Supporting Creative People

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on March 28, 2016.

Authors get tired of hearing from the Information Wants To Be Free (IWTBF) crowd who thinks it’s terrible that they charge for their books. Somehow, authors and other creative people are supposed to exist by taking sustenance from the air. There is an interesting discussion of the topic at Should Information Be Free? in which the author says the information should be free from the perspective of everyone getting to use it, but that the people who write and print books should still get paid. Obviously, if I didn’t want to freely share information with others, I wouldn’t have created this blog and not charged for it. The point is, when someone steals Intellectual Property (IP), the person who created it isn’t being supported.

I work really hard to support my readers and so do many other authors. In fact, most creative people are in creative trades because they like to communicate with others using a variety of methods. The simplest goal is to provide something of intangible value to others—be it a painting, sculpture, dance, music, or writing. It’s well known that creative people are often underpaid (hence the cliché, starving artist). Because the starving artist (and most of them truly are starving) makes little money, it’s important that people do support them whenever possible. That’s why the piracy of IP is such a problem. IP theft has become a serious enough problem that we’re beginning to lose many good creative people simply because they no longer have enough money coming in to make a living.

The problem is that many people would support the creative people whose IP they use, but they don’t really understand that they need to pay for this material. For example, there are many sites online now that offer my books free of charge. Just viewing the site doesn’t provide a clue that anyone is stealing anything. These sites have a clean appearance and simply offer IP in the form of downloadable music, books, and so on. In fact, many of these sites are fully searchable. The reasons that someone would do something like this varies, but it pays to employ some critical thinking when you see something free that possibly looks a bit too good to be true. Many people download viruses, spyware, and other sorts of malware along with their free download. In the long run, it’s actually less expensive to buy the IP, than to have a computer compromised by some of the crud that comes with these free downloads.

For the record, my books are never free. You need to pay for your copy of my book in order to support the various things of value that I provide to you as a reader, including this free blog. It isn’t my goal to become rich—if that were my goal, I’d be in some other line of work (believe me when I say authors aren’t paid particularly well), but I do need to make enough to pay my expenses, just as you do. Even though I know many people do download my books free, I still support everyone that I can with good advice on how to get the most from the books I write. To me, coming in each day and working with all of you is one of the benefits of being an author. I truly do want people to use my books to get ahead in life. If you’d like to discuss the effects of piracy on you as a consumer of IP, please write me at [email protected].

Piracy and the Reader

There are many articles written about the effects of piracy—the stealing of intellectual property—on artists and the businesses that work with them. The situation has gotten so out of hand that some people don’t even realize they’re stealing anything. I’ve talked with any number of people who admit to using a free copy of one of my books. When I point out that neither my publisher nor I have issued free copies of anything, they look a bit surprised. After all, why would Joe or Sally give them stolen property, or why would a Web site say material is free when it actually isn’t? It’s human nature to attempt to get everything for the lowest possible price, with free being the best price of all. Some people even think it’s simply wrong to pay for intellectual material; that it should be freely available to everyone. The reason products such as books have been successful so far is that the source of the material has been controlled through the use of paper media. The Internet has changed all that. As described in “Authors and Book Piracy” the losses from piracy to content owners are immense—on the order of $58 billion every year.

I was recently pointed to an article entitled, “The Slow Death of the American Author” by several people. In this case, we’re not talking about outright theft of intellectual property. The party in question is importing foreign copies of books and reselling them to students over eBay at a reduced cost. Foreign editions of books often sell for less for simple reasons, such as the use of lower quality materials and sweat shop labor. In some cases, it boils down to the domestic publisher not having a presence in that country and making a deal with a publisher in another country to distribute the book there at a reduced cost in order to make the book more widely available, but with the limitation that distribution will be kept to that country. There are also situations where a foreign entity has simply stolen the book content and printed copies without paying anyone. The point is that these foreign editions usually end up putting little or no money in the pocket of the author that produced the work and the author is already hard pressed to earn a living from domestic sales.

These and other stories simply point out what we have all known for a long time—eventually it will become impossible for artists of all stripes, including authors of technical books, to make a living through the expression of their artistic skill given the current environment. Of course, I’ll continue to write, as will many other people, but what does this change in the business environment really mean to the reader? No one has really thought about it. At least, I haven’t read any articles by anyone who has contemplated what happens to the people who consume intellectual property as part of their daily lives when the quantity or quality of that material is reduced because the practitioner of the required art must do something different in order to eat.

