My op-ed in the newspaper: Do you agree or disagree?

I had an op-ed published in The News Journal yesterday. The NJ is a Gannett company newspaper, the same company which owns USA Today. The topic was downloading and supporting indies. Please read and comment on it. Now, as I am on good terms with the editor, I did promise to get his page some traffic, so I will post only the first half of the roughly 700 word article here. Read it, and let me know what you think.

Please consider the indie before downloading

The letter Taylor Swift wrote to Apple asking the company to pay artists whose music is streamed during customer’s free trial period shed a light on a continuing battle between digital creators and consumers that don’t want to pay for digital work.

Many musicians applauded Swift. Large companies like Apple, Google and Spotify routinely make money off others’ talent and do as much as possible to compensate as little as possible. You can go online and read horror stories from musicians who had hundreds of thousands of streams for their songs on those services, but whose royalties barely cover one night at Dover Downs. This is especially a problem for so-called “indies,” or people who create music with a small record label or none at all, and rely on their music sales to earn a living.

Part of the challenge, in addition to persuading people to pay for artists they like, is piracy. Someone decides they like a movie, song, e-book, or game and upload it without permission to file sharing sites where artists get nothing for their work. Even worse, these sites make it easier for someone who doesn’t respect intellectual property rights to just take an artist’s work and start selling it illegally without compensation. This is a problem for all creative industries, but unlike multinational corporations, indies are unable to fight piracy at all.

Unfortunately, those who are not creators tend to assume that if one isn’t making money from their work, then their product must not be worth buying. The problem with that belief is, in the age of diffused media, being discovered by enough people to earn a living becomes more difficult without money, endorsements or name recognition. This has resulted in many unknown creators giving away a lot of work for free, in the hopes of being discovered. As the public became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content, and as if the ease of finding stuff for free was just too easy, the incentive to pay any creator disappeared.

Read the rest of the article here 

5 thoughts on “My op-ed in the newspaper: Do you agree or disagree?

  1. I totally agree with Sam Friedman’s editorial. As an indie author myself, I know the challenges involved in establishing name recognition in the book-buying public. A device often used by indie authors toward that goal is the book giveaway – something an established author doesn’t have to do. Lose money now in the hope of making money down the road.

    These authors make that decision, but indie musicians aren’t given a choice. And the new music streaming venture by Apple appears to make this situation worse. Michael Smerconish, on his Sirius radio program the other day, discussed this subject. He had a guest (I don’t recall his name) touted as an expert of the iTunes world. Smerconish asked, “Okay, that sounds great, but how do the musicians get paid?” He asked this several times and, to my mind, never got a satisfactory answer.

    Friedman makes an excellent point about the growing expectation among consumers of books and music that these entertainments should be free. But this sets up a vicious cycle; if content is free, unlike the fees charged by cable companies, Netflix, and the like, it must not be worth much. So only if its free will the consumers download it.

    Short of a grassroots altruistic movement not to download free content, which goes against human nature, I see a continuing problem for the livelihood of indie authors and musicians.

    John L. DeBoer

    Liked by 1 person

    • John- Thank you for reading it. I want to add two additional points to the article (please note I meant indies are LESS ABLE, not necessarily unable, to fight piracy).
      First, part of the problem is that a lot of indie authors, even succesfull ones, encourage massive free giveaways. I don’t mean a limited number of books (glike giving 20 lucky readers a signed print copy of your book) or limited time freebies. I mean “Perma-free” where you are pressured to give away multiple (“First in a series”) free books, because some authors, desperate for attention and insecure, believe no one will pay them attention if they don’t do this. This teaches readers that work must not be worth much so why pay for anything when there’s an endless supply of free books to give away? Yes there is a lot of crap and debut novelists probably do benefit from some level of free-book downloads, but that’s not a long-term money-making solution. I’m not against free stuff to a point, but the indies telling aspiring writer to be happy to give away most of their work free in the hopes that some might pay you later is bad. If freebies worked for everyone, then literally everyone would be doing it, even the A-listers.

      Second, I tweeted a Huffington Post article noting how there are no big-time authors speaking out about books the way Taylor Swift speaks out about music. It would be nice if an A-lister (King, Patterson, Brown, Rowling, Thor, Meyer, etc) came out in heavy support of books as an art that should have at least a tiny value, whether they believe it or not. The problem is, most of the “big names” got rich off the traditional system, and seem to be less inclined to speak out when their bank accounts are already full. Third-party E-book subcription services which bundle lots of great books in with even more “crapola”. are great for readers and new authors, but I can see them being an issue for established writers who can make sales on their own (this excludes authors creating their own subscription services, which I think WOULD work). Also, I get the impression a lot of them don’t think much of indie authors, assuming if you are self-published, or published by a small press, it’s because you suck at writing. So whereas Taylor is fine coming out in favor of indies being able to earn money from their work, no A-list authors are willing to do the same for other authors down the totem pole or if they do, it’s very discreet.


  2. Sorry for the rather impersonal, third person response to your editorial, but I though the post was going to the newspaper.

    I, too, have not seen big-time authors rushing to the aid of newbies. Hey, it’s not human nature. “I got mine, so good luck to the rest of you” is usually how it works. Giveaways are worthless – literally! I’ve actually seen authors who bragged that they were in the Top 100 of the Kindlle Free list for their genre. Whoopey-do! With that and a two-dollar donation, they can get a cup of coffee to celebrate. Now I’ve had a discussion with another author who claims that after her “free” promo, her paid sales went up. Okay, I guess that can happen. Without anecdotes like that, the strategy would die!. And this same person said that big companies do this all the time for new products; buy one, get one free and the like. So it’s a prevalent marketing strategy. With one huge difference: aspiring-author Joe isn’t an already established name seeking to expand his already vast empire/riches. He’s just trying to get his foot in the door. If giving his stuff away accomplishes that, all well and good. I just don’t see it. I predict Joe, as you rightly say, in my view, will join the mass of still-unknown writers whose creations you can pick up for a song and thus not worth paying for.


    • This is such a good point that it’s worth a serious discussion. I talked to my dad last night, who is a professor of sales and marketing. He explained that giving away small samples of cereal or some pens isn’t a big deal for a cereal maker, but an author giving away his/her core business (books) is going to hurt themselves unless they are the one in a thousand who does benefit from so many freebies, especially early in the game when trying to build credibility. You don’t see restaurants offering everyone a free meal for their first visit, do you? And for digital, there are things I would give away free, but there’s got to be a strategy. Dumping your e-book free on Amazon and expecting massive sales bump is dumb.

      As for the A-list authors not being more supportive, I believe this is because they don’t think much of indies or small-time authors. Red Adept Publishing would be beneath them because it isn’t “big time”.


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