"Where Did We Go Wrong?"

A Classic Inquiry

"Where did we go wrong?"

That's the question that causes a great deal of anxiety in the various artistic communities that I am either an active member of or observe from the fringes these days. I've burned through dozens of Amazon Unlimited downloads in the last 6 months, chiefly because I can't tolerate the piss-poor quality of the writing beyond 25 pages in the vast majority of them. But the lack of skill and mechanical/technique talent present in these titles is not the only concern, and for some of us, not the primary one.

It's the sameness that troubles me.

No matter the beauty of cover art on a lot of these titles or the claims of 5-star reviews (don't trust those, by the way), titles generally in the same genre overall seem to be tending toward a kind of cut-and-paste approach. Understanding trends and capitalizing on what will sell in the current marketplace is a useful talent, don't get me wrong, but it leaves our available options minimal and tired.

The indie storytelling community has plenty of hidden gems floating about the pond, but they're having to struggle with an oversaturation problem. If I find myself presented with another story about a precocious late-teen girl born with hidden magic becoming aware of being some Mary Sue Chosen One again, I'm going to hunt down the servers where Amazon stores these .MOBI files and smash them with a hammer! Similarly, if another Harry Dresden clone comes stalking across the pages of yet another 'USA TODAY Bestseller' from Unlimited with barely 2-dimensional personality development and proceeds to speak in tropes and cliches, I may have to throw my tablet at a wall.

Where did we turn from unique narrative to cookie cutter just to try and make a quick buck? And at what point did modern day indies decide they almost all had to preemptively brag about how unique or edgy or unprecedented they all are? The sheer ego on some of these folks is staggering!

Where I seem to personally have taken a wrong turn is in trusting that I'll find enough quality material to read to make it worth the constant annoyance, and that's changing now; my wife and I have cancelled our Unlimited. It simply isn't worth the price tag, for one, and for two, I don't believe these stories deserve even the pennies they get from my low percentage reads. Don't forget that, folks; these terrible, trashy or unedited works earn a portion of the Unlimited Collective Fund based on what percentage of them you read up to, so even if you don't finish the book, it's making money. That, in turn, will encourage these folks to continue writing terrible work.

The visual arts realm doesn't suffer quite the same problem, though they have more than their fair share of issues, from credit-theft to copyright poaching and more besides. Copyright poaching is a weird one, and despite its rarity, it is horrific. For those unaware of the practice in visual arts, allow me to clarify:

Sites like Deviantart have a 'Posts Are Not Claims' policy written into their User Agreement, and it's rather nasty when followed to its logical conclusion. Effectively, posting your creation on the site is not considered a claim of ownership or authorship of said material, which can make a certain sense. Plenty of users on the site are merely enthusiastic about visual arts, and they highlight the works of others as such.

The problem lies in the fact that anyone can screencapture the images they find on the site, use something as simple as MSPaint to crop surrounding screen imagery, turn around and edit the file's metadata to claim themselves as the creator and register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office for a minimal fee ($25 U.S.). If the work is wildly popular and becomes commercially sold by the original artist, the poacher can then issue a Cease and Desist or Recovery of Profits Order, pointing to their registered Copyright Claim.

Authors have it much easier here, thanks to the 'Poor Man's Copyright' technique, historically accepted as the most basic form of protection of one's intellectual property. Visual artists can use this tactic as well, and I encourage them to do so.

But again I ask, where did we go so wrong here? Why does poaching in the visual arts get used so easily, and why don't people make more of a fuss about it?

Do we really care so little for the rights and efforts of our creatives? Does their work somehow deserve less protection or consideration than anyone else's? Why do mainstream/popular artists get every benefit of the doubt, while indies are constantly told to shut their mouths and go away with their little projects?

I don't have answers to all of these questions, but I'm hoping that we can discover them as a group, artists and patrons working together. If you have answers to offer, leave them below in the comments section.