Tag Archives: free

Freeconomics and Futurismic

In lieu of anything more substantial for the time being*, anyone wanting to know where I’m coming from with my plans for Futurismic would do well to read Chris Anderson‘s piece at Wired about the economics of free:

“From the consumer’s perspective, though, there is a huge difference between cheap and free. Give a product away and it can go viral. Charge a single cent for it and you’re in an entirely different business, one of clawing and scratching for every customer. The psychology of “free” is powerful indeed, as any marketer will tell you.

This difference between cheap and free is what venture capitalist Josh Kopelman calls the “penny gap.” People think demand is elastic and that volume falls in a straight line as price rises, but the truth is that zero is one market and any other price is another. In many cases, that’s the difference between a great market and none at all.

The huge psychological gap between “almost zero” and “zero” is why micropayments failed. It’s why Google doesn’t show up on your credit card. It’s why modern Web companies don’t charge their users anything. And it’s why Yahoo gives away disk drive space. The question of infinite storage was not if but when. The winners made their stuff free first.”

Actually, I think everyone should read that article whether they’re interested in Futurismic or not. But it explains why Futurismic will never have a pay-wall, for a start.

And it’s probably too much to hope for, but I hope lots of musicians who up till now have been chasing after a record label to sign them up and make them famous will take note of this bit:

“On a busy corner in São Paulo, Brazil, street vendors pitch the latest “tecnobrega” CDs, including one by a hot band called Banda Calypso. Like CDs from most street vendors, these did not come from a record label. But neither are they illicit. They came directly from the band. Calypso distributes masters of its CDs and CD liner art to street vendor networks in towns it plans to tour, with full agreement that the vendors will copy the CDs, sell them, and keep all the money. That’s OK, because selling discs isn’t Calypso’s main source of income. The band is really in the performance business — and business is good. Traveling from town to town this way, preceded by a wave of supercheap CDs, Calypso has filled its shows and paid for a private jet.

The vendors generate literal street cred in each town Calypso visits, and its omnipresence in the urban soundscape means that it gets huge crowds to its rave/dj/concert events. Free music is just publicity for a far more lucrative tour business. Nobody thinks of this as piracy.”

OK, back to the grindstone – this week is one of those crunch points where everything peaks at once. Which makes it all the more frustrating that I appear to have picked up some kind of minor illness from PicoCon**. Selah.


[ * Busy. Sorry. Unavoidable. Your patience is appreciated. ]

[** It’s OK, Farah, I forgive you – I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather catch an illness from. 😉 ]

Norman Spinrad freewares his latest unpublished novel

For those of you who don’t follow Warren Ellis’s blog*, I’ll pass on the news that the redoubtable Norman Spinrad has decided to release his latest and as-yet-unpublished novel, Osama The Gun, as free-to-read sections online. [At time of posting, that link is giving a 503 error thanks to the inevitable Ellis-readership Zerg-rush, so bookmark it and try again later.]

Apparently, Spinrad believes that he can’t get the novel published because of its political content. That fact, combined with the title, is certainly enough to pique my interest.

I think the greatest grin-inducer of this story is the idea of a former SFWA president cheerfully putting his work up on Scribd … 🙂


[* Yes, I know, the body-mod posts can be a bit frightening, even to a body-modder of sorts, but still …]

What can writers learn from Radiohead?

The news that UK band Radiohead have chosen to release their new album independently of record label support using an ‘honour box’ pricing scheme has set the internet alight. Is this a phenomenon that writers of fiction should be paying close attention to?

Thom Yorke of Radiohead

Lucky

The standard first response to this story has been “oh, but Radiohead are big enough (and rich enough) to be able to do this and not lose out financially.” That’s true enough, but the same model will (and indeed already does) still work for smaller artists.

The only overheads Radiohead have on that album is the money it cost to record and master it. No duplication, no distribution, no advertising, and no middlemen raking out the lion’s share of the revenue – which, believe it or not, shows signs of being quite considerable already, despite the fact that the option to get the download for free was available with the band’s blessing.

Now, granted, Radiohead have a strong brand already. None of the local bands in my town are going to make the same amount of news (or money) by releasing an album in the same way, because not enough people know who they are. But all bands make more money from touring (and selling merchandise at the same time) than they do from records, be they big or small.

Nice dream?

What Radiohead (and Prince, and others) have realised is that in a world where it’s impossible to stop people passing your music from person to person, you might as well accept it and use it to your advantage – let your music be a loss-leader advert for your other services, which in the case of musicians is live performances. If you can make some money back on the recordings, all well and good – and if you treat your fans with respect, they’ll be more willing to pay you.

So what does this mean for writers of fiction? Well, the publishing industry is not identical to the music industry, but there are similarities – especially when you look at the “play it safe” approach to developing new talent, leading to bookshops full of more of the same.

