Saturday, December 13, 2008

For writers, times sure are a-changing

For writers, times sure are a-changing ... so fast, you're running flat-out to keep up!

Have you ever gone to Google and hit the engine with the parameter, "free fiction" ...?

I just did, from pure curiosity, and the Big G spat back 20,100,000 results. Now, let's say 99% of those results are gibberish -- it keyed on the word "free," or the word "fiction," but not a combination of both; and then it returned all the pages where the words "free" and "fiction" were used in any context whatever, such as a work of journalism talking about the free market, and a bio of Wilbur Smith, talking about the decades over which he's crafted some of the best fiction in the English language. So, figure 99% of the results are utter piffle.

So, shift the decimal point two places over to the left. That leaves 201,000 sites where the words "free fiction" conspire to make an actual result.

And on this overcast, drizzly Saturday morning, Keegan is wondering how many publishers have performed this search?! (Get thee to a high place, guys. Or a distillery.)

A little while ago I was trawling around, looking at news and views of indie publishers like Edge SF, Dragonmoon, Yard Dog, and so forth -- all busy little publishing houses in North America which, until the onset of the recession, were doing fine. At this point there are self-confessed "cash flow problems," and some such houses are actually asking readers of their newsletters if they would be so kind as to actually buy something.

I was talking about The Big Crunch, sometime in the last week ... and it's coming. The Christmas sales are on one hand electrifying, and on the other, horrifying. I'm delighted to be able to buy a $40 book for $8.50 ... but I shudder to imagine the mechanism it took to put this book under my Christmas tree at that price.

Every time you and I pick up a bargain like that, some publisher got a bloody nose. And the poor schmuck who wrote the book won't be selling another one any time soon! Sales like these are not good news -- much though they might seem like it to the frazzled Christmas shopper who's vibrating slightly from the caffeine and sugar taken aboard at Hudson's, and popping ibuprofen for the impending headache inspired by the noise and chemical overload of battling shoulder-to-shoulder with a couple of hundred thousand of our fellow human beings at the mall.

How the retail slump is hitting the POD market is another question -- nobody's saying much at this time. Sales are down everywhere, be it cars, plane tickets or bubble gum. Luxury goods are always a difficult proposition, and POD books certainly qualify as luxury goods.

They're expensive, and there's no way to make them much less so. Most of us thought that ebooks would have been the budget-price alternative, but there's surprisingly strong resistance to ebooks, even now, and there's something else, another factor, in play. If you're the person who, a few months ago, was looking to pay $5 - $10 for a book, and considering ebooks as an affordable alternative to the real thing ... chances are, you're in the zone where, now, you're guarding your last ten bucks with your life.

In the new year, I'm going to be playing around with lots of marketing ideas, and with any luck I'll have good things to report here. At the very least, it's very hard to have an argument with freebies ... the ultimate freebie being the digital novel!

And the realm of free fiction is massive and growing more so by the minute. If you're interested ... and/or want something to read and desperately need to keep next week's lunch money or bus fares intact! ... try this:

The Internet is the ultimate equalizer. Ten years ago, it put the ability into everyone's hands to reach the global market. Today, goods and services are so plentiful and available, we're drowning in them. The net effect is that "things" don't have the intrinsic value they once did -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Scarcity makes things valuable. Solid platinum ingots ... diamonds the size of pigeons' eggs ... the Silence Dogood letters ... the weirdstone of Brisingamen. If these things turned up on Amazon or eBay for $1, because they were so plentiful, their intrinsic value could be said to be -- a buck.

And this is what's happening to fiction. There's billions of words being written and published online, and the actual value of any particular body of fiction ain't high. The globalization and supply process started slowly, and as the Internet gets infinitely more vast every day, the process will get progressively faster. The trick is to see what's happening, recognize the process, and find a way to "go with the flow," or "bend before the gale," as the Chinese philosophers would say.

Hey, I'm bending, I'm bending! And I'll tell you this: 2009 is going to be interesting.

Ciao for now,

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