Swaps • 16 January 2008 • The SnowBlog



A fair price for a book?

How will authors make a living in the future? Will they have to go door to door offering to tell people stories? As you all know, I often think about the battle between copyright holders and pirates - and as time goes on, I side less and less with the former and more with the latter. In fact (just to go off on a tangent for a minute) Em and I have a new thing where she comes over to visit me mid-week and we go for a walk, then watch a film and gorge ourselves. I rent movies from Amazon, which is a great idea except for one problem: they all turn up scratched. Maybe 50% of them don't play properly. One solution (take note here) is to wash them and then apply a coat of car wax (something which I should occasionally do to my car too). Another, for the techier contingent, is to make a copy of the disc. It will still be missing data where the scratches were, but on the copy they'll be simple gaps and not tantalising blurs which the player tries over and over and over again to read, thus halting the movie. On the copy they'll be glitches that pass and are instantly forgotten. But copying the disc makes me a pirate. The irony? The disc I've had to copy this week is Pirates of the Caribbean III. In it the pirates are the good guys, but that's not quite how Disney see things in real life. On the one hand Naomi Klein has been warning us about this stuff for a decade - Disney being a prime example. They want you to watch their movies and then buy your kids lunch boxes and hats and stickers and toys and happy meals and bedding with Disney characters on. They'll sell you a Disney pen and a Disney notepad covered in Disney characters. But if your wicked child should use that pen to draw in her pad a picture of the Disney characters she is surrounded by and then put that picture on the wall where people can see it, she's infringing copyright. And BoingBoing were carrying the story of how a Ford Owners Club couldn't produce a calendar of pictures of their pride-and-joys because images of those cars were automatically property of Ford, not the owners of the cars. But on the other hand, you can download any album or DVD in the world given an Internet connection. Pretty much. So is piracy out of control or have copyright holders just turned into Fascists? Or both. An interesting documentary that you can download for free, called Steal This Movie II (just don't ask about Steal This Movie I) talks about how the Internet can't work except by making copies. As a file steps its way from your computer to its destination, at each point along the way a copy is made, then the previous copy is deleted, and that's how data moves. Given that, how can you stop people copying anything that exists on the Internet? And given that words, music and pictures are all digital these days (even paperback books get written and typeset digitally) that means the question of piracy is settled: the pirates will win. There's no way to stop them except to ban computers. Given all that, I keep wondering what will happen when electronic books are common and therefore easy to pirate. Publishers will struggle - just the way music companies are really starting to feel the pinch now - but what about authors? I've discussed several ideas in the past, like sponsorship from rich patrons (like the days of the Medicis). And lately I've wondered if micro-payments are the answer. If it was really, really easy to pay 30p for a book - you just had to tick a box next to the thing you were downloading - would most of us happily pay for books even if it was optional? Or might we want to decide on payment afterwards, giving a tenner* to authors we love and ignoring the rest? With that model it's better to be the favourite author of a thousand people than to bore a million. Or maybe some authors will go the whole way and swap stories for cat food and socks, like my pal Jenn (page down a little if you want to see what I mean). * = $19.67 in American pesos


The SnowBlog is one of the oldest publishing blogs, started in 2003, and it's been through various content management systems over the years. A 2005 techno-blunder meant we lost the early years, but the archives you're reading now go all the way back to 2005.

Many of the older posts in our blog archive suffer from link rot. Apologies if you see missing links and images: let us know if you'd like us to find any in particular.

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