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February 3, 2011
When A Crowdfunded Project Goes "Off the Rails"
Cory Doctorow has a do-not-miss post up at Boingboing summarizing the current status of Diane Duane's experiment
in trying to get potential readers to subscribe to an upcoming book and thus subsidize its writing. This is a variant of what I called "writing for those who want to read"
and was intended to get a book called The Big Meow
written and published.
Unfortunately, as Duane describes in great detail in her blog entry, life happened. Duane spends a lot of her posting apologizing to readers and sharing a bit of her perspective on the experiment. The big take-away here is that this is not all that unusual. Books are big projects and a tremendous amount can happen between the time a book is conceived and its eventual completion or - more often - abandonment. This happens a tremendous amount of the time in the conventional-funding publishing industry (last Dangerous Visions, anyone?) so it should be no surprise that it happened in a book funded by micropayments.
The challenge here is how to deal when something like this happens and that is completely uncharted territory. My hat is off to Ms. Duane not just for attempting a project of this highly experimental nature, but for how she is handling its conclusion. As I wrote earlier this week, I am still deeply committed to the idea that artists need to get paid for making art, but we clearly need to figure out how to handle what the software industry calls "error and failure cases" as well as successes. When I teach my Intro to HCI course one of the assignments for the students is always to go online and find an NTSB or similar accident report and learn how the physical world deals with failure cases - lessons the virtual world is still painfully slow to learn.
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