…and hairy armpits (thankfully hidden) here is a video on TED that I like. I’ve been a fan of TED Talks for a long time and every few months I browse through the latest videos and while away a few hours listening to fascinating people doing inspiring things tell the world about it in (usually) very entertaining ways. This latest talk is by Amanda Palmer entitled “The Art of Asking” and poses some interesting questions about asking people to pay for content (in this case music) rather than forcing them to do so. Once I got past her drawn-on eyebrows – a pet peeve of mine is women who ‘over-pluck’ – eyebrows are beautiful – by all means separate, but otherwise leave them the beep alone! Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, eventually ignoring my irrational bias I began to listen to what she was saying and I was pretty impressed with the idea. I am still mulling over the concept but it’s definitely worth your 14 minutes.
I am not sure that this would work in our modern society. Perhaps there are enough people in the world who would participate to make this viable (what would viable be?) but I would consider that the exception rather than the rule. Amanda got 25k to donate $1.1mil to her kickstarter project, but for each of those 25k, I am willing to bet that there were 10 more people who will download and listen to her music – even enjoy it, but never pay a cent or offer her a couch to crash on or a plate of home-made brownies. Now, if you are one of those kinds of personalities who is willing to accept that fact (and ignore the ‘missing/lost’ income potential and don’t consider this ‘unfair’ or theft) then this could be an acceptable way to live and produce art. I am a cynic (and perhaps a realist) and her utopian ideal, although admirable, I believe, will not always work – I doubt it would work for the average music celebrity basking in the glory of their own greatness. What she has done, her attitude and how she ‘sells’ herself and her image all contribute to her success and lets face it, I don’t see a Justin Beiber or Britney type doing any of this any time soon – nor do I see any major music labels adopting a ‘pay what you want’ approach. And unless someone really famous (Sorry Amanda, I never even heard of you and I am a fan of your husband so I figure I should have) makes a success of this, I doubt others will attempt it. I believe that there are too many people who want things for ‘free’ irrespective of what the repercussion of this desire may be on others, and there are too many people who are greedy and do not understand the concept of ‘enough’ – lets face it, do stars REALLY need a dozen cars or palatial mansions sleeping 30?
What about books? Perhaps prematurely, I spend quite a bit of time reading up on the success and failure, and pros and cons of the various publishing options. I would like a traditional publishing contract but I would also like the freedom that self-publishing offers (both to myself and my potential readers). I would love to earn what I consider a decent living (no, I do not need a £250,000 tree-house for my kids – I’ll make one DIY fashion thank you), live in a nice house, afford private schools and the occasional special holiday for the family or new car every few years. I would love to give away what I write – having someone read and enjoy what I write is a pretty decent affirmation of being a writer – I get a little of this when someone likes a blog post. But, would this pay for my daughters karate class or the service on my car?
Sure, I believe in the marketing gimmicks like giving the books away for free (or reduced price) to hook readers into purchasing the rest of a series or newer soon to be availale books or simply drum up reviews to improve a books visibility for paying readers. I have been a willing ‘victim’ of this concept many many times. Sure, I believe in the concept of open source software – I have donated money to many such cause based on the motto, if I am gaining (financially or whatever) from using software, then I need to pay the creators for it. Simple. Morally, I would feel guilty if I did not, because I know that someone’s blood sweat and tears went into it and its only ‘right’ to reward them for the effort that provided me with benefit – even if its only a few token dollars. Sure, the Microsofts of this world make more than enough, so who cares if I use a pirate copy of something? Well, maybe no-one, but lets say that those few dollars end up being donated to some biotech research lab that finds a cure for cancer? Silly hollywood example. Sorry. How about those few dollars go into the pocket of the developer who can now afford to pay for his kids dental work?
Could I give away any books I write in the hope that someone will drop a few coins in the hat at my feet? Last time I looked I was not bald and wearing an orange robe at the airport. Is there a middle ground for this “asking” concept of Amandas or would that just be mocking the idea?
Ignoring for a moment your own lot in life: Would you pay for a book you enjoyed? Would you pay for a book you ended up not liking? Would you not pay for a book if it was for someone you know was swimming in cash and never notice, ala JKR? Would you pay for a book if you knew the author was living in a loft above a butcher shop in New Orleans and scrubbing floors at the local school to pay rent?
Edit: 4 March – here is a link to a related but infinitely more eloquent article on brainpickings by Maria Popova. I still believe in the concept and idea but I cannot bring myself to believe that the world is ready, or even capable, of this kind of approach to life. I am far more willing to believe in the dark side of human nature than the light.