The big difference is that the “book experience” isn’t quite so readily reproduced electronically, and it will be some time before it can be, for various reasons. In other words, I’m not suggesting that fiction writers should abandon all desire to be published as novelists. But what I am suggesting is that new writers (and old ones) should be giving away snippets to build up their reputations and create a market for themselves.

No surprises

Publishers, as much as they may be sincerely interested in bringing great writing into the public eye, have a bottom line to look after. I don’t think it’s over cynical of me to suggest that, if given the choice between two debut novels of equal quality, a publisher is going to feel better about taking the gamble on the author whose name turns up more often in blogs, forums and webzines. That author has done part of the publisher’s job for them; he or she has demonstrated not just a competence at writing, but the will and drive to get out there and sell themselves.

Of course, I’m largely preaching to the converted here. But there’s still plenty of misunderstanding about these issues, particularly from the old guard of publishers and authors – witness the SFWA/Scribd spat, which I believe to have been done with the best of intentions, but on the basis of a decades-old understanding of the writer’s place in the modern market.

Optimistic

And, much as I hoped and called for (but am not taking any credit for), the genre scene is adapting to the new economics. Much as in music, it’s the fringe cultures that can afford to try out new models, because their communities are bound by loyalty and a sense of identity, and because the artists are going to keep on creating even if they can’t make much money out of it.

Hence the ongoing short fiction revolution – I was absolutely stoked to catch the news that Fantasy Magazine is giving up dead-tree magazine publishing, and moving instead to a weekly free-to-read online magazine model with occasional printed anthologies … and they’re increasing their per-word price for fiction at the same time!

Anyone can play guitar

So, what can writers learn from Radiohead? They can learn that things are changing, and where the big boys lead, they shouldn’t be afraid to follow.

OK, so you’re not Charlie Stross or Cory Doctorow – the Radioheads of sf, if I might mangle the metaphor – but Stross and Doctorow are breaking the trail ahead of you, making it progressively easier to follow in their wake.

Radiohead’s best advert for themselves is their music. As a writer, yours is your writing. So set it free – if people want to pass it around on your behalf, they’re doing you a favour.

Winning Mars – Jason Stoddard is giving it away

As already noted at T3Aspace and reported by Gareth L. Powell, Jason Stoddard has decided to release an entire unpublished novel for free under a Creative Commons licence. Winning Mars is an expansion of the novella by the same name that appeared in Interzone #196.

Winning Mars by Jason Stoddard

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Jason and I are friends, that he helped me out by building my concrete compound of doom in Second Life for me (and made a fine job of it too), and that I may have started this habit by convincing him to release his short story “Fermi Packet” in a similar fashion.

But in case you’re thinking that means you should take my recommendation with a pinch of salt, bear in mind that as well as being published in Interzone (more than once), he’s also sold short stories to Futurismic, Talebones, Darker Matter and Strange Horizons, among others.

What I’m trying to say is that this guy writes great science fiction, and that Winning Mars will be well worth your time. At this price (you know, like, free), how could it not be? All he asks is that you let him know what you though of it after you’ve read it, positive or negative.

So, what are you waiting for? Download the PDF of Winning Mars now, while stocks last!

[Cross-posted to Futurismic]

Author interviews and other good stuff to read

Futurismic is currently in redevelopment, having a new engine fitted … two evenings without posting to it, and I feel a peculiar absence. Blogging definitely has addictive properties.

So, in the interim, I’ll round up a batch of good stuff for sf heads to read on the web and post them here instead.

Kim Stanley Robinson on climate change

The man behind the much lauded Mars Trilogy (which I’ve still never read), Kim Robinson talks about climate change issues at Wired, in the context of his latest novel, Sixty Days and Counting.

Watts, MacLeod, McAuley and Slonczewski on science fiction and the biosciences

Thanks to Peter Watts, we can read [warning – PDF] a group discussion interview from Nature magazine where he, Ken MacLeod, Paul McAuley and Joan Slonczewski talk about their writing, the biological sciences, and the connections between the two.

There is apparently a longer and unexpurgated online version to come, reached by the URL at the end of the piece, but it doesn’t appear to be live yet.

(Special bonus material! Ken MacLeod is not too worried about doctors who think they can be terrorists. It’s the engineers we should be looking out for.)

Lewis Shiner gives it away

A little late to the pixel-stained revolution, but very welcome nonetheless, is Lewis Shiner’s decision to release all of his short fiction online under a Creative Commons licence. Yes, all of it, along with a manifesto about the importance of short fiction for developing one’s writing – and for cultivating readers, too.

I must confess to not having read any Shiner before, but his is a name I’ve had recommended to me countless times. Now I have no excuse, except the old ‘lack of time’ saw. Thanks to the omniprescient BoingBoing for the tip-off.

Happy reading!