It's a grim time in publishing -- every day I seem to hear about another threat to the very existence of books, magazines, newspapers and writers. And as if the news weren’t awful enough, on Sunday, I read an article in the New York Times business section about how e-readers are leading to the proliferation of book piracy, which, in case you haven’t thought it through, means we writers don't get paid. The statistic that got my palms sweating:
"A report earlier this year by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, based on multiple studies in 16 countries covering three years, estimated that 95 percent of music downloads 'are unauthorized, with no payment to artists and producers.'"
Ninety-five percent? Could that happen to books? The article goes on to talk about RapidShare.com, which has become the go-to spot for ripped-off e-books. When asked about the impact of such theft on writers, the site's spokeswoman, one Katharina Scheid, suggested that we learn from the band Nine Inch Nails, which marketed itself “by giving away most of their content for free.”
OK, I will spare you the stream of invective that came out of my mouth when I read those words. Let me just say that I began having fantasies of planting fake pirated copies of my books on RapidShare which, when downloaded, would launch a video of me taking a sledgehammer to the reader's Kindle. Why is it that only writers and musicians are expected to work for free? Why not, say, spokeswomen for piracy purveyors like RapidShare.com?
And so, like most writers, I’m spending a lot of time worrying about what the future holds. Will books even exist in twenty years? Is writing going to turn into a quaint profession of the past, like farrier or iceman – a colorful job to give to a verbose fictional character, if only fiction still existed?
But then I happened across a video of a second grader in Sandown, New Hampshire who had done a retelling of my book The Sea Serpent and Me, with his own illustrations. And it was so beautiful and touching that I thought: "OK, the pay isn’t great, and it may disappear entirely, but writing for children is still the very best job in the world."
I also found out, belatedly it seems, that The Sea Serpent and Me was nominated for a 2009-2010 Chickadee Award, for which I belatedly thank the kind folks at the Maine Children's Choice Picture Book Project.