I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. When it comes down to things I know how to do, number one (and quite often number only) is writing. I think in story. I fantasize scenes. I hear voices. If you’re not a writer, this means you’re crazy; if you are a writer, this means you’re normal.
My dream — and sometimes this is a bit embarrassing, but you have to understand all the underlying elements to truly get it — is to be published by Harlequin. As it turns out, that’s way harder than I thought, but it’s still a goal. Someday, I think, someday.
Since, oh, 1998, I’ve been a huge advocate of e-publishing and new media. If you hang around the online fiction community, you know this is a controversial issue. There is a strong anti-electronic bias, or rather there’s a strong outside-the-major-publishers electronic bias. It’s fear. I know this.
If you know anything about publishing (and I know far too much), you know that they are holding tightly to copyright. Copyright, as we all know, was established by our nation’s founders as a way to protect creativity. Although, today, copyright is more a method to protect corporate interests. Which conflicts with the creativity thing because if art can’t build on art, what does art do? Art is the ultimate “Hey, that’s really cool, what if you…?” medium. We’ve been improving on cave drawings since, well, cave drawings were invented.
Copyright is largely controlled by major corporations. That would be cool if major corporations held art as the primary goal. If you were paying attention the Time Warner v. Carl Ichan battle, you realize that corporations are beholden to investors. Art isn’t about creative expression at places like Time Warner. Art is a means to make money, and that’s fine if you’re in this game only to make money. For many artists, making money is important, but making art is necessary for survival. It’s hard to explain, but the need to create becomes all-consuming. Sometimes, the money becomes an added bonus.
I’m not going to say that TW has no place in the creative process because they do. Corporations support a lot of art — we can (and do) rail against the music industry’s accounting and business practices, and we acknowledge that those advances they give to small bands allow artists to try to achieve their dreams.
TW’s master isn’t the artistic process. You can get rich with Time Warner and, if you are the right kind of artist, you can have artistic control (whatever that means). But you won’t own the rights to your art until your agreement expires, and that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do. TW will defend the copyright to your work, but, and I’m not making much of a judgment here, it’s to protect their long-term financial interest.
In the publishing industry, many contracts end when a book goes out of print. Publishers address this issue by printing just a few copies when the deadline looms. It is smart business to want to retain as much content, as many assets, as possible. However, if you’re the author, you’re not seeing so much in the way of benefit. For all intents and purposes, your book is unavailable (fingers crossed, though, that new ventures like BookSurge, an Amazon.com company, will change this). You have no control over your work, and you have no way to take advantage of new distribution opportunities. I think this issue will become a massive, ugly battle in the industry sooner rather than later.
Today’s culture is reverting to the original roots of artistic expression. Which is to say that the remix/mashing culture we’re seeing is less concerned with the corporate sensibility than they are about doing something new and different. Through a weird confluence of indifference, over-reaction, and cluelessness, the old media has completely missed the fact that today’s consumers are using art to create art. They are fighting artists who are doing what artists have always done.
[See: Disney, “Snow White”, “Winnie the Pooh”, “Robin Hood”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Swiss Family Robinson”]
Locking down copyright seems like a way to protect artists (by which I mean corporations), but I’m not sure it facilitates artistic growth. I’m not sure, heck, I’m certain it doesn’t, facilitate art. Our creative endeavors are becoming the assets of a corporate portfolios, and their goals aren’t artistic. They can’t be. In fact, it is not in the best interests of these corporations to keep all art accessible.
That makes sense to me, too. I’ve been in the entertainment industry, from a business perspective, long enough to speak long and hard about the economics of this issue. I speak with a forked tongue.
We are moving into a new world. We are moving rapidly. We are facing new realities faster than old media can adapt, even though they knew full well that information accelerates at a rapid pace. We are living in a world where commercial interest is fighting artistic expression is fighting consumer wants.
The latter is going to win. If you think corporations are going to control the future media, you don’t get the human spirit. If you think artists are going to sell their souls, sure, some will, many will not. If you think consumers are going to wait for traditional media to catch up, you don’t recall Napster.
As a writer, I want to profit from my endeavors. As a writer, I am humbled and embarrassed and filled with pride when I meet someone who compliments my work. As a writer, I believe that telling my stories is the most important thing in the world.
Money is nice, control is great, but I’m only happy when I’m emptying my brain at 100+ words a minute. I do this on my own terms, and when Harlequin comes knocking (and I believe they will because you can’t hold a dream for so long and not have it come true), well, that’s when I’ll make my own pact with the devil.