Crowdsourcing is Not the Answer

A great post at the Tomorrow Museum about the pitfalls of crowdsourcing and how it’s not necessarily the answer to what ails publishing – namely, writers not making any money.  The gist of it is this:

The trouble I see with crowdfunding for creative projects is not that it doesn’t work, but that it couldn’t possibly work for everyone. First of all, the very act of crowdfunding requires a level of self-assuredness that does not often come naturally for artists and writers….

The least remarkable novels I read seem written as though the author knows his mother will see it one day. Imagine an author who feels accountable to hundreds and hundreds of people — context collapse as the death of creativity.

My friend Ed Champion was once explaining the difference between writers who write to write, rather than write to have written. I worry crowdfunding works best for the latter — those who see writing as the means for prestige rather than a greater calling.

While crowdsourcing is no doubt great news for certain artists, the fact that it’s not a realistic model across the board means that it can’t really be a replacement for what ails publishing.  It’s just one tool.  And when you factor into the fact that in 2009 there were 764,000 books self-published and roughly 300,000 traditionally published books, there just isn’t enough charity on the part of the crowdfunders to pay all those hopeful writers.

So what’s the answer?  I could say: e-readers become as ubiquitous as cellphones, increasing distribution, and so, profit.  If and when that’s the case, more writers will be self-publishing, as they’ll want to absorb as much profit from a book as possible – and if a publisher isn’t paying for marketing and can’t get the book distributed to B&N (and people are ereading all the time anyway) there’s nothing stopping writers from jumping ship.

Trouble is, DRM free books will cut into that same profit line – and will be cut into even more when everyone figures out how to use bittorrent.  I’m a share-alike kind of person, but I also recognize that sharing an ebook is not the same thing as lending a hardback – it’s the process of duplicating that hardback and giving it to another person.  More copies means more abundance, means it’s worth less.  So the pro-DRM people have an argument.

But DRM is impossible to enforce.  Eventually, there literally will be a way to duplicate a paperback by plugging your ereader into your home Espresso Book Machine (or something), so there’s no way to stop the sharing process, and information is meant to be shared anyway.  That goes back to the necessity of there being a new revenue source and with such a huge amount of competition, it’s pretty much a cold fact of life that there’s less money to be had.

It’s also a cold fact that I’m advocating for a system that will help me go broke – self-publishing diluting the field with a bunch of books, making it all that more unlikely that someone will buy mine.  But if you’re a writer, profit is hardly the first motive, it’s self-expression and reaching people.  On that front, things are getting better.