Next time you’re about to school someone on how the music industry is or is not like the book business, stop what you’re doing and locate a copy of Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age, by Steven Knopper.
While you should ideally read the whole thing, at the very least you should flip to Chapter 7 and read it in full before you wax intellectual about all things digitally downloaded. Here’s a key graph:
“These days, [Aimee] Mann uses recording technology that is cheaper than ever and makes licensing deals with major distribution companies simply to put her records in stores and post them on iTunes. She gets to keep control of her master recordings and makes every creative decision about what does and doesn’t go on the record. ‘A lot of artists don’t realize how much money they could make by retaining ownership and licensing directly,’ her manager, Michael Hausman, told ex-Talking Head David Byrne in Wired.”
Why is that a big deal? Because it makes clear that recording artists no longer need partners in order to produce music or deliver it to an audience. Between advances on the recording side, which have made CD-quality audio cheap to produce, and developments on the digital/internet side, which have made CD-quality audio cheap to distribute, there is no longer any obstacle between Aimee Mann and her audience.
Again: because of technology there is no longer any obstacle between musicians and their audience. Which means that record companies — which used to make it possible for bands to tour and record and, most importantly, distribute their music, are no longer necessary. Yes, there are certainly reasons why some bands might want to ‘go big’ and sign with a label, but it’s now an option, not a barrier to entry.
This is the nightmare the book business is facing. Very shortly, with the advent of cheap and reliable e-readers and large digital libraries, the book business will no longer control access, production and distribution. They will no longer be necessary. (It’s even worse for the book business, because the high and low-end means of production for any writer is a keyboard. A keyboard!)
As a footnote, I want to say that Knopper’s book is excellent. He doesn’t pretend to be impartial, but he backs up his arguments and I think he plays fair with the people and the industry he dissects. Highly recommended.
Thanks for the data. It’s amazing how inevitable this all feels. Like an avalanche that’s already broken free, and will be showing up at your front door in about twenty seconds….
Thanks for this — and I have to say, Harper(Collins) is certainly leaving no stone unturned.
As a rule, I take a dim view of corporate sites that try to hide their corporate affiliations, but I know there’s no rule against it. If you’re a world-wide polluter, you’re also probably the first people in line to register ‘pollutionkills’ so you can control the conversation and co-opt the people who might hurt your market share.
For example, here’s the bio of Debbie Stier as listed on the HarperStudio site:
All very relaxed and friendly and self-deprecating and touch-feely without being icky.
Now here’s how Debbie is described in an article that’s actually linked to from the HarperStudio site:
Apparently one of the ‘untested methods of promotion’ involves omitting the fact that you work for a big publisher. But hey — I’m sure she’s a truly decent person who’s just trying to make a buck off this kind of omission.
Good blog list in the right sidebar, though. I’ll have to check out the links.
Debbie Stier says
Hey Ditchwalk, I didn’t write that article…..so I didn’t omit anything!! The writer was sitting in my “HarperCollins” office when he did that interview, so I wasn’t trying to hide where I worked or make a buck off of any omission!
I completely agree with your post, btw. I wake up every day and say “what value can I bring” — and if there’s no value left, then I absolutely need to do something else.
At this point, I do believe I bring SOME value 🙂 But you can ask my authors, they may tell you otherwise.
Not sure what your comment has to do with the original post…….but seriously, I wasn’t trying to hide anything from anyone. Happy to talk about more if you want to.
The reference to an omission in my preceding comment was in regard to your bio on the HarperStudio site. Your HarperStudio bio doesn’t include (omits) information that is included in the Observer article. (Specifically, that you are/were also the head of digital marketing at HarperCollins.) I’m not saying you’re trying to hide anything personally. I am saying that the HarperStudio bio is consciously written and framed to diminish your corporate role at HarperCollins.
I understand why this kind of thing is done. I understand branding. I understand marketing. My problem is that a lot of branding and marketing is also lying, if not by commission, then by omission. And I always react negatively to that kind of sleight of hand. (Backing that assertion, and to demonstrate that there’s nothing personal here, see also this post: https://ditchwalk.com/2009/10/30/it-isnt-the-recession/ .)
In retrospect it was unfair to call you out personally, for two reasons. First, you get paid by HarperCollins, which means they get to tell you what to do. If they want to brand HarperStudio as upbeat and downplay corporate ties, they get to do that, and you have to go along unless you’re willing to make it a deal breaker. Second, I never really thought you were trying to be a corporate shill. As you point out, a question was asked and you answered it honestly.
As to how this all relates to the original post, it’s tangential. If it’s true that writers do not necessarily need publishers in order to reach readers, it seems to me that publishers would be doing more to make (keep) themselves relevant, and more to engender trust. It’s my own bias, as noted earlier in this reply, that omission of corporate associations for the sake of branding makes me dubious about motives.
To be clear, I don’t question your personal commitment to your work or to books or authors. I’ve read about you from time to time over the past few months and the comments are always positive. I think, honestly, that you have a very cool job at a very interesting time, and at the end of the day you may struggle as much as anyone with divergence between the onrushing realities of the marketplace and your employer’s needs.
Debbie Stier says
Hi….it’s me again. I completely understand that it would seem intentional to leave out that I work at HarperCollins in my bio…..but the honest truth is that I wrote that bio in about 20 seconds on a blackberry on the train on the way to work and didn’t give it another thought until you brought it up here. Seriously. In fact, I really don’t think the people within HarperCollins even read the blog (unless I forward them a post for some specific reason)…..which is both good and bad 🙂
If you look at my personal blog, which frankly is more my authentic DNA, I did include that I work at HarperCollins http://debbiestier.com/private/158035029/hkVYU5A0Gqus14s6lXxILVoE
I move quickly; try not to give too much thought to any image I’m projecting…..but I do try to be honest and real and I do seriously try to bring value to my work on a daily basis. I completely agree with you that publishers need to keep themselves relevant (and honest!), or we should just go do something else.
(And you are very correct to assume that I struggle with what’s going on…….)