I randomly check Facebook when I’m stumped or need a break during writing and research. It’s a quick blip. You look, maybe comment, then jump away. But Becky Clark linked to her own blog post (which I have now also linked to) about the recent demise of the Rocky Mountain News and whether or not authors should give away their writing for free and suddenly I was tearing into a reply. You can read my whole screed for yourself there, but as I got toward the end I found myself sorting through things I never really articulated to myself before.
There is a strange paradigm shift taking place in the publishing world as well, and the problem there as with newspapers is that they are trying to fit old models onto the new chassis. “Giving things away for free” is a very 19th century business way of looking at a world that considers this practice “building a market through permission.” In exchange for the “free” content readers are giving the providers “permission” to contact them for other offers, news, information, deals, or to mine their personal data for other reasons. Facebook is a platform we call “social networking” but beneath the surface we are all giving away bits of ourselves to the community and following that up with permission to let others comment and connect. There’s no way to know how that exchange of information is going to connect – indeed, that’s how I ended up here, and neither of us could have predicted it – or how useful that will be down the road. That’s a part of networking, part of the permission, and ultimately a part of what is going to shape how these new forms of content are going to be compensated.
Piggy-backing on my post last Friday, it occurred to me that perhaps I landed on another way for publishing to save itself, or more importantly, for authors to get paid and help save publishing at the same time.
Give it away. Sort of.
What if I made a deal with the publisher to offer readers the first three chapters of my next book for $0.99 with an option to buy the rest of it if they like it, either hard copy or digital, with a coupon that applies that dollar to the sale price of the whole thing? This is the iTunes model, where you can buy a song you like and then apply that charge to buying the rest of the album down the road. And when you buy the whole album, you get a slight discount that is cheaper than if you bought it one song at a time, so a book purchased after the sample has been bought should be slightly less.
Given that currently an author only makes about a dollar for each hardcover sale I, as the author, don’t lose, and if by offering a prospective reader something they consider to be a deal – a dollar is less of a risk than paying for a book and not liking it – then we’d all come out ahead. I’m paid for the peek, the publisher is paid for the object, and publishing is saved.
Saved! Publishing houses can be saved! By writers!
What a novel thought.