Pay Up!

No this post isn’t about turning my blog into a pay per article service, or any such notice. I don’t even use ads, this an entirely free blog, my reward is in writing, and the odd comment or two. If my blog inexplicably became uber-popular, and my existing over resourced was somehow unable to cope and I had to get bigger more expensive hosting, I would have to review the situation to recoup costs. That situation isn’t likely, but I do appreciate that the internet can be expensive at times, and someone has to pay.

There is a point where quality and quantity must come at a price. For published authors that point has come, people have deemed the quality and quantity worthwhile paying for, and are ready to stump up the cash.

The world is changing though, and the point of quality and quantity is higher, it’s an uphill struggle against thousands of other writers to hit that point. The internet has had a major impact, books are less popular because there’s so much out there for free, and more convenient.

Amazon was a revelation, you no longer had to go to books, instead they came to you. That hit bookshops hard, but they struggled on. The focus of books changed though, the priority for quick ROI’s (return on investment) is pushed. Books now have to hit the most people for the least popular price. A strategy that seems to back fire more and more. This strategy led to the rise of the ridiculously priced minor celebrity biography. A scatter gun approach to the problem that spreads the investment over many similar books, hoping that one will catch the eye, and return enough money to pay for the lot. Plus I imagine a few publicists like rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and those in the know.

Regardless, sadly the book industry is dying. Various strategies, to my mind, have exasperated the situation, but it’s only hastened the demise, not caused it. The new killer started to rise a couple of years ago, the eBook. EBooks have been around for a while in one form or another, but various technologies are aimed solely at enabling this market, from software for computers and PDA’s to dedicated eBook readers. Libraries of books can be fit onto a memory card smaller than my thumbnail.

Many companies are trying different models to get a ROI from eBooks. The problem is DRM will always be breakable, which means one person pays, cracks, and shares with the world.

It is robbery, but one that’s hard to pinpoint, hard to deal with, and in these days of burgeoning technological advances both sides of the line, hard to track. There are those that argue that it isn’t morally incompatible with the arts, just the same way they argue with the film companies, and the music industry. However, for the time being, the issue isn’t nearly so great as with films and music – and the value of revenue streams is far different.

Throw in that much of the content available on the internet is legally free, in terms of literature, I doubt the publishing industry could get anywhere close to the extreme actions of it’s bigger sisters (music, film, and television).

I’ll put my cards on the table, I don’t necessarily agree with how copyright works now, though I acknowledge the illegality of file sharing certain files, I don’t believe the law is set up right for the twenty-first century. The basis for copyright laws dates to the 1600’s (must query and confirm), when small publishing presses were re-publishing books of bigger firms. Back then copyright was set at a decade, and then books would become fair game, giving the larger firms ten years protection on profits. Then, with a lot of lobbying from bigger publishers, copyright duration was extended, and extended. Loop holes were systematically excised, and precedent cases were brought against people and organisations, big and small.

Though over the past few hundred years there have been countless alterations to copyright law, international versions have been set up – the principles are the same. The current creative industries are hooked, their whole business models inflexibly require this antiquated form of copyright, and they fight any and all efforts to change this.

Even as the world changes, leaving them behind.

Truth is, illegal file sharing wouldn’t nearly be so big, popular, or socially addictive as it is now, had the corporations, and governments come into the game earlier, and dealt with the situation. They could have spent the past decade looking at changing their businesses to fit with the twenty-first century, while protection their revenue. However, a short sighted view, and inefficient weed killer, has maintained their own degradation as the source of creative media.

They only have themselves to blame. However, I digress slightly, but only slightly.

The point of this article is to explore a very valid point, one that multiple industries are faced with.

Given the abundance of free and legal sources of entertainment on the internet, of reasonable quality – would you pay for it elsewhere?

Say for instance, I’m a bestselling author – I’ve just written a ground breaking piece of fiction. It’s gone to the publishers, and has been released into the wilds of the bookshop. Now, I have some sort of weird control over my own works, that prevents my publisher from blocking me from publishing elsewhere, (I would expect they have better control of contracts than this, but it’s a necessary machination for my role-play), and I decide to offer it free to an online community, or two.

Everyone can go and download and eBook version of my groundbreaking book, (by the way, if you’re wondering it’s an awesome book, the best you’ll ever read), the media publicises this fact widely, so lots and lots of people know.

The consumer has a choice, they can download it for free online, or purchase the book. Which do you think the consumer would choose?

I believe they’ll choose the free meditation. I would. However since this a ground breaking, and unbelievably amazing book, maybe I’m hoping they want to buy a physical edition, to keep forever. However, the revenue is going to be far less.

Now, bearing in mind we’re dealing with an ultra-amazing groundbreaking book, if I were to add some form of advertising to the download page, I can recoup some of the lost revenue. Given how amazing the book is, that’s a lot of potential individuals to advertise to.

