HarperStudio floated a link on Twitter today pointing to a post on their blog. The post, titled Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose and written by Bob, reflects on a recent panel discussion of publishing bigwigs which was moderated by Chris “Long Tail” Anderson.
After detailing Anderson’s recent experiment of giving away e-versions of his most recent book (which Bob does a poor job of relating: see comments for Chris’s corrections and Bob’s apology), Bob says this:
“The problem is when authors want to have their cakes and eat them, too…getting a large advance but wanting to experiment with free content models, or getting a large advance and then deciding that what they really want is more marketing.”
It’s hard to respond to this sort of thing, in the way that it’s always hard to talk to someone who has an entirely different reality base.
Are there really lots of authors out there demanding huge advances from publishers, while at the same time demanding that their books be given away free in some form? If so, I sympathize with Bob.
From my vantage point as a writer who isn’t asking for an advance from anyone, it seems a bit strange that Bob is complaining about the behavior of large-advance authors while simultaneously taking pains to point out that Chris Anderson’s book may not have sold as many copies as his previous and rightly-famous, now-eponymous title. Bob clearly intimates that this is the result of giving away free e-book copies of the second book, but might there be other variables at play? (Like, say, the content?). And to the larger point, is there some connection between these two observations? Is Chris himself one of those vandals who demands a large advance and then insists on giving his book away free in various e-formats?
Then again, from Bob’s point of view I’m sure it all makes sense. Because Bob’s job — apart from fighting off gangs of high-advance authors who are hell bent on giving content away for free — is to figure out how new publishing models can support the old publishing business. Whereas my job as a would-be independent author is to figure out how my creative output can support me.
And to be fair, as Clayton M. Christensen predicts in The Innovator’s Dilemma (available here for $ in a variety of formats), Bob is responding to a disruptive technology in ways that make complete sense from the perspective of Bob’s existing business. Because in Bob’s world there are buildings that can’t be paid for staffed with people who can’t be retained if e-books are given away for nothing. Which is why it makes perfect sense that Bob and his peers have concluded that they should delay the release of electronic versions of frontlist books so as not to cannibalize sales.
In my fantasy world as a budding self-published storyteller I don’t care who buys what from where: I want every reader to have what they want when they want it, and that may include free versions of my work. Because in my world there are no buildings and there are no employees and there are no authors asking me for advances. And there is no Bob.
— Mark Barrett