Yesterday, I posted, among other things, an unreasonably defensive comment on Amanda Palmer’s experience at SxSW this year. One theme I’ve been beating into the ground lately is that artists are ill-served by licensing their work exclusively through old distribution channels that produce physical reproductions of the artists’ work (CDs, books, etc.).
This morning, Charlie Stross responded to…well, ok, he wasn’t responding to me at all, but he might as well have been:
The short version is that the creation of a book requires a lot of skills that have nothing to do with “writing cool SF novels” and he’s essentially outsourcing those business and production tasks to people who are good at them so he can spend more time doing what he does well and enjoys. That’s a great point. One thing I usually fail to mention when I’m on my soapbox is that most artists are in it for the art, not for the business minutiae, the supply chains, the marketing, and all that other stuff. There’s value in having someone else to do all of that work. And really, only the artist can make the decision as to how interested they are in the other aspects of the biz and how much of it they’re willing to farm out and how much money and/or control they’re willing to give up for the convenience.
I’ve overgeneralized about these manufacturing and distribution middlemen. They’re not all the same. Many small record labels are DIY affairs by people who love music but can’t actually create music (not that I can relate to that). Some distributors take less and add more value. My qualms are with the big guys, the CBS/Warner/Elektra/Atlantic types that squat like toads between artists and fans and require tribute from both sides well beyond the value they add simply because they can. These are the entities that have spent untold amounts of money trying to buy legislation that will enforce their position in the food chain long after they’ve ceased to serve any useful function. But, for every Columbia, there are dozens of Matadors and it’s not fair of me to leave them out of the discussion.
Many of the reasons that Mr. Stross cites have to do with the production of physical books. Like it or not, physical books are going to make up less and less of a writer’s revenue stream in the future. It’s not hard for me to envision a “publisher” that handles the editing, taxation, and business chores, but leaves out most of the “putting ink on dead trees and trucking them around the world” parts of the gig. That’s a model that could, in theory, allow the artist the same amount of time to do his or her thing, while making their art more accessible at a lower price point and yet still make more profit for the artist and the publisher. Win/win, as they say.
So…let me revise my rant-y position: I’m not against all dinosaur media entities, just the ones that try to force artists and consumers into business models that don’t necessarily apply anymore, and especially those that try to influence legislation to perpetuate their no-longer-natural monopoly.