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Silicon Rose

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[Apr. 14th, 2007|12:14 pm]
Silicon Rose
[Current Mood |confusedwtf]

Amazingly enough, sometimes fandom_wank provides me with news:

Like this rant by SFWA Vice President Howard Hendrix about how writers who post their work for free on the internet are destroying the market for 'real writers.'

You know, even though free software technically threatens my career as a professional software developer, you don't see me wanking about how Linus Torvalds is a 'webscab' who's devaluing my work. I mean, WTF?

[User Picture]From: benabik
2007-04-14 09:15 pm (UTC)
If "real writers" can't distinguish themselves from some of the horrible crud I've seen for free online, they don't deserve my money. On the other hand, he might want to find some of the people self-web-publishing the good stuff and try to give them money.
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2007-04-16 01:05 am (UTC)
Yeah, though, by nature, there will be some people who will want to give stuff away for free. I've personally been toying with the idea of putting up my novels alongside a tip jar, but I'd want to get published first as personal proof that my stuff is good enough*.

* I know that being published is not proof of being 'good', for god knows I've seen enough crap that got published, but I view it kind of like getting a degree at college. You've proved that you can do something.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-04-15 06:27 am (UTC)
What about Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow?
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[User Picture]From: tlttlotd
2007-04-15 06:28 am (UTC)
...how in the hell did that wind up anonymous?
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-04-16 12:16 am (UTC)
Can't get into the rant at the moment (the site appears to be down), but just wanted to point out that, most of the time, free samples are a good way to attract people to make purchases.
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2007-04-16 01:08 am (UTC)
In case you have more trouble, the full version is really long, but this is the part which most people find offensive:

"I'm also opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they're just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they're undercutting those of us who aren't giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work."
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-04-16 02:04 pm (UTC)
I really hadn't thought about it that way, but you know what? He's right.

First off, I don't think your analogy holds. While software is intellectual content, it presumably has a pragmatic, objectively measurable function. Thus, it is possible for one software developer to be objectively better than another; hence, in a case where some software developers work for free and some do not, the ones who do not work for free can continue to get work as long as they are better. (Yes, I think Windows is a better program than Linux. As frustrating as it is, for most purposes speed (not processor speed, but rather the time it takes from deciding you want to do something to the time you finish doing it) is more important than power and flexibility.)

The quality of a story is not objectively measurable because it has no function. Thus, while some people may prefer Author A over Author B, it is ultimately a matter of taste (i.e., random chance). Unless an overwhelming majority prefer Author A (which requires an extremely large number of individuals to randomly prefer A over B, hence the rarity of consistently best-selling authors) Right now, very few writers of any quality are posting work online, but let's assume the number will continue to increase until there is more quality work posted in a year than you can read in a year. At that point, why buy books? Even if you do, is it going to be somebody you've never heard of, or somebody whose online work you've read and liked?

Now consider that a full-time writer must sell everything he writes, or starve. It is not exactly a lucrative profession, unless your book sells millions of copies, and that's going to be even harder when there's a lot of good stuff on the Internet. Only somebody with a day job is going to be able to afford writing without getting paid for it.

So, we're looking at a future in which the already rare species of full-time professional writers becomes endangered. Looking at it that way, it's perfectly understandable why he's angry: he's scared. Not that it matters, because I don't really see how it can be prevented. In the long run, it's falling readership that's killing the full-time professional writer; the availability of free online stories would be much less threatening if there were a larger market.
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-04-16 02:07 pm (UTC)
I appear to have gone AWOL in mid-sentence in the second paragraph there. Allow me to fix it:

Unless an overwhelming majority prefer Author A (which requires an extremely large number of individuals to randomly prefer A over B, hence the rarity of consistently best-selling authors), if Author B offers stories for free, Author A must also.
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2007-04-17 04:58 pm (UTC)
I think you're being a little too extreme in disregarding the threat that free software can provide for pay software. One thing is that people crave originality in stories, while software just has to do what they want it to do well -- most people don't care to get the newest version of Outlook, pine may satisfy their needs just fine. Also, some people find pine has a better value than Outlook, despite the fact that in features, it's lacking. It only has a text client, for example, but some people prefer that. I certainly did, in my time.

Another point I think you might be discarding is the fact that part-time writers are inherently going to be of worse quality. You yourself have admitted that writing has quality levels; yes, the ultimate quality of a story is more subjective than a piece of software, but attention to grammar and spelling are still objective quantities. Very few writers can actually get away with tossing the basics of spelling and grammar out the window without having their perceived quality drop like a stone. Full-time writers do still have an advantage, in that they can spend more time on what they're doing, since it's all they do. It also means that they get more practice.

Yeah, the market might be threatened, but personally I think it's stupid to get angry over it. A lot of people do want to get paid for their time and effort, and many of the people online still want to get paid, they just want to do it in a different way (tip jars, ads, etc.). Many of the reasons why it is hard for a professional writer to get by is because of the current state of the medium. Publishers take a lot of money, and writers only get pittances unless they get lucky enough to become a bestseller. The online medium may prove a better ground for writers. It's really hard to tell until it happens.
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