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Funding Models for Books: the new age [Sep. 15th, 2011|07:10 pm]
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One of the people who follows me on Twitter posted that he thought most authors were "just like the music industry was,"  refusing to acknowledge that things had changed, and not trying anything new in models of publishing.    Which is--at least for writers in my end of fiction-writing--so far from reality as to be ludicrous.

Back when the possibility of publishing online was just a gleam in the eyes of some of us, we started trying to figure out how this would turn into money we could live on.   These discussions took place online and at every convention I attended, and involved a lot of brainstorming.  Publishers were just starting to demand electronic righrts, even if they had no immediate plans for producing e-books.  We knew some readers wanted to read books on their computers; we knew others did not (hated reading on screen.)   We knew that effective e-readers were years away, largely because the technology for really light, very readable screens, and devices with very long battery life, weren't there yet.  But we were not "head in the sand"...we were trying to figure out which way the bandwagon was going to start rolling, and when to jump on it.   We could already see the downside: with the lowered cost of scanners and OCR software, people were beginning to scan our books
and share the files with others.  And no, boys and girls, this did not result in a bump in our actual sales figures.   Instead, some of us (including me) got snarky emails trumpeting the fact that "I read your new book and I didn't pay a penny for it, ha-ha-ha!"    That dampened the enthusiasm of some (not all) for the new model-less business model.

Several of the ideas launched in those early discussions among writers were tried out with short fiction and later with books.   Several problems emerged.  One was that the internet was beginning to flood with a lot of non-professional reading material, all of it free for the reading.   The writers of this were glad to have any readers; they'd never expected their writing to make them money.  A few of them were very good.  Most of them would never have achieved publication by magazines or book publishers.  Internet readers vary in their discriminating tastes, let's say, and for some this glut of not-so-great was good enough--and it was FREE--and they began to complain about the cost of professional fiction.   One response to that was to consider how to offer online readers a guarantee of quality.  Thus online magazines were born, with editorial staff and a payment scheme for the writers.  Another response was to consider having websites shared by several writers, all of them professionally published, with stories/books available there for download.  Another problem, though, was that anything on the internet could be, and was, instantly copied elsewhere and shared elsewhere--which was a leak in the money-collecting bucket.  Turns out an astonishing number of people think writers are overpaid and underworked, and that they "should" write just for the satisfaction of having readers.   (So maybe power companies should give us free electricity just for the joy of seeing so many homes light up at night...and farmers should give away their crops just for the satisfaction of knowing people have enough to eat...and politicians should work for free just for the satisfaction of creating good government...sure.)

The first idea that I saw show up was the internet equivalent of the "loss leader."  A loss leader is an item sold below cost to get people into the store.   Loss leaders work for most merchandise, but there's a problem when customers start thinking the loss leader price should be the regular price.  "If you can sell if for 30% off today, why can't you sell it for 30% less all the time?"  (Because you'd go broke, that's why.  Or, like Wal-Mart, you'd have to pressure your suppliers to cut costs to the point where their workers aren't making a living wage.)    And not everything can be a loss leader.  Books are particularly problematic.   It takes me a year to write a book, on average--and it's a full-time job.  Some people are faster (2 books a year) and some are slower (a book every other year or so.)    If I treat a book as a loss leader, that's a long time to live with no income.   Stories are easier (quicker to write) but some book readers don't like short fiction.  Hmmm.  (There was a lot of "Hmmm" in those early discussions.)

So: free stories as loss leaders.  Initially, with mostly pro writers doing this, a lot of people read them and some (not all) produced additional sales.  
Individual experiments in putting up fiction "free" had varied results, largely dependent on the writer's fan base and ability to communicate with them...to get them to the writer's website and actually reading the offered material.  Without the social media we have now, that meant the writer spending time on emails, listservs, email newsletters, etc.  A little later, blogging on their own or another's blogsite.  The idea was that free fiction would introduce the reader to the writer's work, and then at least some of those readers would go buy something somewhere.  For writers whose works appealed to "early adopters" of reading online, this sometimes worked, but not for everyone.  The reading experience online--in those days, always sitting at a computer and reading (at best) simple HTML or pdf--was unpleasant for many readers (and still is.)   Some writers gave up on the notion; others thought later tech and internet changes might make it viable.  Many writers now have some free fiction up on some (all) of their sites.  (And most writers have websites now.)

