Yesterday I conducted an experiment. I posted a twitter update that said something like “If everyone who could see this bought an eBook for $1.99, amazing things would happen.” You can find the actual post here for reference.
I did it to make a point.
Creators need to stop giving their work away for free. And “fans” need to stop EXPECTING it for free.
Time to check into the real financial economics of your fandom.
The truth is that many people who work in the creative arts don’t get paid that much. Small press and independent writers and artists can often make even less.
There is a misconception that fame and fortune, go hand-in-hand. That’s why the words are paired together right? Well hate to be the one to break it to you kiddies, but just because you think someone is famous, doesn’t mean they are, and just because someone has a popular blog, book, graphic novel or web comic, doesn’t mean they are living the life of a wealthy playboy (or playgirl).
I’ve overheard fans talking at cons about favorite web comics creators and how they must be loving the money they are making now. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so out of touch with reality.
When I meet new people and make new acquaintances, 90% of the time they’ll ask me if they can HAVE a copy of my book, often within the first ten minutes of conversation after I tell them what I do.
It comes from an undeserved feeling of entitlement. I want this so I should be able to have it. I am interested, but I don’t want it to cost me anything. It’s too much effort for me to actually pull cash out and buy it, so why don’t you just give it to me. I want to spend my money on other things that give me instant gratification, but I still want it, so I should be able to have it for free.
If that’s your thought pattern, and you’re older than 12, grow up.
It’s this entitlement that keeps piracy widespread, rampant and ever-growing.
I even once had a fan come up to me in the early hours of the opening day of a show to tell me how much they loved my new book. Sounds great right. That book was being launched for the first time at that show. I had literally only sold 5 copies of that book to people within my circle of colleagues, friends, existing fans, etc. Literally only 5 print copies existed in the public, signed and released by my hand. I knew this person did not know any of those 5 people. The digital version of the book had not yet been released. I assumed that the person was fibbing, exaggerating, trying to flatter me for sake of my ego or something they wanted. I shrugged and said thank you and didn’t call them on what I assumed was a tall tale at first. But the conversation didn’t end there. The fan was really enthusiastic and pressed on. They told me their favorite details of the story, the parts they loved and wanted to know how I came up with the ideas I wrote in the book. This person had read it. They HAD read the book. But there was literally no other way they could have read it and gotten a hold of it. In the conversation they even offhandedly mentioned that they had read it on their computer. No big deal right? Except there was no digital version on the retail market yet. This person had downloaded my work. It’s great that I gained a fan, but I’m trying to do what I love for a living. I need to pay rent and feed myself. The files for the book had to have been leaked.
The classic argument is that new fans that discover your work through piracy may become paying customers. The person in question did not. They let me know they liked my work, but they weren’t buying anything at the con that day, they had no money to spend, they just wanted to see what was out there.
For my next book I changed printers, and I don’t appear to have anything leaked in advance of release since.
Unfortunately, the consensus among the majority of colleagues that I’ve conversed with is that the market doesn’t fair any better among existing friends and family.
Everyone’s got that friend or cousin that asks you for a free copy of your book. Many creators are so excited and proud of the work they want to show off to their family, they give out copies of their books to everyone. Stop it. Unless they are a parent or sibling who has emotionally and financially supported you through your career development, let them buy a book if they want one.
If you’re family or friend of a writer or artist, stop expecting or asking for free copies of books.
From both sides of the equation, consider this: If someone has guided and supported and wishes you well in your career and wants to help, they should be more than willing to support you buy buying a copy of your book.
Every time I have a new book come out, there’s always a grinning acquaintance, a friend of a friend, or someone with a tenuous, 3-degrees of separation connection to me, asking me for a free copy of my book. I usually sheepishly tell them sorry, don’t have any copies with me, or “it’s all SOLD out”. (even if I have a full box of them in the next room) In my head though my response is “Fuck. Your. Self.”
Even when things are tight, if I want to support a friend, colleague or promising new talent, I buy a copy of their book.
Where fandom seems to be having a disconnect in logic is the financial realization that this is a business where people get paid. Just because you think they are famous and living a lavish lifestyle or they are lucky enough to make a living doing what they love, doesn’t mean you deserve to have their work for free. It also doesn’t mean that they deserve to scrape by and struggle to meet basic needs of life, while the public enjoys their work without any kind of cost or compensation to that artist.
There’s a word for the mindset that thinks that someone is so lucky to do what they love for a living that they should be willing to do it for nothing. That word is jealousy. (Though if you are an artist and you get that attitude from a client or publisher, the word for that is greed.)
If you gather together a random group of 20 fans of any specific franchise at a convention or fan gathering, the majority will openly admit to downloading that content that they gather to talk about loving so much, enjoy dressing as, and pay admission and travel to go to cons to see, without ever actually making a purchase that goes to the people who create the content.
This mindset is unrealistic and will ultimately lead to fans helping to starve out the creative artists of the stories they love.
Careers are built on sales.
Now more than ever, sales, every sale, is important to keep the entertainment that you love alive. Independent publishers and writer’s entire business and careers, their livelihoods, are built on online sales.
Here’s an example, in just one market, Amazon’s Kindle platform. Status and author rankings are based on sales. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Author status and ranking is based on books sales comparatively against other books in the same category and their sales in a given timeframe. Sounds confusing, I know. But basically it means that even a small press/independent publisher can become a bestselling author if they get enough sales in a short period of time. So a famous and popular book may sell a million copies, but maybe only a couple copies per day ongoing after their initial launch. In a niche category, if a new or unknown author sells 100 copies in the same time period that the famous author sells 2 copies, that unknown author passes them in sales rank and status and that author becomes an international bestseller. It may only reach that sales level for a day and may only sell 100 copies, but that bestseller status is inferred onto that author for life and no one can take it away. That author is now a bestselling author. Why is that important?
Bestselling authors get book deals with traditional publishers, they get speaking engagements, they get television interviews. Best selling authors have their books adapted into movies, video games and other things. Bestselling authors appear at conventions and bookstores to sign and meet fans. Don’t assume they are rich, they may or may not get “rich”, but they get to make a living creating stories and entertainment for you. When that happens that means they keep making books; that get made into movies and games and comics and animated series that you love and get to gather together with likeminded people at fan events and celebrate.
The same author or artist, with the same book, that gets the same 100 pirated downloads in a day gets…cheap Ramen noodles, struggle, debt and living in their mom’s basement. They can’t afford to keep making more stories for you to enjoy and those characters you love ultimately fade away and are forgotten.
This same equation works and applies to music, film, television and video games. Bestsellers get rehired, the pirated get obscurity.
I’ve been very fortunate to have some great fan love and support for my independent projects and recent novels. I appreciate each and every person who puts out a hard earned dollar on one of my books and helps me make a living so I can keep doing what I love and eat every day and sleep under a roof.
It’s wonderful when things work out in a good way, when fans vote or support with their wallets to say, “Hey, I’d like more of that!”.
Unfortunately, it’s not the case for everyone. There are some very talented, deserving wonderful people out there and emerging artists are really suffering for their work and scraping by, just to do what they love. Please think about that before you download your next independent or small press book, comic or graphic novel for free.