Author Sherman Alexie's Rants On Colbert Against Ebooks, Piracy And 'Open Source Culture'

from the you-said-what-now? dept

On last night’s Colbert Report, author Sherman Alexie spent most of the interview ranting against digital books and how “piracy” was destroying the book business. The whole thing was odd not just because of how uninformed it was, but also because he seemed to contradict himself multiple times. I haven’t read any of Alexie’s books, but if his logic is so twisted, it’s difficult to think that his books are worth reading:

He starts out by insisting that he won’t put his book on the Kindle or any digital book format because he’s afraid of piracy — but that makes no sense at all. By not giving readers what they want, he’s actually encouraging more piracy. There are probably plenty of people actively willing to buy ebook versions of his book, and his response is that because of piracy, he won’t offer it to them. How does this help? Those people now have more incentive to actually go and download an unauthorized copy of the book (and Alexie is fooling himself if he thinks they don’t exist). How can not giving people what they’re asking for and are willing to pay for be a smart business model?

He compares the book business to the music business, saying:

“When the music industry went digital, somewhere between 75 and 95% of music is pirated. Nobody makes money off their music any more. Everything is about live shows now.”

First of all, it wasn’t the industry that went digital. Music went online way before the industry even realized it, and one of the main reasons that the piracy rates are as high as they are (and his numbers are industry figures that aren’t reliable at all) was because the industry held back for so long in giving people what they wanted: which is exactly what Alexie is now doing!

As for his claim that no one makes money off their music any more, that’s obviously silly. He admits that they now make their money from live shows (which is making money off their music). And then later in the interview, he points out that one of the parts he enjoyed most about being a published author was doing live performances and readings of his works. In other words, he already does what he claims happened to the music industry. So why is he so worried about piracy? That’s not clear at all.

He also seems rather uninformed about how file sharing has helped some authors.

I’d be really worried if I were Stephen King or James Patterson or a really big best seller that when their books become completely digitized, how easy it’s going to be to pirate them.

Where to start….? First, Alexie doesn’t seem to understand how book file sharing happens. It’s not because the industry digitizes the books, but because others digitize those books, and, yes, they’re most likely already available on file sharing networks, whether those authors released them in ebook form or not. It’s not the official ebook they’re sharing in most cases anyway.

Second, as for the claim that it will harm the biggest name authors most of all, Alexie might want to talk to Paulo Coelho. Coelho is the guy who quietly set up operations to “pirate” his own book and saw the sales of his physical books increase massively. Oh, and the book he chose to offer up via BitTorrent, The Alchemist is one of the best selling books of all time. Stephen King and James Patterson, by the way, do not have any books on that list — though, to be fair, if you combine all of their books, King has sold more than Coelho, and Patterson seems to be in a similar ballpark, probably selling slightly more than Coelho, but both have published many more books.

Then, really strangely, he attacks “open source culture”:

With the “open source culture” on the internet, the idea of ownership — of artistic ownership — goes away.

Now, beyond this just being flat out wrong about what “open source” means or what “open source culture” is, what’s the most bizarre thing about this statement is who it’s coming from. Alexie is most well-known for his writing about modern Native American life — and Native Americans aren’t exactly known for their strong believe in artistic ownership. In fact, much of the understanding of so-called “gift economies,” which are sometimes (though not always accurately) used to describe the open source world are actually based on Native American gift giving culture of tribes in the Pacific Northwest, which is where Alexie is from.

Colbert actually does a good job pushing back on this, in his usual self-mocking manner, pointing out that sharing helps get the word out there, and the only reason he’s so famous is because of how easily his content is shared via TV. Without that, he notes, he’d have to just go door to door shouting at people. To which Alexie responds: “I’m a fan of door to door shouting at people.” Good luck with that.

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Comments on “Author Sherman Alexie's Rants On Colbert Against Ebooks, Piracy And 'Open Source Culture'”

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Richard says:


A. I was unaware that the music industry no longer made money off of music sales, and that “It’s all Live performances now”

B. Colbert seems to get it.. and, as he so often does mocks his guest in an ever so subtle barrage of witty puns and analogies

C. He thinks hes saving our culture by sacrificing himself? thats about as indigenous as it gets I suppose 🙂

notjimhoskinson says:

Nation, be sure to check out this new video. Available now, and just in time for the Holiday Season. “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All”. It’s hot off last year’s press and just released on iTunes in time for me to get a Year-End Royalty Check. It’s the perfect gift for someone who is going to get an iPod or iPhone for the holidays. And just remember, it benefits not only you heros by allowing you to celebrate the holidays with me, but it also benefits the Colbert Family Gift Fund.

So head over to iTunes today and tell them you want it. It’s also available as a rental, so you can rent it every day between now and Christmas.

