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Books Media The Almighty Buck

Should Book Authors Pursue a Patronage Model? 342

Posted by timothy
from the tip-jar-running-low dept.
blarkon writes "With ebook prices falling and some readers even unwilling to pay more than 99 cents for an ebook, some authors are starting to consider a move back to the patronage model that was successful in providing them with a living before the widespread use of copyright. Might such a model work or are the days where a midlist author can make a living off their work a relic of the 20th century?"
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Should Book Authors Pursue a Patronage Model?

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  • by sjbe (173966) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:33PM (#37648690)

    With ebook prices falling and some readers even unwilling to pay more than 99 cents for an ebook

    A lot of ebooks aren't worth even $0.99. Same with a lot of printed books. Most books are simply not going to sell well and won't command much of a price.

    some authors are starting to consider a move back to the patronage model that was successful in providing them with a living before the widespread use of copyright.

    Never been anything stopping them aside from finding a patron. Of course patrons usually tend to sponsor people with, you know, actual talent. Just because you want to be an author doesn't mean you automatically deserve to make your living doing it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209)
      Nothing you said addresses the point, which is that the pie as a whole is shrinking for authors, including reporters, and what that might mean for governance and culture.
    • by geek (5680)

      It's easier to make a living as a Navy SEAL or Olympic gymnast right now that it is as a writer. There are only some 300 full time authors out there, these are people who do nothing but write novels for a living with no side jobs, teaching jobs etc. Writers get shafted on what they earn. Unless you are JK Rowling or Stephen King of course.

      The publishers take it all. Every penny. It's far worse in the publishing world than in the music world. At least a musician can make money playing venues.

  • by thirdpoliceman (1350013) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:35PM (#37648714)
    Open Design has been running patronage projects for role playing games for many years now. There system works very well. People can pay for various levels of commitment which gives them various levels of input into the design of the adventure or world being created. I'm a big fan of their work, and it has provided Open Design with a solid customer base. This [koboldquarterly.com] is a list of recent stuff going on with them. And, here [koboldquarterly.com] is a list of their current projects. If you are interested in chatting about this process, their forums [koboldquarterly.com] are fairly active.
  • Cultural Tyranny (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:35PM (#37648720)

    Patronage was cultural tyranny in which those with money controlled what was produced and made sure that it was to their tastes rather than the creator's vision and that the political implications lined up with their (ruling class) interests.

    • by tmosley (996283) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:47PM (#37648804)
      Yeah, how dare people produce things that people want for pay!
    • by hedwards (940851)

      That really hasn't changed. If you can convince a publisher to grant you and advance on the book, it greatly increases the amount of time that most folks have to revise their books. Under the old system they'd be paid before and during the initial draft, whereas now you put in that work for free hoping to be paid. Under the old system they might cut you off, but you'd been paid up until that point and it was roughly equivalent to being fired.

      Sure, they had more control over what you produced, but under the

    • Re:Cultural Tyranny (Score:4, Interesting)

      by stephanruby (542433) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:05PM (#37648942)

      As opposed to what exactly? Our current system. Art seems to be even more watered down when you're trying to cater to thousands of people for their patronage, instead of a single one.

    • by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:10PM (#37648962)

      Patronage was cultural tyranny in which those with money controlled what was produced and made sure that it was to their tastes rather than the creator's vision and that the political implications lined up with their (ruling class) interests.

      Pop culture is tyranny too, one in which the lowest common denominator determines what crud is dumped onto the masses. Every system has its downside.

      • Ummmm... no it isn't. Although there are 20 Just Bieber stories for every story I want to read about, the fact is that i have a choice. A patronage model is quite different from what we have today.

        • Ummmm... no it isn't. Although there are 20 Just Bieber stories for every story I want to read about, the fact is that i have a choice. A patronage model is quite different from what we have today.

