You do not own your ideas. Your thoughts, once committed to bytes, become part of the endless ether staining the screens of everyone with a monitor, an internet connection, a cell phone, a tablet, or even one of those smart TV’s with the fancy remotes that make browsing the internet feel like navigating with a bar of soap. Welcome to the world of the digital. You’ve been here for quite some time, you just didn’t know it. For centuries (if you’re a house fly, years if you’re a human) the digital divide has been looming over wordsmiths like a constantly evolving artificial intelligence, listening to everything we write, every thought we spill. OK, yes, that was a stretch. I just wanted an excuse to use a SHODAN graphic.
Authors like J.K. Rawlings have resisted the trend to publish digitally while others like Stephen King have embraced it. Regardless of the fear behind the decision, the truth is that every author should have the right to decide for themselves. However, once you go digital, your choice is made. As irrevocable as picking peppers for a pizza topping. You can try to remove them, but some flavor lingers, forever tainting your slices.
The idealists like to believe the internet exists for the free exchange of ideas. Let’s not forget the system was designed by DARPA to let generals exchange digital porn in the event of a nuclear attack. In the aftermath of Snowden’s revelation, we are reminded that the internet does not forget. As long as disk arrays exist without suffering cascade drive failures, information will persist, even those insane twitter feeds from people who post things that look like hitler.
As more journals and publications go digital, it’s wise for any writer to think of the bigger picture. E-publishing is unavoidable, and doesn’t have to be an enemy if you’re aware. While I’ve gone on record to say the number of e-publishing self-publishing success stories are far fewer than Amazon wants us to believe, success is certainly possible. Everyone who creates content, writers and musicians and even that guy who make toothpick sculptures, walks a fine line between value and availability. The biggest mistake the recording industry made was a failure to embrace digital. Technology outpaced availability, and .MP3’s were born along with Napster Bad, Money Good! The motion picture industry is undergoing the same challenges, but is embracing digital a bit more readily, if not entirely correctly.
E-books are a natural transition. With hundreds of millions of smart phones and PC’s, the world already has a wealth of readers along with the Kindles and Nooks and Sony readers flooding the market. For the short-story writer, your digital rights revert back to you once your work has been published. Even if published online, you are free to do with that short prose what you will, unless of course you’ve signed a contract giving away certain rights. It’s typical for most e-journals to retain digital rights for a year, and even when not requested, it’s often understood. The point of publishing great work is in getting the public to the journal’s web site, not necessarily driving the public to your site – hold off on putting that story up on your own site until sufficient time has passed. A year is good, or you could wait for the next Mayan apocalypse.