Geoffrey Kidd (profile) says:

Eric Flint Still Has It Right

Lack of exposure is still the Great Enemy of the creative. As an example, yesterday, Rachel Vincent’s “Stray” showed up on the net. So I said to myself: “Worth posting, might be worth buying.” and went over to fictionwise to buy a copy of the first book in what (so far) is a four book series. If I like it, (and the odds are likely to be good on that, since I like paranormal fantasy stories), the other books in the series will follow.

That’s a sale gotten because until yesterday, I’d never even *heard* of the lady.

Anonymous Coward says:

I hate to mention this ....

Please don’t tell Mister Alexie. A simple Google search on “torrent Sherman Alexie” turns up digitized and pirated copies of his books.

At least a part of the interest in the pirated ebooks comes from people who would buy them in that format if they were available. Even more would buy them if they were available at a reasonable price in ebook format.

Refusing to put his books on Kindle or other ebook formats has not reduced piracy at all. Instead what it has done is deny him the revenue he would have received from people who wanted his book in ebook format, but were not able to get it.

Dave says:

This is unfortunate. I have actually read a couple of his books, and he is a very good writer.

This will annoy someone, but a lot of right-brainers are similarly misinformed about technology. I remember Caleb Carr’s ranting and raving about the internet sometime ago. He’s another guy whose books I have enjoyed, but I just shake my head when he starts spouting off on topics he doesn’t understand well.

If either of these guys were talking about writing, it might be worth listening to.

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: I can't view the video

If only there was an American VPN service like we could use to watch it, or a torrent site like that had daily episodes of the Colbert Report available through it.

Ironically, I hear the pirate bay versions have the adverts cut out.. how kind of them to encourage people to watch the ad free versions.

John Doe says:

Re: I can't view the video

I very occasionally hit and watch some of my favorite videos. Just last night I tried to view a video that I had seen countless times before and was given a message that the video was not available in my region. WTH? What region is that, the US? I am in the US where Country music originated and the band and CMT are located. If they don’t play it here, where do they play it?

So now CMT is not on my list of websites to visit.

Copycense (profile) says:

Another Romantic author plea


Cue in music: “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” — Gladys Knight

This is similar to what Mark Helprin received coverage for when he had his 15 minutes of ill-informed intellectual property policy fame. To understand the theoretical basis (i.e. Romantic authorship) behind Alexie’s (and Helprin’s) opinions, please see the first half of our post earlier this year on Helprin:

And if art is returning to performance in lieu of sales, sounds like authors may be able to learn a bit by borrowing from slam poetry artists, who present their work as a form of performance.

Justin (profile) says:


My translation of “we should be ashamed that it is taking an Indian to save our culture” is “I am way behind the times and am trying to drag you back”. Dude, you can have it, meanwhile in the real world we are in transition to a highly digital age. If you don’t want to sell your book the way people want to read it, fine. I don’t want to read it then. Like you said “smells like a close to best seller” but I don’t think it will even get that close.

Mike, have you ever looked into going on Colbert or something like that? I would like to see that.

RD says:

good luck with that

To which Alexie responds: “I’m a fan of door to door shouting at people.”

bwahahaha! good one, hands down the 2nd dumbest thing I’ve heard in the last several weeks (the first being ANYTHING out of Rupert Murdocks cakehole).

Idiocy reigns supreme in the world today, and the luddites are on the march. Soon, we will regress to the early 20th century both technologically and culturally. Good job, morons!

OH and if you show up at MY door shouting and carrying on, trying to be “heard” when you had MANY MANY other valid and less intrusive options available to you and you elected to not take advantage of them, you will be asked ONCE to leave and then you get buckshot up your backside.

Adrianne Brennan (user link) says:

As an ebook author, I have to comment on a piece of this...

“Second, as for the claim that it will harm the biggest name authors most of all”

Ugh. Alexie, go talk to some of the smaller publishers out there. Piers Anthony has a nice list of them on his website.

It doesn’t hurt the big name–it hurts the lesser known authors and epublishing companies far more. That’s their bread and butter, and they make pennies if they’re lucky. No one gets rich off of ebooks and being an ebook author, and in this economy to pirate an ebook worth $5.95 and have thousands access it with no money going to the author nor e-publishing company is highway robbery at best.

It does NOT help them to sell their books. If they were big name and had books in print, perhaps they could afford to take a hit. But not the indie and small press. Every time you pirate and/or allow an ebook pirate to get away with it, you’re harming people and their livelihood. Theft is theft. Pirating has not helped us. When I sell five books in one month and a pirate makes off with giving away a thousand copies of it, do you think that helped me or my publisher?

Unfortunately most of this is ignorance. Some people buy a book and think that giving it away is like being a library. No, it’s not. Unless you delete the file on your end, you are making a copy of that file. You are the person who goes to a library, checks out a book, takes it to Kinkos and then xeroxes copies and gives them out to their friends.

It’s not just wrong, it’s illegal.

A sidenote: Kindle and the Nook help us, not harm us. Those are examples of legal, controlled file sharing. It’s the kind where people use torrents that I’m addressing.

