When I enjoy a free or low-cost ebook, I’ll often write a review. I consider it a way of showing appreciation for the author’s time, effort, and willingness to share creative energy with the world. It’s chiefly meant as encouragement, like posting a comment on a thoughtful blog entry or giving feedback to a friend in a writers’ group.
Conversely, when a book doesn’t suit me at all, I move on to something else without reviewing it. Everyone has different tastes, and I have better things to do with my time than complain. Besides, it strikes me as mean-spirited to post a review saying that a book sucks, even if that is my honest opinion. It’s not like commenting on a shoddy product where a company has been deliberately cutting corners to save money. Authors of ebooks usually aren’t weighing cost-benefit considerations when they dream up their stories. They’re just ordinary people.
And when I read a book by a celebrity author, I generally don’t feel motivated to write a review. Not even if I believe it’s a great book, recommend it to someone I know, or buy it as a gift. That’s because I put celebrity authors in the category of businesspeople selling a commercial product, rather than online acquaintances creating stories for the pleasure of sharing them. As such, my encouragement isn’t needed.
For the past century or so, we’ve had an entertainment industry whose business model has been to create glamorous stars for the masses’ adoration. They’ve made it such an ingrained part of our culture that it seems like the natural way of things. We expect to see tabloids full of celebrity gossip in the grocery checkout line. Most of us take for granted that a career in the creative arts is only available to a lucky few, and that for everyone else it’s just a daydream. When our kids say that they want to be actors, novelists, or singers, we tell them it might be a fun hobby, but they’d better keep up their math and science grades because they’ll have to get a real job.
Of course, today’s technology-driven society really does need a lot of engineers, and I am not suggesting we shouldn’t inform our young people of that fact. On the contrary, I’m very much in favor of programs that encourage high school students to take a rigorous schedule of math and science courses in preparation for careers such as engineering and nursing, which are facing major labor shortages in the near future. That’s wise public policy in a world of rapidly falling birthrates and increasingly specialized jobs. But at the same time, our technological advances have created more space for artistic pursuits than we ever had before.
In the early days of our celebrity culture, real physical constraints made it impracticable for any significant number of people to pursue creative careers. We still had a mostly agrarian society, and manufacturing was low-tech and labor intensive. Most people had to be farmers or factory workers because the economy didn’t generate enough surplus production to support more than a few entertainers. Also, the low level of technology meant that films, printed books, and vinyl records were expensive to produce and distribute.
What a difference a century makes. Today’s cheap technology and the Internet have made it possible for anyone to create indie movies, songs, and books. Although our culture still has its celebrities and all the hype that goes along with them, I expect that paradigm will fade quickly as we move toward a decentralized entertainment industry. The corporate winners will be companies like Amazon that provide a low-cost platform for individuals to market their creative works.
While indie artists won’t make millions or have paparazzi following them around, there is enough money in today’s economy that they should be able to earn a respectable living, while also enjoying a close relationship with audiences who look upon them as friends.