Bootlegs and Fan Fiction: Moving beyond the Artist’s Concept of the Artist

In my basement, a 1995 hardcover dwells:
Clinton Heylin: Bootleg (Hardcover)
A riveting documentation of a world long gone, yet full of prophetic clues as to how the music industry’s appetite for self-destruction would lead it straight into the tar-pit quicksand.

Page 372: “Vinyl is more of a craft thing whereas a CD is mass-produced. …now they have CD recording machines so people can always copy someone’s CD and have…something that’s 98 percent of the original.”

“Craft.” The very reason why Hipsters collect vinyl. Pressing a run of actual vinyl records and printing full-color jackets requires dedicated, expensive machinery that is still far beyond the affordability of recreational hobbyists, preserving vinyl records’ ‘collectible artifact’ status to this day.

Computer CD-R drives became affordable by 1998. Overnight, the retail music dynamic was changed forever. College campuses, previously the best neighbors for record stores, suddenly became the worst locations for a record store to be near. Disc sales dropped from “the whole dorm” to “one per dorm” (if that), and then Napster began its rise to prominence.

The major labels of the music industry could have bought Napster at that point and used it as the perfect one-stop distribution center for MP3 files. Their failure to do so gifted Steve Jobs with the world of iTunes, served on a silver-iPod platter. The industry’s myopia also led it to ‘kill’ Digital Audio Tape (DAT), the one product for which a widespread adoption would have significantly slowed the onset of the CD-R revolution of the late 1990’s. By mandating technological restrictions on a product that could make digital copies only at 1x playing speed, the music industry left the path wide open for CD-R drives (which reached 52x recording speed by 2003) to dominate home recording. The equivalent of hiding the keys for a old Volkswagen bus from your teenager, and having them end up discovering the keys for your Dodge Viper instead.

As anyone reading this is well aware, the Digital Age has shaken up the old guard of the publishing industry, in the same manner as it did the music industry. You might be wondering how a nearly twenty-year-old book documenting the “bygone” culture of music bootlegging could be relevant to the world of fan fiction.

Page 392, quoting Lenny Kaye: “I think that bootlegs keep the flame of the music alive by keeping it out of not only the industry’s conception of the artist, but also the artist’s conception of the artist. There’s that self-editing thing and, with all due respect to great artists, a lot of times their own instincts aren’t as righteous about the music as someone else.”

Bootlegs and Fan Fiction both exist to satisfy the desires of the hardcore fans who want to go beyond the official “edited” product, and experience artistic works as an entire extended, unexpurgated universe; seeing as much as possible of the creative vision, beyond what the original artists may have ever envisioned.

Fan fiction has been around for decades, and even centuries. The Digital Age took fan-fiction out of its xeroxed and mimeographed shadows, into the mainstream and even to #1 on the New York Times Best-Sellers List. The world has sound reason to be sure that Stephenie Meyer never foresaw her Twilight Saga as being the ideal platform on which to base BDSM-themed fiction; in this case Meyer may have been so blinded from her own love for Edward Cullen that she could not visualize him as “Christian Grey.” No matter, millions of others not wearing Bella-colored glasses saw the controlling, manipulative aspects of Edward Cullen (whether they liked the Fifty Shades books or not). Those who were attracted to this aspect would naturally gravitate toward an Edward Cullen persona, taken to its logical extreme in Christian Grey.

We, the authors, need to keep possible fan fiction interpretations of our work in mind when writing our sagas. Some authors will try to sweep all fan fiction under the rug, others will celebrate the visions of the fans; but all authors writing in the Digital Age must take heed of fan fiction, regardless of how we personally feel about it. If Stephenie Meyer had considered the more unsavory aspects of Edward Cullen’s ‘character’ at length, she might have changed him to be a ‘better person’, more in line with her own Mormon views as opposed to being potential (and now proven!) BDSM erotica fodder. This would have also nullified the numerous criticisms accusing Edward of being a Grade-A stalker (which he was!). Does any author want to write a character that millions people interpret as being a 180° opposite from what the author intended? Edward Cullen, intended by Meyer to be the embodiment of old-time courtship and an advocate for abstinence until marriage; became Christian Grey, a man who compels Ana Steele into a signing a contract for a non-romantic submissive sexual relationship in which Ana is not allowed to touch Christian or make eye contact with him.

I’m not proffering moral judgments here. My own character Damien Tepesh has been cheating on his wife Lilith for more than two centuries, to the point where Lilith now keeps his current mistress under her control. And his extramarital liaisons will take an extreme twist in my second novel, “Vampire Conspiracy.”

Damien is an unrepentant skirt-chaser, but no one is going to interpret him as a guardian of moral platitude. In a similar vein, it would be exceedingly difficult for anyone to re-cast my protagonist Jack as being anything but a hero, without a ground-up alternate universe styled re-write. An ounce of prevention during invention is better than a million books of an ailment you can’t cure anyway, the “disease” of misinterpretation.