Of course, financially that’s not quite satisfying, I’ve got bills to pay, and a five storey, one hundred bedroom mansion to buy, (you know, the essentials in life). Next up, I want to look at putting advertising in the eBook – of course I’m a proud writer, and I don’t want LucoCola logo or text interfering with the story itself, so maybe on the front and back pages, and water marks in the corners? Intrusive, but not story ruining. The added advantage to this is, if you want the book without the advertising, you can go to a shop and pay for it.

Seems like a reasonable business model, no? I get lots of good attention from online downloads, plus a reasonable advertising revenue stream, and I get a decent payback from the physical copy of the book. It’s a business plan I could live with, except it would only really pay off with something destined for success. If only one hundred people download your book, the advertising revenues would be tiny, and certainly wouldn’t get me close to my SR-71 Blackbird, even a retired fixer upper.

If there were an organisation dedicated to this form of creative distribution, advertising streams could be optimalised, and profits from the whole business could be shared as a regular reward between those who distribute content (within a time frame), on top of a specific revenue return team. Should the organisation do well, a bonus could be paid as a dividend between all the contributing authors. Again, authors wouldn’t receive a vast amount, but they would receive money specific to their work, a share of the money in the whole organisation. Of course the organisation would need to keep at least half the money raised itself towards operating costs, and future expansion. It would be a fair system though, and of course with a central organisation, advertising can be targeted and negotiated for the best possible returns.

It may be that organisations like this already exists, I need to do some research. It would be nice to think it would, and I could have a look around, see how it works, if it works, and what it really means for the literary world. I think it would be a fantastic concept -the hard part would be attracting people to check it out and start downloading those eBooks.

Getting people downloading requires three things:

  1. Brand/site knowledge – i.e. advertising
  2. Product range – authors willing to try out an untested system
  3. Technology – a content management system that can track downloads, and report statistics

Items one and three both require money, and/or time to invest. I imagine, it would be a fairly high risk venture, and would require constant work to keep the model going beyond any initial interest at the start of the journey.

There is a possibility it could be a Mecca for the unpublished authors out there, looking to make a name for themselves, and impact. As fantastic a resource for new writers that it could be, to attract and maintain an audience, you would need to have major names lined up alongside them, otherwise the audience won’t come to the site, and then stumble across new finds.

Another possibility for this model is to have a subscription based pricing model, which wouldn’t have advertisements. You wouldn’t necessarily launch with that pay system in place.

That’s one way, I can think that should provide the audience with free, or at least cheap books, which would give some recompense to the writers. If it hasn’t already been done, it would be a pretty major undertaking to put in place, and build up enough of a customer base to really make a difference in the market.

Of course, an important thing missing from this model is the publishers, and agents – a staple of the industry at present. Also, writers wouldn’t have access to the vast resources of the publishers in getting a publishable final draft, to a publishable commodity, risking lowering the quality of work being released.

There would have to be some thought into what to do about sharing – if people were to share the content across P2P networks, for instance, there would be no statistics to show advertising revenues. If you were to implement a DRM system, then someone would probably crack it – though this model may offer hope that cracking the DRM system, and sharing by P2P is more of a hassle than simply signing up and downloading from the site.

These are just some thoughts that I’ve had, when considering the problem – I’ve not really gone into much detail. I do however think that something like this is needed, and will happen at some point.

A similar model may also be possible with the news, I know news organisations are getting very concerned about where their revenue is going to come from, as online news becomes more and more prominent than traditional paper news sources. The news service already has online advertising, (some of which can be annoyingly obtrusive in their desperate attempts to claw back revenue), however the news world is so distributed, and online news so plentiful, it’s hardly surprising they’re struggling to make a profit. Which is where my model falls down, as my model really needs to have limited competition in its domain to operate fully, otherwise the money from advertising will add up to very little. For the news services, it could be they consolidate their content to one central place, where it’s all segregated – it becomes more of an online news vendor. You select the particular “paper” that you want, and people gain access. Possibly many items are shared, open to the public with just advertising to support it – but things such as commentaries, investigative journalism, and special offers are held in a subscription only area. Or rather than subscription, it could operate a pay as you go system, where the user puts £10 into their account once a month, and pays for the extra features on a daily basis.

The various media organisations working together could easily have the money and resources to invest in such an enterprise.

For films, and television, advertising at the beginning and end of a film clip – which is programmatically mandatory to watch (possibly with an advertisement mid-way through a longer film), and a subscription needed to access special features (DVD type features). The film and television could be in the TV range of broadcast (six months after DVD release I believe), so as to compete with TV, but not the major initial revenue sources of the cinema and DVD release. Possibly a subscription or PAYG service could be used to access the latest films a couple of months after DVD release.

There are hundreds of ways to improve upon the current systems in place – this rough idea I have is just one of them – and would need a lot more week. The great thing about this rough idea is it doesn’t involve a change in copyright law. Though I would prefer a review of copyright law, one that has the responsibility of balancing the needs of the publisher, the writer, and the reader.

I’m going to explore this, and other ideas relating to the business, and legalities of writing, though it may seemingly not matter if you’re not currently being published – they do have a heavy affect upon the world of authors.

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