Dark day

>> Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You may have heard, or just noticed: chunks of the Internet are dark today to protest two bills being considered in Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP [intellectual property] Act (PIPA). I've sent a protest note through the Electronic Frontier Foundation's contact Congress tool, but I'm not taking Giant Midgets down, mostly because I doubt anybody would really notice all that much.

I haven't said anything about SOPA and PIPA here because I haven't had much to say. They're shitty laws, and the President has signaled he probably won't sign whatever makes it through Congress (SOPA is the House version, PIPA is before the Senate), but I suspect they're also more-or-less inevitable. Critics contend that either bill would cripple the Internet and damage innovation; either bill would clearly transform the Internet and could seriously hurt open-source software development, but I suspect those claims are more than a mite bit overstated. Meanwhile, the punch line is that neither bill will save any of the corporations that actually wrote it and/or supported it from their probable obsolescence. Anyway, the result there is that we're going to be getting this sooner or later, and it's going to suck, but we don't know how hard it will suck, and it won't help anybody and might hurt somebody and we'll still be stuck with it; all of that's reason enough not to pass SOPA or PIPA, obviously, but since when did obvious lousiness ever halt a piece of half-baked legislation? (I'll answer my own rhetorical question: never, that's when.)

See, what this can all be boiled down to is this: certain industries dealing with intellectual property are simply doomed and have nothing to bring to the game except lobbyists and lawyers, of which they have plenty. So this is what their death throes look like as they suffocate on the cometary ash or freeze to death beneath the long curtain of indefinite night: they send their lobbyists and lawyers to the capitol to lobby and law, bribe and hobnob. Because that's all some of them can do now, and for the ones that might be able to eke through what's happened to technology in the past twenty or thirty years, well, for them this is all they can think of while listening to the shrill death screams of their cousins; not all the dinosaurs died at the K-T extinction event, you know, some of them flew away, but while they waited for clear air to fold beneath their wings, they must have heard (and must have seen) terrible, terrible things happening to familiar beasts.

The recording industry, for instance, is doomed. I mean, flat-out doomed. If I wanted to commit to prophecy, I'd give them twenty-five years. The publishing houses are in a superficially similar but actually distinguishable situation and gods only know how that's going to work out for them. The movies and television might snake through, but it's going to be interesting for them because they're going to have to work out how to make money at what they're doing.

See, the problem for the record labels is they set up this funny little business where they don't really do what they get credit for doing, or they really only do themselves the parts that have almost stopped mattering. The way it used to work was, if you were a recording artist, the label gave you an advance (generally against future earnings, so it worked as kind of a fucked-up loan with your career as collateral) and then you paid for stuff that was basically subcontracted out: i.e. you rented your studio time from somebody (possibly the label), hired a producer and techs (possibly people the label had an arrangement with), paid for packaging (maybe using the label's house artists, or whomever they hired), and then maybe the label would pick up part of the promotional costs, and of course they'd press your record and pay for trucks to take those LPs to Camelot Musics and WalMarts all over the United States (or planes to fly them to Europe and Japan or wherever). And this was, I think you'll notice, immensely profitable, in large part because the money the label advanced you got paid back out of whatever they tried telling you your sales were and they were usually skimming various fees here and there; this is how you get some sucker you read about getting a million dollar advance in Rolling Stone showing up on a trashy reality show in the only pair of pants he owns and looking like a bus hit him and the driver only stopped to steal his wallet while he was lying there bleeding, bruised and confused; you'll hear it was all drugs and women and expensive crashed cars, but probably you ought to read Steve Albini's "The Problem With Music" if you haven't already.

