I was up in Hobart last week, although with the Cassandra GPS leading me from traffic light to traffic light, and then up and over Grasstree Hill, it felt more like Hobart was up me (and it was not a pleasant experience) at a seminar on digital publishing. I was there to give input as an author who had actually done it, and took it as an opportunity to point out Baen to an Australian audience.
This was a lot more interesting than I'd expected, to be honest. The Guest Speaker (besides me as a sort of minor aside) was a fellow called Richard Nash, formerly boss of Soft Skull Press. If you'd asked me if I'd have more time than basic politeness for a largely literary press editor... I'd have told you avoid buying stuff on that particular street corner in future. I'm a pragmatic ex-scientist, who likes empirical evidence, logic and common sense, appealing to readers and selling books because people love them... ideas which sometimes seem to be outré in the larger world of publishing, and let's be frank, particularly in the literary fringe. The Luvvies know that us dirty Great Unwashed don't really know what is good for us, and they network to make sure that we'll get a choice from Ms Hobson. Why, the Great Unwashed might read books by people like David Drake or Weber or even Kratman, which besides being that sf-trash, might influence them or support their worthless ideas, which are not right and they ought not be allowed to have.
Of course, being a lowlife simian myself, with lowbrow tastes, I assumed this to be the case. I thought I'd hear a lot pro-establishment stuff about how publishing was fostering the arts, and how necessary high prices for DRM loaded, leased media were. (As the official rebel I came and I am still the same: The establishment these days may largely be run shall we say 70's liberal arts college grads who labelled themselves as anti-establishment... However: When you are in charge of the system: you are are the establishment, no matter what your back-history was. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish their conduct from that which they once loathed. ‘Be good little proles and stick with our status quo, because we know what is good for you'... which has never been something I was much good at accepting.)
Okay so I was wrong. Sorry.
Both Kate Eltham's (from the Queensland Writer's association) presentation and Richard's made a lot of sense. And Kate was possibly less flattering about DRM than I would be (although more professional and dispassionate about it. Hey, I'm just an author, outspoken, opinionated and really silly). And Kate is even more enthusiastic about the need for REAL data than I am. I LIKE that!
I am still not sure just how Richard hopes to make money out of his company, Cursor, but I found a lot of common ground, and some refreshing ideas. I was amused to see his ideas of about advances and the negative effect these have on both sides of the equation (which I wrote about only last week). His idea of copyright only being for a 3 year period was... stunningly refreshing. (3 years as an initial grant and thereafter renewed annually -- makes sense to me -- my publisher is doing a good job, I'll renew. The book has taken off -- let's look at new terms. The publisher demanded every right under the sun and sold none of them, wasting opportunity and reducing my income? Goodbye. The book didn't make much, and is barely selling -- they want out? Fair enough.)
Perhaps because he was talking to writer-audience he was pitching this at making business sense for writers -- and in an electronic publishing world where traditional publishers are not, shall we say, offering much added value for what they want back, and appear lining themselves up to be the weakest link for most established names... perhaps he is the future -- publishing where publishers make themselves attractive to writers for reasons other than just access to retail space and an advance.
I think he was quite similarly taken aback that Baen had years head start on many of the ideas, and that yes, his ‘new' ideas were Jim's ideas. But he seemed to be taking notice.
Some of the concepts - like there is not enough piracy :-) - are startling enough to make me sit up and take notice. And I have been saying some of the same things for years too -- we're NOT getting most of the potential market out there. True - he was talking in price points, I'm talking about ‘what various reader niches want to read' and matching them to writers - but that too he does start to address by the idea of social recommendation networks (Something Ori has brought up here).
So: how long should copyright be sold for?
How long should it be?
How can publishing move to be an essential part of recognised names business (besides, well, making cutting them out illegal or collaborating with retail - which seem to be the possibilities being explored, eh)
How do we get those social recommendation networks up?