Then came "free with request for donations if you like it."  This was supposed to evoke the wave of money from grateful readers that some of us were told early on would bury us in cash.   Early experiments (all this is before e-readers and nearly all social media--there was no MySpace or Facebook or Twitter and I think LiveJournal was later than I'm talking about now) showed that in order to get anything equivalent to a print publication out of a "please donate something" button, you had to attract an unlikely number of readers to that site and for that piece.  Several online magazines went down the tubes that way--people simply did not donate enough to keep the site alive, let alone pay contributors.   (Online newspapers have found the same thing--people will happily read free material and they won't pay voluntarily at a rate to pay for the site.)    These magazines might have succeeded if they had had a huge readership to start with, but starting from scratch to build one, and having no other funding source, they did not have anyone (but the founders) already committed to their financial survival.   The same is true of individual writers, of course.   Building a fan base that cares whether you have money for the phone bill or your cat's visit to the vet takes time.  Most people do not throw money at every "please donate if you like this" button on the internet...they don't like it that much.  Moreover, some people react badly to donation buttons, storm off in a huff, and complain that the writer is nothing but a money-grubbing hack.  

A third experiment involved the 'storyteller's bowl' model, something we felt would only work for writers with a name and following already, in which those who wanted the story would contribute upfront, and when a set amount had been reached, the story or books would be written.   In fact, this method (now called "crowd funding")  has been used, and is in use now, in several variations.   As expected, it has been most effective for those who already had a fan base, and least useful to those with none.  The fan base did not have to be for the writer's previous fiction: several bloggers with large readerships for their nonfiction blogs were successful with  internet funding a fiction book--their fan base was big enough, and willing to support their fiction.    Writers have tried out "whole funding first" (waiting to produce the book until they had the "advance") and "serial funding" where they write each chapter as it is "paid for".  The latter has worked for Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in their Liaden Universe books (which were orphaned by the collapse of their former publisher years back.)   It got them over the bad patch and back into traditional publishing, but it was a squeaky thing.   They offered extras for those who donated more to the "bowl"--such as a print version of the final book--but have commented that there were hitches in that getalong they had not anticipated.  (As with any print publication, a rise in the price of paper, or shipping, can erode the profit margin.)  They are still doing self-publishing online (typically with shorter works related to their long ones--side stories); the pure "donation" model brings in something, but not usually equivalent to professional markets and not enough to live on, and they're publishing conventionally as well. 

The rise of social media has improved the chances for a free-donation-funded publishing project to work but (drawing on comments from writers I know who have tried it, right up to the present) the results are still highly variable, dependent on the writer's previously-acquired fan base size and the exact nature of the project.  And some blind luck.   It is much easier now to let people know about your new story or book; writers typically have multiple social-media accounts.   There's still a problem that some people are offended if a writer's social media site (or website, for that matter) is focused all (or more than that person likes) on the writer's business of writing.   Others are upset if it isn't all about the books/stories/writing.  And despite websites, blogs, social media...some people still will not get the word that there's information out there from that writer.  For some writers, the time it takes to post in the various social media, update the website, and format the work available on their site is not repaid by the money that comes in from donations. For others it is.   Writers, like anyone else, continue to do what's worked for them, if it's still working...so if they hit it with their first free-but-please-donate project, they'll do more of that, and if they don't, they'll try something else.

Along with social media, the development of useful e-readers (something we writers saw coming years before they made it to market--the developers would come to conferences and talk about their latest projects) has enabled writers to penetrate the book-reading market more independently than before.  By this time, many writers were adept with computer files and changing formats.  Many of us had worked with Adobe products, coded our own websites with HTML (and some hadn't--I quit doing that to write more fiction and hired a friend to do the coding.  My days were full already.)    Once upon a time, when  publisher let a book go out of print for the last time, all a writer could do was revert the rights and try to find another publisher.  Sometimes works--one of mine was picked up by another publisher.   More often, these out of print books languished with no outlet.   But not now.  Older books can be e-published by either a speciality e-publisher or by the writer.  What was once a liability (a backlist out of print) has become an asset--available for experiments in e-publishing.

