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HD: Are Books Dead? 
Posted: 27 August 2011 03:51 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Article from the Guardian

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Posted: 27 August 2011 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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they’ll lose the argument that that piracy is stealing from the “artist.”

No, they won’t.  Surely you’re not under the impression that corporations (or anyone else, for that matter) only make arguments that are based on factual truth?

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Posted: 27 August 2011 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Depends on how you interpret “lose.” (Actually, they may “win” it in the sense of convincing people, even if they lose it logically.)

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Posted: 27 August 2011 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yeah, I’m afraid “losing it logically” is a matter of utter indifference to both them and the public at large, so I can’t get too excited about it myself.

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Posted: 27 August 2011 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dave said:

We may also see a sharper differentiation between what is published by established imprints and what is thrown out on the net for free, the latter being significantly devalued in the public’s eye.

I think we may be seeing this now, at least in music.  I doubt that it will help the crafters--the writers, the editors, the songwriters, the playwrights, the musicians, the actors--to continue to earn a living in the long run.  Seems like such discrimination would simply slow the inevitable “race to the bottom” inherent in the long-tail business model according to the viewpoint expressed in the article. 

I am increasingly hearing about alternative models for musicians that involve live performance and sale of CDs, T-shirts, and similar items.  Yesterday, I met the members of a traveling band.  They are popular, but they don’t actually (over the long-run) make enough to cover all their expenses.  So it seems that they are actually ‘paying to play’ and it is for them a relatively inexpensive and enjoyable hobby.  Hope springs eternal.  Musicians seem to be more susceptible than most to this thing called ‘hope’. 

An associate of mine is a currently publishing popular author and reports that the advances are still slim, and the book-signings, conferences, interviews, and speaking engagements are part of the deal. 

As usual, this is a most sobering topic. 
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As far as winning or losing “the argument that that piracy is stealing from the “artist.””:

Wouldn’t the ‘bottom line’ enforce reality?

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Posted: 27 August 2011 11:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Musicians are a very example. Under the old record-label system, only a handful of musicians actually made a living wage from the labels. Most musicians were signed to contracts where the lion’s share of profits when to the label. It was only the few, highly successful acts who had the clout to demand better contracts when the time came to renew the contract. CD prices were ridiculously high. Total cost to produce and market a CD, including artist royalties, was about $2-3. But labels charged prices that forced $13-17 retail. That’s just insane. Digitizing has just gutted that excess profit, none of which went to the artist.

Likewise, I doubt that more than a few fiction writers ever made a living off advances. Almost all were engaged in some other work to pay the bills or had a spouse or family money to support them. And I wouldn’t credit the decline in advances to piracy. Rather, it’s a result of the media conglomerates who own the publishing houses taking out a bigger chunk in profits. Publishing has never been a big-profit enterprise, which was fine when the houses were all privately owned. But big publicly owned companies demand high profits, and worse high revenue growth, to satisfy the stockholders. Books are selling better than ever, but the profits are going to Wall Street, not the writers.

Ditto newspapers, which are money machines. What’s causing the problem is the massive debt the owners took on building media empires. The Chicago Tribune Company is a classic example. Every one of its business units was profitable, but it still went into bankruptcy because of the debt it took on to buy all those business units. (Which is not to say that newspapers don’t face a problem with declining revenue, only that it really hasn’t hit them yet.)

Also, in the movie/tv and music businesses, it’s been demonstrated that most of the piracy actually helps boost sales. People who pirate and share pirated music and films actually end up buying more than they did before they started sharing. (The few professional pirates are a different matter, but then they chiefly operate in markets that the legitimate market does not serve well.)

[ Edited: 27 August 2011 11:26 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 27 August 2011 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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This is applicable to wordsmiths as well as musicians. 

Below, a link to what is considered by many ‘younger’ musicians to be a definitive word on the situation:

an unedited transcript of Courtney Love’s speech to the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference, given in New York on May 16th, 2000

It gets worse:

Techdirt has an article that includes graphics and links to several cases “that explain[s] why huge megastars like Lyle Lovett have pointed out that he sold 4.6 million records and never made a dime from album sales. It’s why the band 30 Seconds to Mars went platinum and sold 2 million records and never made a dime from album sales. You hear these stories quite often...”

What about musicians who are not mega-stars?  They often end up owing the labels!

Similar experiences accrue to other artists and writers as well.  Many artists I know think it is time for this all-too-common situation to change. 

To the point of the OP, many literate musicians are watching the shakeout on the decline of the physical book.  There is fear as well as hope.  It’s not a fine line anymore…

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Posted: 27 August 2011 01:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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After all, if you couldn’t get a publisher to put it out, then it probably isn’t worth reading.

If you couldn’t get a publisher to put it out, then it probably doesn’t have mass appeal and isn’t likely to make money for publishers (eg biographies of well-known people or celebrities), even if it is a well-penned story that’s worth reading.

I intend to grasp the nettle with both hands and publish an existing book as an e-book.  Who cares if I don’t make money - my story will reach many more people through the ether than the paper version.  If it makes a couple of pence, that’s even better. I and many more like me may be tempted to write more and self-publish as e-books.  Publishers have brought this on themselves.  I have little sympathy for them.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 06:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree with Eliza: “not profitable for a mass publisher” is by no means the same as “not worth reading.”

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Posted: 28 August 2011 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Yes, I made a gross generalization there.

But I think the point is still valid. I’ve been thinking that given many electronic editions of books are so bad, that there is a market for an electronic imprint of books that wouldn’t attract a traditional publisher. (I was thinking of editions of medieval texts, but it there are undoubtedly others.) These would never be deemed worthwhile by a major publisher, and perhaps not even by a university press, but a small “mom and pop” press could develop a strong brand identity and provide a nice supplemental income for someone. Given that electronic editions of books are relatively inexpensive to produce, there is much more room for very small niche publishing of quality books.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I remember complaints in the UK in the early ‘90s when CDs hit 15 or 16 pounds, more expensive than anywhere else in the world even Japan where everything other than CDs cost more. So many people from that ‘era’ consider current record company travails comeuppance and a result of rampant greed.  This is unfortunate for struggling pop and rock ‘artists’.
Unless I am familiar with an author I rely on notices on the backs of their books (which may be well off, I have found - it’s the tyranny of established broadsheet critics too) and, to make matters worse, reader reviews on Amazon - who trusts these?
(Sign me up for ElizaD’s book though.)

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Posted: 28 August 2011 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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...a small “mom and pop” press could develop a strong brand identity and provide…

I think this is an excellent and workable idea.  Time will tell if it is possible to implement. 

In Borges The Library of Babel there is a line (in the translation by James E. Irby):

“I repeat: it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist.”

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Posted: 29 August 2011 05:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Sign me up for ElizaD’s book though.

I highly recommend it; I wrote about it here.

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Posted: 29 August 2011 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I concur. It’s a fascinating read.

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Posted: 29 August 2011 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I remembered this re Amazon reviews.

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Posted: 29 August 2011 11:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Thanks to both lh and Dave.

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