Get paid or give it away?

April 6, 2013 § 6 Comments

Photo by Larrie Knights

Photo by Larrie Knights

For several hundred years, writing has been a job. That is, a writer wrote something, and someone paid to read or perform it. Sometimes, people paid writers before they wrote anything. In olden days, those people were called “patrons.” Today, they’re called Kickstarter contributors.

But there’s a new model of publishing that’s emerged in the last year or two, or perhaps it’s been around longer and is just now gaining the spotlight. In this model, you write something — a song, a play, a short story, a novel — and then give it away, trusting your readers to pay when they read it. It’s the “leap and the net will appear” philosophy applied to the writing biz.

The latest take on this new model is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s venture, HitRECord:

Says Gordon-Levitt:

BIG NEWS: We’re gonna be on TV!
“Hit RECord on TV” is gonna be a new kind of variety show. I’ll host the show and also direct our global online community to create short films, live performances, music, animation, conversation, and of course, more! Each episode will be focused on a different theme. And like always, anybody with an internet connection is invited to contribute.

Amazon Studios is a similar creature. You write a screenplay or teleplay, upload it, and let others read it for free in the hopes that someone will deem it worthy of making into a movie or TV show. I have an Amazon Studios account, and actually got a little recognition at first. I thought about chucking novel writing for scripts as a result, but the more I learned about Hollywood, the less I wanted to be a part of it. Besides, I love books more than I love movies, which means I want to make books more than I want to make movies. Simple math, in my mind.

But I come back to the idea of giving it away, of leaping and waiting for the net to appear, and it continues to appeal to me. John Scalzi certainly found success that way; he published Old Man’s War as a serial novel on his blog for free, posting a chapter a day and offering the complete book for $1.50 “if someone was impatient.” He landed a traditional publishing deal a month after he started giving away his novel, and now it’s a classic.

So there’s evidence that it works, this whole idea of giving it away. But it’s unnerving, isn’t it? It is to me. I mean, my net gain from my Amazon Studios experience was a hat, a t-shirt, and a mug. Not exactly filthy lucre, and certainly nothing I can pay the mortgage with. So I’m not sure why I feel like it’s such a cool idea, but I do.

Would you give your work away, trusting your audience to pay for it as they could?

Dave Borcherding


§ 6 Responses to Get paid or give it away?

  • argolich says:

    Man I just don’t know. I love to read….and on Kindle I’ve bought about 10 books so far from “self published” folk….but I’ve never downloaded a book for free and opted to “Pay if it was good”….not cuz I’m cheap….but cuz I’m poor, work a lot and crave entertainment. I figure there are a lot of folk just like me who will pay in advance 3 bucks for a good novel….but might “forget” to pay for it after the fact if they liked it……or WORSE….not pay and say they didn’t like it when they really did. Know what I mean? Just a thought. My half pfennig. I’m not a learned man but I get inklings and this is one. Getting paid something is better than not getting paid at all.

    • And yet writers — and musicians and filmmakers — are all having success doing it this way. Granted, all of them (that I’m aware of) were successful before they started giving their work away, so that may be the key. Or it may be that people are more generous than we give them credit for.

  • indytony says:

    Intriguing concept.

    I wouldn’t mind providing my stories at no cost to the readers and fleecing the corporate world for sponsorship. I’ve been reading college newspapers from 1963 (for a story) and there were short stories (the equivalent of flash fiction) where the characters smoked Marlboro cigarettes. It was actually clever advertising.

    I think Hollywood calls this “product placement”. Why couldn’t it work for writing like it does for movies? I have a Walmart scene in a work-in-progress and I’m thinking about giving them a call.

    • Coincidentally, I’m reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days right now. Something in it caused me to look up the history of it, and I found that Verne had published it as a serial. The first chapter was published on the day Phileas Fogg’s journey begins, and each chapter was published thereafter on the date the chapter occurs. This led some readers to think it was news and not serialized fiction. It became such a sensation that Verne was approached by several shipping companies and such with offers of money should he write them into the story. There’s no evidence that he accepted, but some of the descriptions of the vessels on which Fogg travels, as well as their routes, are unusually detailed and complimentary. So perhaps Jules Verne engaged in a little product placement!

  • […] I spotted this article about the new trend toward serial novels over on the Wall Street Journal and thought it worth sharing, since it goes hand in hand with what I talked about in my last post. […]

  • […] I’ve just read and thought it worth sharing, since I’ve kind of been hung up on the changing landscape of publishing. Andrews […]

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