The Strength of Content


Any large writer convention always leaves me with a flurry of seemingly-unrelated thoughts, and it usually takes a few days before I start to see the connective threads between them. I went round and round on the concept of “buying” versus “shopping,” and how both of these mindsets are equally applicable to the consumer. There was much talk of e-publishing and the new future of books (or the near death of books, depending on who you talked to). And always thinking about content.

Let’s start with a post from a few months ago by John Gruber. I enjoy Gruber’s analysis of all things Apple, and often his analysis extends to the Whys of tech business. His deconstruction of the Kindle Fire announcement, for example. Among other things, he says, “Amazon’s primary business is as a retailer, including as a retailer of digital content.” If you look at the Kindle Fire as a device to consume digital content, then its entry into the marketplace is to compete with Apple, and in that regard, the ubiquitous Amazon Kindle device is simply to facilitate consumption of Amazon-generated content. They don’t make money from the device; they make money from content bought for that device. That’s the long-term revenue stream.

In that sense, Amazon isn’t competing with traditional publishing. By entering publishing themselves, they’re simply creating a content pipeline that they control. Yes, there are concerns about them controlling the whole stack from content to delivery, but you can also argue that optimizing that stack may also mean that distance between creator and consumer is shortened.

Because, let’s be honest, the real death of the midlist author is obscurity.

Additionally, there’s been some animated discussion on the ‘tubes about the relationship between author and publisher (it started with a Barry Eisler post on J. A. Konrath’s blog, which in term referenced a post by Michael Stackpole), and I am not even going to get into a discussion about the language used in said posts because I think the more important thing is the point that was being made: the traditional relationship between author and publisher is heavily weighted in favor of the publisher.

Mr. Stackpole offered a follow-up post after WFC, and K. J. Jeter offered his own commentary on his blog as well as posting some other insight in a guest post at Dean Wesley Smith’s blog. Not to mention Dean’s own observation about the new world of publishing.

Go read, if you like. It’s all useful commentary, and the multiplicity of sources only drives home the point. Which is: content is where the power is. We shouldn’t feel bad about controlling it. And we should make as much of it as we like.

Remember the days when an author was only allowed to write one book a year? Boy, am I glad those days are gone. It’s time to recognize that our audiences are hungry for new content, and the digital age of publishing only means that we, as content creators, are more able to give our audiences what they want. They, in turn, seem increasingly happy to pay us a reasonable sum for that content.

What’s the downside to all this? Oh yes, we have to put our butts in our chairs and write. A lot. Bummer, that.

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