Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
When you read this linked article, as you should, you might wonder if Dystopia is imminent after all.
I’ve written before about services like Oyster Books, which offer readers Netflix-like access to all the books they can possibly read for one low-low monthly fee. All well and good — maybe. What authors get out of these arrangements is a little murky. But one way authors get paid is by getting credit for a sale when an Oyster reader, for instance, reads beyond the 10% mark in a given book. (Other similar services have different percentage goalposts.)
The freaky thing about all this is that the companies, in tracking this information for sales purposes, have inadvertently landed on another packet of data with value. They now know where people stop reading a given book, and they know how many people in their database who request the book stop reading it. This has implications, as the article spells out. For one thing, publishers can compile the data provided by Oyster et al. and demonstrate to an author where readers gave up on her novel. “That part where Sophie had to choose between her son and her daughter? People don’t like it. Next time, make it happier.”
Obviously no good can come of this, right? Right? Authors shouldn’t have to mold their work to suit the whims of the marketplace, should they? If they do, aren’t they commodifying their art? Doesn’t writing become more like manufacturing consumable products that have to be the same shape, size, and color coming off the assembly line, or buyers look elsewhere? What this service is offering publishers, in effect, is quality control.
And yet, the data do represent something. Votes. Opinions. Polling. Subscribers to the service are a focus group of thousands (one day, millions), and I’m willing to bet that traditional publishers will be prepared to pay for the details. They might not call upon authors to change their work to suit the mob, but they might be inclined to select only those manuscripts that fit the proven paradigms. (One gets the feeling they’re already well on their way down that dead-end alley…)
But why stop at merely referencing the information to help authors craft their next novels more, shall we say, satisfactorily? It sounds to me like the data will be granular enough that actual books could be generated from them, machine-written, in other words, eliminating the fussy author altogether. After all, the author is the sand in the tanning lotion: demanding money for his efforts, complaining about editorial integrity and artistic freedom, wanting input on cover art. A robot author would do as he was told, no more no less. Eureka!
I really hope things don’t go in that direction, but crap — why is it so easy to imagine?