Kindle Direct Publishing empowers serious authors to reach readers, build a following, make a living, and to do it on their own terms. Readers get lower prices, authors get higher royalties, and we all get a more diverse book culture (no expert gatekeepers saying “sorry but that will never work”).
— Jeff Bezos, Amazon Front Page 6/18/12
Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices.
— David Lowery, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered”
Be mindful, which is not to say wary. But be also wary. Know where your money goes, but know also it is not enough to know where. You must also know why it is going there, and you must also know how you feel about that. You must anticipate the consequences of your choices.
And you can. You can, even though it is like a list of questions at the end of the assigned reading: Why is this letter on the front page of Amazon? How does Amazon want you to perceive them, and why? Why do “lower prices” come before “higher royalties”? Why does Mr. Bezos use the word “gatekeepers,” the word “heartwarming,” the word “empowers,” the phrase “diverse book culture”? What is the long game? By the time he reaches the final sentence of the letter—“Thanks for being a customer”—are you even paying attention, any more?
How can you do anything? Maybe you want to read Flat-Out World, maybe you want to buy an album today but all of the record stores around you have gone out of business. So you turn to Amazon, and you turn to Apple, and it could be worse: at least you’re not stealing. Two weeks ago an album came out, an album that I wanted very much. I pre-ordered it from the label, as has become my habit, and the album arrived a week after the on sale date. I was annoyed, even though I did not want to be annoyed, and when I got the album I didn’t even listen to it. Not for a few days. There is nothing so dopily pliant as the consumer brain, the want-not-need, the now-faster-more.
I have mixed feelings about self-publishing. I work for a gatekeeper, a big one. I think sometimes we’re good but often needs improvement; I think overall we’re not as dumb as we look. I absolutely don’t think we should be the only game. I think only game is the most terrifying prospect of all. I love independent publishers the way many of my colleagues love independent bookstores, love their models and their agility. Self-publishing is the right choice for some people, but, self-publishing often has its heart in the right place and loyalties skewed. Lowery, again: “Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?” What is the long game? What do you want to value?
You won’t ask yourself these things always, or enough. Neither will anyone else. But I think it’s a necessary mental path. The way you once used to comparison-shop, pitting items against each other, only now you must compare your options for consumption. This may change the way you feel about those devices, this may dampen your enthusiasm for free shipping. But we’re grown-ups, you guys. We’re old enough to know how things work and we’re damn well old enough to build our lives accordingly.
My Short Reaction to Meghan’s well-written reflection on David Lowery’s well-written piece:
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
My overly long and blathering reaction:
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
If we don’t pay for art, there will be no more artists.
If we only pay for art in one place, there will be no more choice.
I do the math like this: What did I spend on music in 1996? How did I listen to music? Is that equation still balanced today?
I have to do math because there’s this: I use Spotify. I’m using Spotify right now while I work. In 1996, while I worked, I listened to the radio (somebody stop me right now if “radio = Spotify” is a false equation). Or I’d listen to a mix tape a friend made for me (“mixtape = Spotify playlist”). But the artists you REALLY loved… you’d never just wait to hear their song on the radio. You’d take your hard-earned pennies (or your parents’) to the record store and buy the album yourself. You did that with the artists you loved. The money I spent on Blur and My Bloody Valentine… mind-blowing. To own a taped copy of their albums would have been ridiculous.
And so it is today. What I spend now on music is roughly the equivalent to what I would have spent back in 1996. I don’t buy every single album that I “hear on the radio,” but I do buy the ones I want to hear multiple times. In fact, just now I starred a fourth song on the Kindness album on Spotify, and so it goes on the list of albums I’ll look for in the new vinyl* section next time I’m in Shake It. I buy Kurt Vile’s albums, the Alex Chilton reissue, Field Music, Wild Flag. I buy the music of the artists I want to be around touring in a few years, and I buy them from the local record store, or (in the case of overseas albums) directly from the label.
Same with books: I use the library. But I also I buy the books I love and want to keep from my local bookstore. (I also buy books from the book warehouse that supports the public library.) I’ve pretty much stopped buying Kindle books altogether; if I want an ebook, I’ll wait for it at the library, or buy it through a small ebook publisher. We’ll see how long this lasts. But I’m trying to at least be conscious of those decisions.
That’s what it’s about: making a conscious decision to support the artists you want to exist, the ones you want to survive this wild west. We’re small-scale patrons. You give a little extra to them, what you can spare, and keep your ears and eyes peeled in the great wild landscape for the next ones you want to support.
Seriously. This is important stuff.
*Format is key. I’ll never be sentimental about the CD, and while I’ll buy it if it’s an artist I want to support and it’s the only format available, I’d rather have the vinyl. I’ll buy vinyl until the cows come home. I’m not trying to be hip: this is just the format that induces the most love for music in me. Also, I bought the Murakami box set for 1Q84 -even though I could have tried to wangle a copy for free - because it’s beautiful. I want to support that.