I wrote about the idea of subscribers in my 2010 scifi book Too Bright the Sun. In the story, Army officers during wartime were required to create video podcasts for subscribers, as a way of raising income for the army. Somebody in the Tom Winton Authors Helping Authors group on Facebook recently posted an idea of a group of writers offering a subscription deal to read a chapter of their work each week in magazine form.
While the subscription services idea sounded great to me at first, I spent some time thinking on it and thought that while it is probably fine for non-creative industries and occupations like soldiering and construction, there are potential problems for creative industries.
The idea of publishing a chapter a week sounds great. I am very productive and just published 4 novels in 8 weeks but even I need a break now and then. I don’t foresee me doing anything but editing for the next few months (yes I have 2 more completed works). Nobody is going to want to subscribe to that! I think such a service would have to be either pay-as-you-go or you would need a large number of writers to guarantee that there is always content and if you did that, you would need admin staff running the thing, hence putting up the overheads.
However, I see a bigger problem; making the actual creative process on-demand introduces and element of performance, which will affect the work. Let me explain; I have written 2 novellas specifically for commercial gain and I set myself a time limit to do it. Most writers and artists have probably done something similar but to do this all the time seriously would threaten to undermine the very foundation of true art.
Who hasn’t written a book for their own pleasure and many great works of art have been an unexpected success. To churn out creative work to schedule all the time would not be art but craft.
Then there is the issue of editing! Who hasn’t written a first draft, only to find that Chapter One should start completely differently or should come later in the book? There is no way you can construct a good piece of art in a linear fashion. You ALWAYS need to go back and change things. If you don’t, you are almost certainly writing inferior fiction and the readers are going to notice. I suspect that a subscription service like this would suffer from very low quality levels at the very least.
Furthermore, what about an artist who wouldn’t or couldn’t compete in such an environment, were it to take hold. Kate Bush would be a good example. Who can deny the brilliance of her recent album, Aerial? And yet this took about 10 years to make and nobody knew what she was up to. She had complete lack of pressure and look at the result! I doubt she could do create such beautiful work to a deadline. Other artist may be able to but not all.
There is also the issue of exclusivity, or more accurately, limiting the licence using exclusion. What if I am a musician (I like using the musician analogy because it is often more collaborative and I used to be a musician) was working on a Kate Bush album. I know Kate insists on complete secrecy in all she creates. There is no way that musician could blog/Vlog about what he is doing with her and yet it might be hard for him or her to judge where to draw the line themselves. What if they are practicing a certain style of playing or researching a style for her album? Would she object to the artist giving that away innocently? You bet she would.
Lastly, what about unscrupulous bottom-feeders like the paparazzi? In this case, they might be called ‘subscriperazzi’ but their intentions would be the same. Some of them would pay good money to publish information about upcoming projects from the greats.
In short, making the creative process part of the publishing process so intimately introduces a great danger to the quality of art and indeed to its very survival. Do you we really want to see a 22nd century where art no longer exists and is simply replaced by a form of craftsmanship? Have we really reached the zenith of ART?