You may never shake the fear, but you might change how you feel about it.
Richie’s Plank Experience is a terrifying VR game first released in 2016. In the game, the user rides up a simulated elevator to a rooftop that is 525 (simulated) feet above street level. Then, the user steps out on a (simulated) plank and walks out on it, over a vertiginous (simulated) drop.
I’m out on tour again, my first in-person book tour since 2019. I had four books come out during lockdown and “toured” them over Zoom, which was as good as many talented and dedicated publishing PR people, booksellers, and co-presenters could make it.
Now, after three years, I’m out on tour again. It’s an odd kind of tour, because it’s a different kind of book. Chokepoint Capitalism isn’t a novel from a Big Five publisher, it’s a nonfiction critique of monopolies and cartels. That includes the Big Five, which is why we went with an indie, the storied Beacon Press, praised by the likes of Albert Einstein and Howard Zinn for a publishing program that promotes progressive values.
It’s hard to overstate how liberating the early years of internet publishing were. After a century of publishing driven by the needs of an audience, we could finally switch to a model driven by the interests of writers.
That meant that instead of trying to figure out what some “demographic” wanted to read about, we wrote what we wanted to read, and then waited for people who share our interests to show up and read and comment and write their own blogs and newsletters and whatnot.
When the first ad networks came along, they leaned into this model: “Here is a writer whose audience has this approximate composition and interests; if that’s a group you’re trying to reach, then here’s a rate card to show those people ads.”
Back in those days, it seemed that ad targeting would enable more niches, more “long tail” publications tailoring to the esoteric, gnarly interests of writers and readers.
But that was wrong. As behavioral ad targeting took off, and with it, social networks and recommendation algorithms, the money shifted to follow readers around on the internet. Some readers were worth more than others. Showing an ad for a contingency liability lawyer to someone with a mesothelioma diagnosis was worth a bundle, for example, but you didn’t have to write about asbestos or lung cancer to score ad revenue from that user. Continue reading "So You’ve Decided to Unfollow Me"
I don’t want to pretend that freelance writing contracts were ever great, but in the 34 years since I sold my first short story — at 17 — I’ve observed firsthand how manifestly unfair contractual terms have become standard, and worse, non-negotiable.
I started selling to magazines back in 1980s, which were the the dawn of corporate publishing consolidation. Magazines changed owners frequently as they were snapped up by new owners who, in turn, merged or bought out their competitors (thank Ronald Reagan for neutering antitrust and allowing these mergers to be waved through).