End unfortunately well-deserved rant, as I’ve been a victim of an ebook pirate before as have fellow authors. 🙁

John Doe says:

Re: As an ebook author, I have to comment on a piece of this...

While I feel for you, I have to ask a tough question. What percentage of those pirating your book would even read it if they had to pay for it? Some percentage of them obviously feel it isn’t worth the price. So how much revenue have you “lost” to piracy vs the revenue you wouldn’t have gotten even if they hadn’t pirated it?

I think the lesson here is, create something worth buying and people will buy. There are those that will pirate no matter what, but you wouldn’t have sold to them anyway.

chris (profile) says:

Re: As an ebook author, I have to comment on a piece of this...

Theft is theft. Pirating has not helped us… It’s not just wrong, it’s illegal… victim of an ebook pirate.

i’m real happy for you, and i’m a let you finish, but you forgot to mention everytime someone pirates an ebook, god kills a kitten. oh, and piracy supports terrorism.

when you are done crying, check out some of cory doctorow’s writing about ebooks and why he gives his away. you might gain a couple of insights into making content work for you in the digital age.

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: As an ebook author, I have to comment on a piece of this...

To sum it up, when economics works against you it is easier to call it theft than learn how to use the economics to your advantage. That is what I hear when people start saying absurd things like ‘it’s not just wrong, it’s illegal’. I might instead hear what you would wish to communicate but I guess the message gets garbled by the assertion to reality conversion node of my brain.

Piracy may lose you sales if your fans, that is those who would ordinarily buy your books, fail to realise that you are not getting any money from them. Personally I just spent £20 on two EP’s from a band that offer DRM free FLAC files on a name your price model because I felt compelled to reward an artist that is endeavouring to meet demand for the music I like in the format I want. They even offered to send me some CD’s because I had paid more than I had to. I declined because they had already given me everything I wanted and I’m not one for pointless overseas shipping, maybe the difference will go towards their next production.

The point to that anecdote is, if you really have fans and they have money to give you and you encourage them to give you money then money you shall get. If they don’t give you money then they either don’t have it or they aren’t fans. If you don’t have any fans then I suggest trying something else or looking harder. If all your fans are broke then patience pays dividends, you can still try to communicate with them and perhaps diversify into other areas for income while there is no money to be had there.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: As an ebook author, I have to comment on a piece of this...

What makes you think you would be better off in a world where “piracy” was not possible?
The fact is we can’t do that experiment – however it is a fair guess that without “piracy” you would sell even less.
You are trying to have the positive publicity effects of piracy without the free copying downside. Unfortunately you cannot separate the two. You can have both or neither.
What has happened is that “piracy” has given you the illusion that your work is worth more than it actually is.

Boost says:

Re: As an ebook author, I have to comment on a piece of this...

Do you want people to read your work for free or not at all? That’s pretty much the choice, I think. I’ve never heard of you and probably won’t unless some of my friends start talking about you. Only way that’s going to happen is if your name gets out there. The only way that will happen is if people start reading your books? Why would I pay 6 dollars to buy a copy of a book I’ve never heard of and may not enjoy at all? If I did that often I’d blow alot of money. Think about it…it’s called economies of scale.


drock says:

business model

This guy writes book… a “piece of art”, and wants to entertain his readers with his book. There is a human element to book publicizing, I don’t disagree. But if this guy wants to reach a lower class chinese, turkish, or indian he’s going to have to change the way he distributes media. Change the way his business model works or people are never going to see his book. He’s so focused on the small-time business practices that used to take so much work, time, and money that I think he’s just mad that the way things are now, are just too easy and cheap.

“Piece of art” or not, if no one can get to it, then people don’t know they want/need his product. His target audience is just too small. Think bigger Mr. Sherman. Only then will you be able to have a best seller.

Anonymous Coward says:


Or in greater detail who is he and why should I care.

As noted earlier the biggest enemy of someone trying to sell their creativity is not “pirates” it is obscurity. If I haven’t heard of you I am neither buying your product nor am I pirating your product. So first you need me to find out about you. Then you need to give me a reason to buy. Sometimes that reason can be as simple as letting me feel good about myself for not pirating a product.

As an antectode, I have purchased hundreds of e-books, but I have only purchased one document with DRM, a short story by one of my absolute favorite authors. DRM is an incentive to piracy, not something that prevents piracy.

tracker1 (profile) says:


This reminds me of a rather heated argument my wife and I had a few months ago regarding hardware hacking. I mentioned, in passing, that I wished I put the homebrew channel on our Wii before they closed the hole that allowed for it. She had mentioned that she didn’t think it was right that I use hardware outside its’ sold purpose, and that DMCA provisions enforcing this are good… I made the analogy that it’s like restricting someone from changing the stereo in their car… She went on to state that’s silly, the car companies don’t do anything to stop you.

