Performative storytelling? Author writes and edits story live online

Paul Raven @ 19-05-2010

There are lots of interesting new business models for musicians in our new digital world, because music is a performance art – if you can’t sell the sounds, you can potentially sell the experience of seeing (and hearing) the sounds being made. Writers – acolytes of that traditionally most solitary of arts – don’t really have that opportunity.

Well, perhaps they have… Booknewser mentions one Matt Bell, who is guesting at the Everyday Genius blog for a week, where he will write and edit a story in full view of the public

… or at least in the view of those members of the public who are actually interested in the creation of fiction rather than just the consumption of it, or who fancy a shot at the novelty of being allowed to contribute to the writing and editing process. And I suspect that, much as with many genre fiction short story venues, most of the interested parties will themselves be writers (aspiring or otherwise).

So don’t give up the ukelele lessons just yet, eh?


Cursor: a community-based fiction publishing business model

Paul Raven @ 13-05-2010

No idea how I managed to miss this one before, but Richard Nash – founder and former head honcho of Soft Skull Press – is starting a new publishing venture called Cursor which promises (among other things, like a strong focus on niche community-building) to do away with the exploitative life-of-the-copyright contracts with which authors are traditionally saddled [via Damien Walter]:

… the tweak is pretty radical. It’s not really a tweak at all, it’s a complete break with publishing norms. […]

No more life-of-the-copyright contracts.

Instead: three year contracts.

Yup, from a contract that locks you in till seventy years after you’re dead, to a three year contract. Renewable annually thereafter. Which means after three years you can walk. Or stay, but stick it to us for better royalties because there’s gonna be a movie. Or stay with us because with all the additional formats and revenue opportunities we’re creating above and beyond what any publisher has to offer, you’re making more money than ever before.

You see, most publishers have accepted they’re not going to make money publishing your book. They’re publishing your book and a bunch of other books like it so they can have exclusive rights over as much intellectual property as possible. Such that if, three or five or nine years down the road, you win the NBA, or the Orange, or there’s a movie, or an Oprah pick, your whole backlist starts to sell but they don’t have to pay you one single extra red percent in royalties.

That’s where their profits come from, from being able to NOT have to renegotiate royalties when your books start selling better than they expected.

[…]

The publishing industry is in a state of turmoil. New sales channels are arising, new formats, new terms of sale.

Authors deserve the chance to renegotiate as the industry evolves.

The number of books published has increased forty-fold since 1990, the number of readers has remained broadly static.

Authors deserve to be actively connected with readers, not just be made available to readers…

Well, you can colour me intrigued – that’s a project to keep an eye on. Much as it’s been good to see the big houses looking at new ways of doing things, their responses to the times have been as small and grudging as they think they can get away with (e.g. Orbit’s digital short story publishing plan); Nash’s decision to empower the creators first and foremost seems to stand in stark contrast to the blanket rights options I keep reading about (which seem to be a literary echo of the infamous “360 deals” recently made in the upper earnings bracket of the recording industry), and aiming for small dedicated niche communities is very much in keeping with the philosophies of the leading edge of business and marketing punditry (not to mention social media architecture).


It’s a man’s life in the global pseudocorporate cybercrime conglomerates!

Paul Raven @ 26-03-2010

PC Pro has an interesting insight into the daily goings-on at a defunct scareware corporation from Ukraine [via SlashDot], which – if it’s to be taken at face value – demonstrates how similar such blackhat operations are to many (arguably more legitimate) organisations, at least as far as flim-flamming the people they screw over and rewarding their star employees is concerned:

According to court documents, former employees and investigators, a receptionist greeted visitors at the door of the company, known as Innovative Marketing Ukraine. Communications cables lay jumbled on the floor and a small coffee maker sat on the desk of one worker.

As business boomed, the firm added a human resources department, hired an internal IT staff and built a call center to dissuade its victims from seeking credit card refunds. Employees were treated to catered holiday parties and picnics with paintball competitions.

Top performers got bonuses as young workers turned a blind eye to the harm the software was doing. “When you are just 20, you don’t think a lot about ethics,” said Maxim, a former Innovative Marketing programer who now works for a Kiev bank and asked that only his first name be used for this story. “I had a good salary and I know that most employees also had pretty good salaries.”