Now, if you have any kind of smarts and learning--say you're Trent Reznor or a member of Radiohead, for example--maybe you finally figure out that if you're going to basically pay the record label for stuff they're going to pay somebody else to do, you could just cut out the middleman and maybe rent your own studio and hire your own friends, and, hell, with all this fancy computer recording gear, maybe you don't even have to hire out the studio. And then you think that maybe you still need to have a label for marketing and distribution, until you realize that for the latter you could just upload the stuff to your own website or arrange for digital distribution via iTunes, Amazon, et al., and that your buddy Sam (or whatever his or her name is) can do all sorts of boss marketing for you and they're your buddy, and good at it, and they get you, and you're not only (perhaps guiltily) spending a little less, you're also putting money into your own people's pockets instead of some label stooge's. And the only thing that's left that the label can do that you (and Sam) still can't do for yourselves is get the song on the radio, but does anybody need radio anymore when there's YouTube, f'r'instance? And if you don't need the label for "let's-not-call-it-Payola-let's-call-it-being-friends" sorts of shenanigans with the suits at Clear Channel and you don't need their pressing plants and freight trucks, what do you need them for?

But those labels will tell you it's piracy that's killing them. It isn't piracy. Piracy isn't helping, don't get me wrong. But what's killing them is that there's this technological renaissance that's going to deny them the ability to fuck their artists in the ass, which is basically what their business model boils down to even when you're talking about the labels that actually care about music and aren't just subsidiaries of liquor companies that were looking to diversify back when.

The funny irony--or maybe it isn't funny, sorry--about the publishing houses is that they actually do a lot more in house and aren't merely glommed on to a process that would only need them for manufacturing, marketing and distribution. That is, to be clear, the publishing houses share the record labels' problem that a big part of what they do does involve activities that the Internet may render obsolete, like printing up thousands of copies of something and trucking the something to retailers, but the publishing houses are also where you traditionally find people like editors, copyeditors, typesetters, layout artists and other such persons in the sorts of roles the record labels have almost always farmed out. Where the record labels still get credit for things they're not actually doing themselves, the publishing houses really don't get credit for things they really do and that are actually kind of vital to generating a worthwhile final product. People have this idea, though, that you could just word-process your Great American Novel and self-publish it on Amazon; this is absolutely true, although what will really help you with this accomplishment is not giving a shit about how it reads or looks. It's possible to record A Pretty Good Song in your basement on a digital multitrack recorder and upload it to YouTube without needing much by way of a second opinion, it's not really the same thing to upload a four-thousand-word short story to your blog and nobody else has ever read it or pointed out that a character doesn't seem fully developed and here are some paragraphs that ought to be cut while over here, what the hell is this supposed to be and why?

They're just different beasts. I hope there's not a whiff of parochialism about this, because I used to be a sort of serious musician and interested in pursuing it (though I haven't picked up an ax in ages) and now I'm a (I hope) sort of serious writer and interested in pursuing it (though pulling out the words sometimes seems like getting a particularly nasty clog of hair out of a slow drain); the deal here isn't that publishers are somehow better than labels or necessarily have a better chance of survival; indeed, I suspect publishers, at least as they're presently constituted, are about as doomed as record labels (it's always been a marginal business anyway).

I think the real point is that serious writers are going to end up realizing that they can or have to or possibly should do what recording artists are already doing: getting their own business associates, colleagues, friends, artistic peers, etc. to do the things they used to negotiate through the labels. I.e. just like a band might go ahead and hire their favorite affordable producer to come out to the rental house for a few days to record their record, writers might go ahead and form their own contract with their preferred available editor. Etc. The difference between publishers and recording labels being that editors generally work at publishing houses (yes, I know, there are plenty of freelancers) while producers don't generally work for labels anymore (again, yes, exceptions; the major point still stands, I think). Trying to sell your book to a publisher isn't just how you get your book onto shelves, it's also (and perhaps more importantly) how you get your Polished Final Draft turned into a Real, Actual, 100% Booky Book that has been edited and typeset and laid out and everything that makes the difference between a stack of typed pages and something somebody reads on a beach somewhere (perhaps, yes, on their Kindle).