Many writers are experimenting with self-publishing as e-books (or as a mix of e-books and print-on-demand)--either original fiction or books to which they have the rights reverted.  This corner of the market has grown with the growth of both social media (allowing much easier communication with the fan base, both to let them know what's coming and to get their reaction to things)  and the e-reader market.  Along with that has come the ability to create marketable (marketable just like any other book) e-books that can be purchased through known outlets like Amazon.   And another benefit is the ability to create "covers" for these e-books as attractive as the covers on the original books (which can't be used without permission of the original publisher and the artist.)    Some writers are good enough photographers and artists to make their own covers, but a niche market for digital artists has arisen doing covers for self-published e-books.   I have a friend who's been instrumental in developing the website and the back-side stuff for a lot of self-published backlist e-books (and has a number of her own up now.)    One of the things learned from individual and small-group attempts is that it takes time--years, in fact--to build an audience willing to pay money for fiction on a given site, in an environment where there's a ton of it out there for free.   Some of these sites and groups are beginning to get traction now, but they're several years old at this point.

Over the past decade and a half, I've heard of the success or failure of many ideas of generating income from writing fiction online--like many other writers, I'm not only in "open" forums like this one, but in closed listservs of writers who are, and have been, trying to figure out how to continue to make a living as storytellers.   As those groups are not thrilled when a member reveals all to the outside world...I'm not revealing anything you couldn't find out elsewhere: no names, no pack drill.   (Lee & Miller have written extensively about their experiments on their own open site.)   We're not pretending change isn't happening, or refusing to get our heads out of the sand--but we're also not risking our survival on unproven bright ideas.   What the gurus of the internet told us--that we should admit that storytellers won't ever make a living again and we should teach, or do journalism, or some other form of not-doing-what-we-do-best--has so far not been true, though it's become harder to make a living.   And though traditional publishing is regularly announced to be dying, it still provides--for those who can hang on--a more stable income flow than otherwise.  (Keeping in mind that writer income has never been as stable, as predictable, as a regular paycheck.  For full-time writers, with no other income source, this uncertainty is one of the few predictable things about writing for a living.)    Recently (as in, the past six months) with the growth in the sales of e-readers, sales of the backlist books and new books published by established writers have gone up--an excellent thing for writers.

It's still more difficult for writers without an established fan base or some way of attracting one (other than just writing good stories.)  This is troubling, as new writers start out without that fan base--unless they're famous for something else.  And being pretty or a good singer or a comedian or getting your wilder escapades on YouTube does not necessarily translate into being a good writer...while many good young writers are (as good young writers have been in general for a very long time) just not that good at anything but writing.  Getting good at other stuff too takes time...and time away from writing.    People just don't pay unknowns that much (on the whole--yes, there are always exceptions, outliers.)   Neither did trad publishing, but at least they got the name and the book out there into bookstores, where people expected to find new books.

But.  The fact remains that one model beloved of the early internet-fiction enthusiasts--that putting something up for free would automatically generate tons of income from grateful readers--hasn't worked at a level that allows writers to pay the bills year after year.   Maybe it will someday.  But not yet.  The crowd-funding approach has worked for some and shows promise for more.   E-books selling through Amazon and other online outlets is showing more promise now than a year ago.   Pilot projects trying out variant funding methods have been going on and are still going on, and as conditions change any one of them may turn out to be a viable model....for some, at least.   In the meantime, readers should understand that writers are trying to both write their stories and find new models of distributing those stories that will pay the bills.   It is simply not true that writers are ignoring the present (and future) and doing nothing. 


[User Picture]From: litch
2011-09-16 05:40 am (UTC)

new writers and reader interoperability

One of the places I have discovered new writers (and decided to give older writers a second chance) are podcasts like Starship Sofa and the like.

