Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Story of a Transmedia Revolution: (Part 4) The Bookstore Apocalypse

Rise of the Zombie Publishers

At first glance, things look rather grim for storytellers—or authors, as they are commonly referred to today.  Bookstores are going bankrupt; traditional publishers are at war with their online rivals; pirated e-books are sailing the digital seas in record numbers; and of course, there are the widespread rumors of an impending reading apocalypse

"Paper or Plastic?"
(Which side of the publishing war are you on?)

-Photo by Peter Usagi

But even more disturbing than the current conflicts in the sale and distribution of published works, is a shift in how writing is viewed as a career.  According to author Seth Godin, if you're a writer, you have no right to make money anymore.  It's a little harsh, but he does have a very good point:
“Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word — over.”
Blogs are dethroning journalists, reality TV and YouTube are turning the everyman into celebrities, and thanks to Amazon and Lulu, now anyone can publish a book.  With so much freedom, and so few gatekeepers, publishing is starting to look a lot like cable TV: thousands of choices, but nothing worth reading.

And with piracy as easy as a few mouse clicks, publishers are finding themselves in the same post-napster royalty dilemma as the record labels did.  The only thing that’s making music financially viable are tours, and making songs inexpensive and easier to purchase than illegally downloading them.
The last time I checked, authors aren’t filling sports arenas for readings; and thanks to a handful of competing e-book distributors, price fixing, and proprietary e-readers, buying e-books is anything but easy.  In fact, the only way you can buy a book once that you can keep forever, is to buy one made of paper…which brings writers right back into the waiting arms of desperate publishers and their faustian contracts.
"We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon."  — Seth Godin
"B&N, our last best hope for paper...and starbucks."
-Photo by Peter Usagi
This walled garden approach to book sales is not only frustrating for readers, it's making it extremely difficult for authors to choose how to publish in a vast and lawless digital frontier.  With proprietary digital rights management (DRM), and a healthy amount of antagonism for their rivals, today's publishers are behaving much like street gangs, jealously guarding their turf—err, authors.   And the average citizen is getting trapped in the crossfire.

Here’s a brief rundown of the digital publishing gangs of the internet:

Stuck between a Nook™ and a hard place…

Barnes & Noble is now a shopping mall of safety in a post-apocalyptic digital publishing nightmare.  Once decried for putting small mom and pop book stores out of business—with the fall of Borders—Barnes & Nobel has become the studded leather anti-hero of paperbacks.  Taking a stand against Amazon, the last of the brick and mortar bookstores is preparing for war.  The stakes?  Who decides what gets sold in bookstores.  Using a two pronged attack of stores filled with paper books, and an e-reader called the nook, Barnes & Noble has territory in the matrix and on main street.

Easy on the eyes, but still a blood thirsty warrior...

Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
Is Amazon a friend or enemy to readers and writers?  Publishers certainly have had their share of battles with the online giant.  With the introduction of their color e-reader, the kindle fire, even Apple has taken a few swings.  With an incredibly low price, Amazon is betting their customers will make up the profit lost selling kindle fires, by purchasing content from their online store.  A risky move that could come back to haunt the Amazon.

A wholesome snack that might be rotten to the core...

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

The local favorite tablet, the iPad is getting a run for its money as an e-reader.  The recent release of iBooks Author App is Apple’s secret weapon against the Amazon’s giant library—making it possible for new and established authors to create groundbreaking multi-media e-books.  However, their weapon has a terrible flaw…any work created with the app can only be sold on iTunes—exclusively.  When you add their recent legal troubles with alleged price fixing, their limited library, and a clunky user interface for books on iTunes, the gang from Apple is losing territory.

Creative Commons:  We can get along...

So, is there a solution?  Is there some way for readers and authors to survive in this exclusionary publishing gang war?  Sure there is...go completely around the neighborhood they’re fighting in.  Give away your art for free, and collaborate:

“You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script. 
This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?  
In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, ‘Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.’ Because there are ways around it.”    
Francis Ford Coppola
Creative commons is the path many authors are traveling to avoid the publishing blood bath.  Giving away their fiction for free (or for one to two dollars), and completely bypassing the publishing middlemen, a new era of crowd-sourced, and fan supported fiction is beginning to take shape.

What is Creative Commons?

According to their Creative Commons website:  Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.  It’s a legal framework that allows artist, scientists, and anyone with a unique idea to share it with the world, and still retain legal control of their work.

What does creative commons look like?  Find out...Vimeo has updated it's search options to include Creative Commons works.  And while we are on the subject of copyright, here's a few thoughts from Cory Doctorow on why we shouldn't focus on artists, but the bigger picture:


Choose your own ending?

So what does creative commons mean for the industry?  Elle Lothlorien, author of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ gave her fans a choice of endings.  I'm working on a collaborative serial fantasy written with the help of those reading it.  Do you have a creative commons project?  Tell me all about it...

- Peter Usagi
Transmedia Storyteller

For those of you with more time on your's the full length PressPausePlay documentary.

PressPausePlay from House of Radon on Vimeo.

[Check out some of the books, albums, and soon movies produced by Mythos Media and our various media partners.]

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