If the car companies could legally stop you from purchasing stereos from 3rd parties they would… More and more stereos have integrated dash panels that don’t accept aftermarket equipment, and even beyond that, many have custom, proprietary adapters inside the panel. It’s exactly the same problem.

People pirated television and movies, because they wanted a copy at a price point that was competitive more than they wanted it *free* (though free is nice). Take hulu for example, I’d be willing to pay, say a $0.10 sent micropayment to “rent” an episode for 24hrs. It’d probably be as much or more than they make from the ads, and still be convenient enough for me. Why more studios don’t offer this is beyond me.

I have maybe 15 shows I watch a year, with staggered release schedules (usually 6-7 on a typical week). I’d rather pay 10-25 cents an episode on an a-la-cart plan than death with a skyrocketing cable/satellite plan. Offer the first 2-3 episodes of a show “free” with commercials, and make the rest a la cart. The iTunes $1 per episode is imho a bit overpriced, but 10-25 cents as a rental would be far more valuable to me. I don’t need to own anything, I do buy DVDs of series I like to support those shows.. but I honestly only watch a given episode of a show maybe twice a decade… I’d rather pay another $3-5 a season every 5-6 years than have to worry about storing the thing.

duderino says:

Thanks for posting this, I was watching last night, half asleep and then this jackass gets on the show and trash talks digital media and basically ignores the fact that it’s just a NEW FORM OF MEDIA, not necessarily a SUBSTITUTE FOR ALL MEDIA.

I went ape shit especially on the fact that digital books help reduce the demand of paper, which come from trees. This guy Alexie is a Native American, you think he would have seen the positive environmental impact of digital media.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Actually, at the moment, it’s pretty likely that ebooks and the related technology are less “green” than paper books. Of course, that can (and probably will) change eventually.”

say what now?!

can you back that statement up at all? some simple logic makes it seem highly unlikely just by looking at what it takes to copy the two versions, one takes a ton of energy to plant and harvest a forest, turn it into paper, then print words on it, the other only takes a small amount of electricity to copy ones and zeroes.

MattP says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This would seem to suggest that the paper book is environmentally worse.

“…paper book created 4 times the greenhouse gas emissions of an e-book reader and several times more ozone-depleting substances and chemicals associated with acid rain. Print books needed 3 times more raw materials and 78 times more water consumption than e-books”

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I had an IT conference today where the room went hostile as soon as someone mentioned ‘open sauce’ and ‘considering alternatives to Microsoft’. It can be so depressing to hear from the same people you know would benefit most from moving away from Microsoft towards open source that Microsoft is obviously the best choice. Obviously us merely technical people don’t understand the insight of managers who fail to realise that if they pick 10 companies at random to get a quote from then probably 9 of them will quote Microsoft because it is easier to sell.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

His Plan Has Scaling Problems

To which Alexie responds: “I’m a fan of door to door shouting at people.”

The oral tradition looms large in Native American history, as it does in European history. The telling of stories “door to door” by bards, or just regular people was how stories traveled before writing.

Then writing allowed a literate class to record the stories, tell them better, store them longer, and spread them wider. Of course, the rich and the churches were able to mostly control the content.

Then Guttenberg invented a game-changer, which allowed books to be relatively cheaply reproduced. This brought a lot more people into the literature market, the information economy of the day. Most historians view this as “progress”.

I’ll stop the history lesson there, because I’ve already gone way beyond the level of technological progress Alexie espouses. He wants to stop the clock somewhere shortly after Guttenberg, with a mix of print and, door-to-door oral tradition.

Good luck with that. That business model does not scale very well at all. It turns out that in a world of over 6 Billion, there are a lot of doors. Far too many, in fact, to knock on them all to tell them about your book.

A much better scaling solution is the digital one, with approximate marginal costs of 0 per copy of the book, which can then reach more than a billion digitally connected households. Many will pay, many will not. But more will pay this way than with “door to door”, and costs will be relatively trivial.

As Colbert noted, broadcast solutions like TV allow him to speak to millions with no marginal cost. Door to door is simply not a practical solution to address a big market.

“White folks should be ashamed that its taken an Indian to save a part of their culture.” Really? Indians should be ashamed that their chief Luddite wants to take us back to the middle ages.

madcow (profile) says:

Not ranting, some truth in there ...

Yes, it’s a new digital age, and authors have to figure out how to make it work for them .. it’s true. At the same time, the idea that Sherman Alexie should learn from slam poets or rock bands is ridiculous … the man should be able to make a living writing, not performing, and when people steal his books, it impacts that ability.

I love that folks are suggesting that he should become an oral storyteller because he’s native american … should all authors have to become performers now to get paid – ridiculous.

Not surprising to find folks on this forum in opposition to anyone wanting to charge for content … but get a grip, people need be able to get paid, make a living, or those people won’t do that job anymore … and we lose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not ranting, some truth in there ...

“the man should be able to make a living writing, not performing, and when people steal his books, it impacts that ability.”