They've taking the place the magazines used to have once upon a time (though they are having to explore alternative funding models too) but it has a very similar feel. Writers don't make anything from it but they aren't making anything from short fiction sales anyways.

My biggest problem with readers is the lack of interoperability, I can't read my story I bought on a kindle on a nook or an iphone. The fact they cost more than a paperback is ridiculous and wrong, but as more writers cut out the publishing houses it MAY get cheaper. The fact you don't actually own the copy of the story and just have a revocable license to it is troubling as well (the 1984 issue).

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[User Picture]From: keristor
2011-09-16 06:39 am (UTC)

Re: new writers and reader interoperability

The last paragraph seems specific to Kindle and Amazon. No one can take a book back off my Sony e-reader, it is only ever connected to the computer as a pseudo-disk drive and I control what goes on there. Similarly I only buy books without DRM so I can read them anywhere (apparently even on Kindle, ePub can be converted to the format the Kindle uses easily I'm told) -- and if I buy from Baen I have a massive selection of formats including PDF and HTML and Kindle all for the price of one book (and again they can't take it back off me).

There are also Kindle apps for iPhone (and I believe other platforms).
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[User Picture]From: keristor
2011-09-16 06:34 am (UTC)
And I feel that for writing informational pieces like this you should be paid (rolanni is another one). It's non-fiction writing, and worth it. I'm one who likes 'donate' buttons, I'm not creative in that particular way (I don't write fiction I or anyone else would want to read!) and I like the mediaeval model of sponsoring the arts one likes (if I had pots of money I would so employ writers and musicians). I have been so tempted to say on occasion "here's 30 thousand dollars, now go and write that book without money worries!" (My financial manager would kill me for trying to increase my mortgage, so I don't, but I would love to be able to do that.)

Another way of getting new readers through "social networks" you may have missed. I have started reading several writers because they have appeared "in person" commenting on the blogs of other writers I was reading. In fact I came across Lee and Miller that way, before the term 'blog' existed, via your newsgroup back on SFF.net (and I came across that because I'd read Yog Sysop's books). The frustration I have is when someone comments about their own fiction or experiences and I don't know who they are! Yes, I know they have reasons for not making it public, but I want to read their work. (Sending them a private message feels like intrusion.)

(I'm also a person who doesn't like reading books on the computer. In a 'serial' format with a chapter per week or so, I can manage it, but a complete book I want to print out and read in bed. Or on my Sony e-reader now, I've been converted...)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-09-16 02:00 pm (UTC)
You're right, I didn't specifically peel that use of social media out of the rest. I was considering all internet appearances--on one's own space or another's--as part of internet exposure (because it is, really) and it all takes the same amount of time from the writer's own work.

I agree with you about identifying oneself online. Yes, there are risks involved, but it's like someone coming up to me wearing a ski mask or a hood and wanting to chat. I'm not going to trust that person; I'm going to suspect that he/she means me no good. Show me your face, in person; give me an identity, online.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-09-16 02:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the exact dates. The discussions I'm talking about happened before '99...I knew them only from print media and direct personal contact before we *finally* got internet service here ('96, I think.) Very frustrating that was; I had friends on GEnie who were always bugging me to get on it, but we couldn't get there. I also couldn't get on LiveJournal when I first tried, and PayPal and I are not buddies...several tries to start an account failed, and when I finally thought I'd made it, they suddenly insisted on my giving information that I didn't want to give.

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[User Picture]From: lighthawk
2011-09-16 12:29 pm (UTC)
I can definitely understand and agree with your arguments on publishing and funding for books. I don't know for the average guy, but if there is something I enjoy that I would like to see continue, I legitimately buy the product to make sure that that I'm doing my part to ensure what I enjoy continues to be produced. I know a lot of people do not feel that way.

But this brings up a question, perhaps someone of your expertise may be able to shed some light on. I have some story ideas that I want to tell, some inspired by your own work. Personally I have no expectation that I would be able to make a living off of it, but I would like to make some money from the efforts. What model would you think would be best for someone with no past readership at all.