Rise Of The Gearheads

Kirsten Lamb, from “Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World“:
“Ten years ago, no one cared if a fiction author gardened, was a gourmet cook or a wine aficionado who loved Golden Retrievers”
‘Consumers want authenticity. They long to connect on mutual ground. They get excited when they realize their favorite author also loves dogs and collects My Little Ponies”
“What this means is that all those hobbies, passions and idiosyncrasies that had no value before are now a priceless friendship chest”
***
THIS is why I want to have a book signing at the Mile-High Nationals next July.
To go where no author has gone before.
To say, “I’m a gear-head, I’m one of you. I love the smell of burning nitro from a Top Fuel dragster. I know the difference between a Boss 302 and a Shelby GT-500. I’m not a Stephen King who will say Christine’s Hydra-Matic pops out of park when I’ve known for decades that a 1958 Plymouth has a push-button Torque-Flite transmission. I have written what is most likely the first book any of you will ever read that has NO CAR MISTAKES, yet it is far more than that. It is a real and moving story about a young man with special needs overcoming challenges that threaten his very existence, without all of the saccharine sentimentality normally sugar-coating such books. I have all the visceral thrills of the Fast and Furious, but in my story’s heart beats the life of a young man who defies all the odds to win the hard-earned respect of his community. It is my highest honor to be here at the Mile-High Nationals, with my fellow gear-heads, as the first published author to be hosted here.”
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Should Barnes & Noble drop the Nook?

You read this post’s title and thought, “My god, Daven must be joking. How could he even suggest such a thing? Even the most die-hard paper book lovers can’t dispute that e-books are the main-volume product of the future.”

A “future” that is already slipping out of Barnes & Noble’s grasp:

Digital Book World: Barnes & Noble Bookstore Sales, Nook Sales Down Over Holiday Period

Nook Media sales declined 12.6% versus a year ago.

Forbes: Barnes & Noble’s Big Problem — and What to Do About It

– Nook is losing money
– Nook isn’t growing
– Nook is sinking when a rising tide is lifting all other boats

LA Times: Should we be crying for Barnes & Noble?

“You say you are closing a third of your physical bookstores over the next decade, all while admitting they are not unprofitable?” Petri writes. “Please listen to yourself.” Petri says she’s afraid Barnes & Noble will give up brick and mortar bookstore in the name of chasing e-book profits.

Chasing e-book profits would make much more sense if they were making e-book profits. 😈

LA Times: The incredible shrinking Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble’s retail stores do sell the Nook, but that’s not what Klipper points to as setting the chain apart. He told the Wall Street Journal that less than 3% of the company’s stores lose money — because they’re a destination for people in a way other retailers aren’t. “You go to Barnes & Noble to forget about your everyday issues, to stay awhile and relax,” he says.

So Barnes & Noble is closing profitable bookstore locations to divert the funds to the money-pit Edsel of e-readers? Not a good business model. We all know what happened when Borders outsourced their .com to Amazon. 😈

The strength of Barnes & Noble is that they are a brick and mortar retailer. Period.
The Atlantic: The Endangered Fate of Barnes & Noble

The same newsletter quotes Daniel Raff, a Wharton management professor, suggesting that the pessimism toward the bookseller may be overstated:
[He says that] Barnes & Noble was resourceful in devoting store space to the Nook and has assets that could be utilized. “When you talk ecosystems, it’s not just the digital stuff. . . . The comfortable majority of publisher profits are physical books, and they need distribution.” Indeed, Barnes & Noble’s biggest asset may be the reality that publishers need shelf space to sell books.” Ultimately, he and other observers have concluded that bundling print books with digital versions may be the next phase of bookselling and that would be a plus for Barnes & Noble.

When it comes to e-readers and digital content, Amazon has eaten B&N’s breakfast, lunch, dinner and they are now licking the last few crumbs of apple pie crust off of B&N’s dessert plate. The problem here is B&N’s myopic view from within:

Digital Book World: Revenues Increase for Nook in Second Quarter Even as Losses Mount

Internally, Barnes & Noble leadership is still optimistic about Nook’s long-term prospects.

“The Nook business will scale in 2013,” said Lynch on the call. Helping it scale will be its partnership with Microsoft, which will pay Nook $50 million a year for the next three years as an advance on profits (read: unless there are profits, it’s financing for Nook).

“We expect our two highly acclaimed new NOOK products, and our Microsoft partnership on Windows 8 to further fuel the growth of our digital business…”

If Windows 8 wasn’t laying a Vista-size turd in the marketplace and handing the tablet market to Apple on a silver platter, I might share a bit of their optimism. Having Microsoft throw money into your money-pit does nothing to solve the fundamental problem, indeed the only real guarantee B&N gets here is “three years of life support” for the Nook.

The most important sentence quoted above: Barnes & Noble’s biggest asset may be the reality that publishers need shelf space to sell books.
A considerable percentage of B&N physical shelf space is being occupied by Nooks.
Did the Kindle win the market via physical shelf space allocation?
No.
In fact, Kindle has much less shelf space now that Target and Wal-Mart have decided to stop selling it, but does anyone think this will be a major factor in Kindle’s future?
No.

Barnes & Noble is a brick & mortar retailer. It’s time for them to act like one. People go to B&N to browse printed books, not Nooks.

The root of the Kindle’s success is its online content environment.
Even if B&N wishes to burn through tons of money trying in vain to compete with Kindle continue to sell Nooks, the Nook belongs online.

For the stores, it’s time to replace the Nook space with book space.

Update 25 February 2013:
Barnes & Noble Chair wants to buy retail business

Barnes & Noble’s founder Leonard Riggio disclosed in a regulatory filing Monday that he wants to acquire the company’s stores and website, but not the business that makes the Nook e-reader or the company’s college bookstores.

N.Y. Times: B&N Vs.Simon & Schuster Dispute Said To Hurt Sales

Update May 2013: Yahoo Finance: Ten Brands That Will Disappear In 2014
(note what brand #2 is) 😈

Update June 2013: Forbes: Barnes & Noble Bows To Apple And Amazon; Exits Tablet Business