Why the New Books Want to Be Free

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Convergence.

Moving toward union or uniformity; especially coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed.

We might hold such truth to be self-evident, but convergence, the merging of distinct ideas, people, industries, and technologies into a unified whole balanced in equality, is the basis of our government, healthy relationships, of spiritual lives, and many things in between. It’s in the ying and yang of the ancients, predating our understanding of the perfect balance of love and justice found in God.

And this concept is just as operational in our world today. The synthesis of ideas, is happening at a faster rate today than it ever has before. So the ability to “hold to one without letting go of the other” is becoming increasingly difficult as well.

Maybe you feel this in your own life, this pull toward the “comfort” of extremes. Too often we’re attracted like magnets to the poles, wowed by the height the pendulum swings. These are the extremes. The world is full of them and they’re unbalancing factors and should be ignored. The unbalanced wants to be heard. But it also wants to be ignored as it argues for its own irrelevance (to pick on political talk show hosts: if they got what they “wanted” they’d go extinct).

This involves paradox and paradox is everywhere. If you’ve seen it and dealt with it honestly, you know that convergence is the answer.

Does God still speak today? And would he speak through prophets who are paid no heed? What if we’re missing his words because we don’t have ears to hear? Would God choose to have a prophet speak through publishing a book? My question to the traditional publishers, most now owned by conglomerates: Can you hear above the other master’s voice? And if you can, what special measures are you taking to ensure your readers reckon with it?

What needs to happen now? Chris Anderson reminds us in Free, “information wants to be free, it also wants to be expensive because it’s so valuable.” (Stewart Brand)

Paradox. Convergence.

I believe we’re entering a new age where the ideas of freedom that were relegated to the control of gatekeepers can no longer tolerate the restriction. Publishing is a game of “rights management,” a euphemism for ownership and control, but the information wants to be free. And despite their “purchase” price and devoted resources, the publishers do not own it. Not even the authors own the ideas, any more than they created their own brains and the life that sustains them. We can’t even control the influences that go into shaping the new ideas. And as for who “owns” wisdom and understanding, let alone the capacities for such things, we can all agree, it isn’t us.

Why shouldn’t everyone benefit from the current convergence of an idea surplus and the unlimited access to publishing it?

It’s time to hack in. To circumnavigate. To rethink and rebuild the new system.

Democratization of publishing is underway. I don’t believe my job is to help someone control the information. I’d rather make it easier to distribute. And that means convincing people to share their ideas for free. If enough innovative authors agree, publishers will be forced to change.

I think it’s relatively inevitable, but that doesn’t change the hard truth. Some will ask why this should happen. And it’s simple: the idea of controlling someone’s message, idea, or intellectual property, is profoundly connected to the control of those people themselves, and ultimately leads to a no-win for everyone involved. Author becomes indentured servant, publisher becomes greedier, and end consumer is charged increasingly more for a decreasing quality product.

It may not always bear out in every instance, but tending toward entropy is the natural cycle. New opportunities overthrow existing paradigms. Revolutions and tyrannies are cyclical. This is simply a current one. Or maybe, as Anderson says, it’s simply the most recent part of the continuing revolution that bits (computers) have made possible.

And something in me is encouraged to think it’s all outside my control.

 

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6 thoughts on “Why the New Books Want to Be Free”

  1. Mick, your thoughts here are all the more frightening to me because I’ve felt the push from God to be unafraid of moving in this direction.
    I shared my small piece of the story at last year’s BRMCWC at Les Stobbe’s request. When I decided to blog, I was tempted to write less than my best because the content would be free but that conflicted with my belief about how Christians should operate in the world. God spoke to me and reminded me that He is capable of “paying me” to write and is not dependent on a publishing house to provide me with a paycheck.
    Our family needs money but my husband supported my endeavor. In the two years since I started the blog, in the place where I work part-time, everyone else’s salary has been frozen but mine has doubled. That is just one instance of the unexpected boon in our finances since I committed to writing without concern for pay. Don’t get me wrong. We still need money. I still want to be paid to write a book. BUT, I am losing my fear about needing to take a certain path to that end. I believe God writes all my checks so whether He chooses to pay me via direct route or by more unconventional means, I feel free to pursue the work of writing with reduced fear of the path that work will take to find readers and that God will supply my needs.

  2. Lori, this is very encouraging. What principle in heaven or earth is at work here doesn’t really matter, does it? Simply, it IS at work. Much as I enjoy the ideas Anderson and others like Godin and Ferriss have brought up, there’s something even more mysterious and immeasurable just beyond our grasp here. I don’t want to condemn the traditional publishing route, Christian or otherwise, and I’m not even pushing for digital over print. I simply think there are fundamental principles we need to refocus on to also refocus our efforts and apply them where they really matter. We can’t mindlessly accept the current systems, channels or established notions. And if we’re writing for a higher purpose, our end products deserve no less…

  3. I think it’s a fascinating discussion but one that’s challenging to join if you haven’t been published traditionally yet. (I’ve been published in magazines and a couple of plays, a chapter in a book but not yet a book). It’s too easy to throw stones at doors that won’t open to let you in or spit out seeds from sour grapes but I see the false thinking invade writers at every level at writer’s conferences. They hear all of the “should be doings” and they do them – some without prayerful consideration as to “should I be doing these things” or “should I be doing these things NOW”?
    I have certain expectations of Christian publishing – higher standards in both writing quality and business practices – than I do of publishing that makes no claims on Christ. But it’s easy to cross lines. I need to put food on my table – a real struggle for us sometimes – but the words I write are intended to build the kingdom of God. I want them to be worth paying money to read – but as a spokesperson for the gospel – I can’t help but be suspect of a message that is accepted by the mass market. Makes me worry. Does that make sense?

  4. Mick,
    If we’re going to anthropomorphize books, then like human beings, I think books want to be valued. Per the Christian worldview, they would be at their greatest value when they selflessly give themselves away. Unfortunately in this fallen world, bills come due, even for those writing for God’s glory. I think it all comes down to a matter of stewardship both for the content and the value.
    I too was torn over this issue: books for free versus pure profit. The way I plan to address it is to sell my first and third books while giving away my second. For me, it is more important that people who need this second book, a devotional for those going through times “When Life Hurts Like Hell,” receive it as soon as possible to help them in their struggles. I don’t want money to be an obstacle. Other content (books and other items related to my coaching business) will be for sale. All funds received still fall under the requirements for stewardship. I find peace and satisfaction in stewardship which I take seriously.
    I guess you could say that stewardship is the point of convergence for me.

  5. I have to agree with you that the publishing industry in the midst of huge changes. Democratization, you call it.
    Sounds like a great word for it to me.
    Thanks,
    Jean

  6. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Below are two interesting links. The Speigel article can be adopted to spreading the gospel.
    Lori, thank you for being so open.
    In the book The Art of Writing Christian Poetry, the book author makes the case for it being a ministry. Why not other forms of writing too?
    **********************************
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,710976,00.html
    http://www.authortechtips.com/why-copyrights-hurt-authors/

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