For some artists, such as musicians, it means a change in business plan. Many more musicians look to concerts or other activities to make a living today given that their recorded music earnings have dropped dramatically. A few artists, such as painters and sculptors, are pretty much unaffected by digital media and will continue working as before. However, for authors such as myself, it may mean a change in occupation. My technical writing could go from something I do for a living to something I do for pleasure when I have leisure time (which probably won’t be very often). There will likely be people who will continue to have leisure time to write, but the overall effect of piracy will be a reduction in both quality and quantity of material available to readers in technical fields. Technical writing pays poorly. The people who actually have the knowledge required to do a good job usually have far better things to do with their time than to write material that someone else will simply steal.

I’m actually looking at a number of ways to stay in business—much as smart musicians have done. What will likely occur in my case is that I’ll find a new way to present my ideas in a form that isn’t quite so easy to pirate or uses piracy in some way to actually earn money. You may see my site filled with ads, for example, or I may put a stronger emphasis on new ways of presenting information, such as interactive books. The idea is that I’m looking for ways to get around the whole issue of piracy because I know there is no way to put the genie back into the bottle at this point and no amount of legislation will cause people to change their basic nature. However, I do appreciate any support you can provide in the meantime through the purchase of my books from locations such as Amazon and by not sharing your digital copies with others.

Of course, I’m always looking for your input. If you have read my blog for a while, you know that I’m in this business because I genuinely enjoy helping others, so it’s important to me to continue serving your needs in whatever way I can. I have already received a few interesting ideas from readers on how to turn this whole situation around, but I can always use more. Given that the publishing industry is slowly dying and that I must somehow continue to pay my bills, how would you approach the problem? Let me know your ideas at [email protected].


How the Internet Affects the Information You Receive

For many years now (centuries, in fact) professional authors, editors, and production staff have worked hard to provide you, the reader, with high-quality material. It isn’t always error free (see Errors in Writing), but these paid professionals do their best to assure the material you get is of the best possible quality. The Internet has changed all that. Today, anyone can write anything and publish it online. Search engines ensure that people can find the information, and you now have the option of reading information that has never been verified, edited, or checked in any way for accuracy or fitness of purpose. We have traded quality for quantity.

I’ve realized that there was a problem for a long time now. Sales of articles, white papers, books, and other forms of writing have declined for all authors for quite some time because people feel they shouldn’t have to pay for something they can obtain free. It’s true, a bargain is always appealing no matter what that bargain might be. However, there is a hidden price for this free material and I’m also pleased to find that some media sources are trying to open a forum for discussing the costs of free writing. The latest article I’ve read on the topic, “Today’s Internet: All the fake news that’s fit to publish,” discusses the topic in clear terms. I strongly encourage everyone to read it because the article does accurately describe the cost to you, as a reader, of the free information available online.

Before the e-mails start popping up in my inbox, yes, I do have a vested interest in convincing you that buying a book is superior to obtaining the information online. After all, I’ve written 90 books to date and I’m currently engaged in writing book 91. It would be remiss of me not to mention that your purchase does help me pay my mortgage and electrical bill. However, my goal in writing this piece is not to line my pockets—I’m truly interested in helping you obtain the best information possible because you need good information to make good decisions. In fact, look at my past blog posts and you’ll find that the quality of your reading experience has always been my prime consideration. I write books because I enjoy writing and knowing that my writing helps people. There are other ways I could earn a living (such as consulting) that would put far more money in my pocket than writing does.

There is always going to be a certain amount of angst over buying something that you can possibly get free. People often make house and auto repairs themselves or ask Jane down the street to do it for them to avoid paying a professional to perform the task. Likewise, you have the option of using the free online sources of information to avoid paying professional authors to obtain, verify, and write that information for you. The quality of the material you receive will generally reflect the source that you obtain it from. Of course, there are people who do write quality material online and provide it to you free (in many cases, through the support of a vendor or organization). The point is that you need to find an information source you can trust in order to use that information to make decisions or learn new skills.

One additional benefit of relying on a professional author that you don’t obtain with an Internet source is support. Most professional authors will post addenda, answer questions, and provide value-added materials, much as I do in this blog, as part of publisher-supported sites, and through e-mail. When working with an Internet author, questions are often ignored and remain unanswered years after they’re asked. The price you pay for a book or other professionally written material includes support that you probably won’t get from other sources. As with anything in life, you must consider the tradeoffs of the decisions you make.

How do you feel about the quality of information you receive from the Internet? Do you see any benefit at all from buying books written by a professional? As I seek better ways to serve your needs, the answers to these questions are becoming increasingly important to me. Let me know your thoughts on the topic at [email protected].