Mark Waid’s speech and the Napsterization of comics
Mark Waid’s planned Harvey speech on copyright, piracy, digital distribution, and the like is now posted at CBR. Please note that this is his Platonic ideal speech, not what I heard in the room– as I recall it and he himself noted, the speech he gave was significantly, shall we say, rougher. Sadly, no one has posted an actual transcript or video yet, which is a shame as I think that may have been even more important. (And yes, I have a lead on a copy.)
A while back, I wrote about a meeting I had with DC Legal talking about comics piracy, and I talked about how comics were being Napsterized. In the light of Mark’s call to start a dialogue on these topics, I’d like to revisit that topic– sadly, five years on, the issues are still with us.
Seth Godin recently talked about what publishing should have learned from the music industry:
1) We have a fresh slate at HarperStudio. What’s your advice?
The huge opportunity for book publishers is to get unstuck. You’re not in the printing business. The life and death of trees is not your concern. You’re in the business of leveraging the big ideas authors have. There are a hundred ways to do that, yet book publishers obsess about just one or two of them. Here’s the news flash: that’s not what authors care about. Authors don’t care about units sold. They care about ideas spread. If you can help them do that, we’re delighted to share our profits with you. But one (broken) sales channel–bookstores–and one broken model (guaranteed sale of slow-to-market books) is not the way to get there. If you free yourself up enough to throw that out, you’ll figure out dozens of ways to leverage and spread and profit from ideas worth spreading.
2) If everything is free, how is anyone going to make any money?
First, the market and the internet don’t care if you make money. That’s important to say. You have no right to make money from every development in media, and the humility that comes from approaching the market that way matters. It’s not “how can the market make me money” it’s “how can I do things for this market.” Because generally, when you do something for an audience, they repay you. The Grateful Dead made plenty of money. Tom Peters makes many millions of dollars a year giving speeches, while books are a tiny fraction of that. Barack Obama used ideas to get elected, book royalties are just a nice side effect. There are doctors and consultants who profit from spreading ideas. Novelists and musicians can make money with bespoke work and appearances and interactions. And you know what? It’s entirely likely that many people in the chain WON’T make any money. That’s okay. That’s the way change works.
3) How do you think publishers and authors could work more productively together?
Publishing is far too focused on the pub day. The event of the publication. This is a tiny drip, perhaps the least important moment in a long timeline. As soon as publishers see themselves as marketers and agents and managers and developers of content, things change.
4) What’s the most important lesson the book publishing industry can learn from the music industry?
The market doesn’t care a whit about maintaining your industry. The lesson from Napster and iTunes is that there’s even MORE music than there was before. What got hurt was Tower and the guys in the suits and the unlimited budgets for groupies and drugs. The music will keep coming. Same thing is true with books. So you can decide to hassle your readers (oh, I mean your customers) and you can decide that a book on a Kindle SHOULD cost $15 because it replaces a $15 book, and if you do, we (the readers) will just walk away. Or, you could say, “if books on the Kindle were $1, perhaps we could create a vast audience of people who buy books like candy, all the time, and read more and don’t pirate stuff cause it’s convenient and cheap…” I’m a pessimist that the book industry will learn from music. How are you betting?
So let’s think about the state of the industries– where music’s been the last few years, and where comics could be heading.
Screwed up and weakened distribution channels? Check.
High studio costs? Check.
Nearly free, widespread distribution system that the fans use? Check.
Major industry execs and creators that are either clueless about the Internet, or are years late to the party? Check.
A newly empowered bunch of creators doing it themselves and distributing online? Check, check, check.
So is there a solution? Yes, but there are some big hurdles to overcome. Start discussing it in the comment threads, and we’ll be back in a bit with more.