This theme has been brewing with me for a while, and I’m not sure I’m equipped to broach it yet, but enough is enough and it’s time to start the dialogue. Harsh title? Hey, it’s my artistic license. Fuck you. And if that doesn’t sit with you well, you’re probably a marketer.
I argue that the gap between marketing and technology, and the writing/artistic community is so wide now that the relationship is no longer parasitic (oh come on, it never was equal before either), but nearly irreconcilable. As we stroll further down the technology route in delivering content to readers, writers have less and less control over our work. I’m not talking strictly about copyright, I’m talking about how our work looks and how it is displayed on the variety of devices meant for reading. Ever try to upload a book to Smashwords? Fucking impossible. Ok, not impossible, but painstakingly annoying so much so that my eyeballs are still bleeding. But Smashwords must retain a standardized process because they are dealing with thousands of different formats and content types, so technologically it is the only possible way to do it. Right? RIGHT? Is that right? It’s not just Smashwords, and I don’t want Mark Coker to get mad at me again, so I’m not picking on Smashwords, which has been incredibly amazing to hundreds of writers and thousands of readers.
I’m picking on the very idea that writers are bending over and spreading our cheeks for any number of ways to have our work violated and repurposed. Knowingly so. Yes–we know the risks, we post our shit everywhere. Oh sure, some of you go to Creative Commons, blah blah blah, but have you actually read the terms of service for digital uploads at Amazon, Scribd, and other services?
Two things struck me recently:
- Mike Cane’s iPad Test posted two incredibly thoughtful and well-researched pieces about terms of service and writer’s rights to their work once posted on just about any number of the “free” online services to “help” writers gain visibility and “publish” their work. We all use these services. They are generally helpful.
“We,” the independent writing community (which functions without any governance, as most independent communities do) won’t revolt against this and even if we do, “They” won’t give a shit either way. Why? Because “We” are so fucking desperate for exposure and visibility we are knowingly taking the risks of our shit being stolen, in any number of ways.
“We” are kind of pathetic. The mainstream publishing system isn’t dead, yet, unfortunately, and the indies are an itty-bitty fly in the muck of it all.
One by one we can deconstruct the wasteland that is being built up around the fragile publishing industry to support independents. Because it isn’t really supporting us so much as it is exploiting the hell out of us. But who’s making money and benefiting? No one, there’s not enough volume of independent releases for a scribd or amazon or smashwords or bookbuzzer or whateverthefuck cutesy name is out there to exist parasitically off our work. We need them.
“We” writers and artists need to build the right infrastructure that supports our need for visibility while protecting our artistic license. If we leave it up to technologists and affiliate marketers, we’re going to get the gang rape we deserve.
2. A post on metadata, by P. Bradley Robb on Publishr . What the hell would set me off about that? I’ll tell you what. There’s nothing more frustrating as a writer to read about a technologist’s analysis of the work in terms of fucking metadata. Just that word is enough to make me fall on a knife. It’s not that this discussion isn’t a timely, astute, and necessary one to have: it is, of course. But as I said, it totally underscores the Grand Canyon that is increasingly growing between those who wish to publish and help others publish, and those who just wish to write and have people read our stuff.
And there it is, a fundamental worldview in binary opposition: as technology continues to gain in our daily lives in new, inspiring, and innovative ways, writers remain mainly static. No one is at fault here. Sure I can make the argument that writers need to wise up to technology and content delivery mechanisms (huh?); or I can blast technologists and marketers for developing infrastructure for writers that just doesn’t mesh with our continuing need for artistic license.
The need to classify and Search (yes, I meant that with a capital S) is a key imperative, hence the good argument for that metadata post I so dreaded, for writers’ future. Writers are most often lacking in this foresight. We need to get our shit together and stop letting other people codify our work. I don’t really know what I mean by that, but we need to take some of that responsibility back into our own hands instead of leaving it to the Bowkers of the world. Really now.
What’s the solution, when we both need each other?