A recent article by veteran US indie musician, Damon Krukowski (formerly of Galaxie 500) highlights the paucity of remuneration to artists from the popular internet radio-on-demand services Spotify and Pandora. While it has been common knowledge for some time—a well-circulated 2010 infographic calculated that an artist would need more than 4 million plays on Spotify to earn the minimum US monthly wage—the disconnect between music streamed from the cloud and money in an artist’s pocket has usually been demonstrated in hypotheticals. Instead, Krukowski generously opens the books on his own music with hard data one of from his former band’s best known tracks.
My BMI royalty check arrived recently, reporting songwriting earnings from the first quarter of 2012, and I was glad to see that our music is being listened to via these services. Galaxie 500’s ‘Tugboat’, for example, was played 7,800 times on Pandora that quarter, for which its three songwriters were paid a collective total of 21 cents, or seven cents each. Spotify pays better: For the 5,960 times ‘Tugboat’ was played there, Galaxie 500’s songwriters went collectively into triple digits: $1.05 (35 cents each).
It’s one thing to talk hypothetically. It’s quite another to see nearly 8,000 ‘plays’ of an actual song valued at less than local phone call. Continue reading →
Some of my favourite novels as a teenager were ones that told a story through a different medium to the straight narrative, a medium I got. Whole novels told through email exchange or text or instant message (Even if all the characters seemed unusually good at articulating their story) appealed to me because when I was growing up they were the new thing and, well, my parents didn’t understand back then which made it all the more appealing. They were geared toward my generation, and the cool things I was learning how to use and make my own. These days email is ‘so yesterday’, and interactivity is the new MO. Attention spans are also the size of an embryo’s bladder. So what does that say for our newest generation of young people whose ‘hunting ground’ is social media? How is story telling adapting to (what I would deem) a revolution rather than a craze? To the punchier, quicker, serialised version of life that makes reading a book a project rather than just an everyday part of our daily entertainment? Young Adults don’t just expect to be able to read a book these days; they expect to be able to interact with it, whether it be interacting with the author, the story or the characters. This can lead to some legal grey areas but we’ll come to that in a minute.
When I was a kid, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure stories. They transformed reading from a passive pastime into an active one. I was suddenly invested in the monsters and mayhem sprawled across the pages – it was my life on the line! And best of all, I could read them with my brother. We shared a bedroom one summer and would take our turn each night reading the next chapter aloud and then painstakingly deciding on our chosen course.
One of the great things about the Choose Your Own Adventure model, for kids but for adults too, is that there is fluidity in the narrative structure. You can find yourself back in places you have already been, discover new places quite unexpectedly, and the suspension of disbelief is a given.
Memoirs have always been less then satisfying for me, and I would perhaps lump travel books in there too. I feel like I’m the curious cat of readers, I want to see the tumbling waterfall and the gnarly Aunt and there are never enough pictures. The photos included are never wide enough to show you everything, and certainly there are never any images of the person you find the most intriguing. I think I shall blame this dissatisfaction on Harry Potter; it is J.K.Rowling’s fault that my mind believes books should have pictures that move. It surprises me that very few publishers seem to acknowledge this need for exploring further than the pages, they seem more interested in flogging a dead horse and giving nothing away unless someone gives them a quid. The battles some authors have gone through with publisher to try podcasting their books are epic; editor and author body parts scattered across the battlefield and not a reader in sight. Yet transmedia, as mentioned by one of my other esteemed Meanland writers, is not a dirty word, and even if it was, publishers and authors should be getting their hands filthy.
Books aren’t only going through a revolution in their digital form but their print form too (Albeit at the pace of a snail, riding another snail, riding a tortoise). I have been advocating for over twelve months that the print book is a fantastic place to explore a multimedia experience, yet only a daring few are moving into the print/transmedia realm. In fact, as far as I’m aware, only one print book has taken that step into interactivity using my favourite free technology, the QR code, and that book is Awake by Joel N. Clark (see the trailer below).
I think I speak for many first time authors when I say we are prone to daydreaming about money (and pre-disposed to alliteration). You get your first book published (either traditionally or self) and suddenly you are imagining monthly holidays in the Caribbean and writing from your million dollar villa in Spain. In your excitement you quit your run-of-the-mill job and suddenly find yourself up Poor River without your Pay Check Paddle. If only you had the money to get your next project off the ground. Most of us would suck it up by getting a cheaper, less striking cover; by agreeing to the publisher’s demands to be less ‘truthful’ in our next book if we want it to see the light of day (and snag the much needed advance); or by relying on a family friend who’s good at English to edit your novel rather than the professional you know you need.