I wonder if the next evolved form of the publishing house in the Amazon Age is smaller, faster, feathered and definitely warm-blooded? If Random House in 2050 will be a company that doesn't own a single press or print a single book, but rather contracts with authors to edit, etc., and then negotiate the business end of digital distribution and print-on-demand for the remaining "real books are made of paper!" crowd; it seems to me that most publishers are in a better position to take this step than all but a number of indie record labels.

(I also wonder if I'm full of shit, but moving along....)

I don't know if it's obvious that movies and television are a different animal altogether. There is, first of all, the fact that even a small, low-budget movie is ridiculously expensive and generally requires lots and lots of people to make. (Yes, you have your arthouse and documentary flicks where the director is the cameraman and the editor and the sound guy and does all the interviews or whatever and he also wrote it--does anybody really watch any of those and are any of them really any good? Again, I'll answer my own rhetorical questions: hardly ever and hardly ever.) There's an interesting technological thing in that the digital revolution has done for film gear what its done for musical gear: you can get buy (or rent) some reasonably affordable pro-quality gear--it isn't like the early days of film where purchasing (or manufacturing!) a camera was, in and of itself, a small business venture--but where a digital recording desk might be something you can sit at with your guitar and record something with the sonic clarity (if not polished performance) of Dark Side Of The Moon, odds are high you still need someone on your movie set to hold the goddamn boom mic along with gaffers to get your lights set up.

There's also a secret weapon the movie studios have, which is that seeing a movie remains, despite television and home video, a special sort of social experience in which lots of people huddle in darkness and watch the shiny lights. Reading a book on a tablet versus reading a book on paper may or may not be a truly fungible experience (people will always argue over this), but the differences between words in pixels and the same words in ink aren't nearly as profound as the difference between seeing a movie eighty feet wide in the midnight hush of an auditorium and watching in on your 40" set at home on the couch. Even the rituals are different, what with "going to the movies" involving the queuing for entry and (perhaps) purchasing the popcorn, things that profoundly change the experience of the work even if it's the same goddamn Hollywood fluff on the Metroplex screen as you'd see two months later if you rented it from Redbox. You, yourself, can possibly attest to this if you've ever had the experience (and you know you have) of being utterly blown away by the sheer tremendous spectacle experienced under the sort of sensory deprivation a darkened movie theatre offers and then found yourself crushed a year later after purchasing the DVD by the discovery that the very exact same movie, viewed at home in the homey environment of the family room, is in fact a bit shallow, hollow, and almost exactly like another, better movie, aside from that other movie not-sucking, I mean.

Again, this isn't to say movies and TV shows are better. Actually, they have a bigger problem, in some ways, since they have to figure out how to monetize and profit on those secret weapons (expense and uniqueness of experience). The fact that an amateur can't make a little movie as readily as an amateur might make a little song or little story isn't really helpful if nobody sees your expensive professional picture. Indeed, it's possible your secret weapons can turn in the hand and put you into a death spiral in which you decide to only make movies that look like they have a good past performance/future success indicator, e.g. a lot of people went and saw Muscular Guy Blowing Things Up, so it stands to reason (supposedly) that just as many people (maybe more!) will go see Muscular Guy Blowing Things Up 2: Sidekick With Huge Tits, and if that line of reasoning bears out and generates a win, MGBTU 3: IN SPACE becomes inevitable (and when it fails, you can throw the director under the bus and/or see if MGBTU IV: Return Of SWHT will sell on Blu-Ray and PPV, right?). Of course, you've already noticed the problem with this--namely, the law of diminishing returns ("You do realize, don't you, that MGBTU 3 is just MGBTU except they struck out the words "sports car" and "submarine" and replaced them with "rocket ship", and now the villain is a vaguely-Middle-Eastern terrorist instead of an approximately-South-American drug dealer, right?"); if you did, then you're smarter than just about anybody who's helmed a movie studio since, oh, 1983 or thereabouts.