          What we have now is a model where a handful of big music companies are the "patrons." The Biebers of the world are hand picked, groomed and styled to fit whatever they're pushing this year. Of course manufactured music isn't new, it goes all the way back to Tinpan Alley, but we've pretty much perfected it [youtube.com]. The dumping of that stuff on the market by the companies that control most of the retail space, airtime, etc certainly does kill choice.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Patronage was cultural tyranny in which those with money controlled what was produced and made sure that it was to their tastes rather than the creator's vision and that the political implications lined up with their (ruling class) interests.

      Exactly.
      But then, so is the publishing house model we have today. Its not really a lot different.

      Both the big ebook markets, Amazon and Barnes and Noble have built self publish programs, as do a number of lesser known sites.
      These open the flood gates to a large number of authors. Some are good, some are atrocious. The world has quite enough trashy romance novels if you ask me, but it seems like every 30 something female has yet another to offer.

      But the key is no one is standing as gate keeper between the

  • Competition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by danbuter (2019760) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:39PM (#37648744)
    The problem is making your book stand out from the 1,000 other books that get published each month. It's not easy, even if you only charge 99 cents. And if 100 of those other authors are also charging 99 cents, you're pretty much screwed.
    • by icebike (68054)

      Cream rises to the top in any market.
      Release a few books for free.
      You build a following.

      Don't quit your day job just yet, the market is big enough that anything well written will eventually get attention.

      The promise of promotion is all the big publishing houses have left to offer. It may be a short-cut to popularity, but
      the price is very very high.

    • Re:Competition (Score:4, Informative)

      by xstonedogx (814876) <xstonedogx@gmail.com> on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:54PM (#37649270)

      I agree. The best horror novel ever written may be sitting on Amazon as an ebook for $0.99 right now. I'll never know, though, because it's a lot easier to just buy the next King book.

      This is exactly why the big publishing houses still hold value for both the commercial writer and the reader. For the writer, it's the marketing, patronage (read: advances), and other benefits. For the reader, it's the filtering. Because someone has to actually take a chance on the work other than the author, there is a much better signal-to-noise ratio. And since there is a bigger audience word-of-mouth works better, there are more reviews, and etc.

      Also, and this is a bit off topic but it should be said: anyone serious about making money off their work should probably stay away from self-publishing. Not only do you have all the disadvantages talked about above, but if you self-published the big publishing houses will not touch you.

      • Re:Competition (Score:4, Informative)

        by AJWM (19027) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @04:34PM (#37649952) Homepage

        Also, and this is a bit off topic but it should be said: anyone serious about making money off their work should probably stay away from self-publishing. Not only do you have all the disadvantages talked about above, but if you self-published the big publishing houses will not touch you.

        This advice is a few years out of date. Just ask Amanda Hocking. Or Larry Correia. Or John Scalzi. You just have to be good.

      • by west (39918)

        > if you self-published the big publishing houses will not touch you.

        I have to say that that is no longer true. Big houses are now looking at self-published successes (the very, very few) and offering contracts. Hard to believe, but true.

        However, if you've managed to make it as a self-published author, the mathematics is such that you may well make more money as a self-published author.

        It should be emphasized, though, that if you haven't already got a fan base, the odds of making a big success (able to

  • Certainly more than one author has put Kickstarter.com into use to provide enough funding to pay for them to write and publish a work (books, graphic novels, movies, shorts, etc.). Many of these creators have also charged for the work either as an ebook or traditional print copies. One can also choose both. There is the custom group patronage route as well, where an author like Stephen King requires some amount of donations be contributed in advance and then releases the next chapter as a free work online.

    • by dadioflex (854298)
      Arguably very few novels turn a profit. Writers write them when they get home from their real job, pouring their heart and soul, but more importantly their time into writing. Working a second job at McDs would generate a greater overall profit than writing. They do it because they enjoy it.

      The barrier to entry for writing a novel is stunningly low. Anyone can do it. Look at NaNoWriMo next month to see what I mean. Anyone who funds a writer through kickstarter is an idiot. The average, old school publishe
      • Arguably very few novels turn a profit. Writers write them when they get home from their real job, pouring their heart and soul, but more importantly their time into writing. Working a second job at McDs would generate a greater overall profit than writing. They do it because they enjoy it.

