Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Authors and Musicians

By Mark W. Danielson

Authors and musicians share a variety of tribulations. On the one hand, both groups possess an innate creative urge, which for most part, extends beyond any profitable merits. On the other, most musicians and authors will always struggle for notoriety in these popularity-based businesses. Sadly, neither group has much say in how their work can get noticed.

In a book store’s defense, authors must realize that managers base what books will be carried on their sell ability, thus name recognition is essential. Furthermore, when publishers don’t offer returns, there is no incentive for book stores to stock unknown authors’ works.

Not surprisingly, this same bias applies to musicians where radio station managers determine what songs receive air play. In spite of their nauseous repetition, disc jockeys must constantly replay the same songs in order to appease their station's sponsors. Unfortunately, we all lose where there is no musical or reading variety.

What’s interesting is seeing how rock icons like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and John Fogerty are facing these same problems. Although all three have released interesting albums in the last two years, few receive airplay among conglomerate radio stations. Springsteen's lyrics in his song Radio Nowhere echo his frustration: “I was spinin’ round a dead dial, just another lost number in a file, dancin’ down a dark hole, just searchin’ for a world with some soul. This is radio nowhere, is anybody alive out there?” Imagine singers like Bruce, Tom, or John finding themselves suddenly too old or outdated to compete with The Jonas Brothers, Lady Gaga, and Kid Rock. Then again, authors like Tom Wolfe would probably face similar difficulties in getting published in today’s market. Whether we’re talking about books or music, we have minimal input in what’s available to us.

This means that consumers must step up to preserve their freedom of choice. Readers must support their independent bookstores before they’re all gone, and music lovers must support PBS and satellite radio. All over America, independent book and music stores are closing because of a down economy. Add to that the Kindle electronic readers and IPod downloads and it's a wonder how any of them can stay in business. E-book sales are up 150% and climbing because people prefer downloading to strolling a bookstore’s aisles. Some may call this progress, but I’m sure we’ll be sorry when book and music stores are gone.

Although some say published novels will soon become relics of the past, I remain cautiously optimistic, for many people still prefer holding a book. Printed books can be loaned, read in direct sunlight, and their pages flipped and marked to their owner’s desire. They do not depend upon external power, and they can dry after being dropped in water. And while these electronic readers provide endless no-bulk libraries, I’m not convinced that Kindle’s advantages outweigh its disadvantages. So even if Amazon’s dream of cataloging every book ever printed comes to fruition, there will still be a demand for real books. The only difference is these books will be printed on demand, so the only thing sold in book stores will be really expensive coffee, Kindle batteries, and IPod earphones.

Ultimately, writers and musicians will continue producing because they love doing what they do. Recall that Stephen King has retired more than once, but he’s still writing today. The same can holds true for Springsteen, Petty, and Fogerty because performing is in their blood. So, perhaps authors and musicians should write and/or perform for the love of it, remembering that having a small following is as important as a large one. But most of all, if your creation has brought fulfillment to yourself and your fans, then your efforts have been worthy.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I can't imagine not having a book--a REAL book, not an e-book--in my hand.

At least we know that whatever format...are going to continue on. There are so many readers out there.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Mark W. Danielson said...

I'm with you, Elizabeth. I wonder if future homes will even have book shelves?

Jean Henry Mead said...

I have close to 5,000 books and bookshelves galore that I don't plan to part with. But, since my books are also published in ebook form, I can't discount them entirely. To me, they're a royal pain to download but others seem to like their volume capacity. I don't think ebooks will ever completely replace books in print although they're cutting deeply into sales. I, too, mourn the loss of independent book stores.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mark:

Your comment about Amazon planning to publish every book ever written -- are you sure that isn't Google Books?

At any rate, those of us old folks living in the boonies, with no public transportation, don't have access to independent bookstores, so online ordering and the library are our two choices. Thank God for libraries.

But even my little local library has an e-book section.

Pat Browning

Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry, Mark. I reread your post. You said "cataloguing," not "publishing."

At any rate, Amazon is the first place I check when I want to know something about a book. If they dream of cataloguing every book ever published they seem to be making progress.

There's a brouha-ha going on about Kindle. Amazon has been invited to show Kindle at Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, in October. Gossip is that at least one small bookseller has withdrawn in protest.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Pat, Amazon owns Kindle, and their e-publishing intentions were stated in a recent Denver Post article.

While there are certainly benefits to e-publishing, the last thing I want to do is spend more time facing a computer screen.

Hopefully the financial support will match the climbing library readership.