Anyway. As you already know, much of the above is what the studios are already doing. The whole point of 3D as it's currently being used, for instance, is pretty much to take a bad movie you could watch on TV and turn it into a bad movie that looks really swell and costs extra money to see. That's not a sustainable strategy; I think the erratic box office receipts for 3D pictures are bearing that out. But the idea, at least, is in the right ballpark insofar as Hollywood has sort of dimly grokked that their future is going to lie in offering the experience versus the product (and then selling the product--on home media, streaming video, etc.--as luscious gravy). I don't know if they can make that work, but it's at least a valid concept. (C.f. the music industry's golden goose of the '80s: re-selling consumers inferior versions of what they already owned--poorly remastered compact disc reissues cheaply manufactured into quasi-defective discs subject to bit rot and sold with tiny, poorly-printed booklets and a lack of features taking advantage of the potential of digital media (e.g. track indexing, digital labels, data sectors, CD video, bonus tracks using the additional running time available); followed by the industry's collective shock when their milking contributed to the backlash that came with the advent of computers capable of burning and ripping discs--because why buy a CD if you're getting basically the exact same thing for free since the official version has nothing going for it; hell, I've seen bootlegged CDs that had better packaging and more features than their official counterparts, which is a great example of You're Doing It Wrong as far as the record companies are concerned.)

This isn't so much the future we're talking about as it is the emerging present. Facing a choice between adapting and dying, the media industries are largely sticking their fingers in their ears like spoiled toddlers yelling, "Nononononononono--". Dignified, it isn't. Worse still, with things like SOPA and PIPA, they're likely to take something useful down with them. The media industries have already made it clear, for instance, that they are morally opposed to Fair Use even when they sometimes say they aren't; quite frankly, I think there's a good argument that Fair Use is one of the only things making copyright law sufferable at all (the other is expiration into the public domain), and that while copyright law is a necessary evil, a copyright regime without Fair Use would generally be more evil and less necessary than no copyright regime at all (indeed, I would say that an indefinite copyright regime lacking both Fair Use and a public domain is intolerable and measurably worse than letting creative people starve for theft: copyright must be a compromise between the needs of creative persons and a functioning culture's need for free-flowing information to be worth anything at all). SOPA or PIPA or whatever we get instead (and we will get something) won't stop the decline and demise of pre-contemporary business plans and technologies, but they already threaten contemporary ones.

As a quick f'r'instance before I finally wrap this piece up (and thank you if you've made it this far): much of SOPA and PIPA deal with "streaming", by which the proposed legislation means video and audio streaming, which are one kind of use for disassembling a file on one end, sending it through wires as bits, and assembling it on the user's end while he's already started using it. This is very clever technology, actually. And the thing to pay heed to re: how clever it is is that computers have no idea whether a file being picked apart, transmitted, and put together on the fly is a media file, a data file, an application; from the computer's POV, everything is just a one or a zero and ones and zeros get decoded in a certain way by the local ones and zeros. What this means, if you're not seeing it yet, is that there's no reason (at least in theory) why movies and albums and books are the only things that can be streamed (for those unaware: the Kindle, Nook and other modern e-readers stream text, allowing you to read a book before you're done downloading it); you could, perhaps, figure out a way to stream a cloud-based application, allowing a user to begin word processing (for instance) before he's finished installing his word processor. Or a game (I will be unsurprised if Valve isn't working on ways to do background downloads of game content while a user plays the game, if it isn't already a feature that I just haven't noticed yet; there is no earthly reason I can think of that the next level of a game has to live on your computer until you're entering it). Or something else. Do you have to have a complete operating system on your machine, or can you manage with an amorphous OS that expands and contracts as applications demand and release different bits of hardware? (One notes that already modern OSes often don't come with a complete driver library, only downloading necessary drivers when they detect a component's been plugged into the system.) Of course, the media industries could care less about the future to the extent that they won't be a part of it; that's the whole problem.

