Aside from Dark Spires, the only things I have in store at the moment are copies of Clarkesworld and Salon Futura. I don’t expect this state of affairs to last. I’m actively talking to small presses and individual authors about stocking their books. In the meantime, however, let’s talk about the magazines, because I’m sure that there are some people out there who are thinking: “Charging money for something you can find free online? What an outrageous ripoff!”
Well, that’s certainly one way of looking at it. The other way is to say that it is giving you an opportunity to pay for something if you can afford to do so, because if nobody pays then it won’t keep going for long.
It helps to understand the situation better if you also read this post from The Hill, a blog about things to do with Congress, which people were linking to on Twitter today. In it Colleen Doran explains some of the bad things that are happening to comics creators right now, which she sees as a direct result of piracy: people scanning comics and posting them online for free.
There are all sorts of arguments that could be made about this, and I’d prefer it if the comment thread didn’t degenerate into a flame war about piracy. There’s not much new to be said on the issue these days. I would, however, like to make two points.
Firstly, laws are not going to stamp out piracy. Prohibition did not stop people from drinking alcohol; the “war on drugs” hasn’t stopped people smoking dope or snorting cocaine; “just say no” campaigns don’t stop teenagers from having sex. If something is possible, and it looks like fun, people will do it.
Secondly, the proposed new law that Doran is talking about is not targeting individual pirates, but rather piracy as a business. It is one thing to share your ebooks with your mates. It is quite another to make a business of pirating thousands of ebooks and making money off advertising on your web site.
So one way of looking at what is happening with online magazines is to say that we are pirating our own stuff. Given that it is inevitable that anything worth having is going to appear for free somewhere, we might as well get the traffic coming to our own sites, so that we get the ad revenue instead of the pirates.
That’s not the end of the story, however. Because what we really want to do is pay creators — writers and artists — good money for good work. Clearly not everyone can afford to pay. That may be because they are kids, because they are out of work, or because they come from poorer parts of the world where they can barely afford to get online. I’m OK with that. Salon Futura has readers in places like Vietnam, Bosnia and Egypt. I don’t know who those people are, but I’m pleased they are reading my magazine and fairly sure that they would not be doing so if they had to buy it from Amazon.
Some of you, however, can afford to pay. I’ve lived in California. People there think nothing of adding 15% to restaurant bills, or dropping a couple of bucks to a bellhop or maid in a hotel. Is it really too much to ask to pay a few dollars a month to keep the likes of Clarkesworld and Salon Futura going? Possibly it is, but now you have the choice. You don’t have to pay “too much”, but you don’t have to pay “too little” either.
Sorry if I’m banging the drum a bit here, but this is the way the world is going. If we want writers, artists, musicians and so on to continue to entertain us, we have to give them money for what they do.