Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Lawrence Watt-Evans and the Street Performer Protocol

Found via Boing Boing, I thought this was absolutely fascinating. Fantasy writer Lawrence Watt-Evans will be producing the next novel in his Ethshar series entirely online, posting a chapter for every $100 in donations he receives from fans. He says that he's been unable to interest a major mainstream publisher in the book (and one assumes he is not in a position to work for the kind of advances offered by the small and medium presses), and so conceptualizes the donations as an advance. In the event that he's able to finish the novel, he'll then shop it around to small presses, to see if anyone is interested. And why not? He'd have already been paid for it.

A really interesting experiment. I'm not sure anything quite like it has been done before. Watt-Evans says, "This system is partly inspired by the Street Performer Protocol, and by the system known as the Storyteller's Bowl, but I've modified them to suit my purposes. Similar things have been attempted before, I'm not inventing anything new." King's "Riding the Bullet" followed a similar path in its early incarnation, but if I recall corretly only subscribers could read the chapters. What Watt-Evans is doing that is so interesting is making the work publicly available as a result of private donations. That seems like it would really serve to help drive up the potential audience, since a reader could start reading when 20 chapters had already been posted, and decide that they wanted to read more and then help fund chapter 21.

You'd need a significant audience to begin with, though. Given that he's talking about 35 or 40 chapters, this would mean a total of $4,000 in donations, so 400 readers would need to each donate $10 to see the project finished (or 40 donating $100 each, or 4,000 donating $1 a piece). If the potential readership willing to shell out money like this numbered in the low thousands (or at least high hundreds, and each of them willing to spend at least five or six bucks), this might be a successful business model.

I look forward eagerly to seeing how this plays out.

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