Will piracy drive gifted writers out of lit? And what to do about biz models?
April 2, 2008 | 5:06 am
Internet book piracy will drive authors to stop writing, says a doomsday-tone headline over a story by London Times reporter Ben Hoyle. In fact, a new Swedish site called Student Bay has just started up to pirate expensive textbooks.
“In the 19th century and before,” the Times notes, a variety of models existed for paying authors, “including lump-sum agreements and profit-sharing.” And it says Chavalier “sees no reason why the book industry should not be equally innovative. She suggested four possible sources of income at an industry discussion on copyright law last week: the Government, business, rich patrons and the public. Government funding could take the form of an ‘academy’ of salaried writers.”
Perhaps Chevalier need to check out the evolving TeleRead concept of well-stocked national digital library systems with fair compensation for writers, publishers and other content creators. By itself TeleRead, which I proposed in the early ’90s, wouldn’t solve every problem. Different kinds of books thrive with different business models, example, and I’m more than a little leery of “salaried writers” churning out White House-blessed tomes telling why we should be in Iraq. Even so, TeleRead at least would send more money in the direction of publishing. Books are just a speck of the U.S. economy, suggesting that at some of the industry could be tax supported, given all the benefits derived and the new efficiencies of E. The same model could work in many other countries.
One way or another, the industry in the States and elsewhere needs to show more vision, but in realistic ways. While, yes, some writers like Cory Doctorow can earn major money from speaking fees and the rest, I suspect they’re in the minority. How about, say, Theodore Dreisder—ugly and a rotten speaker, but also the author of Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy? For that matter, I suspect that F. Scott Fitzgerald, the ultimate glamour boy, would much rather have been writing than spending so much time speaking. Here’s to royalties, then, for people who like ‘em. Most authors do.
Must-read: NonTeleRead links—except for the one to Tracy Chevalier’s bio—are via TeleBlog commenter Nate Anderson’s provocative piece in Ars Technica. A must-read, even if I don’t agree with everything there. I especially appreciated a little aside, Nate’s gripe that he’s “learned more than I wanted to know about literary agents, the big New York houses, the committees that evaluate any novel’s potential sales, and the dangers of being labeled a ‘male author’ in the minds of publishing execs.”