May
23
2013

Scenes from the e-book wars: McArdle/Scalzi, not that they’re really arguing *with* each other.

[UPDATE: One of my readers made an observation that made me think of a question: if John Scalzi doesn’t like getting paid for fanfic, why did he write Redshirts? – Great book, by the way.]

Situation:

Get ready for Kindle Worlds, a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games. With Kindle Worlds, you can write new stories based on featured Worlds, engage an audience of readers, and earn royalties. Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Warner Bros. Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries, with licenses for more Worlds on the way.

Point (Megan McArdle):

It’s a brilliant and even fair solution.  Some writers are better world-builders than others; why not let them profit off of their imaginations, while also compensating the folks who can do interesting things within that world?  Of course, some fan fiction purists may be disappointed in the control that this will give the world-builders over what is done with their work.  Amazon will not, for example, publish pornographic or highly explicit fiction.  Under those rules, 50 Shades of Grey would never have been published; it started out as slash fiction set in the Twilight universe.

Still, as a writer I’m always glad to see more ways to compensate writers.  And as a business writer, I’m excited to see how much innovation is taking place in this new market.

Counter-point (John Scalzi):

…I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer. This will have far-reaching consequences that none of us really understand yet.

The thing that can be said for it is that it’s a better deal than you would otherwise get for writing fan fiction, i.e., no deal at all and possibly having to deal with a cranky rightsholder angry that you kids are playing in their yard. Is that enough for you? That’s on you to decide.

My own position is a good deal closer to Megan’s, possibly because my situation is closer to Megan’s than John’s.  John Scalzi is, of course, unambiguously tied into the existing writing/publishing system for genre fiction, as his presidency of SWFA and advocacy for the WGA strike might suggest; this does not make him wrong, but he’s not exactly disinterested*.  Scalzi, in fact, is acting a little like a union president would at the news that the next state over had gone right-to-work and was planning to open up a bunch of non-union shops; although, to be fair, his reaction is tempered by the fact that we’re talking about people getting paid to do The Vampire Diaries filk.

Let me just sum it up, for me: physical books are getting more expensive while electronic e-book readers are getting cheaper. People like to read; and a lot of the stuff that they like to read is not so much Anna Karenina as it is Android Karenina.  They are also increasingly unwilling to buy an electronic book at a physical hardcover’s price; and the American reading public is probably about as sympathetic to people bemoaning the loss of the old merchandising model as they were to the troubles of the kerosine, icehouse, and phonograph industries. All of this means, alas or hooray, that people will in fact choose crap over quality if quality isn’t worth the price and crap does the job.  This is part of life; and it could be worse.  We could go back to wholesale piracy – which, by the way, has been a recurring problem for the publishing industries for several centuries, so maybe take that into account when judging them, hey?

(H/T Instapundit)

Moe Lane

*It is likewise necessary to point out that I am, in fact, an Amazon.com affiliate for Maryland, which should be taken into account when assessing my opinions on this subject as well.  Very few people in this particular discussion are truly disinterested…

6 Comments

  • Luke says:

    Meh.
    Worldbuilding isn’t my problem.
    Not wandering away from the plot to investigate rabbit holes is.

  • acat says:

    Mary Sue is the new business model….
    .
    Just wow.
    .
    Mew

    • sicsemperstolidissimum says:

      Think about demographics.
      .
      If the twenties are stupider/crazier than the forties/fifties on politics, then it is reasonable to think that the teens might be worse than the twenties. This might also apply to reading tastes.*
      .
      Likewise, many people dabble in fanfiction in middle/high school and college, because of time on their hands, and little opportunity cost with regard to actual work. (The parents are funding things.)
      .
      Furthermore, the teens are probably less likely to have figured out filing off the serial numbers, less likely to have consulted with a lawyer, and less likely to have developed their own well thought out business plan.
      .
      Amazon’s insight here is figuring out that there is an untapped market, how they could tap into it legally, and that they could market some of the business aspects, beyond what they were already doing.
      .
      *I’m partly going off the teen romance market. Romance in general doesn’t bear scrutiny so well, if it isn’t to one’s taste, and one goes into it prepared to find fault. Take that, the above factors, and that romance bears less scrutiny for markets with sexual mores that don’t bear scrutiny.

  • Crawford says:

    Consider that one of Scalzi’s recent books was thinly-disguised Star Trek fan fiction, add in his racist “white men have it easy” rant, and he’s completely lost to me.

  • sicsemperstolidissimum says:

    Full disclosure. I read and enjoy a fair amount of fanfic. Much of this is because my money budget for entertainment is significantly smaller than my time budget for entertainment, and some is because I’ve found stories and writers that I enjoy a great deal.
    .
    I’m worried about what this will do to existing channels for fanfic distribution.
    .
    *Looks more closely at what Amazon is proposing.*
    .
    Still dunno how things might work out with crosses and multicrosses, but that looks like firmer ground on the legal side than what I was imagining.
    .
    It remains to be seen if said collection of properties produces anything to my taste.
    .
    I think Larry Correia had a pointer to a kickstarter looking to do something similar from a different end, pay some writers to write stories putting together a world, that will be shared and allow anyone to write fanfic/licensed stories in it.
    .
    My position is that where I do not put work or money, I am not a stakeholder, and hence have no expectation that people will cater to me.
    .
    I’ve heard convincing arguments that much of traditional publishing is deeply dysfunctional, perhaps lacking in shrewdness or contaminated by leftism. If this is so, we would expect experimentation by other entities to develop a functional income stream, with little regard for hurt feelings by traditional publishing.
    .
    There is also the question as to whether the ‘quality’ does the job as well as ‘crap’ does. There is reason to suspect that there might be potential fiction markets that are served poorly by traditional publishing.

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