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Last Week’s MM: 2014 My Blog in Review

There are a lot of Unlimited services going around these days.  I have Hulu, where I can watch a selection of unlimited shows and movies for a monthly fee.  I like to listen to IHeart radio.

When Kindle Unlimited came about, I, like many writers, were terrified.  A few months later, and it looks like our fears may have been valid.  

I haven’t been in the game long enough to be hurt by Kindle Unlimited.  In fact, a good portion of the income generated by 22 Short Scifi Stories is from borrows, ebook wise.  (Audbile makes up a good number of sales.)  But I can see the problems, and I’ve known and read about other authors who are losing a great deal of their income, as much as 75% reportedly, due to the flat rate paid out of a central pool to authors.  It’s also changing the format of books.  Where as novels used to be the industry standard, anthologies, short stories, and serials are taking it’s place.  Authors figure, “if I’ll be paid the same for 100k words as I am for 10k words, then why am I writing 100k words?”

Musicians have taken their music off of such services because it’s cutting into their income.  From what I’ve read, most musicians make their money from live shows and merchandise these days, not the music itself.

Recently, The Interview was released on demand.  That, in and of itself, isn’t unlimited.  But I worry that if you have four people watching a movie for 5.99 that would have otherwise paid $40, it will have negative consequences.  Trust me, in the short run, I’m super excited about cutting out the middle man and saving money.  I’ve read that there are more releases planned to be direct to digital.  But in the long run, what’s going to happen when the studios aren’t making the same kind of money?  I think that the quality of movies will go down.  Ground breaking effects will be a thing of the past, and the writing will get even lazier.

As far as books, this has a short term up and a long term down, as well.  In 2011 or so, self-publishing became something of a gold rush.  A lot of people began writing, publishing, and just generally churning things out to make whatever profit they cold.  This didn’t always result in great works, and continues to contribute to the idea that self-published authors are bad.  (Like I wrote about in WW: For Love or Money?)  With the gold rush over, a lot of authors are speculating that the pseduo-authors will drop out and return to whatever job-related lives they were living before.  This could mean higher quality books, and less competition.

But authors still need to make a living.  Unless you’re an outlier, selling hundreds of thousands of copies or more, authors don’t make that much to begin with.  Some best sellers still have to work day jobs.  Very few authors actually get to write full time with it as their sole source of income.  Kindle Unlimited will add to this problem.  The bad authors may go away, but so might the good ones.

Art is being devalued, all across the board.  It doesn’t matter the form, everyone is hurting.

One idea that I’ve been kicking around my head, (which will never happen, mostly because I lack the technical and business knowhow) is to produce an alternate system. Amazon seems to have things locked down, but one of their downfalls is that they accept just about anyone. They don’t really care what books are on their website, as long as there are a lot of them. And one of the most harmful elements to indies is the idea that their books are lesser than trad published: less edited, bad content, contrived… This can be true. I’ve certainly opened a book and thought, ‘yuck’. Some people publish strictly for money, and don’t care if they put out a bad product. I don’t think there are all that many doing it, but it exists.

Back to my alternative (and my apologies if something like this already exists):
A website that accepts both traditional and self-pubbed books, but only after they’ve been vetted. A panel of people would review the books to ensure that they are quality offerings. To ensure that the best are kept, and since tastes vary from person to person, readers would be encouraged (perhaps by offering a discount on their next title) to leave a review. Good or bad (constructive). And we all know, reviews sell books. Think of it as an ungamable place where readers can really impact which books are popular, based on the merit of the book. All books start as equals. (I know that people market or have fans, and those things are great. But ideally, you wouldn’t have to.) All books could either be a flat rate, or more of an audible style, where they’re not unlimited, but so much cost for so many books per month… either way, the author makes a decent, and generally agreed upon amount. Not part of a pool, but money for books sold.

It’d eliminate trying to undercut each other by pricing our books at free, or unlivable rates. It’d be writers giving the value back to their books. It’d be them standing up and saying, my book is good, it’s been vetted, and it is worth at least this much money. And customers, ideally, would trust the site to promote only quality books, and would be willing to pay for that quality.

That’s something that I’d like to see. Author’s agreeing and reclaiming their value by means of quality.

Who knows what the future holds, but Unlimited services is certainly beginning to shape it.  Will I be strong enough to stand up against it?  Will I cancel my Hulu, buy songs, and resist the urge to list my books in KU?  Probably not.  But maybe someday, and hopefully before it’s too late.