Moss Rock Review – May 2012

Tell it to the world – and do it your way

In today’s rapidly-changing marketplace, the idea of an “author” (of books) is rapidly evolving into a broader concept of being a “storyteller.” A creator no longer needs to be limited by conventional practices, nor does he or she need the approval and financing of industry gatekeepers. If you have a story burning inside you – something that you simply yearn to tell, whether it is fictional or how-to, philosophical or entertaining, entrepreneurial or philanthropic – get ready to step up.

Traditionally, a story had to fit into rigid categories. It was either to be a magazine article or printed book, a radio or TV broadcast, or maybe a film. It could become more than one (a book made into a movie) but there were few examples of anything in between these categories. Books never had videos, radio didn’t show pictures. Everything had an expected length. Even if the creator’s purpose and message didn’t fit well, the content was shoehorned into a category.

To have your work considered meant appealing to corporate gatekeepers judging the economic viability of each potential venture. Production and distribution costs were high, so creative merit seldom trumped the financial imperative to make a profit. Over 99% of proposals were rejected.

Delightfully for creators (though terrifying for the publishing houses and networks), the situation is turning on its head. With the advent of “apps”, product categories are now being defined by each project. A story that would benefit from interaction, video, narration, music, location tracking, frequent updates, etc. can have these features and more in an iPad book app. Production costs have dropped drastically in this digital era, while new distribution channels are open to independent producers, making those traditional gatekeepers less relevant. Add the new phenomenon of crowd-funding, and we’re starting to witness an explosive release of pent-up creativity.

To illustrate the scale of these shift, Apple reports that over 25 billion apps have been sold (“downloaded”) for its iPhones and iPads, and stories make up many billions of those. Apple just sold another 11 million iPads last quarter. At this rate, within 2 years, 1 in 3 Americans will own one, reaching a tipping point beyond which few printed-on-paper book projects will be economically viable for conventional publishers. Self-publishing to the iBookstore and appstore is welcomed by Apple (and at Google and Amazon’s app stores), creating a vast, level playing field with nearly free distribution. Apple takes a 30% cut of the retail price, which is impressively small compared to 55% taken by distributors and retailers for printed books, plus ebooks and apps have no printing or shipping costs.

Storytellers are seizing the opportunities: fully 1/4 of fiction e-books sold in the UK are from self-published writers bypassing the conventional publishing houses (source: TheBookseller.com). The percentage is likely higher in North America.

Meanwhile costs have tumbled so a previous budget of $40,000+ to publish a printed book has dropped to $5k for a top-notch print-on-demand edition. (Free options exist for the tech-savvy.) An ebook edition costs nil to $500. Develop an iPad app, all singing and dancing, for $20k to $30k. If you can’t personally finance the venture, “crowd-funding” is allowing storytellers to raise money from friends, fans, even complete strangers. At Kickstarter.com, over $100 million is being raised per year for creative projects, most with budgets of $5k to $15k, though author/cartoonist Rich Burlew raised $1.2 million from 14,952 backers for his book/ebook publishing project! Indiegogo.com is another effective crowd-funding site.

Storytellers: costs are down and financing alternatives exist. Almost anything is possible in terms of formats and presentations. (Musicians will be selling apps of their performances, redefining the “live album,” and indie video entertainment will also distribute through these simple, open channels.) Is it time to dust off, even embellish, your dreams of presenting your message to the world?

Sadly, one local (Victoria, BC) society is stubbornly refusing to evolve with the times, and are blatantly discriminating against hundreds of local independent writers. To add insult to injury, this group is merrily using our municipal tax dollars to do this. The Victoria Book Prize Society exists expressly to administer awards for “literary merit” to writers living in the CRD. Yet the directors refuse to allow any self-published book to be entered. To tell the City how you feel about this, email Councillors@victoria.ca and Mayor@victoria.ca.

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