This is a bit of a difficult topic for me, especially being a writer. A lot of time goes into writing a book, planning them and twisting on the plots and characters to make them as real as possible. So much energy – creative and otherwise – goes into the creation of a novel, that it clears up any misconceptions the author may have had before setting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. For someone looking at composing a work of literary mastery, or even a mediocre pulp fiction novel, there are a lot of things to consider. Having considered these things, a lot of people will find they’re hypocrites.
According to Robert J. Sawyer, author of Calculating God and Hybrids, a novelist writing full time must spend roughly ten months from book concept to publishing date – and that’s if you have a deal and an advance. What this means, is that a full time writer, using Sawyer’s formula of 8-pages-a-day, spends between two and fourteen hours each and every day for ten months to a year, to produce a work of fiction. This means between six hundred and four thousand hours of writing time. One would expect, that putting out a hard-cover novel and earning 10% on that book listed at $25-$30 would pay the rent, correct? No, not a chance. Let’s assume that the author recieves a $5000 advance for their novel – which is nowhere near enough to cover a year’s living expenses if they write full time. In order to “earn out” that advance, the book must sell well enough, and even recieving 10% of the list price (at the book store) this novel must sell at least 1500 copies. If the author is recieving 10% on the sale price, and the stores pay $18 for the book, then the novel must sell roughly 3000 copies before the writer sees a penny again.
Five thousand dollars for ten months of heart-wrenching labour? Is it worth it? For a lot of people, it isn’t, and I don’t blame them. New authors have a lot of harrowing trials to go through before they can get a literary agent, much less get signed to a prominent publishing house, and only then do they have a chance of getting published – this is nothing said of their advance being smaller because of lack of interest, or their book doing well. To quote Sawyer again, “writing is the only profession where so solitary work fails or suceeds in such a public forum.” This sort of thought breaks the backs of many writers, causing them to abandon their dreams. Writing is an increasingly popular dream for many people, and an increasingly shallow market for publishers. The days when a new author would get their chance, sell slowly and build a readership are gone; bad cash flow from book stores and cynicism from critics causes publishing houses to become increasingly wary of taking on new writers unless they’re sure that the books are going to be a blockbuster.
So much time for such a little return can be a daunting thought. Most writers compose for themselves, which really is one of the only ways to balance the thought of never being able to make a living through writing. Authors like Robert Jordan, Stephen King, Robert J. Sawyer and Terry Brooks got lucky – they had the right mix of skill with words and business, the right pace and the right stuff to make themselves best-sellers. They sell millions of copies around the world every year, and make the living of the average minimum-wage fry cook. Can you live this life? Not a lot of people can, whatever their drive or talent. However, even if you only sell ten thousand copies, put out ten books and you have your first million right there. Writing is one of the few professions where the longer you spend directly working and producing, the more copy you sell and the more money you make. Being an author is very much a a step-stone style life, and badly geared for most people who prefer gradually and steadily climbing, rather than shifting lifestyles and achievements in fits and starts.
So what does this have to do with the RIAA? Along with writers, musicians are in a similar predicament. Bands can spend entire years composing and perfecting an album, only to have it flop on the radio and get no sales. Oh, well, most will say, what did we do wrong? Well, the RIAA has made it a personal crusade to make file sharing the fault of every flopped album in North America, whether the music was good or bad. Why isn’t Kelly Osbourne half the star her father Ozzy is? Oh, that’s easy: Napster did it!
This is a very cynical approach to the conundrum, but a rather straight-forward one at the same time. Instead of buying records, teens now download them entirely from the internet. Oh, bad move, technology! Bad computer, bad! You’re to blame for the downfall of music!
Wrong. The vast majority of people download one or two songs and buy the album. Why? Not because the government tells them its wrong and slaps their wrists, but because there are so many horrible copies of songs that people transmit and retransmit like pubic crabs and worts. It’s horrible out there, and everyone’s to blame! Or are they?
Artists get mad because they spend so much time on their art, and people can get it for free. The RIAA gets mad because they can’t make money from artists’ work (the leeches) because people download music for free. People get mad because music should be available for everyone, rich or poor.
You want music, listen to the radio.
Being a writer myself, I find this argument sad and tired. Musicians and writers spend a lot of time on their work, hope against all popular will that their offsprung words and tunes will strike a chord and be liked, and the entire world has to turn it into a battle over who sits at the front of the bus. Enough already!
Do I think that filesharing should be done away with? No, because it like stands as a form of self-expression, albeit a weak one. People download one or two songs and buy the album, or they don’t. If they download the entire album and never buy it, that’s a differant and much more complicated case.
For an example of corollary here: someone downloads an eBook from a fileserver without having bought it. Robert Jordan and Stephen King both put out eBooks recently, with mixed results. Still, people found ways to get around their “greediness” and share the file with everyone. Jordan and King both are professional writers, and therefore spent a good amount of time on these works for little result in and of themselves, and people have the gall to accuse them of being greedy with a supposedly universal medium. I’m sure if King wanted everyone to read his book for free, he’d have it sky-written, a page per day.
Oh, wait, he’d be accused of turning his art form into a media circus. Never mind.
Getting to the point: people got free results from someone else’s long hard labour, and complain when the people want some payback. Bad society, bad! Musicians and authors spend a lot of time and effort making their songs and books, so be generous and buy them if you like it! If you want to preview some music, download a song. Bands like incubus have been innovating, making websites that stream their new albums but cannot be downloaded. This is ingenius and has the good form of being generous without self-effacing. Authors like Jordan and King put ot eBooks, as teasers to get people to buy their new works – the point is the finished novel.
So you have to wait a while to pay ten dollars for the soft cover rather than getting the hardbound – that’s your prerogative. So you have to wait a few weeks or months for the album to come out so you can hear more of it than the first single – that’s tough luck and good marketting. People work hard to put out their works, so don’t knock the effort they make by whining that “music should be free for everyone.” Music and writing may be free expression, as may be what kind of music you listen to or what books you read, but until you start singing and playing instruments or putting pen to paper, stop asking other people to go without eating in order that you can express yourself. Express YOURSELF. Don’t expect someone else to do it for you, without having to give them something in return. That’s just bad form.