Hint: Avoid destroying your own point by not understanding simple words.

“I love that folks are suggesting that he should become an oral storyteller because he’s native american … should all authors have to become performers now to get paid – ridiculous.”

Apparently you missed the part where he said he likes to travel around the country reading his books to people. Speaking of reading, you should try it sometime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not ranting, some truth in there ...

Exactly as the AC above said.

If you are referring in part to me with: “love that folks are suggesting that he should become an oral storyteller because he’s native american”

That’s the opposite of what I suggested. Most people on this site would argue that that is pretty bad idea when artists have the ability to share their works for a marginal cost of zero using digital tools. The digital reproduction will both increase the audience, and generate more sales, AND allow a greater revenue potential for book tours. At a cost of pretty much zero.

It is not we here that suggest he return to the oral tradition, that’s Alexie himself. My point was that the oral tradition is a big part of HISTORY, both European and native. History, as in the past. It was bested by Guttenberg, and then Berners-Lee. Artist are free to use the classic tools of storytelling, but cannot live as though the modern tools don’t exist. If you don’t use digital technologies, you lose out on opportunity, and run the risk of being pwned by them.

Brad Hubbard (profile) says:

All I remember...

I watched this guy last night on the Colbert Report (on Tivo, skipping commercials). Guess what? The only part of the interview I remember is the part where he talks about why he isn’t releasing on Kindle, because of piracy. I don’t remember what his book was about, I don’t remember what award he won (though I think he won one), or really anything about him other than his ass-backwards understanding of technology, piracy, and this belief that print media will save our culture. I’ve essentially written him off now, and if I ever come across his works, I’ll take one look at the cover jacket and go “Oh yeah, he’s a guy who’s out of touch with reality. He probably doesn’t have anything valuable to say.” and promptly return the tree-carcass-edition of his book to its shelf in Borders.

Is that a fair assessment of his value as a writer? Certainly not. But when you go on TV and talk about how you’re going to fight against “piracy” by avoiding some technology, everything else just goes out the window.

And as for “an Indian saving white people’s culture”? I really think he’s more in line with the retreating white culture than he’d care to admit. Protectionist, afraid of change, trying desperately to cling to a business model that’s on its way out…that may be what he calls “white culture”, but it’s not the dominant culture. If it was, he wouldn’t be so afraid of piracy.

Niko says:

Re: Not a fan of ebooks

Call me a Luddite, but I’m not a fan of ebooks. I still prefer a good physical page turning book to a digital device. That being said, I do look at ebook listings, preview if I can and if I like it, I’ll buy the book.

It’s just a shame that some artists or content creators or authors or whatever can’t or refuse to see the light.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not a fan of ebooks

There’s nothing Luddite about reading dead trees. There are strong advantages to this medium over electronic ones, as well as vice-versa. It’s an individual preference, and one that might change depending on the situation (outdoors/indoors, airplane, beside…)

There is, however, a Luddite quality to an author not willing to distribute digitally, not understanding the technology, building strong opinions on bad understandings, and hating digital just cuz.

Blatant Coward (profile) says:

As an ebook author, I have to comment on a piece of this...

I suppose then with Baen Books giving away a continuously rotating selection of Electronic books in multiple formats they will suddenly fall over and die, rather than having a continually expanding customer base and minuscule costs that allow them to have the best book payment rates of any publishing house?

Oh wait, no they are not. They are doing quite well and John Ringo just got a new boat. Have fun with them pork and beans. Oh and PAULO COEHLO, you only need to push the button once for it to show up. You might want to hire a 12 year old to explain it to you.

Anonymous Coward says:

I buy most of my dead tree books used on Amazon dirt cheap plus a couple bucks for shipping.

Books in an electronic format I download free from Project Gutenberg.

Every once in a while I’ll buy a PDF from

I absolutely refuse to buy anything with most forms of DRM. (Watermarking is OK — I don’t mind it.)

I despise the Kindle.

I wouldn’t want Sherman Alexie’s book if you paid me. He comes across as a greedy ass that is only really looking out for his own profits. F-em.

Sarcastic Coward says:

Re: Re:

Books in an electronic format I download free from Project Gutenberg.

Way to steal the precious intellectual property of Some Dead Author. You make me sick. How can you sleep at night?

I’m glad that Some Corporate Trust still owns the rights to The Great Gatsby, which was first published in 1926 and whose author has since been long dead.

What if everyone downloaded, sorry, stole from this Pirate Gutenberg website? Then the bookstores go out of business. I hope you’re happy.

Jerry in Detroit says:


The poster child for poor decisions regarding e-books has to be J K Rowling who has refused to license e-books until about a year ago. The end result was that the last book was released and an unofficial e-book appeared within 12 hours. I bought a book but never cracked it. I downloaded a copy and read it on eReader. There’s no real market for her e-books right now because it’s too late. I don’t know about anyone else but there were several fanfics floating around prior to release that were better than the real one.

