospital. I use books in my holiday decorating. We have books in every room in the house. I notice right away when I walk into a book-free zone.

Emmanuelle said...

Nice topic. I've already baught some ebooks. I read those on my laptop (I don't have any sony reader or kindle... too expenssive for now). I prefer real books much more. I even have some books in both formats. Baught it first in ebook (because the price was better or because I was too impatient to read it - I'm in France and I have to order all my books online, some times it takes WEEKS, grrrr) and loved it so much I had to have to paper version too.
Nothing can replace the feel of a book in my hand. Plus I think books are beautiful. There is nothing better than a huge well stacked library imo ;-)

Debra Dixon said...

I think the most important thing we can do to protect our rights is to talk to people. Let them know how piracy affects our industry.

Ask readers to talk to their children. Especially at that critical time when the child has just read a wonderful book, just gobbled it up. Then sit down with the child and ask, what if there are no more books for you to read because that wonderful author can't write for free and feed her family?

If we get the conversation going, if we help people understand that books aren't music. Writers can't perform at stadiums for the majority of their income.

If my book's too expensive then buy someone else's cheaper book. But BUY books. Don't download the illegal versions.

Pamela Keener said...

Kathleen, I too love books all around me. You would be overcome with books if you entered my humble abode. I absolutely love spending hours in a bookstore gathering books to buy. I give books to children as presents all the time and I love to sit on the floor in the childrens section discovering books to buy.
Love & Hugs,
Pam

LINDA M. FAULKNER said...

Personally, I prefer to read a tangible book I can hold in my hand. I've read several books on my computer (judging contests, etc.) and I understand the appeal to people who are in a hurry, have a limted budget, etc.

Progess always comes with a price and challenges to overcome.

As a writer, the thing that gripes me the most is the fact that I earn less money on ANY book I publish, regardless of the format, than anyone else.

Think about it, we writers spend 1, 3, 6, 12 months writing a book. Editing it and polishing it and doing our thing. All without being paid a cent for our time and/or effort. Yes, we go into this arrangement with our eyes wide open, I don't argue that. But when we sell our book, we don't get compensated at an hourly wage or contract price, we collect a very small percentage of the overall sales.

Piracy of intellectual property reduces that small percentage even further. One of the previous commenters said that the music industry solved some it its problems; here's hoping publishing can too.

Lady_Graeye said...

What a great post. I usually don't watch much youTube but my kids do. The couple looks happy in the picture, the very best wishes tto them.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I'm with you, Linda. My percentage of the cover price doesn't reflect the work I put into the book. I remember when I got the first sale call thinking "We're going to be rich!" Ah, well. Rich in love.

Mary said...

I truly don't understand why the publishing world hasn't banded together and gone after the people responsible for illegal downloads as the music industry has.

There's a lot of talk about the downswing in the publishing industry, but very little action.

People need to understand that writing is a job - they expect to get paid for their work - writers deserve to get paid for theirs.

Whenever things aren't going well, a trip to the bookstore always brightens my mood!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Absolutely, Deb, this people really need to be educated about this issue. For years it seemed like the sky was the limit and there were no drawbacks to computerizing, digitizing, cyberspacing and all that jazz. Suddenly there's a dearth of money, jobs, common sense and ethical behavior everywhere we look. Whatever happened to the Roaring 20's, er, 90's?

People really need to take a step back and figure out how we can drain the dirty water and save the baby.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Mary's right. More action. Deb's right. Keep talking. Raise awareness and light a fire under the publishers. No matter what the medium, the message must be composed by a writer--preferably of the human variety. The kind that has to eat.

Writers are an independent lot. Organizing them is like herding cats. Not that I've tried herding cats, but I've herded cattle, and I've served on the RWA board. Recently RWA (along with other writers'groups) proved that we can make a stand in defense of our profession and the well being of books.

There's hope, folks. Thanks for your interest and your ideas.

Martha Lawson said...

Hi! No, I hadn't seen the wedding video, but it was so cute..

I guess I'm old fashioned enough, that I want to hold a real book in my hand!! I don't care about reading them on the computer or e-reader. I don't think that will ever change.

It's a shame there are people who will pirate an authors hard work.

buddyt said...

As with every new discovery or invention, there is always two sides.
One good and one bad. This applies to everything one can think of.

That it is now happening with digital books should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Print books have also been liable to fraudulent schemes. Think of returns to publishers that are not destroyed but sold on to readers at discount prices.

I think printed books will still be with us even in a 100 years, even if technology has advanced to the stage where we download digital direct into our brains !

Take a lesson from King Canute, you can't hold back the tide no matter how powerfull you are.

Carol