        Most novels published by traditional publishers do make a profit, although that profit does not necessarily make its way to the author.

        The barrier to entry for writing a novel is stunningly low. Anyone can do it. Look at NaNoWriMo next month to see what I mean.

        The barrier to entry has traditionally been high in that most submissions were not accepted by mainstream publishers, never made it into mainstream stores, and were almost completely unavailable to the general public. The move to e-books has lowered that barrier so there are a lor more entrants into the market that the average buyer can choose from. This is still in transiti

  • There are plenty of books I wouldn't pay $0.99 to read. The fact is, there are millions of books I wouldn't read for any price...my time has value, and if I'm not interested in reading a book, I'm simply not going to read it. But that doesn't mean that these books aren't worth the price for someone who *does* want to read them. The author's job in that case is to try to appeal to a wide enough audience to make writing the book worthwhile...or patronage is sufficient if you can find it. Plenty of artists

    • by timeOday (582209)

      my time has value, and if I'm not interested in reading a book, I'm simply not going to read it

      That's a good argument that the $1 book is a bad idea in the first place. If a book is worth spending time reading, it's worth paying more than $1. The problem is you don't know until after you pay. A solution would be to make the first chapter free and the full book $5.

  • The reality is that most authors don't make that much from a book that sells for $28. A 99-cent payment is about half what an author gets from a book. So, the e-book model is actually pretty sustainable--that is except for the big 6 publishers in NYC. They can't afford to support a big pile of corporate interests on such little money but authors can do fine on that--IF they can get their books noticed.
  • I think what your looking for is tenure at a University. Study English and get a Masters? Doctorate? and get a teaching position.
  • by meta-monkey (321000) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:58PM (#37648892) Journal
    Personally, I'd love to see the netflix streaming model applied to books. Instead of paying per book, give me access to the entire Amazon Kindle library. I'll gladly pay, say, $200/year, and I can read all the books I want. Reward the authors whose books get read more with more cash, and maybe include a tip jar right there to contribute more directly to the author. I hate having to look through all the recommendations and decide what's worth spending $7.99 on, or skipping on things that might look interesting because I'm scared I'm going to buy it and it turns out I don't like the author. Or, worse, buying it and then realizing "wow, this is terrible, but I kind of have to finish it because I spent 8 bucks on it."

    I don't know how that would work on the back end for compensating authors, but as a consumer I'd love it.
    • I think it would work pretty well on the back end... especially for the authors who write better literature.

      I'm believer in the kind of system where each item accrues points without a ceiling. Then at the end of a period you sum all the points up and divide up the profits up according to the portions of points. If the reader software has a "Like" button, then a book can get a point for each "like" that's it's been awarded. Fraud could be reduced by giving readers unique ID's so that each reader can only

  • When its of value. If its crap, then i feel i was cheated. In these 'entertainment' fields you get no warranty and have go to on faith alone.

  • I'd be for anything that gets agents out of the way.

    Fewer gatekeepers is always a good thing.
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:31PM (#37649074) Homepage

    On most traditionally published paper books, the author gets only a very small percentage of the retail price. That makes some sense. A bunch of people need to get paid: acquisitions editor, copy editor, truck driver, checkout clerk... The publisher is also taking a financial risk by publishing the book, and a small number of very profitable books are subsidizing the much larger number of relatively unprofitable or completely unprofitable ones.

    But how does it make sense for Amazon to take 65 cents on the sale of a 99-cent book? Amazon has basically zero cost to recoup. OK, they take a loss on the kindle right now in order to get people locked into their system. But it's kind of pathetic if this ends up being a permanent arrangement and they manage to levy a 65-cent tax until the end of time. Most book authors would actually be pretty happy with a 99-cent price -- if they got all of it.