I'm cynical and pessimistic about all this, however. Hopefully--hopefully--the backlash and furor over PIPA and SOPA have at least killed this incarnation, but that's just a setback to the industries, who will still have the lobbyists and lawyers and no future I previously mentioned. They will regroup and will go back to contributing to political campaigns, by which I mean bribing legislators, and, having paid for access, will be back again with another drafted bill. (I'm assuming SOPA and PIPA are effectively DOA. If I'm right, and the industry lawyers come back with SOPA II--Electric Boogaloo, don't be surprised if it "solves" a lot of problems with SOPA by doing the exact same things SOPA does, only they've changed the words a bit so that it sounds different. Clever ladies and lads, those industry lawyers.) We're not done. We'll never be done. Well. We will be done if the holding action stalls the industries past the point of collapse; that might happen. I give the recording industry, like I said, twenty-five years.

I don't know. Can we hold out that long?


10 comments:

Phiala Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 4:52:00 PM EST  

I'm cynical and pessimistic myself, but I blacked out all my websites anyway. If nothing else, it's a matter of putting my time and money where my mouth is, and also exposing a few people to the issue that might not otherwise see it. (My major audience is fiber arts people, not always known for internet savvy.)

Incidentally, I think you're underestimating the degree to which freelance editors, copyeditors, cover artists, graphic designers, ebook layout experts are already available to the self-publishing writer. The problem is that nobody is forced to take advantage of those services, thus leading to an awful lot of crap.

There's a midlist SF writer I like, who's been epubbing his extensive backlist. He's doing all the design himself, including the covers, and he is so proud of his hideously ugly covers. It's really too bad, because they're likely to turn off new readers to what are very good books.

But that has nothing to do with SOPA, even if it's highly relevant to the future of the publishing industry.

Eric Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 6:38:00 PM EST  

Phiala, you may be right about my underestimating the availability of freelancers and their underutilization. They ought to be used by anybody self-publishing, because, yeah, a "book" is more than just a lot of words, and I don't mean paper vs. e-ink, I mean a proper book is something that (hopefully) has been edited, set, etc.

But the main thing I wanted to say is that this is relevant to SOPA (which may be dead: the latest news after I posted was that two of, if I caught it correctly, the sponsors had abandoned it) and to SOPA II and Son Of SOPA and House Of SOPA: publishers (and movie studios and record labels, etc.) can figure out how to live in the emerging new world order or they can keep on doing what they're doing now with the lobbyists and lawyers. And at some point, they'll get a bill passed; that's all there is to it.

Which is going to be a mess, obviously.

vince Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 7:02:00 PM EST  

To add to what Phiala said, I follow a couple of authors who have gotten control of their backlist as well as writing new material that they are self-releasing. They stress the need for well-designed covers, and for people who understand how to format books for properly for the various electronic publishing formats. They also talk about the people they've used to help them, and what you'll look at spending.

There are some very good individuals and companies doing this kind of work. Which is good, because I've seen some horrible formatting for Kindle by major publishers.

And in a 6-2 ruling today, the Supreme Court ruled that just because material enters the public domain, it is not “territory that works may never exit.” This was in a ruling on whether or not Congress could place public domain works back under copyright to fulfill treaty obligations.

Eric Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 7:38:00 PM EST  

Oh, crap. I missed that news item, Vince. That's a shit ruling. There's no other way of describing it, it's just bad.

I'll say it again: indefinite copyright is worse than no copyright. And while I respect European concerns with artists' rights, I think public domain and Fair Use are vital American concepts that are necessary to a functional, creative culture--concepts that are more-or-less unrecognized by the Berne Convention.

