|Yep, I paid to license this|
There's been a lot of discussion recently in the blogosphere about piracy and pricing and publishing in general. Nothing new, except maybe the increasingly militant tone of some readers. I think a lot of it began when an author received a note from a reader informing her that the reader had enjoyed her latest book, but had returned it because she felt the book should have been free. That all books should be free. (I'm summarizing.)
It's not surprising that some readers feel this way. The surprising part is that the reader thought such a message would be received with anything but rage on the part of the author. Maybe it was a deliberately antagonizing move. Or maybe the reader honestly doesn't get it.
There's a surprising amount of that going around. I've read some fascinating comments from non-writers about what writing is and isn't -- and why it is or isn't worth anything.
The idea that storytelling isn't worth the paper it's printed on (or the cyber space it occupies) is a new one. It's a new one in any culture and at any time period. But it does seem to have taken hold in this century. Now, largely it's taken hold because it's self-serving. People very often try to justify the shitty things they do by coming up with elaborate reasons for why it's actually okay. And a lot of the reasoning for piracy smacks of that. Lots of grandiose talk about defining legal terms and artistic obligation and so forth. Most of it missing the point that piracy is illegal pretty much everywhere on the planet because most people, including governments, think it's not cool to steal from artists. Most cultures value art and artists. Heck, even the Nazis valued art and artists -- they were just rather particular about which art and artists.
By the way, when I talk about "piracy" I'm not talking about sharing a book with your mom or ripping a CD for your girlfriend. I'm not talking watching YouTube vids or downloading the file of an out-of-print book from a dubious source or snitching a Google image for a blog post. Yes, all that IS piracy, but it's also inevitable and -- in my opinion -- harmless. Not everyone agrees, but I don't have a problem with low level sharing. No, what I think of as piracy are torrent sites and massive sharing -- and the startlingly self-righteous and hostile attitude that frequently accompanies it.
I mean, you can rationalize it however you want--and I've heard some mighty high-falutin' arguments as to why piracy is A-OK--but the bottom line is the pirate is someone who has decided (for whatever reason) that what he or she wants trumps what the artist wants and hopes for. Debate it any way you like, but in the final analysis the argument is What I want is more important than what you want.
Which doesn't exactly make the artist feel good. It doesn't inspire the artist to create more art, let's put it that way.
One intriguing argument posited was that art is created for the purpose of sharing it with others. Now that's a non-artist speaking. Most art is created for the artist. Pure and simple. I write for myself. Most authors do. Most painters paint for themselves. Most songwriters are writing for themselves. I guess acting--maybe all of filmmaking is the exception? Playwrighting? Hm. Musicians are first and foremost creating music for their own pleasure...
|Not Vivian Meyer -- but licensed thru Shutterstock|
My point is the act of creation is separate from the act of sharing, let alone the act of selling. Many artists do not share and would not think of selling. Their art remains purely private. It's still art and its still valid whether they ever share it or not. I give you Vivian Meyer.
I would continue to write even if I couldn't sell my work. But would I continue to publish? Hell no. Publishing is a HUGE amount of work and effort and expense. Why on earth would I continue to share my stories if I wasn't being recompensed? Writing the story satisfies my need to create art. The selling of the story...that's a whole other step. And I think that part of the equation is often missed in these debates about what art is and the role of the artist.
Then again, I could be wrong. I think fan fiction writers and much of fandom art is created with the idea of sharing--driven by the idea of sharing. Payment in that case is feedback and engagement. And it's possible that at different stages in an artist's life, feedback and engagement mean more than they do at others.
Another startling argument was the one that no one should have to pay for "ideas" or "imaginings" or "stuff that comes from other people's heads." This sort of falls in with the idea that an ebook is not a physical book and therefore it's not worth anything.
But a bard sitting with his harp singing his tales of gore and glory was still a storyteller and was still recompensed--even revered--for his time and effort and words. There was no physical product to be handed round. The thing of value was the story itself.
And pretty much anything you can think of starts out as an idea, as stuff from other people's heads. Okay, not the natural world. Not a wild flower. But a garden does.
Maybe the problem is thinking of storytelling as a product versus a service. Maybe if we could get across the idea that storytellers are providing the reader with a service she or he cannot provide for himself, it might make more sense? After all, a doctor is not leaving you with a product like the milkman does, but we still believe doctors need to be paid. And typically more than milkmen. Teachers...is there a more valuable service provided than that of teachers? But all too often they hand our own product back to us in its nearly original form. :-D An accountant does not leave you with a physical product...or maybe she does, but it's in the same way that a story can be printed out, yet doesn't have to be printed in order to fulfill it's purpose.
I guess I find the debate -- not the debate, but the hostility toward the idea that an artist would wish to be paid for their work -- dispiriting because I'm having trouble "creating" right now. I don't feel inspired. I don't feel like writing. It's now been two months and when I think of writing I think of how much work it is. How much time and energy and effort go into crafting fiction. If I could just lean my head against my monitor and transmit complete and readable sentences that would be one thing, but that's not how it works. Furthermore, a monitor makes a very uncomfortable pillow.
So yes, I wanted to chat about what creativity is and what it's worth...what role inspiration plays versus discipline and training. But I find it all very, very wearying. Which gives you an idea of where I'm at from a producing-fiction-for-your pleasure standpoint.
But I saw a picture today -- a book cover -- and I was (briefly) grabbed by that urge to write, to create a story to amuse and entertain myself. Because the act of writing is a powerful and at times pleasurable thing. It is satisfying to create a story for myself. I started thinking about literary mashups and so forth.
Why would a picture of a vintage book jacket stir me to want to write something, anything? I have no idea--and that is the mystery of creativity.
|and this I snitched off the internet|