However, if we stopped to have a look around we would realise the landscape is changing and it’s all due to the readers raising millions of dollars around the world for writing projects. What if I told you, you could get paid for writing, or to make your first print run? What if you could make a couple of grand to get you started? What if you could make a million? Three million? All before finishing your final novel/magazine/comic/video game (yes, I would argue they are ALL forms of storytelling, if you’ve been following Meanland posts you should also know this).
It’s incredible to think you could get paid before writing a single word, but if you are willing to do the work, then perhaps crowd funding is for you. Crowd funding allows artists to raise funds for their project by asking everyday people to pledge money toward it. It’s not like traditional fundraising where you wear a Santa suit, put out a bucket to collect change and you hand it into the organisation (or I suppose yourself in this case). Crowd funding sets a goal and time limit, if you don’t get enough people to pledge in the allotted time, everyone keeps their money, and the project goes back to square one. If the artist makes the funding goal only then will the project go ahead, and everyone who pledged gets some sort of reward for their wonderful help.
Entrepreneur and consultant Richard Nash takes time out from his hectic schedule to talk to Simon Groth about the publishing industry and how books are opening up diverse and ever-expanding writing communities, both online and off. Nash began his publishing career in 2001, when he ran Soft Skull Press. He founded Cursor and is publisher of Red Lemonade. He now runs content and community for the new cultural discoverer Small Demons, and is currently promoting this enterprise all across the USA.
How did you get into publishing industry and what have been the most valuable experiences?
My leap into the ice bath of independent publishing was instructive in itself. I came into publishing without knowing anything about it. I was a theatre director. I was directing a play, and this playwright happened to run this tiny publishing company on the side called Soft Skull Press. The place was bankrupt many times over, so he did a runner. I’d become friendly with these two guys at the company. Even though I knew nothing about publishing, I offered to help out with Soft Skull Press—dealing with the printers and figuring out invoices. Out of that muck, I fell in love with publishing. But I had a super practical approach, so everything I was doing was figuring out ‘how do I sell books to readers?’ rather than worrying about how the editor deals with the marketing department or whatever. It was always: ‘how do I sell a book?’ In a totally perfect, serendipitous way, what I was learning was consumer-faced publishing, at a time when it didn’t occur to anyone that that was what publishing was about to become. They were about supplying books to bookstores. Our company was more direct.
When people harp on to me about the smell of a book I have to say I’m fairly dismissive. I mean come on, when was the last time you saw someone on the train taking a good whiff of a book as if it were a bunch of pungent flowers? I pick a book up because of the content, the author and yes, the pretty front covers. I pick it up because I know it’s going to take me somewhere new, and if I’m lucky, the author is going to have a little play with their words and format. Digital will work just as well for this as any musty book that makes you cough if you sniff a little too hard.
The digital era is allowing us to do so many things with the written word, creating new forms and genres. It also has the capacity to bring an old art form back from the literary dead, such as the Choose Your Own Adventure, which I spoke about in my last post. Let’s face it, we’re never going to see the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) back in print, but digital has allowed us to resurrect this childhood memory, and the writing skills that were lost with it.
In all my years growing up surrounded by examples, I never once gave thought to precisely how the book was defined. It would have seemed like a silly question, really. It’s only in relatively recent times I have come to the realisation that, to paraphrase a classic television commercial from my childhood, books ain’t books. By accident of history, we have applied the same word to pop-up illustrations for children, lavish art and architecture hardcovers, compendiums of home cooking recipes, telephone directories, multi-volume encyclopaedias, historically significant works of literature and poetry, and fun and exciting works of entertainment and pop culture. What we call a ‘book’ has always been loosely inclusive. The only common element to these kinds of content is the object through which they’re distributed: paper, ink, thread, glue.
It was a definition of convenience. After all, the magic of a book has never resided in its ink and paper (though they aided greatly in its portability). No one becomes a lifelong reader because of their love of offset printing. Each of the kinds of content listed above fulfilled a different need: some were served well by ink and paper, others perhaps not so much.
At about 11:30 am on Tuesday 12 June, a group of writers surrounded me at my desk, handed me a glass of sparkling wine and took photos while I desperately copied a group of hyperlinks and emailed them to my colleague at a desk three metres away. Shortly before that, I’d been uploading ebooks to the if:book website and felt a pang of completely unexpected emotion. Uploading files had never felt so weighty before. Within about an hour, a photo would appear via Twitter of a print copy of the same book visiting Times Square and I would end up in a sad approximation of a human pyramid.
Lisa Dempster, Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, launching EWFdigital, the Festival’s online component o. Here she introduces the concept of a digital literary festival and asks why more arts organisations aren’t programming events in the digital space.