Mary Vernau says:

Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is a national treasure. He is brilliant. I’m not sure whether he is correct about Kindle’s or Sony Readers, but he is a fabulous author. Read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, and you will see for yourself. Just because someone disagrees with you, doesn’t mean they aren’t smart!There should be room for discussion and he is offering his viewpoint. He’s one of my favorite authors and a really funny and charming guy!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sherman Alexie

It is far easier to speak out in indignation about this author than actually listening to what he is saying to try and understand his viewpoint. Frankly, my perception of this brief video is that the author has a viewpoint that is highly nuanced and based upon considerations more expansive than merely maximizing his earnings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Sherman Alexie

I hope I did not leave you with the impression that I was critical of your comment. To the contrary.

My comment was directed towards those who parse words and present them out of context, mock the words as so parsed, and then retreat with self-satisfaction that they are right and those holding other views are not.

In my view one of the points he was making is that of his personal belief that human-to-human contact is quite important, and that eBooks, like many other forms of content exchange enabled by new technology, reduces the opportunity for him to engage in such interaction.

It is also appropriate to note he clearly admitted that the new technology is a “game changer” that he has not as yet come to grips with, and noted that it is something he will eventually have to consider in greater detail. His dilema seems to be how to resolve the tension between digital distribution and his desire to continue close personal, face-to-face contact with his readers.

At this point his “CwF” does not appear to readily embrace that which is typically advocated by many who frequent this site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Sherman Alexie

Well stated. Actually, as far as all these issues are concerned, I think it’s really important that the artists still express their own perspectives, especially in the face of such radical change.

It would be foolish to be so dismissive of the rightful creators of content.

I find what someone initially says, while key, is not nearly as essential as the dialogue and debate that follows.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Sherman Alexie

Hmmm. Your comment forced me to re-read all the comments above yours.

You are throwing around accusations that the record clearly does not support.

There are negligible numbers of comments of the sort that simply said “Idiot” or “Moron”. By far, most comments (aside from Paul Coolhoo spelling) addressed the weaknesses in Alexie’s understanding of technology, economics, or markets. A few debunked a bit of his statements on Colbert, and went on to mention that he was an idiot, or that they couldn’t fathom reading his books after that display. However, that is a far better debate than just cries of “Idiot!”.

In fact, have another look as I did. Tell me if you still believe that “the debate that follows is nothing more than cries of “Idiot!” and “Moron!”

I think we have engaged in exactly the kind of debate Alexie’s opening salvo merited. Exactly the kind of debate you say is lacking. Spiced up a little perhaps by a few bon mots, per Internet custom.

Lastly, you said, “I find what someone initially says, while key, is not nearly as essential as the dialogue and debate that follows.” Well, the dumber the original statement, the more your theory holds true.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sherman Alexie

It is far easier to speak out in indignation about this author than actually listening to what he is saying to try and understand his viewpoint.

I listened quite carefully, and found nothing of value, other than a blatant misunderstanding of technology, culture and economics.

Frankly, my perception of this brief video is that the author has a viewpoint that is highly nuanced and based upon considerations more expansive than merely maximizing his earnings.

Please. Enlighten us on the nuance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Sherman Alexie

One example is provided at 57 above.

The author is obviously not a person who deals with technology at any level of detail. He is likewise not a person who seems schooled in economic theory. He is an author. He writes books. He has reservations about Ebooks for the reasons he stated, all the while noting that things are changing and this is an issue he knows he will eventually have to consider.

More importantly, however, he seems to have a concern at the loss of physical contact between an author and readers as books move from physical to digital format. Clearly this is important to him. Revenue maximization is lower down on his list of priorities. Does this diminish “progress”? I guess this depends upon how one defines the term.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Sherman Alexie

“More importantly, however, he seems to have a concern at the loss of physical contact between an author and readers as books move from physical to digital format.”

Except that every time someone whines about the loss of the mythical personal element when the latest new technology rises, they’re inevitably proven wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

I know that I’m a little late to the discussion, but I would love it if someone can give me a reason that books in electronic format scare people so much when almost every city has this wonderful building called a library.

Personally, I will never pay for an Ebook for multiple reasons:

First I think books are too important to lock up so only those who have money can afford them, that is why we have Libraries full of the dead tree editions for people to borrow and read.

Second, if I love a book, I can’t stand not having the dead tree edition. I only use Ebooks because it is nice to be able to use Ctrl+F and I can’t take my library with me when I travel. I also think there is no moral issue with having a paper book and then downloading the electronic version for free, I already bought the $20-30 dead tree edition, why should I have to pay $5-10 more for the electronic bits of the exact same thing?

And finally, the fact that it doesn’t cost anything to replicate and you can get the physical version in libraries means that Ebooks are just another way to get access to the text. The fact that libraries are starting to offer the digital bits edition of books only cements this image in my mind. Why aren’t all libraries offering all of their books electronically and as soon as any library is doing that what is the difference between downloading it from your local library and downloading it from your local torrent provider?

