ext_108: Jules from Psych saying "You guys are thinking about cupcakes, aren't you?" (who: said the lioness)
[identity profile] liviapenn.livejournal.com
This article, reprinted at Wired magazine, uses the term "crowdwriting" to describe various projects that solicited the public to participate in writing a book, and the different models used-- one project used a wiki, another author asked readers to annotate his text, etc.

The relevant bit is this:

Avon Books' "These Wicked Games," a crowd-written Regency romance novella, was the plum of a six-week writing competition that ended late October 2006. Avon outlined the competition rules and structured community interaction right down to supplying each chapter's basic plot line. These prompts guided community members to write and to work towards crafting a single primary narrative. After writers submitted their completed chapter drafts each week, fellow crowd members voted on the "best." Contestants submitted 1,705 chapters, and more than 147,000 votes were cast to determine the best efforts. "These Wicked Games" is currently available as a downloadable e-book for a fee; the e-book also includes sections featuring the daily blog and writing tips by Avon editors and authors.

Avon, of course, is a subset of HarperCollins, and the "Wicked Games" contest was put on by FanLib's predecessor, FanLit. I link this article here mostly because it's interesting to see the different POV on a FanLib project. They seem to like "Wicked Games" because it's "open source" and because it's (at least theoretically, as indicated by the quote marks around "best,") merit-based. However, I feel it's a bit of a blind spot that the writer of the article in question doesn't mention anything about whether the 6 authors were paid for their work or whether they retain any rights. The only reference to credit or renumeration in the article is as follows, discussing Penguin's wiki-novel:

Most impressive of all was that people were willing to contribute with no guarantee of credit.

"The enthusiasm that people showed for it, for a project where there was no personal recognition," mused Penguin's Ettinghausen. "The amount of work and time some people put into it was really surprising and really encouraging. We didn't want this to be about people writing in the hopes that Penguin would notice them and sign them up for a book deal." Author Margaret Atwood participated, said Ettinghausen, and "said that it was a lot of fun, but that it was writing without responsibility. So I think it allowed people to be quite free in how they wrote, and that was the whole idea...that it was anonymous and crowd-led, rather than ego-led."

(Again, just to clarify, Margaret Atwood participated in the wiki novel project, not the FanLit romance novel contest.)

Something about the paragraph about people being willing to write without getting credit for it rubs me the wrong way, though. I mean, going back to "Wicked Games" for a second-- from what I've read elsewhere on romance-novel blogs and such, it appears that "Wicked Games" seemed like a good deal because the winning authors now have their names "out there," and this might translate into actually getting one's own book published at some point. If you were an author who'd tried for a while to get published but couldn't, and felt like what you needed was a little more "name recognition" in your field, then yeah, participating in the FanLit contest would be "worth it" for that reason.

Take the credit out of the equation, though, and I get a little iffy. It's not that I think any group project where the participants don't get specifically credited for their contributions is bad. Hey, I edit Wikipedia sometimes and I don't "get credit" for it in any meaningful way, and I'd probably do it even if all edits were absolutely anonymous. (Of course, anonymous Wikipedia editing wouldn't work for a lot of logistical reasons, but I'm just saying; I *would,* anyway, and probably so would a lot of people.)

So I'm not saying it's *wrong* to be like, "Here's a project, come participate; you won't get credit for it, but it'll be fun, so come play." I mean, most writers don't write to get rich and famous anyway, do they? Even the pros who write for a living-- if you told them "hey, I'll pay you X amount a year *not to write*, they probably wouldn't do it." People write because they love it, and it's not always about money, as fanfic authors know. It's not even about credit in any real-world sense; most of us don't even write under our "real names," meaning that even the BNF-iest BNF is only "internet famous," and that plus $3.25 will get you a medium soy mocha latte at my favorite cafe.

And speaking of money-- oh, but nobody was. The article only mentions *credit*, not money. As I said, there's no reference to licensing, royalties, or anything like that in the article at all-- except of course when referring to the "fee" for downloading "Wicked Games."

I dunno about you guys, but that seems like a pretty large omission to me. When writing an article mostly about large corporations (and one individual author) harnessing the "crowdpower" of masses of individuals to create artworks-- to then not even ask who owns the artwork afterwards, and follow through on the implications of that question? Isn't it a little hinky to take something created by the public, and have it owned by a corporation who then sells it *back* to the public? Where does this leave the individual author, who now has to compete with "crowdsourced" books? C'mon, y'all, "follow the money."

Of course, it's only to be expected that this writer's angle is mostly positive, as the article itself is part of the "Assignment Zero" project, featuring "citizen and professional journalists in collaboration," where anyone can join and work in collaboration with others to produce articles and news stories-- for instance, here's an Assignment Zero contributor's project page for a review of Wicked Games. They're excited about crowdsourcing because to them it represents a new kind of opportunity for the "average Jane" to participate in fields like journalism and publishing.

Here's a conclusion that the article didn't come to, but that seems pretty obvious to me, given the examples stated. There's two models to this "crowdsourcing" thing-- the one where you give people as much creative freedom as they want to have, and the one where you don't. Both have pros and cons, both for the corporations and the individual writers.

If you're going to tightly lock down your storyline and give writers an outline to fill in, like Avon did, then you're more likely to get something that you can actually profit from afterwards-- a book with a beginning, middle and end. However, if you restrict the writers' creative freedom like that, then you're only going to get people to participate in your project if you offer them something in return, and it had better be something that they really, really want, like name recognition in a competitive field.

On the other hand, if you're like Penguin and you let people have more freedom to be creative in their own ways and come up with their own wild, crazy ideas, they're more likely to come in and play without demanding anything in return, not even credit. But you're a bit less likely to create something that actually holds together-- as a story *or* as a salable product. ("The wiki novel" may do well as a novelty, but I think it's a one-hit wonder.)

This is, I think, where FanLib's business model falls down; they think of fandom as a massive "crowdsourcing" product-producing machine, but they don't really understand that the vast majority of fanfic is created on the second model, the model of *complete* creative freedom-- where no style or form is off-limits, no topic is taboo, and no editing of any sort is necessary before one publishes. And yet they still imagine they're going to get a profitable product with mainstream appeal out of it, somehow.


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January 2015

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