So, the lovely Amanda Palmer was talking on Twitter the other day about piracy, streaming and so on and actively encouraging people to share and talk about and promote music. This was taken by some as advocacy of piracy and… then the slanging match got started.
The equally lovely Sarah Pinborough – a writer rather than a musician – surprised me by coming out against filesharing and so on, engaging quite strongly in a conversation about piracy and the problems it creates for creators.
Needless to say there’s some disagreement both within the musician community and the writing community about all this with people on all sides and battle lines drawn. By and large tough the kind of circles I move in have come to accept that piracy exists and that its the cost of doing business, a trade for the enormous benefits of the internet.
Those companies in gaming that have embraced the internet and changed their business model have made great strides (Paizo, Evil Hat, Posthuman) while those frozen in an older mode of business have been clumsy and have lost ground (Wizards). So, to say I find the more traditionalist attitude to the internet as badwrong perplexing is an understatement.
However, during the argument, people linked to studies and gave reasons and, as ever, studies contradicted each other and the sources and sponsors were called into question. However, Sarah is a pretty switched on person, seems to make good use of social media, is delightful, interesting and sweary by turns and someone I had thought was ‘doing it right’ so – perceptions challenged – I had another look at things as they stand today and reconsidered where it is that I am on the nature of the internet and creative endeavour.
- Whether we think the changes are a Good Thing(TM) or not, they have changed. It’s useless to hope for the ‘good old days’ to come back and in many ways they weren’t that good anyway for a large number of people.
- Realistically speaking there is no way to protect books, music, games. There will always be a way around it and attempts to lock down content only piss off your legitimate customers and make things more difficult for them.
- As a creator, you are your brand as much as the stuff you’re creating. A presence and a personal connection with your audience fans is the best and perhaps the only way to make impacting on your living meaningful to them. Keep in mind that the average person can only actually relate directly to 150 others (the Dunbar number or Monkeysphere) so this is always going to be a little illusory but it doesn’t take much to make an impact on someone.
- The idea of ‘1000 true fans‘ works in some arenas but writing has been devalued a huge amount. A novel is more like an album than a single and with both selling for a buck its not hard to see that $1,000 per book – once or twice a year – isn’t a goer and even musically $12,0000 once or twice a year is better, but not hugely liveable. Even if you go the hermetic-artist existence.
- The Long-Tail compensates somewhat for this as you’ll go on making sales at a lower rate over time, potentially for your lifetime. As you build up a body of work this makes creative life more sustainable long term and may be a viable retirement plan in a world where job security has the same mythological status as dragons.
- One model that does seem to work in mobilising fans and getting money up front is crowdfunding and hostageware. That gets your 1,000 true fans to spend more on your projects, to promote your projects, to be activists for you and your work and all in exchange for a greater closeness to you, the work and a feeling of participation. It’s like old style patronage, but distributed. I don’t know how long this can hold out and how much use it is to new people but if you have an established presence it can equal an income AND you can give away the resulting work should you so choose. One major downside is the degree of entitlement and lack of understanding contributors have for delays or problems.
- Piracy does help the little guy in getting known. Word of mouth is often all there is and people like to browse, to see something before they buy it. As the death of the UK high street is showing that’s becoming increasingly difficult. You’re not going to find new music or authors in stores. MTV doesn’t play music. The radio plays oldies or the most banal shit going. The music companies haven’t grasped that streaming is the new radio and are crippling services like Spotify and Grooveshark into unsustainable business models compared to the old media. So what other options are there?
So there’s the problems and the state of affairs as I think it stands and I really don’t think there’s anything we can ‘do’ about digital piracy without sacrificing a free and open internet and going the way of China and North Korea. I don’t think that’s very appealing whether its governments or legions of corporate attack lawyers doing the enforcement.
If you want to see how to succeed I think you need to look at the people who make it work. You can’t do the exact same things they do, you’ve got to be your own thing, but there’s pointers there. Look at Warren Ellis, Amanda Palmer, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Adrianne Curry, Neal Stephenson, Fred Hicks, Notch, Adam Jury, Penny-Arcade (and friends) and hopefully, one day, me. I do suffer the huge disadvantage of being British and regarding self-promotion as terribly gauche narcissism, but we’ll see.