Not Relying On Copyright Doesn't Mean You Don't Make Money

from the sad dept

Copycense recently pointed me to a really depressing post by the author David Glass, discussing his views on copyright. I found it depressing because it opened with such hope and recognition about how important remixing and sharing are to culture and creativity, and how little any of that has to do with copyright:

For centuries, people have enjoyed a shared pool of story, riffing with the same old themes, playing with each others’ work. After that and after my Walkman childhood came the Internet, and fun new worlds of mash-ups and sharing, open source and Creative Commons.

I love it all. Creativity should come from a spirit of communication, maybe cooperation, not the egotistic holding to oneself that copyright suggests. I like musicians to sample each other, and authors to reference each other, and film-makers to pastiche each other. I’m all for intertextuality and a sense of fun and play. I’m pretty much a copyleft sort of guy.

With such a great opening, why is the article depressing? Because it’s followed by the inevitable “but…” And that “but” is that he wants to make money from his writing and the “old industry” relies on copyright, and if he wants to make money he has to play ball with their ways of thinking.

People ask to see what I?ve written and I have little to show them online. I want to be published and broadcast and paid for my work and I fear that sticking things on the net puts that at risk. For example, if I sell a short story to a magazine they will want first rights, and if I?ve put that story on the web already, there is a grey area as to whether that counts as prior publication. I play it safe and put very little of my writing up, in the hope that through conversation I can keep people interested in me anyway, in the hope that a time will come when I can send people off to read a book of mine, or hear my play on the radio.

In other words, copyright isn’t promoting progress at all here. Instead, it’s really doing the opposite, causing this author to hide his works and hope that some old gatekeeper decides to publish it.

This is a much more mild version of an argument we’ve seen elsewhere. Copyright defenders, for example, like to assume that when folks like myself talk about doing things without copyright, we mean either doing things for no money or through some sort of “charitable” set up. That’s simply not true, of course. We talk about all sorts of business models that let people make more money than they could have otherwise — and we’re certainly seeing that happen in the world of writing. We’re hearing more and more success stories in the world of self-publishing of ebooks or using platforms like Kickstarter or testing other business models selling additional scarcities.

There are lots of business models that seem to work quite well for people who can and do connect with their fans — and one of the best ways to connect is to get the actual writing out there and get people hungry for more and more and more. Those who are doing the math (and are fanatical about connecting with fans) are starting to argue that there’s a lot more money to be made in going with some new business models — even for those who can make a lot of money the traditional way.

Compare that to going the old gatekeeper route: you have to deal with a lot of making no money while you deal with rejections. If you get a book deal you may get an advance, but then you’re unlikely to ever see much more than that, unless the book is fabulously successful. That’s not to say that there aren’t still roles for those gatekeepers, but relying on them solely and feeling the need to hide your works away — especially when you recognize the overall benefit to creativity from sharing and openness — just seems like a really depressing statement on copyright.

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Comments on “Not Relying On Copyright Doesn't Mean You Don't Make Money”

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17 Comments
Mike says:

To be fair, the quoted material says nothing about copyright and everything about value attributed by publishers to things like “first rights” and exclusivity. If this were about copyright, you might very well be reading the opposite: that is, if some publisher republished something from the internet, then the author may never “sell” it, but for copyright.

John Doe says:

Birthing Pains

What is going on in the content industry is the legacy gatekeepers are dying a painful death and the content creators are going through birthing pains with new business models.

Unfortunately, consumers are caught in the middle and could really care less about either of their problems. They want content on the device of their choosing at the time of their choosing in the format of their choosing. While content creators and gatekeepers refuse to fill the needs, pirates step in and fill the gaps.

With digital content, unlike physical goods, consumers are in the unique position to fill the markets needs on their own.

antimatter3009 (profile) says:

Disagree

I actually have to disagree a bit here. Things like first rights and such are a form of scarce goods in my mind. Only one publication will have first access to your art, and it seems to me that getting something for that scarcity makes sense.

But I think there needs to be a balance. Holding all your work like this would be a mistake; you’re missing out on all the publicity and fan connections and such that are discussed often around here. But using some of your work in order to promote your other work that you hope to sell in this manner makes sense to me. Or perhaps you could hold onto all or most of your work but make stuff that’s already been published for “awhile” (weeks, months, years… whatever makes sense to the artist) available for free and reap the same benefits.

As always, there’s all kinds of room to maneuver and experiment here, but I think in general the idea of trying to sell first right to publish is not a bad one, it just shouldn’t be the only aspect of your business model.

Ron Rezendes (profile) says:

Re: Disagree

Agreed, there is some value to first rights which, by definition, is scarce.

This guy should publish some shorter/smaller pieces of work to build a fan base upon. Maybe publishing the first chapter of the book, or a 30-60 second preview of a song etc.

He can still sell the first rights but it would be for the whole body work (book, song, etc.) which has already been given some self promotion.

Nice post antimatter3009!

SteelWolf (profile) says:

Re: Disagree

I think the “first rights” idea comes into play as you get an established based going. If you’ve built up a fanbase, there’s definitely merit in getting something first.

For example, if anybody can print the book after it’s out, there’s an advantage in being the first one out of the gate. You get the first mover advantage so that your books are the ones on the shelves, your cover art is recognized, and the others (while equally free to be made) look more like knockoffs. I think that might be a direction things are going, with publishers and labels competing for who gets first dibs on a new work as opposed to forcing the creator to give up all monopoly rights.

First also plays into the Kickstarter model, where donors or top-level contributors might get an early peak or advance copy of the book.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s not quite the same thing.

UK and US releases of Doctor who are at different times. Fans, frustrated by this regionalization will seek alternatives.

Also think about fans of anime. You have the official release, but then you have people loyal to a certain fansub group. Ex. The wait for One Piece to be translated can be a week after Funimation’s, which affects the speed of discussion.

If you want to monetize and value it, you want to do it smartly:

Get the official copy out early. Let the “pirates” distribute their own version to increase hype but people will usually come to you if that’s what you offer.

Thing about Dr. Who is that it’s more of an artificial scarcity that is automatically removed because of digital access.

Memyself says:

I wasn’t saying the two scenarios are even remotely similar. Simply that we can see (Doctor Who being a valid example) that fans value immediate access, which can easily translate to economic incentive for first right of publication. By paying for first right of publication, corporations purchasing content can (arguably) more effectively monetize their investment. Once they do this, they absolutely should do it in the most intelligent manner possible.

Now, if the work in question has already been distributed, the subsection of fans demanding immediate gratification is arguably removed from the equation. meaning that those willing to invest in the artists work might be less enthused.

Actually, there’s no “might” about it. Pre-releasing your work does cause corporate interest to pause when considering investing. This has nothing to do with copyright, and everything to do with maximizing investment by reaching as large section of the public as possible. The hype and excitement over something new is incredibly valuable, and should not be dismissed casually.

alex (profile) says:

If he decided to go the Kickstarter route, he would still have to hold off putting his work out until he’d been pledged enough that he deemed it worthwhile to release it. Of course he could:

..get the actual writing out there and get people hungry for more and more and more.

…but at some point, he has to sell some writings (or signed photographs / t-shirts / re@l scarcity) if he’s going to profit from his work, non?

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