Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If Print is Dead, Who Owns the Stories?

Well, Anasi the Spider owns the stories of course. He won them from Nyame, the Sky-God.

Last Saturday morning, I took the boys to a puppet show featuring Anansi , and they both belly-laughed throughout.

But really, who "owns" a story?

As a writer of a certain stripe, I'd love to say I own my stories (which I do, kind of), but as any good writer I hope some of them outlive me. Life is pretty transient. It's far too easy to die.

I've learned a few things from studying literature for the past seventeen years and teaching for eleven of those: telling stories is part of what it means to be human. People have done it since before the cave artists rendered "the big hunt" on the walls of their subterranean homes. In light of that history, who am I to be brazen enough to say I own anything?

There's a big bout o' digital fisticuffs between Amazon and Macmillan right now...some argument over ebook prices...basically how much do they charge folks for the ability to read stories. This is important, I'm sure, to many authors. (I'd be right pissed at both a store and my publisher if they were so juvenile as to prevent folks from having access to my work because they were disagreeing on how much money each would make from my work...whew. As if anyone is being denied access to my work. Have I mentioned free stuff at my website? Huh?) I'm glad I'm not trying to make a living on writing any time soon (if ever). And I think this particular deal isn't going to help foster the ebook revolution. I'm just not going to pay 15 bucks for a digital document...not until the author sees at least 75% of the profit.

Can we really take a step backwards?

All I want right now, truthfully, is to share my work. And, if it isn't too selfish, I'd like readers to know I had something to do with it. Pretty narcissistic, sure, but nobody said I was a nice guy.

Except Alan W. Davidson. He kind of implied it with this:

(thanks, man)


Rebecca Nazar said...

Hear, hear to 75%. Hear, hear to narcissism when appropriate.

Brendan P. Myers said...

Someone needs to watch Harlan again.


Elana Johnson said...

I love reading your blog. You say what I want to say. :)

Aaron Polson said...

Rebecca - ;)

Brendan - Awww, Uncle Harlan! I wuv him.

Elana - That's my job. I think.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I couldn't help but think of Harlan when I read this as well. Well said.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

Hmph. That book cover is the first non-Gaiman reference I've ever seen of Anansi. Hmph.

...and, you're right. And Amazon is right. And McMillan's CEO is right. As are Unca Harlan and @scalzi. That's the problem: there are no completely mutable opinions in this fight. This really isn't a publisher vs reseller argument--this is the inner workings of capitalism.

I think ultimately, we'll all have to find our own way to it (it==profitability, I guess, or maybe name recognition). If McMillan wants a bigger cut, fine--but they risk overpricing. If Amazon wants to cap prices, whatever--but they risk gutting their own supply chain. If authors tell McMillan and Amazon to screw off and set up their own e-book shops, great--but they are opting in to the higher-returns-on-far-fewer-sales game (which may not be as bad as it seems, it truly does seem to be the new wave for literature and music).

It's going to churn no matter what, and it's good that everyone is out in the open having these discussions (as opposed to Walmart-esque backroom deals that nobody gets to see or participate in).

Fox Lee said...

Ying and I were discussing the Amazon thing last night. I told him 15 bucks was too much, he was surprised. He doesn't read fiction, so he's used to hard cover business/research books.

Aaron Polson said...

Jamie - Makes me want to read Shatterday again.

Jeremy - If I ever can afford a business advisor, I'm hiring you.

Natalie - Yeah, those hardcover business/research thingys are crazy expensive.

Laura Eno said...

Congrats on the award! As for the other, I say let the spider decide.

Benjamin Solah said...

I really look forward to the day when I can make %75 on a proffessionally published bit of work. Seems so far off.

Aaron Polson said...

Thanks, Laura.

Benjamin - Far off? It will never happen, sorry to say.

Katey said...

What's the use of a story without anyone reading it? It's only half a story before that.

Cate Gardner said...

Ignoring the 'I spend too much money on books' comment from your last books, there is no way I'll ever pay $15 for a digital file.