Monday, 17 January 2011

epershand: A stick figure watching the gap. (Watch the Gap)
So, I was just reading Karen Healey's post and Saundra Mitchell's post about the Sarah Reese Brennan fan twitter assholery.

Some jerk downloaded Brennan's book illegally and then had the gall TO TWEET TO HER telling her she'd done so. Man, what a jerk.

Good thing I've never done something like that. #OhWait #DoesItHelpIfIUsedTheHashtag #reluctantPirate

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I've never illegally downloaded a book that was still in print, although I do wish there was a way for me to buy digital copies of all the books I lurk after in used bookstores. I do, however, illegally download music and TV, and I tend to (a) be pretty upfront about it and (b) refer to it jocularly as "illegally downloading."

I am well aware that I am not every pirate, and that my story is neither unique or universal, but here are a few stories of mine.

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I'll start this off my mentioning that I buy a large amount of TV and music. Wow do I. Wow is the iTunes Music Store bad for my wallet (fortunately I budget for it, because I know how much music I like to buy). Seriously, if I hear a random song that I like somewhere, I will go to the iTMS and buy the entire album. And then maybe another album by that artist.

But I don't always know what I want to buy, and that's a challenge. So also I download music. For the most part, this is on a pretty small scale--fanmixes are the major way I hear about new, completely random music these days.

Worse than downloading, I also UPLOAD fanmixes. I am a DISTRIBUTOR of music that is not mine to distribute.

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A few years ago I used to be a part of this music site. There was this teenage girl who would just post multiple albums a week, and pretty much whatever she posted, I'd download from her. In return for all the free music, people like me would send her cartons of cigarettes, which she couldn't buy legally because she was underage. How skeezy does that sound? Skeezy, right?

The vast majority of the bands whose music I got from there didn't make one red cent off of the fact that I downloaded their albums. The ones I found there and liked, though?

I buy their albums. I go see them in concert. I promote them to my friends and talk them into buying their albums. I put a song of theirs on a fanmix, letting at least a few hundred people at a time know how awesome they are (while simultaneously perpetuating the cycle of extra-legal music distribution).

To be fair, I am one out of thousands of people who used to follow this girl before she got shut down. I have no idea how many of her other regular followers wound up purchasing music as a result. I have no idea how many people who download my fanmixes purchase music by any of the artists as a result.

But of all the albums I downloaded for free from that site, how many would I have purchased without it? Exactly zero. I wouldn't even have known who the artists were.

I was really sad when that site went down. It was a major blow to my ability to acquire new hipster cred, let me tell you.

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Another thing. Broadway music. I like Broadway music a lot. I don't see a lot of stage productions, because I'm not in New York, but I do buy cast albums. Also, I'm a singer, so I buy sheet music.

So, Christmas of '09 my sister gave me a USB drive with The Last Five Years on it. She hadn't purchased it, she'd gotten a copy from a friend who had purchased it. At least I think he purchased it? And man, was that an incredible musical. It ripped open my chest and dragged my heart out kicking and screaming.

And it made me love the composer, and it made me hate the fucking composer, because how dare he write what he wrote in that fucking musical. Except I kinda sorta loved him. Resentfully. Fucker.

(My level of emotion about that fucking man and his fucking music is such that I cannot even have internal dialogs about him without them becoming profanity-laden. More profanity-laden than usual, I mean.)

So, I wanted to subsidize Brown in at least SOME way for all the torment and heartbreak and anger he'd given me. And I wanted to be able to sing some of his music. So I bought the sheet music for the musical.

A few months later Jason Fucking Robert Fucking Brown got into a well-publicized fight with a teenager over distributing digital copies of his sheet music.

In which he was very self-righteous about his rights to earn money every time someone sang one of his songs. In which he made similar arguments to the ones Healey and Mitchell and Brennan made last week. But mostly?

In which he looked like a gigantic fucking asshole.

(Pro-tip: if your goal is to make you, the famous rich middle-aged white guy, the hero and your interlocutor, the teenage starving artist, the villain, please make at least an attempt to get her name right. Or at least refrain from mocking her for correcting you.)

