One of the writers that a great many in the podcast novel world look up to is J.C. Hutchins, both because of the quality of his work and because he made the dream of many into a reality- he got a book deal from his podcasted novel. He was one of the guys who literally set up the holy grail of new media novelists, and used the new media to get his work and his name out there into the general public. As a result of what was partially his work, there are now hundreds of novels being podcast out there, and a few more since have also gained book deals as he did.
However, J.C. recently hung up the microphone on the podcast novel gig when he more or less came to the conclusion that while the legions of fans would happily follow him everywhere, they would for the most part only do so while he was offering free content. When his book went to the publisher and hit the shelves, record numbers of online fans didn’t translate into record sales, and the publisher decided not to continue because of the simple reality that his previously podcast novel wasn’t selling.
Now J.C. seems to be turning slowly from the prophet of Podcast Novels into someone who is bitter and resentful about the whole experience. Not that I blame him, he put his soul into it, and was cheered on by the crowds, only to have those same crowds abandon him when he actually asked them to support him in a meaningful way. Not even to give donations, but just buy the book they’d loved and own a copy of it instead of listening for free online. That must have been really painful for him, probably akin to hitting a brick wall at 200kph, and I imagine he’s going to take a long time to recover. Not that his “fandom” is helping, for some of them are even attacking the poor guy for turning off the tap! He can’t win!
In a lot of ways, I think he’s a victim of the Tragedy of the Commons- it’s not that the people didn’t want to support him, but the motivation wasn’t strong for them to buy the end product (they had it already for free) and each of them thought the others would buy it, so they saved their money. And, I think he’s also right in blaming both the sense of entitlement for free content that many internet users seem to have these days and the fickle nature of online consumers who will happily support content creators as long as they don’t have to pay for it.
However, I do think there’s also the issue of what a creator wants to get out of these “free” productions.
Like most things, it’s all about what your goals are. If your goal is to simply entertain people and maybe gain fun and experience, then producing content for free online is fine. If, however, you’re doing it to gain an audience or reputation that will carry you into something that will make money down the line, then I think you require a very different strategy. Putting it all out there, and then expecting people to continue to turn around and pay for it is a recipe for disappointment, even in the internet age. The better strategy is to do what any good drug dealer does- give the audience a hit, get them addicted, and then make them pay if they want more. (Of course, that strategy does have it’s problems, because if your drug isn’t addictive enough, then it will likely fail.)
In J.C.’s case, he might have been better served by releasing the first third of the story, and then putting the rest up for sale on Amazon in book form. The problem is, there wasn’t a Lulu.com when he started doing this, and he was a pioneer at finding out what worked and what didn’t. The canary in the coal mine, as it were. He didn’t have that kind of choice, and was hoping to use the podcast to attract buzz from a mainstream media publisher.
Of course, something to consider is- it worked. Despite 7th Son not selling, and despite his legions of fans having failed him in his darkest hour, J.C. podcasting his book did get it published, and not only that, it made him a name. Even if all his future books will be published and sold normally, the key point is, they will be published because he’s no longer a faceless manuscript sitting in the slush pile. J.C. is now lightyears ahead of tens of thousands of other authors in a highly competitive market, and has a very good chance of being a successful (paid) author in the future.
So, while J.C. might be somewhat bitter about the whole experience, I hope he considers that despite all the hard work, there really was a payoff- a big one. One I bet a lot of other struggling writers wish they had.