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Former Kink Ray Davies has uncharacteristically (he must be getting old) gone with the current trend and released his new solo recording, Working Man's Cafe, as a free CD with today's Sunday Times. Radiohead and Prince have recently given their music away, as have writers like Cory Doctorow.

In the accompanying article Davies voices some misgivings about the direction of the music industry that apply equally to book publishing. About file-sharing he says:

“It’s difficult for people like me not to sound hypocritical, because music is for the people. But there must be some means of compensation to the artist. I’m supposed to be a wise old head, but I’m baffled by it all.”

He goes on to comment about the increasing consolidation of the industry:

“We got totally ripped off,” he says about the early contracts the Kinks signed. “Now, though? I’m not saying Oxfam should start a record company, but it’s getting that way. At what point does it become charitable? The good thing about the music industry, back in the Wild West days, was that there was always another crook to go to. Now, it’s down to two or three major labels that own the world.”

Writers also face a world in which compensation, or even publication, is harder and harder to come by. The musician might have it easier than the writer. More people listen to music than read and a musician can earn a bit by performing. But making a living, with either words or music, may well be going from difficult to impossible. Which would be nothing new.

Throughout history, until the last few centuries, writing has been something that was mostly done by those with the spare time to do it. Writing was an activity in which cultured persons engaged, not a career path. Did it ever occur to Montaigne to quit his day job and make a living off his essays?

Even in recent times, few authors have managed a reasonable income by their books. Vast numbers of brilliant novels have been penned by people who were making money in other ways.

No one is entitled to make a living by writing. In fact, there is no particular reason why writing and money should be on speaking terms. The the urge to create is part of what makes us human. I'm not sure that the same can be said about impulse towards self-enrichment.

What if there was no money to be made by writing? For anyone. Under any circumstances. How big of a loss to civilization would it be if most of what's on the bestseller list vanished? If no one ever saw another iUniverse book produced by a would-be rich and famous author? If professional writers who reliably cranked out a book a year had to produce a few less titles because they needed to take more time making ends meet by other endeavors?

How many great books have arisen solely out of the writer's desire to make money? Does anyone doubt there will always be more than enough books in the world whether writers get paid or not?

Yes, it would be unfair to authors if there was no possibility of them being compensated....probably a bit more unfair than things are now. But who's to say that in the long run we might not all be better off if art forgot about pursuing that unsuitable and generally unhappy marriage with commerce?

[Incidentally, our publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, does make available on their website rather lengthy excerpts of each of our novels -- around 30 pages-- the first six chapters of the most recent book. If you're interested to see what it is that Mary and I write you can get to the pdf excerpts via the links on our website, listed over to left above the cover picture.]

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