There’s a word for all the stuff we do with creative works—all the conversing, retelling, singing, acting out, drawing, and thinking: we call it culture.
A memorable quote from Cory Doctorow’s recent Locus editorial. To paraphrase / skewer the article: culture is copying, copying is our culture. Biologically, we’re designed to make copies of ourselves. Socially, we copy our parents, our family, our friends from day one as we learn the ropes. We cut and paste, we share, we pass the goods along. We did it before VCRs, tape recorders, personal computers, and the Internet, and we’ll do it with or without whatever newfangled technology tumbles down the pipeline. So, the challenge remains the same—making money at making copies—while the technology changes. Charging for physical materials and labor seems logical. But music that expires (DRM)? Flexplay discs that go bad after two days? Seems counterproductive to produce copies that don’t last, that can’t be watched, traded, passed along after the initial shelf life. However, I think this sort of strategy is supplemental.
I tried a strategy of my own a while back and found that when I posted unrestricted PDFs of my novels online (for free) my readership increased, as did my paperback sales. I also discovered that copies of The Knack and Stories from the Steel Garden were showing up on P2P networks—with labels like “teen sex” and “nudist boy” attached. I’m not sure if the false advertising has translated into sales or if such keyword searches resulted merely in the usage of my work as fap material. I’m not sure I’m cool with either scenario.
At the very least, I’m reminded that I’m dabbling in the arts during a unique period when technology, as pervasive as it has become, has not replaced the creature comforts associated with the printed word. Reading online text is fine for research, news, current events, blogs, and, yes, fap material. When reading for pleasure, though, most of us still prefer wood pulp over pixels, and most of us are still willing to pay for it.
Most of us. :D