  • book, why do you think some rich patron would fund you? Face it, you're a crappy writer.
  • Instead of pursuing money from just one rich person like in the past when wealth was mainly concentrated in the coffers of kings and the people they liked, today you can crowdfund using smaller donations from several people.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:57PM (#37649294) Journal

    Terry Pratchett is probably well known on Slashdot and reasonably harmless, few would have an issue with him. He writes enjoyable books and makes a great deal of money with them. Is someone who can donate a million at the drop of a hat, just making a living?

    The US has something called the working poor. People with a full time job, sometimes even two, who still can't make ends meet. Somehow it is then hard to care for a brit who writes books in the evening hours after his day job of being a spokes person for a nuclear power plant. He wouldn't have gone hungry would he?

    Lets face it, most authors are only poor if they aren't any good at all and can't hold a decent day job or they insist on suffering for their art OR just plain suck at life and think that because they think they got a great book inside them, the world owes them NOT just a living but a rich living.

    I notice TFA is in response to that flood of text about the death of the creative class, which I stopped reading after the line where video store clerks are apparently creative... I thought the creative class was programmers and artists, not store clerks.

    As I am getting older I am getting more and more opposed to art and the leeching it brings with it. In Holland we give a lot of tax payers money to artists who then insist on more and more control over what they were payed to create... I have a very simple solution for all artists. Either ZERO government grants OR total control. Not both. The infighting should solve the problem, no artists left... and then what? And then NOTHING. People have ALWAYS created art, you often have to hit them quite hard to stop doing it. If art can come out of the darkest concentration camps it cannot be killed. Granted, this is NOT the art most unpopular artists approve off, a toilet nailed to a wall with an claimed price of 3 million but no actual bidders let alone buyers. That kind of art survives purely on patronage, not by art lovers but by people who want to be seen as art lovers through spending other peoples money on it.

    The world is changing, once if you wanted to write you had to spend ages at it and then you had one book. Any copies took years! Then the printing press changed and made books cheap to buy BUT also far far cheaper to write. Without the printing press, without tech, many books would never have been written. Not least because many would have been unable to write or read in the first place.

    Now the internet allows people to write far more, almost anyone can publish content. Salon.com would never have the reach if it was a paper magazine. But while the content and reach has grown the market hasn't. There is only so much content I can consume and frankly most of it isn't worth it. I do not need to the read the 1000th angst filled novel with a dystopian world view.

    Maybe if nobody is willing to pay for your book it just isn't good enough. Is that such a complex concept?

    The article talks about the great novels written under the patronage system... and forgets the torrent of drivel that history rightfully forgot about. I am actually a bit of a fan of drivel, the "dollar" books series, the works of Brian Daley or even Alen Dean Foster and "worse". Commercial trash that none at Salon would defend BUT they do sell, the authors DO make a living at them.

    How am I supposed to feel sympathy for a group of people unable to make a living who sneer at a people in the same group who do make a living at the same job? It reminds me a bit of most feminists who want to fight for the right for women to be ceo's. I notice that the picket line demanding women can be garbage collectors is far far shorter.

    There are people struggling to raise their family working double jobs. Crying that you can't sell your book written at Starbucks is NOT going to pull any heart strings.

    Get a job. Write in your spare time. If you are any good, you will make it. If not, then you ain't any good. Though shit. We all got a book inside of us, and that is where it should stay.

    • by west (39918) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @06:18PM (#37650608)

      Maybe if nobody is willing to pay for your book it just isn't good enough. Is that such a complex concept?

      Read the article. There is the concept of the "anchoring price" which is what people think is a "fair" price. The interesting point is that if the price to produce the product is higher than the anchoring price, the market dies. Even more interesting, is that anchoring price can be quite different from the price that the customer would be willing to pay in the absence of that price. (By the way, it works in both directions. You can get people to pay 2-3 times what they would otherwise pay in the absence of an anchor price, and likewise you can get them to refuse to pay 1/10th of what they would otherwise be willing to pay by setting the anchoring price too low (like free).

