This is Jill and Kevin. You’ve seen them on TV and on YouTube. You haven’t? You must. This is the way Minnesotans do “Here Comes the Bride.” And you thought we were a staid bunch. But more about Jill and Kevin later.
Did anyone see Sherman Alexie on “The Colbert Report” Tuesday night? Alexie is a National Book Award-winning writer who does not allow his books to be published in any digital format, and Stephen–with his usual schtick on books–asked him why. If you didn’t see it, and you have about 6 minutes to get a well-respected working writer’s viewpoint on the matter, check it out. He talks about how much author appearances and book tours have changed. The interview ends on a gotcha that stuns the audience.
Helen gave us a lot to think about a couple of weeks ago with her “E-Piracy Rant.” (If you missed it, check out our archives, November 17.) I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. (If you haven’t, just work with me. I’ll get back to Jill and Kevin in a moment.) I have more questions than answers. The only thing I know for sure is that while piracy might not kill the music industry, it could cripple commercial book publishing. If writers can’t hope to earn a living from publishing their work–and, believe us, most published writers can’t afford to quite the day job as it is–there won’t be much to read. (Or pirate.) Musicians pay the bills by doing live concerts these days. Folks, I know all the words, but you don’t want to hear me sing.
It’s difficult to protect intellectual property. Artists have always struggled to earn a living. Stretch your imagination a bit and consider the pop fiction writer something of an artist. We don’t have patrons. We have publishers. Publishers need to make a profit, and writers need to earn a living. Since there’s no advertising space in a novel, generally paying public is required for this model to work. Over the last half century or so, mass market have been a particularly good value compared with other forms of popular entertainment.
But now we’re digitized, and according to Alexie, once that happens, the work is free for the taking. I didn’t think it would be a problem until the e-readers became so user-friendly. And now that a cellular phone can do everything but cook breakfast, I don’t think Alexie is too far off when he says that the professional writer could soon be out of a job unless the techno-geniuses find ways to protect intellectual property.
I have to say, I’m really excited when I hear that someone has purchased my book on Kindle. (Deb!) I saw one of my books on an iPhone (or was it a Blackberry?) for the first time a couple of months ago, and it was like seeing my first book in print all over again. So cool! But is the genie out of the bottle?
There are a few comments about the Alexie interview posted on the Colbert site. Some of the who-does-he-think-he-is variety, others telling the writer to get with the digital program. I don’t think most people realize that many long established authors, good writers, are suddenly finding that their income has decreased so dramatically in such a short time that they can’t continue to support themselves with their writing.
What’s the future of books in general and popular fiction in particular? And what about writers? How will they make a living in the digital age?
About Jill and Kevin from St. Paul. Can anyone watch their wedding procession without smiling? Now that’s what I’m talking about–digital joy. I love the internet, really. I love that you can post your original stuff at your discretion for all the world to see for free. Jill and Kevin made the front page of the Mpls Star Trib again this week. They’re nominated for Beliefnet’s Most Inspirational Person of 2009 award. And for all the smiles they’ve brought us in a difficult year, I say, go newlyweds!
Once again, ONE COWBOY, ONE CHRISTMAS just came out, so I’m giving away a copy of the first book in the series, IN CARE OF SAM BEAUDRY, to one of today’s comment contributors in celebration. May our books make you smile like everybody’s watching!