Friday, 17 December 2010

Cory Doctorow's Internet Problem - some questions

Cory Doctorow has an excellent new column today at the Guardian, The Internet Problem: when an abundance of choice becomes a problem.  

I've been a fan of Cory Doctorow's writing for a few years, (love the occasional Toronto settings!) and most people have at least skimmed his writing on Boing Boing. He's a creative writer who has a passion for copyright reform (short version: open access is the future).  As an artist-illustrator passionate about communicating my own sometimes surreal riffs on science, I avidly read and ponder what Cory (may I call him Cory?) has to say about copyright law, and how it relates to business.  

I agree with much of his model.  The past few (almost 4!) years of art blogging, I essentially give away my artwork for free under Creative Commons (some restrictions) while I promote, share, and have a good time with others who have similar interests. I do it partly in the hopes of others looking at my artwork and saying "That's good.  I want that for me."  And that happens on occasion (here and here). 

I have some questions about today's column. In it, Cory writes, 

"I decided that I'd give the ebooks away (as I've done with my other books); sell a variety of paperbacks with different covers (the net made it easy to tap artist friends for cover designs and work with them over long distances); and do 250 super-limited, hand-sewn hardcovers with all sorts of premium stuff – an SD card set into the cover with the audiobook and full text and unique endpapers made of original sentimental paper ephemera donated by dozens of writer friends from all over the world. The audiobook was read by voice-actor pals in three countries...", 

Do those artist-friends and voice-actor pals get renumeration for their work?  Or is "pals" a euphemism for people who will give Cory work for free? Other than being friends and wanting to help Cory's work (which is so brilliant and current, I love it)  is there a measurable monetary gain for them?  For example, would one of the artists who provided a special cover for the print version actually gain enough notoriety they would make money elsewhere - prints, new contracts etc. -for realz?

I've been freelancing the last few months, and right now I have no shortage of opportunities and venues to make art - Cory is right.  There is an abundance of choice.  I'm grateful my artwork has resonance with such a variety of brilliant dynamic people, people I would never reach without the internet.  Most of these venues are unlikely to help me pay my rent however. I really want to do some of them -for fun, for establishing the contacts, for friends, for my portfolio- but I'm still limited by choosing ones with a potential to make money or lead to an art-print where mmmaaaaybe I'll make a bit of money. 

I haven't found the right formula for me yet. 

"There's so much that you can do to elaborate on a project of this nature: limited edition covers, pricing experimentation, novel forms of audio distribution … While this sort of thing was once constrained by the inherent capital costs of trying them, no such costs obtain today: all of these things can be done for "free", costing only the time spent in trying them out."

My second set of questions:  where are these opportunities?  Are there really places that allow you to assemble hand-sewn bindings on books for free?  SD cards inlaid in the cover?  I realize I'm small-time: it's understandable why Little Brother, a book about teenaged programmers fighting the government (flash mobs!) has more of an audience than some anatomically-incorrect trilobites.  Cory Doctorow naturally has more connections to these cool-tools online.

In the New Year, I plan to start publishing my Trilobite Boy story online, and would love to make a print version available.  I know this is a successful model for many comic artists, and it's become a real passion for me as the Trilobite Boy story coalesces in my brain and on the page.

I'd also love to have that collaborative book I've mentioned -consisting of my already-done paintings with 1 page short stories written by a variety of writers with little oversight from me- published, or at least shopped around. In the end, I want the writers to receive compensation as well as myself. Is there a way to do that fairly?

Cory Doctorow's column is terrific - as usual, I find his writing about the internet + copyright + creativity provide a signpost in the path to the future.  This time though, I feel like he's pointed to an abundant rainforest but I don't know where to look for fruit. Or should it be tubers? 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

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