In November, I posed the question of how (in streaming music at least) can we get more than pennies to flow to recording artists?
Yesterday, in a posted preview of his talk for O'Reilly's TOC conference, Cory Doctorow looks at the question of why writers get so little. The answers, as you might expect from Cory, revolve around markets, business structures, piracy, and the complex web of incentives that are created by laws and traditions. It's not entirely accurate to say authors get paid poorly because they've always been paid poorly but it's also not entirely wrong - there has likely always been more material looking to get published than there have been spaces for publications by professional imprints.
In an era of (potentially) oversupply, the problem faced by the 99% of writers is breaking through. Getting noticed. Everyone knows about JK Rowling or Stephen King or Neil Gaiman now, but we don't know about the next Rowling, King, or Gaiman. Somewhere out there today are writers whose work could be as popular and game-changing, but that writer can't get noticed, can't get their first novel published, can't get out of the mid-racks, can't whatever it is that breaks a writer through to prominence. Or to the point where they reach their ideal audience, even if that audience isn't mega-millions best-seller sized.
Except now there sort of is. It's called the Internet, and self-publishing, and social media. It's a model whereby creative types can go through multiple channels to reach potential readers, build their audience, and start to make some money. In this model, two things are true that aren't true in other models. First, illegal copying doesn't hurt, it helps, and second regulation that tightens controls on the Internet and its freeform communities are harmful.
If your biggest problem is getting noticed, then you really don't care so much if someone pirates your story. Free publicity is free, and some percentage of people who get stuff for free will turn around and buy more stuff from you. That's good. Even if you're a fairly successful author like John Scalzi there's a good economic argument to be made that giving away your stuff is a long-term win.
And if you're someone who depends on the net and its social-media fabric to reach people and motivate them, then regulation that constricts that freedom by definition cuts you off from your funding sources.
So far this is all pretty familiar ground, but this column is just a teaser for Doctorow's keynote. I expect he'll expand significantly on these themes next month.