American common law has always been at odds with American treaty law, and yes, that was something that needed to be reconciled--you can't really have two opposing laws of the land. And maybe this was the only way to do it. But this is just devastating. Yes, an artist deserves the right to make a reasonable living (and profit) from his work if he can license it, but a culture has to be able to break ideas down and build new things out of them, and the public domain can be thought of as the big toybox where all the ideas are kept for sharing.

Ugh. I was more right than I thought I was with the title of this post.

Robbin Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 10:59:00 PM EST  

It's interesting that the backlash against SOPA isn't so clearly defined as the big industry monsters against the independent common folk. I mean, you have at least three of the top six sites on the internet, big industry monsters, like wikipedia, google and youtube fighting against the anti-piracy act. When have we seen big industry fighting big industry so publicly before? I doubt Youtube is altruistically (see, I'm pessimistic) fighting for the right of free speech, so much as they are watching their ass...because shitz gon' git expensive if they have to police everything on their site and are liable for other people's copyright infringement.

What it boils down for me is that the internet is this great bit public universe where we get to converse and share information with each other, and it's vast and open and free. In a city where daffodils are literally fenced off from the public, it's nice to think of this virtual reality where public/private isn't so binary and exclusive. And I'm not naive enough to say I don't want to be watched (because we all are watched), but being watched and being entirely restricted are two separate things.

And yeah, I agree that certain members of society are acting like big babies because the times have changed and their old business models don't work anymore. And they are now trying to fit this new culture into their old business models and they are still fucked. Greedy and fucked. It always makes me sad when I think about the millions of dollars corporations must pay in legal fees while fighting evolution...when that money could be used to actually invest in society in order to help people. How many self published artists could they find and market and support, for example. Or musicians they could be promoting.

Warner Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 8:59:00 AM EST  

In the interest of full disclosure, my retirement check is paid by Disney. I have also represented MPAA (technically MPA) internationally on the subject of Copy Protection. For years I reported monthly to CPTWG (Copy Protection Technical Working Group) on activities of the Consumer Electronics Association in the area of Copy Protection. I was also first chair of the ATSC committee that produced A/70 http://atsc.org/cms/index.php/standards/published-standards/55-atsc-a70-standard

I can't speak for music, at 16 I looked at the possibly of a career and gave it up, and although married to the senior salesman for Doubleday at the time we married (she competed with men, she used their title) I know little beyond that name authors really need to use editors.

The movie/tv industry is not unaware of the problems you describe, they spend relatively large amounts of money in trying to do something about it. I spent well over a decade with Copy Protection as my major focus. Our biggest problem is that the biggest pirates are the armed forces of a major nation state. To the point that it was not unheard of for them to be selling DVDs prior to theatrical release. (No it wasn't an internal spy, but poor security. Even in the 90s everything was moving digitally.)

There are exceptions of course, but the profit comes from selling the digital copy, the back list if you will.

With the distribution method now being more electronic than solid, it is simpler to block it at the source. Disney wants to get paid for your download of Song of the South, too much of the world thinks it should be free.

The Digital Copyright act of the 90s, which I helped vet for Disney, works for the US, it doesn't work for much of the world.

SOPA isn't the solution, although it may be a step in that direction, but something need be done.

As a historical note, the premier of Gilbert and Sulivan's The Pirates of Penzance was in New York City in 1879 in order to preserve copyright in the US, so this is a problem that has been going on a long time.

Eric Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 9:50:00 AM EST  

Warner, I realize the content industries know there's a problem. However, the fundamental problem they're facing now isn't piracy, it's that the Internet democratizes content creation and distribution in ways that makes the industries' historical gatekeeping function mostly irrelevant, and it was their stranglehold on gatekeeping that not only made them profitable, but justified their existence at all.

If an author can e-publish on Amazon and readers can buy his virtual books there, there's no reason for Doubleday to exist at all unless they can figure out how to offer a service that adds value to the entire transaction. If Doubleday were to magically eliminate not only every kind of bootleg (physical or digital) but require a purchase from every reader (i.e. they magically eliminated libraries and used bookstores, too), they would still be facing a basic problem in that, inevitably, some clever writer and his clever readers would wonder why Doubleday was present in their interactions at all--"Hey," clever writer thinks, "what if I sold my next work as a donationware PDF on my website?".

