Reading recent posts by Stephen Kotowych and Robert Sawyer about the Kindle’s ability to read books aloud and how that might impact the future revenue of writers, has got me thinking about whether a writing career is even really possible. And if so, how to achieve that… because few, even succesful writers, make their money on just the first-time print of their stories/novels.
I suspect writers will have to accept (be flattered?) that their work will be distributed beyond the original contractual agreements, especially if they are publishing their work digitally. At that point it is easily distributed all over the place, even with DRM (which I hope will go away over the next few years, its advantages too few compared to its disadvantages, but that’s an entirely separate and heated argument).
Going forward — short of having a rich patron to support them — a writer will have to bring added value to their work. Looking at Mr. Sawyer’s site it is quite clear that he spends a lot of time traveling and lecturing and I have to assume that is a vital contributor to his earnings each year. Most writer’s probably have to have these kinds of secondary income, that are spin-offs from the writing.
Are there other ways? Ideally there would be a way to generate revenue every time someone reads your story no matter the format (be it digital book, a website, an audio read), but how to achieve that? Kevin Kelly talked a bit about this, in general, not specific to writing, in his book Out of Control. How else?
I think author’s need to have more control over their work. I’d wonder what would happen, if a higher profile author like Mr. Sawyer, for example, attempted to negotiate directly with the electronic book publishers (i.e., Fictionwise) before negotiating with a print publish, selling the electronic rights to his work independently of the print rights? Inevitably a print publisher is still going to want to print the book and will have to negotiate a print contract without also getting to take to the electronic rights. Of course at that point all the work involved in advertising and promoting the work would fall onto the writer, and I guess, Fictionwise.
A successful writer might hold onto some of his work, distributing it only in print – through print on demand services — (or through a private website) to those who have read his more readily available “free” work and liked it. In this way the writer might be distributing his stories in the way that games are starting to deliver “post-release content” (in pieces, and charging for each piece, and controlling the entire transaction) — no middle man, the author getting the full profit of the sale, minus maintenance costs.
Maybe a writer might have all of his/her stories at a place like AnthologyBuilder that contains reprints of previously published stories. Fans would purchase an anthology containing the writer’s work, with a never-before-published introduction to the stories from the author contained within?
Maybe the stories are simply a way to encourage the reader to visit the author’s ad-supported website, which hopefully contains more unique material, adding value to the reader and compensation to the writer.
Of course, in the interim, while I’d be pretty ecstatic if people were “pirating” my stories, I do think organizations like the Author’s Guild are doing the right thing by trying to prevent other organizations from making money from author’s works, without permission/compensation. I’m ok with people having a free read, but if they are going to be paying someone to read my stories, I need to be receiving some of that payment.