The model I came up with for myself was simply to follow the route many webcomics have taken. Offer for free regular updates on my own website (for example: a chapter a week) and then provide a purchasable volume in book form (I was thinking kindle, nook, and ibooks). But I am not certain that this would even as supplemental income. What do you think?

But I think in the end, the explosion of the usage, speed, and availability of the internet at a speed human civilization is unaccustomed to has lead to a lot of problems for people providing entertainment (music, books, etc). It's hard to police the internet effectively, and a lot of people have been spoiled by the easy availability of about anything they want without having to pay for it. People are a selfish and greedy lot.

I certainly hope for my sake that a successful business model for authors comes. I enjoy good books and series, and would like to see them continue. I hate coming across unfinished work.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-09-16 02:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your support...a viable model will always involve money flowing to the writer.

Your situation with your own work is tricky at best. You can certainly put up your work for free and keep track of the hits on that page...see if you're drawing new traffic. Make sure there's a way for readers to comment, because it's important to know how readers are reacting (suggests whether or not you may be gaining enough fan base to make any money.) I would suggest if you do that, that you use a Creative Commons license. One approach might be to put up a story a week (people follow blogs for new content...they like to see something new regularly) for a few months, possibly removing the earlier stories so there are no more than a small number (under 10, probably only 5) at once on the site, unless one is very popular. Then in 2-3 months, add a donation button and see what happens. (Be sure to check with your hosting service to see if they're cool with that. For some, any attempt to make money directly off the site is "commercial" and will raise your hosting fee.)

You may get comments earlier saying something like "I love it, these are really good, why don't you have a donation button?" At that point (even if it's earlier than your plan) you could decide to go with it.

Because of the expense of producing a collection volume, you should probably wait to offer anything like that until you see what reader reaction is. (You can research the cost of Print-on-Demand and small press services--these change--and be sure your intake from the online work will pay for a printing of a collection. And start learning--if you don't know already--about book design, fonts, copyright registration, ISBNs and so on.)

Meanwhile, depending on your genre, you may find markets for your work. Short fiction markets still exist, some in new places (NATURE, the great fast-pubbing science journal, now has a "Futures" short-short story every week. That's four stories a month--about half the number of a full-on SF magazine with monthly publication.)

I can't say whether these suggestions will be successful for you--or if some other route might work better for you. There are too many variables in the equation, starting with your writing.

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[User Picture]From: keristor
2011-09-16 02:07 pm (UTC)
"Funding Models for Books: the new age"

Hmm, I just read that as 'finding', which makes it read as a totally different subject *g*...
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2011-09-16 02:58 pm (UTC)

Sorry, this turned out a bit long.

Interesting post; this is stuff I've wondered, so it's good to hear an inside view from your perspective.

All understandable points. Sounds like a sometimes frustrating business with the changes the internet brings. Yet good that reading (stuff other than blogs and articles) is coming back into fashion with the emergence of faster, fancier, wi-fi capable e-readers*.

It makes sense that impassioned people will more readily fund a cause. Such as, "My favourite author's publisher has abandoned them, and I really want to see this next book out! I don't mind dropping a few extra dollars and rallying the fans together to make it happen." or "Hey, what's the price of a coffee for the next installment of this saga -- especially as they're bringing them out in reliable time-frames, so I stay hooked and entertained. My money won't be going to waste."

I realise it's a less predictable or reliable market nowadays, but I'm certain there'll always be a market for books made of paper. Personally, I still bound excitedly to the shops with cash in hand when I know something I'm following has come out (or something I've heard is exceptionally good).

I will have to assume these critics who demand you write for nothing but the fun of it sit around on their butts doing creative and lovely things all the days through on someone else's income (partner, parents maybe). It seems utterly unrealistic that anyone living in the real world of Responsibility would suggest you writewritewrite, shareshareshare, and somehow manage to have time to respond to readers in various e-social avenues, attend actual functions, keep up with the latest technologies and prepare works for them, and attend some other kind of job on top of all this so as to basically survive. Nevermind your family life, or the notion of retiring at some point.