      This is where the laws of economics, which dictate prices should rise because people want the product, get defeated by the psychology of humans which says, "if the price is higher than the anchor price in my head, I won't buy it even if I would have enjoyed it at a higher price."

      There are reams published about how psychology can prevent a transaction in which both sides would be better off, just because of external factors.

      So, no, people may *not* be willing to pay for your book, even if they it's good enough - welcome to human beings.

      And yes, sorry, reality *is* a complex concept :-)

  • by The Dawn Of Time (2115350) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @03:02PM (#37649336)

    "Rich people should pay to entertain me" is possibly the single greatest populist cause in history! Demand those circuses!

  • by bgspence (155914) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @04:28PM (#37649898)

    The days where anyone can make a living off their work is relic of the 20th century.

  • by Frightened_Turtle (592418) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @07:03PM (#37650868)

    Many people have commented on the fact that for 99, one can by an awful lot of crap on the ebook market. Yeah, there are some pretty awful books out there. Fortunately, most of the sales channels for ebooks allow a reader to download a sample of the book to read (the first chapter or two) so the reader can judge whether or not a given book is worth their hard-earned money. I've come across quite a few that were so terrible, I could barely get past the first paragraph before I was compelled to delete it from my Nook. The spelling and grammatical mistakes were just too much to take!

    You wonder, "How does Apple/Amazon/Barnes&Noble let this crap on their servers?!"

    The answer, "Because it cost them nothing." All they did was make the shelf space available. It is up to the writer to put their book there and to go out and promote their book so it sells. All the ebook markets make their money by exacting a commission from each sale (30%). If the book is really terrible, then the author has an uphill battle to fight getting any kind of meaningful sales. If the book is terrific, then sales will skyrocket once word gets out among readers that it is a good read. If you as a reader are willing to sift through a lot of crap, there are some incredible gems to be found for 99!

    The Patronage model of supporting an author (or any artist, really) doesn't really work today. There are incredibly few rich individuals today who are willing for fork over money to support some random "deadbeat artist" to create some kind of artistic work. The MacArthur Foundation's Fellows Program (aka "The Genius Award") only gives out money to an average of 30 people each year to pursue their work. On average, there are 30,000 people in America alone each day trying to submit the next great novel. That disparity of numbers pretty well demonstrates the Patronage model will never work today. I would dearly love for the McArthur Foundation to hand me a check and say, "Here, this ought to tide you over until you finish your book." But I know that's not going to happen. I am far more likely to win one of the big multi-state lotteries here in the US than to have someone I know hand the manuscript of my book to the McArthur Foundation's secret recommendation panel.

    Getting published by a traditional publisher certainly has better odds of happening. The readers benefit by the publisher filtering out the crap and the publisher benefits by a literary agent filtering out the crap. So a writer today has to breach two barriers to getting published by convincing and agent to review and promote their work or being luckier still by finding an editor at a publisher that is willing to review their work. A publisher brings a lot of services to the use of the author such as professional editing, marketing and promotion, typographic services and printing and--of course, that big money maker--distribution. If a publisher is really excited about an author's work, they'll offer a pretty large sum of money for the rights to the book, as well as any follow up books. If they are not so enthused about a book but still think it can sell, they might offer a budding author an advance that the author can pay back out of the sales of the book.

    Self-publishing has a very bad stigma in the writing profession. As little as twenty years ago, self-publishing (aka "Vanity Publishing") was pretty much the only recourse for really bad writers. Writers whose books were so bad, they had to pay a printer to get their books published. The articles cited by the O.P., seem to come from this camp. They are so sure that the flood of so many author-wannabes are going to overwhelm the book market with so much crap, that readers will completely throw up their hands in disgust and completely abandon the self-published e-author and the whole writing industry is going to completely collapse.

    If a friend told you that they just read a new book, enjoyed it, and recommended you try it, would you? That's how most books get sold. That is how I came to like a "little-kn

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