Last week, I was looking for pieces to audition for my chorus's upcoming anti-Valentines cabaret, and I went to the library and checked out Songs For a New World.

"Fuck you, Jason Robert Brown," I thought. "I'm not buying any more of your fucking sheet music. I'm getting it from the motherfucking library, so there."

But then I auditioned a piece from The Last Five Years anyway. Fucker.

----

Anyway, what all this is meant to say is, a sea change has happened in the way people are producing and consuming media, and with the way they're interacting with the traditional gatekeepers of the media world. I realize that the old way things worked afforded you a living and that the new way doesn't. But the new way is here, and it's here to stay, and I don't want to be an asshole, but every time I hear someone shouting about how we should just go back to the old way? My main emotion is pity, not sympathy.

Like it or not, the way that you, author, interact with your intellectual property and the people who are consuming it is going to have a very strong impact on my willingness to consume it.

Cory Doctorow's fiction bores me to tears, but I keep valiantly talking myself into reading his books because I like his politics. Despite the way I feel about his works, I'm going to try very hard never again to send a cent in the direction of Jason Robert Brown.

And, to be fair to those of us on the consumption side of the line, things are confusing out there. I've been at concerts given by artists who say "Please don't buy my CD. Please download it illegally, I am trying to get away from my recording company." (I think we all know who that was.) Cory Doctorow is telling us that he makes more money by virtue of giving his work away for free. We've read Courtney Love on recording contracts. We've read Wil Wheaton on self-publishing.

I don't know what the next world of publishing looks like, but I can tell you this. Yelling at people like lucyham isn't going to get you there, and it's not going to keep you where you are either.

And I can also tell you this: when you say that the figures of people who downloaded your book would have put you on the NY Times bestseller list if they'd been sales, I've got to call bullshit. First of all, the vast majority of the people who downloaded your book were not people who would have bought it if it hadn't been online. They are people who wouldn't have known that your book existed. Second, you should probably take a look at the illegal download figures for the books that ARE on the NY Times bestseller list before you start making that sort of claim.

Maybe I'm just another one of the self-justifying piracy advocates who just wants everything for free, but I don't THINK I am. Because I value you strongly, author. I value the work you do, I live and breath it. I also value musicians, and the work that they do. And I value publishing houses, and the way they guide me to find good books. (I particularly value publishing houses like Baen, whose policy of handing out large number of free e-books, and whose high quality writers, have pretty much ensured that I'm going to buy my third copy of Cryoburn when it comes out in paperback.)

When I say that the old business model has failed and you need to find a new one, it's not because I don't respect the living the old one gave you. I liked that business model too, in a lot of ways--it gave me a regular supply of books that have been professionally copyrighted and marketed, with rather nice cover art, and let me line the walls of my house with them.

But, and I am only telling you this because I love you and what you do, you need to find a new way to make an income on your writing. Because I love you, author of printed books. But I also love the authors of my favorite webcomics. They give me their work for free, and let me read it when I feel like it without going to a bookstore first. And I subsidize them by buying merch and the occasional printed edition. I love my favorite radio personalities, so I give money during every This American Life fundraising drive and buy all the audiobooks by them that I can.

The way I find new authors to read, and new artists to support? Is almost entirely through the internet, and the things I can get from it for free. From authors blogs, from authors twitters, from recommendations on my friends' blogs and twitters.

This is pretty good for me, but in a lot of ways it sucks, it sucks MASSIVELY. Because, author, I really want you to be able to devote yourselves full-time to writing, and not have to take on the subsidiary tasks of being your own editor, publisher, marketer, social media guru in order to get an online following high enough you have sufficient True Fans to support you. OK Go's model is succeeding brilliantly, but I don't want to require that you be OK Go in order to succeed.

But I can't fix that, and neither can you.

ETA: This post is beginning to get a fair amount of attention, and I am on my way to work right now. I intend to respond to comments, but it's going to have to wait until this evening at the earliest. Thanks for your understanding!

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