Regarding writers who don't already have a base, I can't help thinking it would benefit all writers to cross-promote each other. Sure, it will pull a bit of income if your fans rush to buy a new reader's stuff for this or that month, maybe instead of yours, but reading is a very dynamic past-time. The more one reads, the more one wants to read, and will develop the charming habit of making time to do so more often.

*Speaking of which, it might be an idea to have a work ready to sell when the first batches of coloured eink become available on the popular ereaders in the very near future -- kindle, nook, etc -- which makes use of the graphics and colour capabilities. This technology is already available on a couple of expensive readers, but is (like all things electronic) a work in progress. I hear a lot of complaints on the cruddiness of current ereader graphics -- to the point some people refuse to buy anything that isn't solely text, and some have bought utter trash purely to test a rumour that the pictures came out nicely on the kindle -- and I have the feeling people would be very excited to have a quality e-book "made" to utilise the system's capabilites.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2011-09-16 03:08 pm (UTC)

Re: Sorry, this turned out a bit long.

Oh, and I'm very intrigued at the thought of getting my hands on some out-of-print works by some of my favourite authors. Lately I have considered I may buy one of these fandangled ereader thingees for that purpose (incidentally, I was excited recently when I did a quick search and found some of your own works are for sale in several formats).

Of course I will continue to buy my favourite stories in paper. I like having the collection for relaxed reading around the home or outdoors -- and there is nothing in the universe quite like the enchanting smell in a well-loved book.
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-09-16 05:30 pm (UTC)

Books, in whatever format, are golden!

I have to say that I, as a fan of several authors' works, have embraced the ebook reader concept only recently. I still value my time with a paperback or hardcover, especially since you can trade them around easily with friends, and the hardcovers hold up well for years. I maintain that the feel of a book is going to remain a wonderful thing for a good long while yet.

That said, I've bought several copies of my favorite books over the years. Top of the list is the Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy, first bought in 3 volumes (twice), then in the omnibus (three times, one as a gift), and now I've located the PDF of the omnibus on the Baen site and purchased that. I recently got a Kindle as a gift, and it was dismaying to see that only the more recent novels have been Kindle-ized, but I know not everything can be available all the time. I have just purchased the two newest Paksworld novels in Kindle format, and my daughter owns them in hardcover.

My point, I guess, is that while it is best to keep getting new readers, and readers who buy, I believe that having both options, print and digital, available will be a good thing, and hopefully send more $ to the authors who labor for so long to produce something intricate and well-told for the rest of us to curl up with.

I salute your efforts, madam, and hope that the world as a whole continues to realize the value author/storytellers have in our lives.

Gretchen in Minneapolis
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-09-16 09:49 pm (UTC)

Re: Books, in whatever format, are golden!

Gretchen, you do know that the Baen books can be used with Kindle by some hand-waving magic of theirs, don't you? This page, http://www.webscription.net/ explains how. All my Baen books but the short fiction collections are in e-book form from them (Remnant Population was taken by Del Rey after Baen let it go out of print, so they don't have the e-book of that one.)
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[User Picture]From: harvey_rrit
2011-09-16 06:23 pm (UTC)
TWITTER: For stalkers who can't afford the gasoline.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-09-16 09:40 pm (UTC)
I don't think that's entirely fair...at least not if applied to those who merely disagree with the Twitter-ID-holder. Yes, there are Twitter stalkers, trolls, and hornet swarms, but I felt in this case the person and I simply disagreed strongly, and I had more background in what writers have been doing than the person had.
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[User Picture]From: wldrose
2011-09-16 11:00 pm (UTC)
Ill buy in to the music industry parallel when I see Madison Square Garden sold out 20,000 seats for 4 day in a row for any writers readings @ $40 a seat and when people pay 19.99 for a Tshirt with that writes face on it and they get 45% (the money is in the merch)

Hell I dont think King, Gamin, and Meyers combined could sell out one night at those prices in those numbers and over and over 180 nights a year?
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[User Picture]From: timill
2011-09-17 07:41 pm (UTC)
I've certainly paid more than $20 for a writer's T-shirt (though they actually have cover art on them - both are by Sarah Hoyt: Darkship Thieves and Draw One in the Dark).