Anonymous Coward says:

The Colbert comparison is DEEPLY flawed. Colbert is subsidized by advertising revenues. That’s how TV works. You know that.

Colbert starts in Strangers With Candy — where he gets paid by a TV network based on ad revenues. Colbert gets a segment on Jon Stewart — where he gets paid by a TV network based on ad revenues. Colbert becomes popular enough to get his own TV show — where he gets paid by a TV network based on ad revenues.

Now he’s got some book deals where the money is more direct, but let’s be fair, “he only reason he’s so famous is because of how easily his content is shared via TV” — fame does not pay the bills. Money does.

Aaron Williamson (profile) says:

Thank you

After I watched this last night, I wondered why I hadn’t seen any posts about it already. My girlfriend had to keep telling me to stop shouting at the screen so she could hear.

You don’t address what to me was the most hilarious of Alexie’s self-contradictions. He describes the supposedly dire condition of the music industry, where no one makes money off CDs and as a result are compelled to (god forbid) tour the country playing live shows. Then he turns around and says that his old way of selling books — touring the country making live appearances — has dried up. He attributes both the expansion of touring as a business model for bands and the diminution of touring as a business model for authors to the piracy of content, but doesn’t explain why these industries have experienced essentially opposite effects. Nor does he attempt to explain why the disappearance of a “reading culture” is in any way attributable to the fact that people are reading more books online — why would anyone be less interested in meeting the author of a digital book than a physical one?

Rob says:

He did have valid points.

The problem is, they are systematic ones, not limited to e-books. The headfirst rush to integrate all aspects of life with the Internet when it is completely ill-defined is dangerous. Small things like, you know – taxation, privacy policies, danger from malicious attacks.. look at the number of virus infected PCs out there, that people use for personal banking and other things. Then tell me our blind adoption of this technology which deliberately has had very little regulation and been resistant to adding more is a great idea.

The fact is, digitizing media does lead to piracy. DRM is a poorly considered bandaid that is ineffectual and frustrating. What is going to happen and is happening is simple; we are all evolving to our new, self created & constantly updating reality. There is going to be growing pains and it’s completely healthy for people to question all aspects of it, simply so we can try to get it right.

BONES (user link) says:

Alexie is NOT Wrong

Well, as a part-time professional musician, I can only agree with the thrust of Mr Alexie’s discourse, despite the rubbish spouted in this article. My band recently released it’s third album in Europe and the US, with an unprecedented push from our label, via a very effective PR company campaign, and so far our sales are dismal, far worse than previous albums despite overwhelmingly positive press, all of which agrees it is our best, most accessible album to date. On the back of this and a couple of other recent releases, our independent label has revised it ‘s forecast of staying in business for another few years and now believes they will be forced to close their business as early as mid next year.
Of course, all our music is available on iTunes and several other digital distribution services but guess what? Our digital sales are less than 10% of our physical sales. To me, that says that people will not pay for a digital copy of something when it holds no advantage over a free digital copy. i.e. Once it is torrented, and this album was torrented within 48 hours of release, people are just as happy with free mp3s as with ones that cost money.
As for live music, only big name acts can make a living from doing concerts. Most of us are lucky to find someone to cover our expenses. The reason for that is in part because the internet has taken away the intermediaries who once facilitated the rise of an unknown band. The ‘net might be good for getting you started but once you reach a certain level, it tends to strand you there, unless what you are doing has a broad appeal. i.e. It is a great tool for the major record labels. Where once they had to spend money on a dozen bands to find one that was going to make it, now they can use the ‘net to filter out those others. That means there are 11 bands who would once have had a taste of major record company backing and achieved something who will never get that opportunity. The evidence to support this is obvious from the total homogenisation of contemporary music. Even “Indie” is now just a branch of the mainstream and has lost all it’s edge and potential. Unless there is a massive change, there will never be another Sex Pistols, there will never be another Nirvana.
Oh, and for the record, the music industry went digital in 1985, long before the internet was around to exploit it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Alexie is NOT Wrong

“Of course, all our music is available on iTunes and several other digital distribution services but guess what? Our digital sales are less than 10% of our physical sales. To me, that says that people will not pay for a digital copy of something when it holds no advantage over a free digital copy”

Funny. To me, it says that people won’t pay absurdly high prices for digital copies that have no marginal cost and offer no advantage (and in some cases disadvantages).

“Once it is torrented, and this album was torrented within 48 hours of release, people are just as happy with free mp3s as with ones that cost money.”

Gee, guess what? That’s your problem.

“My band recently released it’s third album in Europe and the US, with an unprecedented push from our label, via a very effective PR company campaign, and so far our sales are dismal, far worse than previous albums despite overwhelmingly positive press, all of which agrees it is our best, most accessible album to date.”

