Joe Konrath

POSTS A WELL-TEMPERED rant on how tradpublishers treat writers like shit. And there’s some controversy in the comments from a legacy-pubbed author who posts anonymously.

A lot of commenters speculated on said author’s identity. Me, I go, “M’eh!” That someone speaks anonymously says a lot to me about the value of what they say. Yes, someone can speak anonymously or pseudononymously and have something of value to say. But most of the time, they’ve put forth the effort to establish a brand beforehand. So Card’s presage of the Internet in Ender’s Game with the debate between Peter and Valentine under their nommes de plume demonstrates. Without the established brand, the maunderings of some random git who won’t sign his work is worth about what you pay for it — with the normal discount.

But to me (again), the point they all miss is this: publishing and literature are not unique in this paradigm shift. It’s happening in all industries, businesses, and cultural segments across the globe. It’s an effect of the social disruption of technology and its rapid advance and change, and the way in which business is done. I think of it as the future being one in which we will all be cottage industrialists.

It has already happened, with lingering ripple effects, in my line of business — the music industry.

A longtime friend who has been a tour production manager for thirty years recently related that he has finally been forced to put on the personal manager hat. He works for a brand-name musician whom you would recognize — and probably be astonished he’s still working in music and not selling insurance somewhere. But the point is that all of this is migrating out of offices on Melrose in Los Angeles and in Greenwich Village or the Brill Building in New York or 16th Avenue South in Nashville to living rooms and kitchen tables… well, everywhere. The business has atomized, with decision-making driven as far down the heirarchical ladder as it can go and with artists taking control over their own lives and careers like never before.

The change in the music business is epochal. The view the public sees is that the record companies are in trouble because of piracy — or so they claim. But the reality is that the delivery system for the content is changing and the gatekeepers — the record companies and old-line management and booking firms — don’t have the control over it they used to. And the ones who survive and/or succeed in the new paradigm are the ones who adapt.

And the fun part is that the change is least disruptive in country music, where acts have been self-managed all along.

But here’s the kicker. The artist I alluded to above? He doesn’t have a record contract. Not in the old-fashioned sense. Oh, he has a deal. But he takes the finished package — production, masters, cover art — the works — to the record company and licenses it to them. And they pay him so much per unit sold. He retains control.

Sound familiar?

The prediction is that the movies are next. You’re already seeing signs of it. Joss Whedon did it with his steampunk flick a couple of years ago. Felicia Day is doing it right now with her project. Effects houses and music houses have been doing it for years. Read the behind-the-scenes books on Xena for example. And when I was reading about that, I was thinking, “Oh, the software and gaming businesses have been doing this for years.” A friend lives in the mountains in Colorado and, at one time, wrote Photoshop plugins for a French guy and a company in Silicon Valley. Sound familiar?

As the tail of publishing gets shorter, as the capital investment to produce works gets ever smaller, you’re going to see ever-more enterprises delivering product better, cheaper, faster. The legacy publishing houses need to adapt or accept the fact that they are not long for this world. Standing athwart the tide yelling, “I doubt it!” will come to look ever more foolish as time goes on.

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