Any chance of some eg Paks or Vatta T-shirts from (say) CafePress?
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[User Picture]From: jodel_from_aol
2011-09-20 03:24 am (UTC)
Well, I'll admit it. Most of the online fiction I read is fanfic. And there's a lot of it, and it's all free. Or at least all that I know about is free. I suppose there may be pay-to-join websites that present fanfic that you have to pay the gatekeeper to access, but I don't really know of any.

But like you say, it is *really* variable in quality, and it doesn't support the authors in any direct manner apart from egoboo. Although it's obvious that there are a number of fanfic writers who built up a tremendous following, and that following is probably a very real factor contributing to their ultimately going pro (which usually resulted in their fanfic being taken down on the advice of their publishers).

Plus, a lot of fanfic is written as a *community* activity, and that pays back in other coin than, well, coin.

I will also admit that I have dabbled in the field of ePublishing--as a purchaser, having aquired a handful of works (so far) from Book View Cafe. And I like that paradigm. I hope that it succeeds. I *like* being able to "subscribe" to a work for the price of a paperback back in the days that a paperback was affordable ($2-$4). I like being able to download the work in any of a selection of formats depending upon whether I'm going to be reading it on a Kindle or a Nook or in .pdf on my computer. I like that having subscribed to the work, it is there in my account so that if at some point I purchase a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad or whatever, I would be able to download a version that I can read of that instead of the .pdf (or in addition to, I've not asked since the issue hasn't come up yet).

But no, free is free. And giving anything away for free is only going to pay back in good will, and not always even in that. That works for fanfic, where a fanfic "exchange" is assured of producing a mutual love-fest for the participants, but it isn't a *business* model. Not even in Utopia.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-09-20 02:10 pm (UTC)
No question that loss leaders work--merchants have used them for, um, centuries. But loss leaders were typically small samples of a larger work (or one small sausage or cut off the wheel of cheese or one berry from the grocer). The free chapters of a book--those were loss leaders. And both the amount and the time it was available were limited.

In terms of books, the "freebies" at conventions were loss leaders in the traditional sense. And special sales in bookstores.

But with the use of digital loss leaders, and the growth of free online fiction from non-pro writers, some of the public began to demand bigger (up to whole book) freebies, and then began to feel entitled to more and more free fiction. This was aided by the "information wants to be free" crowd, which unfortunately included some writers who--being paid for nonfiction--decided to see if they could get a "market" for their fiction by giving it away. And some of them then declared that in the future no one would be able to make a living writing fiction, so fiction writers should just quit trying and instead make money off of teaching--and academic writer model--or writing nonfiction--the journalist/blogger model.

Loss leaders work best for sellers and producers when the public understands that this is a singular occurrence and (in my view) when the "whole thing" is not free, but a lower price for a limited period of time and only the "sample piece" is free. And I saw this out of a background of experience in retail sales as a child. We "store kids" on Main Street in a small town were taught how merchandising works. We knew that loss leaders drive traffic to a store...but that survival depended on people buying more than the loss leader--depended on them buying other items at regular price, becuase the loss leaders were in fact a loss...sold below cost. So in the hardware store where I grew up, which also sold small kitchen appliances and kitchen wares, pie pans might be a loss leader ahead of Thanksgiving, but cake pans wouldn't be. And ahead of white-wing dove season, one size of ammunition might be a loss leader, but not all ammunition. The dry goods store might have washcloths as a loss leader, but the towels were regular price. (Though the "white sale" in January dropped prices on sheets and towels, prices weren't dropped to the loss leader level.)

Once the public starts expecting lower prices or freebies to exist all the time, on a broad range of items...when they think "loss leader" is the ideal model for selling anything...your sales are in trouble.

I'm quite happy to have a sample available for free--as a loss leader--but I want people to understand that anything beyond that is bad for both my publisher and for me. Which I know you do, so this is probably just preaching to the choir once again.
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