The e-Writer As Digital Streetwalker

The e-Writer As Digital Streetwalker

Not long ago, the streetwalkers of Lausanne, among others, began protests over poor working conditions. They were particularly concerned over inadequate housing and price wars resulting from current open-border policies throughout much of Europe, thanks to the Schengen agreement. "Workers from the old Communist bloc have flooded the market," the girls complained, "and with all the extra players, no one makes enough money anymore."

My newspaper drooped loosely as I stopped reading and gazed off into the distance. I took a sip of coffee. "Self-published e-writers are in the same boat," I told myself. "Too many players, of very uneven quality, but we're all fighting for the same public. And no one hears us anymore."

Add to that of course that the reading public, unlike the ever-growing herd of clients looking for quick sex, is dwindling year by year. Peddled intercourse still has some excellent years ahead, it would seem. The hardship those two activities share is no doubt that the public is happy to be paying less and less for both the writer's and the hooker's services, but the courtesan is one high-heeled step up from the writer here, however. Plenty of writers are giving away their e-books for nothing (God knows through what warped optimism) while at least, even if prices are falling, no one is expecting to get the streetwalker for free.

As Chris Anderson lucidly exposed in his excellent book "The Long Tail", the digital age has created tools that allow large online outlets to offer an endless choice of an almost infinite number of products, including cultural ones. Music, movies, books, photography -- you name it. "Selling Less of More" is now the rule, and is indeed what happens when a million-or-so new "authors" upload their e-book onto an online service, hoping to one day become just like their favorite authors of the paperback era, maybe even to earn themselves a cushy salary and a cozy retirement. "Lots of readers out there," they all say. The online services aren't telling anyone that those million authors are doomed to negligible sales, and zero chances whatsoever of earning the most minimal of livings. Of course, if you consider the number of online e-book readers and other devices being sold as a result of all this misguided wishfulness, online services have rosy days ahead, without any of those new authors selling anything. And when writers wake up to the game going on, serious publishers who cared enough to build an author's journey over the long-term, and not just push single books, may be gone for good.

"If films, music, books and paintings were valued as much as primal human cravings," I told myself, "maybe writers would have a surviving chance." Friends of mine, going on gut feeling rather than any particular reading or expert insight, had dampered my juvenile glee when I first talked about the great things that online stores were making possible for writers shunned by the traditional publishing industry. "Freedom," I had told them, "can't you see it?"

I glimpsed at the sad photo of those streetside hookers, closed the newspaper and walked out of the café.