Hardly the two-geeks-and-a-table operation that you might expect, eh? If only that infuriating 50% of internet users would stop opening spam emails


Black Cloud Computing: botnets dwarf legitimate cloud processing providers

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2010

Via SlashDot, another reminder of the sheer scale and clout of botnets, all just sitting out there waiting to be rented, no questions asked:

the biggest legitimate cloud provider is Google, based on Joffe’s information, made up of 500,000 systems, 1 million CPUs and 1,500 gigabits per second (Gbps) of bandwdith. Amazon comes in second with 160,000 systems, 320,000 CPUs and 400 Gbps of bandwidth, while Rackspace offers 65,000 systems, 130,000 CPUs and 300 Gbps.

[…]

… their capacity pales to that of the biggest cloud on the planet, the network of computers controlled by the Conficker computer worm. Conficker controls 6.4 million computer systems in 230 countries at 230 top level domains globally, more than 18 million CPUs and 28 terabits per second of bandwidth…

Who says cloud computing will never scale, eh? Added bonus: some forms of hacking may be illegal, but that won’t necessarily stop the US Secret Service from payrolling you to the tune of $75k a year for your work. Guess I should have spent more time programming my Vic20 than reading novels…


Cash for crime: monetizing anonymous street-art

Paul Raven @ 19-03-2010

Sweeping maid stencil graffiti by BanksyPity poor Banksy for a moment. There can surely be no better icon of the noughties Zeitgeist in urban art… but how to convert that incredible reputation and kudos into decimal places that will pay the rent? Banksy and his street-art contemporaries are trapped by their medium, because it’s hard to sell off your work when it happens to adorn a fundamental structural component of a building that belongs to someone else. And harder still when any random guy with a sci-fi webzine can freely republish a CC-licensed photograph taken by someone else that just happens to feature your work… oh, Monsieur Derrida, what have we done? [photo by unusualimage, art by Banksy, wall by uncredited building contractor]

If you’re thinking “well, I’m not sure money was Banksy’s motive”, then bravo – and I’m inclined to agree, given how hard he’s worked to stay anonymous (and how easy it would be for him to coast to fame on a brief cash-in and flee once the tide turned). But not so, perhaps, for the hordes of his imitators, and the other career street-artists who first rose to visibility and pseudo-respectability in the wake of the mainstreaming of hip-hop culture, and other creators whose work inhabits the interstices of law; whatever you may think of their methods, motives and legal transgressions, these are real artists doing real work… and they want to make a buck from it, too.

They face a similar problem to that of musicians in the internet age, in that they can’t control the distribution of their actual creation (albeit for very different reasons – musicians suffer from the economics of superabundance, while street artists are at the mercy of a type of scarcity), and so similar business models apply – you sell emphemera and scarce goods connected to the work rather than the work itself. For a street artist, that’s posters and prints, maybe clothing… whatever you can come up with, really.

Seems obvious enough… but unlike musicians, street artists (or at least the ones with any common sense) are obliged to remain anonymous lest they be prosecuted for vandalism. So putting up a URL to your webstore is a bit of a no-no… if the council are willing to email concert promoters who flypost in order to serve notices of prosecution (and believe me, they are), the anti-graff office will be all over your WHOIS records and server logs like a rash once you’ve got a profile big enough for people to want to buy your stuff. What you need is a middle-man who’ll collect your takings and pass them on, but who won’t blow your cover to The Suits.

There’s an old dawn-times saw about the internet that says it has a tendency to destroy middlemen, but if anything, the opposite seems to be true – the internet enables at least as many new middlemen business models as it destroys. Sure, it gives everyone with access to it an unprecedented ability to communicate directly with most of the world, but who has the time to do that if they’re busy writing novels, recording albums, weaving anatomically-correct crochet models of mammalian brainstems, or sleeping late so they can prowl the city streets at 4am with some stencils, a balaclava and a carry-all full of Krylon? You’re too busy creating your work to market it, so you let someone else handle that side of things for you, and give them a cut of the take for the privilege.

What other forms of work – more legal, or less – could benefit from this sort of anonymous clearing house/stock exchange system? Or are middlemen only flourishing temporarily in this frontier-esque era because the tools to accomplish the necessary tasks aren’t easy for newcomers to get to grips with?


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