Saturday, July 13, 2013

New Challenge

I've woken up with this sudden need to blog. I love blogging. It's one of my most favourite things in the world. The bitter note there for me is the fact that no one participates. It's me up on a soap box. But that aside, I love writing. Writing is just this huge pleasure. Anyone who emails me knows that I'm quite happy to do a "novel" of an email. I call this, loving the sound of my own fingers typing.

I was asked a few months back by one of the kids what I wanted to be when I grew up. There's been different stages:
  • I don't have any idea what I wanted to be as an actual kid. A fire engine?
  • When I got to high school, the other geeky type person in the class wanted to be a bank manager. I definitely didn't want to be that. I was endeared with Wanda Gillespie who said she wanted to be a Gypsy. I was more likely to want to be that (though I was WAY too shy and lacked any thing even close to confidence so it was this far off "I wish I was that free" kind of dream). Of course, reality TV and movies have turned the idealistic "living off the land" gypsy's of fantasy literature into ... well.... the reality TV version of gypsies. Such is the disillusionment of life.
  • When I first got into tertiary education and was doing electronics, I had decided that what I really wanted to be doing was writing. Sharing a perspective with people. The ideas weren't great - I had thought about a guy on his last day. He'd be climbing a building and the book would revolve around the various things that hurt him. The girl who'd said "If we took your mind and his body, we'd have the perfect guy" - which was almost a compliment (true story) except that.... well.... I really don't think I'm even close to being that hideous. He'd get to the top of building and would be looking down... and the book would end there... perhaps with a tear artistically floating down on the wind in a very Forrest Gimp kind of a style. No conclusion.... it was up to the audience to decide if he'd taken that last step or not... A to be or not to be moment (in VERY literal style)...
  • Everyone wants to be something cool when they start doing computing. Whether that's  to be a games designer or 3D animator or even... a games tester and/or reviewer. I wanted to do games but I wanted them to be smart games. I enjoy the good old run around killing anything that's different from me type of games, but I want something with politics and trading etc.
So anyway... I told the kid that I wanted to be an author. So the question came back:

"Why didn't you become an author?".
"Who said I'm not?"

I write on this blog and it's awesome! I can share entirely too much of myself with everyone. And that's freedom. That's having a voice.

But I've now got myself wondering about the challenges of the literacy industry. Why? I met a woman named Maggie Tarver at NetHui. She's the Executive Director for NZ The Society of Authors. Just watch me gush!

So the challenges (as I see them):
  • No secondary income. The cost to piracy for movies and music doesn't have as much effect on the content producers because they have other ways of making money off the "Intellectual Property" (that's not really a thing is it?) such as merchandising, spin-off's, concerts etc. So people MUST be given a legal easy way of purchasing material.
  • Copyright has become a commodity rather than a right. I am not entitled to sell off my rights but that's exactly what the creative industries have asked of the creators. The author is stuck with the cost of production (printing, advertising, shelf space etc.) and only gets a fraction of the profits all for getting those support services like copy editing, advertising and distribution channels.
I've had a few thoughts. While print media isn't entirely dead, it presents a great big ugly problem in that you are reliant on the publishers. The fact that they're asking you to trade away a right has the feel to me of signing your soul to the devil. It's an unfair analogy as the devil ain't people. But getting rid of the middle man clipping a ticket is surely one of the best things that could possibly happen.

So the Internet has done something for us. It's connected us. Baillie can be writing on my blog and get a response from Stella Duffy. Let's face it. This is all of the value that the publishing industry gives us and more. An author can now get online, promote their material, get copy editing done by the fans (the punctuation at least. There's probably a bit more onus on the author to get the structure right and find opinions that they trust to help them with this), sell electronic copies and collect funds for the works.

So I'm a huge fan of electronic copies. They're brilliant. E-books have the potential to be the greatest thing ever! Except... that we keep concentrating on e-ink which people have decided is a dead end - whereas I would love to see some interaction tools built in. Ever read a book and been tempted to go through with a pencil to fix up the typos? It's especially horrible in print. So if e-book readers allowed us to interact with the author to throw up some editing corrections (I reckon a kind of queuing system where the author can make decisions around what gets in and what doesn't and control over the users they trust etc.) that'd be brilliant! They lower the barriers. Instead of the cost on the pretty covers and hard covers etc. it's money that could go straight to the author.

Print copies aren't dead. I think people will continue to want printed copies of work. There isn't nearly enough options in e-ink devices. Tablets and the like just miss the point (it's about being able to read for long periods of time). So books are kind of the fallback. Someone was telling me that in the mid 90's the music industry was talking about how they needed to kill the Internet. For me, going back to print would effectively be doing that for books. But there's still a market. Ever been tempted to buy the super duper special overly illustrated version? Yeah... me neither. I think, in a future where everyone is reading electronic copies of everything, print media will become that secondary income. The merchandising. The "everyone knows you're a real (not a fake one) fan when you've spent silly amounts of money on this novelty item" kind of thing.

Anyway... we're in New Zealand. I think we have a greater capacity to be agents for change here. We can do stuff and say "Look! It works!". So I think we can set up a few different business models around media and see which one works.

The big darling idea for this within the IT industry at the moment is the "give what you want" model. People can select how much they chose to pay. The computing industry is probably a little more affluent then other sectors so I'm not sure we can entirely trust to this to work elsewhere, but I think it's well worth the try. This would  hopefully help to foster a future generation of readers (actually, we read more now than we ever have. I don't know about everyone else, I haven't had the time to sit down and read a book for a while.... last year sometime. But ... the industry needs to foster a generation of people who enjoy books) by making things affordable for readers of all income levels.

There are various subscription based models out there. Pay a regular subscription, be able to download a certain number of content etc. I think this could work for comics (in which case, a tablet device rather than e-reader is a better choice) but I'm not so sure about full works. There's a couple of pitfalls in there. The market is based upon scarcity and we can no longer think in these terms. So watch out for traditional "we're going to restrict the content" type models. i.e. if you release a certain amount of content a weekly basis, and a new subscriber joins, do they get all of that old content essentially for free?

I'm at Baillie's at the moment and her first comment went to the "value add" model. Instead of having one stream for physical copies and another for electronic copies, sell the two together. Give the user the choice of which to read and which to lend (because this IS important). You can still have your shelf of funky looking books but also the convenience of e-book readers. When I last went overseas (that mystical land beyond our shorelines), my suitcase has half full of books which were all read by halfway through the trip which meant that I traveled with a bunch of books I wasn't reading for around half my trip.

So if anyone's looking for a new project... how about something in the authoring industry? Some really interesting challenges that could potentially pave the way for all things in the future. This sort of ties into my big take home from NetHui as well.... doing things for ourselves!

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