Steven Poole wrote a blog entry about how the hell us poor writers are supposed to earn a living in this newfangled “information wants to be free” age, characterized by what Poole calls the “Slashdot argument”:
[the Slashdot argument] says that books, music, films, software and so on ought to be freely distributed to anyone who wants them, simply because they can be freely distributed. What is the writer or musician to do, though, if she can’t earn money from her art? Simple, says the Slashdotter: earn your money playing live (if you’re one of those musicians who plays live),4 or selling T-shirts or merchandise, or providing some other kind of “value-added” service.
You may recognize this logic as a variant, or corollary, if you will of the first line of the Toddler’s Manifesto: “if I want it, it’s mine.”
After the jump, a link to a funny cartoon!
Anyway this is a relatively old argument (where “old” is measured in Internet time, in which ten seconds equals a billion years), but Poole frames it well and about a hundred thousand people have made comments on the topic, so hop on over there if you want to get in on the donnybrook. (Feel free also to donate to this site or buy my books if you want to make a tangible point about how writers are supposed to get by.) (Oh! And check out the glowing (ancient) Slashdot reviews of my books.)
Ted Rall makes funny cartoon
For your convenience
What the heck, here’s the text of my own brilliant comment aforementioned:
Cory Doctorow is kind of the poster boy for the “new model” of how writers are supposed to make a living. It works if you’re Cory. Not sure how it works for everybody else. I had a long chat with him about this stuff. You can download the podcast (in three chunks of twenty minutes each) from my site wetmachine:
When business models change, it’s a bitch. I’ve been a writer, or a manager of writers for a computer or software company, since 1980. I’ve written software and hardware manuals, magazine articles, marketing copy, a novel, novellas, and so on and so forth. I’m currently working as a ghostwriter on a book about software process management. In real terms, my income peaked in 1992 or so.
I believe I was the second person, after Cory Doctorow, to put his or her novels under Creative Commons license. In fact it was that old gadabout Cory himself who convinced me to do it. They’re available at http://wetmachine.com
I’m not rich yet.
My first job was with Data General, a giant “minicomputer” manufacturer. That company, and all others in its class are gone. Most recently I worked for Laszlo, makers of OpenLaszlo, a great, free, open source platform. I got laid off after 4.5 years. It’s hard to make money when you give away the product of your labor, whether you’re a person OR a corporation.
I’ve written a bunch of stuff for Salon.com, a fairly well-regarded “new media” outfit. The articles did really well, in terms of how many people downloaded them. I made about $.05/hour for writing them, but they did bring a measure of attention to my books.
All of which is to say that I don’t have any idea how to make a decent living as a writer, but that’s what I’m going to keep doing because I’m old and don’t see anything else that offers a better chance of financial success. At least when you self-publish your books, you can keep selling them indefinitely. And there is always the chance, however slim, that you’ll have some kind of big break-out success, a la J.K. Rowling. Especially if you go out into the world and sell your books in person.
If you see me selling my books from the trunk of my car at a truckstop on the Interstate, do be kind and buy one, won’t you?