Seth Godin is at it again, making a big splash across the Internet. And this time it’s about artists’ right to expect pay for their work, particularly writers.
In an interview with Digital Book World, Godin said,
“Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? … Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage.”
Yeah, that stings.
But the thing is, he’s right.
Now, hold up. Don’t panic yet, creatives. What he’s saying actually isn’t all that radical. In fact, it’s good news for us.
First off, this is nothing new.
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has been singing this tune for a while, as she explained in her blog post today in response to the Godin buzz. And she’s not the only one. All sorts of agents and other publishing experts have been recommending exactly this kind of approach to writers for years as a great way to build a platform.
And actually, if there ever was a good example of how giving content away for free can work in your favor, it’s Godin himself: “I gave hundreds of speeches before I got paid to write one. I’ve written more than 4000 blog posts for free.” Obviously, it’s paid off big time for him.
You gotta put in the time up front to connect with your audience and show them you have something of value to offer.
So how is this good news?
Here’s the thing. Godin’s point isn’t that writing, or any form of art, doesn’t have value. It’s simply that, as Godin says, “When anyone can publish an ebook, anyone will.” The future will be flooded with the free work of amateurs.
The publishing business model is based on scarcity. Up until very recently, it worked. But as soon as someone could type a story and post it on their blog 30 seconds later, that model broke. The current situation is nothing but a very necessary shift in the business model.
This is where the good news starts.
In a world filled with mediocre content, people are going to become more reliant than ever before on experts to help them filter out the bad content from the good.
It’s called information overload, people. We’ve all been treading against it for years. There’s too much content and not enough time. It’s not worth it to filter through every single author yourself to figure out which are worth your time. Instead we find experts with similar tastes who can do the sorting for us. Literary agents and publishing imprints and literary sites and reviewers all have the potential to serve in this capacity.
So good news item number one: the publishing business model changing, but publishers and others in the publishing industry still have a lot to contribute. This is a shift, not a collapse.
And there’s more.
Even Godin admits that, despite the all the change, despite all the free content and competition for attention, “the truly talented and persistent will make a great living.” In the past, writers were limited by the capacity of their publishers–the size and prosperity of publishers had a significant, direct effect on writers’ ability to get in front of readers.
That’s not true anymore.
The good news is that, being a creative person, you can find your own creative approach to getting your content out there–on your terms. The Internet has fractured a mass audience into endless niche pockets. You don’t have to reach everyone, you just have to reach the right people. You can build your own tribe.
Take Godin’s own example–an author with a loyal following of just a thousand people, willing to pay $100 a year to read a series by that author, would be sitting pretty.
And this is only one possibility. You can test out any new model you can dream up.
So the good news? The old model that limited which authors could reach readers, and how authors reached readers is dissolving–and we can all throw in our two cents help shape what emerges from the ashes.