A young Brooklyn novelist named Tao Lin offered 60 percent of his royalties from his next book to members of the public. Would you believe, investors snapped up six shares. Each share, hawked for $2K, will bring in ten percent of royalties.
Yes, as you can see at left, Tao has a track record as a fiction writer. And, yes, the existing global publishing industry so often bungles in gauging the financial prospects of books. I wish Tao all kinds of luck. He is quoted as saying that "I actually will work better on my second novel, the way the novel is right now, if I have no obligations or responsibilities at all.” So why not get the money up front?
The nobody-one-knows-nothing factor
But do we really want this new option to become a common practice? Might the public end up buying Brooklyn Bridges, so to speak? Didn’t William Goldman, the Hollywood screenwriter, once say, "Nobody knows nothing"? And he was talking about pros.
Of course, the argument could be made that the $2K shares will be feel-good patronage of the arts. But potentially some real legal issues might still arise with the SEC and other agencies. And beyond that, isn’t the "literary" world fixated enough on money? Some houses won’t even buy books unless they see best-seller potential.
This is a little close to home, with The Solomon Scandals, my D.C. newspaper novel, due out in the fall from Twilight Times Books in P and E. Writing a good book is time-consuming enough. Do I really want to worry about government forms such as disclosure statements? I’d rather write about imagined scandals than risk being part of a real one.
The real problem—and opportunity—for writers and publishers
Meanwhile, as amusing as the Tao’s gimmick is, lets consider the real financial problem of writers and publishers—or maybe the opportunity. While the U.S. GDP is maybe $13 trillion, Americans are probably spending less than $100B a year on books. I’d like to see that increase, given the value that the best books deliver in enlightenment and entertainment. A TeleRead-style library system could help by creating demand, not just through library purchases but also by building interest in books for sale by the private sector. The grubby stuff isn’t as much fun as Las Vegas-style schemes, but for readers and writers alike, the end results of a TeleRead-style approach will be endlessly more satisfying.
(Thanks to Tamas Simon and Mike Cane.)