Paul’s Downtime pt2

Posted on 24/11/2011 by

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Kindle burn baby!A Grand Theory of eBooks

So I was talking about ebook ‘performance’ and pub/author invisibility earlier, now let’s add in Kathryn Rusch’s article (go have a look, it’s interesting… about traditional publishers making more money via e-publishing than from print.) The gist of it is that while book stores are going down, and it’s only the less profitable e-sales that’re going up, publisher’s profit margins are increased over last year!

Part of this is the joke that has always been played on publishers: returns. That meant that in order to sell one print book, they had to print two and take a loss on the one of them. See how this is different in the ebook world? Sure.

But primarily she is talking about the change in the distribution of income streams from ebook as subsidary right (50% of cover price) to plain old rights (~25% of publisher’s net.) The upshot is that while the overall pot of money being earned may be the same (or slightly smaller), the expected income from ‘subsidary’ ebooks has shifted, ever so slightly, in the favour of publishers from the authors (yay.)

Note her stating she has made worse deals than that, in order to leverage the publisher’s sales for her indie books. … we’ll get back to this!

So let’s look at what I meant by publishing performances. Michael Allen’s “wreader” is a wonderful term to start with: a part of hypertext theory, this is generally considered the action of a reader taking part in co-creation of a piece of hyperlinked fiction. Great (no I don’t do hypertext fiction.) Instead, I re-purpose the idea here as a kind of textual performance; where it’s the reader community who performs the reading in public. Related to Reader-response, this should form a para- and meta-textual actualisation of indeterminacies, much as a ‘hyperwork’* to the static hypertext link-network itself. Yeah, think ‘reading group,’ fanfiction and derivative works, annotations, all an integral part of the presentation of the seed text itself.

And why is this important? Because looking at other media industries, the performance events of film (cinema) and music (concerts) are the new growth areas—and particularly for the music industry, it is for the artists. This is not to say that studios aren’t getting into this with new contracts which look for a cut of what was traditionally been ceded to artists as a ‘gift,’ but the significance of this is that the ‘artist’ has to be there for this to work!

True that the idea here rests on the (w)readership being the performers of the hyperwork (book) text, but the author (and publisher) must also be a part of the performance—a performer/conductor ‘first amongst equals.’ And this is not an instance where the publisher and author can become invisible. They are integral to each instance of the reader entering the textual performance (see, I told you I was coming back to the previous post!)

And now to return to Rusch… she talks about making lesser deals to leverage her self-published works, and in fact this should work just as much for publishers as for individuals. Publishers need to leverage their backlist in order to up visibility and their branding as well, perhaps moving to a subscription-based format (like Disney’s amazing deal) and drawing authors in on an ongoing collective bargain.

Given this longterm deal, publishers paying authors an ‘embargo’ in order to gain exclusivity of performance allows for two things: it leaves the ebook rights pretty much where they are (never hope for that much more when it comes to law…), and it allows authors a security of an ongoing salary which is leveraged by publishers to heighten the worth of all their backlist. It’s a win-winner!

*Wanders away, pleased with himself…*

*Landow briefly discusses a kind of hyperwork, where he too cites Iser’sReading Process to describe a reader’s actualisation of a text via navigation of hyperlink. Perhaps my use of the term could better be called hyperwork 2.0, where linked readings display response. This still leaves the individual reader to fill the atomic textual indeterminacies, however, I feel it meets the spirit of Reader-response in a linked world view. It’s a way of performing the actualisation process in public.

First posted by Paul McLaughlan November 24th, 2011, Curtin ICT and Enabling Technologies Blog, Internet Studies

Posted in: Icky Theory, Paul