N.b. that may not be a good way to monetize your work; I'm not saying a writer could make a living off of reader donations. But I am saying that he can try, and that technology has given him other options, too, that don't require the services of a traditional publisher. We could go back to the music industry for an illustration, actually: musicians have a number of possible ways to make money even if they give their recordings away for free--live performances still have unique value and there's always a possible markup on official merch; I don't think there's any indication that Trent Reznor posting an entire Nine Inch Nails album to the band's website for free download (with the note, "This one's on me") hurt his pocketbook any (my recollection is that that was followed by one of his more lucrative--and non-label-sponsored--tours).

(Could Stephen King make money giving away books and selling t-shirts and doing readings? Maybe, maybe not. I have no idea. But, again, the point isn't that there's One Sure Way, the point is that there's no longer One Sure Way, the former OSW being to market your work to publishers.)

(cont.)

Eric Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 9:50:00 AM EST  

(cont.)

One last point: citing a 70-year-old Disney film as an argument for Disney's IP rights is, perhaps, a dubious example. There is, I think, a very reasonable argument that Song Of The South should be free (while Tangled should not): copyright law extension has gotten so tangled I don't have the time to work out when or if SotS could have or would have passed into the public domain sans extensions and intervening legislative changes, but I don't think there's anything obviously unreasonable about saying that it would enrich the culture if a seventy-year-old film whose author is dead (or frozen) was available to be freely shown, exploited by artists, cut-up, remade, etc. I understand, of course, that it's not, but I happen to think the state of copyright law has a lot of bad policy embedded in it right now (see my prior response to Vince about yesterday's SCOTUS decision).

Copyright problems have been going on for a long time, true. The Berne Convention, indeed, is a hallmark of Victor Hugo's legacy as a copyright crusader in an age when authors were routinely victimized by copyright thieves. Of course, there's also some irony in the fact that the leading violator of national copyrights in the 19th Century was probably the United States, with American publishers being in the habit of routinely knocking out unlicensed copies of books by Dickens, Verne, Hugo and others. While this was an obvious problem for most European writers, it was, of course, a huge boon to American literacy and formed the foundation for the major publishing houses. (There's also something of a callback to earlier musings here: Dickens, as I'm sure you know, parleyed his dubious success in America as a widely-read-rarely-paid-for-it much-bootlegged British author by making an utter killing doing sold-out reading tours across the United States. Shades of rock stardom?)

Nick from the O.C.,  Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 11:52:00 AM EST  

Couple of thoughts, FWIW--

Your phrase, "...and that your buddy Sam (or whatever his or her name is) can do all sorts of boss marketing for you and they're your buddy, and good at it ..." amused me and made me think of my childhood introduction to Top 40 rock radio -- LA's KHJ AM "Boss Radio". Here's a link that contains another link to a historical listing of all KHJ "Boss Radio" top song surveys, arranged chronologically.

http://93khj.blogspot.com/

I'm also reminded of the short story by Spider Robinson, "Melancholy Elephants". Here's a link to that story, published online under a Creative Commons License:

http://www.spiderrobinson.com/melancholyelephants.html

Eric, I think you're correct that what we are seeing in the "emerging present" is a transition to something new, some relationship between artist and consumer/patron that might be dramatically different from what we've grown used to in the past century.

As one example of how an artist is monetizing works in a new way (and which, not coincidentally, you noted as a possibility in your post) I give you Mr. Neil Gaiman's recent tour.

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/26/entertainment/la-et-amanda-palmer-neil-gaiman-20111026

I heard Mr. Gaiman remark that going on tour, filming the tour, and selling copies of the film, was (in his view) a viable alternative to writing a new novel.

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