Soon, I’m giving one of my novels away for free.
This was the publisher’s idea. The guys in charge of making the money. I’m not in charge of making the money. Don’t get me wrong, I like money, but I sure as hell didn’t write this stuff cos I thought it would make me a millionaire. I wrote it for fun. To please myself. For the enjoyment of imagining my way through a whole new world. Not for cash. Cash is the publisher’s job.
But we live in a society now – and an economy – where people expect stuff for free. Not science stuff. Not technology, or medicine, or advanced weaponry. Arts stuff. Free music. Free films and TV. The irony is, most of the people illegally downloading this stuff are people working in the arts, cos they can’t afford to buy it. We expect our arts students to self-fund PGCEs and graduate research degrees and pay our science students stipends on which they can live like kings.
And, honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this. Again, I will say, don’t get me wrong, I like money. I want money. I need it to live. But, still, shouldn’t art (and the arts) be something of a gift from us, the people we make it, to anyone generous enough to give their time to it in return? Artists need to live, sure, but I would rather the government’s (poorly managed, but that’s another issue) money went into medical technology, free healthcare and the welfare state than subsiding the arts industry. (Arts study is, again, another issue).
But, the crazy thing is, we’re not – as artists – encouraged to give our work away for free because it’s altruistic. It’s because that’s the way to make money. Give ’em a little bit for free, and they’ll come back for more. With music, as well, (thankfully not with novels) it’s often a case of, put it free on YouTube and at least make some money from the advertising, or people will get it illegally, and you’ll make nothing at all.
I recently chastised my partner – a musician – for downloading free music. “Don’t you want to support your industry?” I cried. “Wouldn’t you want people to pay for your work?” My partner shrugged and said, “No. I wouldn’t mind people having it for free, if they were interested.” And, in the main, I don’t mind people reading my novel for free. I only wanted to share the story anyway. I never had making money at the forefront of my mind, only sharing the world I had imagined. (Although, HBO, if you feel like calling and offering me a TV deal, then you know where to find me).
I hope lots of people do read A Champion’s Duty while it’s free. I hope they enjoy it. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand this strange place where art and economy meet. I’ve never been very number- (or money-, unfortunately) minded. I wish that we lived in a society that valued the arts more. That supported the students of the arts. That supported free arts for those who couldn’t afford it, in such a way that the government rather than the artists picked up the slack.
I’ll dream of that day. Until then, I’d rather give away something for nothing, and have someone have the chance to share the imaginary world I have created, than to miss that chance. Art, after all, is all about sharing experience.