I wonder if it’s because I’ve never heard of your band. Perhaps you should have relied on other forms of marketing than outdated PR firms. Also, I assume your previous two albums were released when “piracy” existed in its current form. That would lead most rational people to assume that, if your 3rd album had “dismal” sales compared to the previous two, that something else is to blame.

Also, in final laughter:

“NOVAkILL on MySpace Music – Free Streaming MP3s”

Whine less please.

Raybone (profile) says:

Re: Alexie is NOT Wrong

perhaps your problem is due to factors other than torrents..

for, your band, your PR firm, and your Label all may suck at what you/they do..or maybe its that your music lacks any connection to modern tastes as (in my opinion and apparently many others opinions )it sounds like a rehash of a million other bands doing the same old tired style that was outdated 10 years ago..try listening to music outside of your style to be inspired to do something might help…

finally..have you actually tried giving you music away to see if it helps your sales? Seems like you have nothing to lose by trying at this point anyway and it has been a proven strategy for many other more successful artists..

I’m just fellow musician trying to help as it does seem you have decent just need to innovate more in every area.

Scott says:

I think he’s a good poet and author; he just needs to do his research before going on television to talk about these issues or risk being perceived as foolish. Richard Peck, another outstanding author, is also down on digital books. At the recent AASL conference, he remarked “The Kindle will dwindle, but books will never crash.” I wish there wasn’t all of this hostility with regard to digital books. Although, I doubt that digital books will supercede print, at least in my lifetime, if they do I doubt civilization or my love of literature will collapse. As in the words of Mad Men’s Don Draper “Change is neither good or bad. It simply is.”

Jens says:

Sherman Alexie is not so wrong

1. Sherman Alexie is an excellent author. Regardless of his stance on ebooks, he is worth reading.

2. I have quite a few friends who are musicians and they make pennies from their digital sales. It’s true that they make money from touring and performing their music. For smaller musicians though, most of this profit is sunk right back into travel costs. Writers however do not have the same type of audience that musicians do. I doubt that even James Patterson could sell out a music stadium of listeners, let alone a smaller author. Thus book sales remain very important to any writer’s income. Alas, if digitizing books has a similar economic effect to the music industry, then we can assume that writers will have to make the bulk of their money from readings, and that doesn’t look good.

2.5. Sherman Alexie is correct that the digital age has had a negative effect on local stores. Sure there are a lot of online stores, but the local bookstore is becoming a more difficult gig. This also limits the actual venues for writers like Sherman Alexie to perform in, and thus (again) less money for the writer. It’s also becoming more difficult for a writer to perform in an independent bookstore. I don’t think every writer wants to work in a Barnes and Nobel. Also, it’s unlikely that a youtube reading by Sherman Alexie will have the same fruitful effects as U2s youtube performance.

3. About two years back the Writers Guild went on strike around the U.S. because writers were losing money on digital media. The television industry refused to compensate them for online sales and thus they were (and still are) getting screwed outta their hard-earned money. The piece that makes me nervous about digitalized media is that the money it generates is being filtered into fewer and fewer hands. The writer, in the end, comes out behind.

If anything, novelists, musicians, artists, journalists, etc. need to take a stand and demand that in transitioning to a digital medium (b/c it is happening), that they be fairly compensated and that they receive the largest profit percentage for their work.

4. Sherman Alexie is right about going door-to-door. If you think he’s ridiculous and full of crap then simply take a look at our current President’s presidential campaign. Regardless of your political stance, he kicked ass because he was willing to talk to the American people in their homes. The whole world doesn’t get to sit at home in front of a computer… people are out in the world fighting for a decent livelihood, which is what (I believe) Sherman Alexie is also doing.

5. I don’t necessarily agree with Sherman Alexie’s comments on “piracy,” but I think that Mr. Alexie is interested in making sure writers can continue to eak a living out of their craft. Piracy was a poor way to explain it, but the need for reform around artistic rights and compensation is dead on.

p.s. Remember that this is a Colbert Report interview, and he never really allows his guests to fully explain themselves.

Anon says:

We can’t fight the future. The reality is that anything hooked up to the internet is susceptible to piracy–which should make people question the value of everything they offer up on line. It’s hard to draw the line between small time piracy of poetry and literature–to full-blown exploitation of peoples life stories being sold as blockbuster’s, by writer’s with the know-how and the time.

Somebody always makes money in the end, and it isn’t usually the indie, or the underdog.

daretoeatapeach (profile) says:

Point of information

Sherman Alexie has already written more than one bestseller. His YA book was such a big success that it was turned into a feature film.

I’ve seen many lecturers, and he is among the best. He can make you laugh and a minute later turn the same idea around with poignancy.

I’m sorry to see he has misguided views about copyright. But all these commenters treating him like he is a total idiot simply because he is ignorant in this particular area come across as foolish. Not everyone is in the binary of genius hero/villainous idiot.

But I suppose we’re all trolls when armed with righteous indignation.

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