The Value of $19.61

A few weeks ago, I took a spill off of my bicycle, breaking my wrist for the trouble. Further back, in 2012, I wrote a column called “Second Set” for the late, re-examining the St. Louis rock music scene of the ’80s/’90s, a project that bled into 2013 with the “Encore” sub-series. I wouldn’t have sensed any connection between these experiences until I saw that bills from my surgery were landing at my doorstep. It struck me that an e-book based on those 2012/’13 writings, released as “Second Set: Encore” in November of 2013, had never resulted in a payout. Put the idea of needing money together with a tiny rivulet of cash flow, well, you see where this is going.

My guess was the e-book hadn’t sold a ton, though it’d been out for roughly a year, with a few ads running in Eleven Magazine the sum total of the non-Beacon marketing effort. (Ads worked off in writing, I might add, rather than cash.) My math went like this: I figured that around 200 e-books had sold over the year, priced at $2.99 on Amazon, and that my one-third cut per sale would mean a check of $200, or so. And this was working with a very conservative estimate of how many I’d assumed were sold. Considering some of the bands and artists and clubs and shows covered in the book, that seemed kinda-realistic.

Yeah, well.

After contacting my editor, now in the employ of 90.7 fm, I was passed along to another member of STL Public Radio’s staff. We exchanged a few bits of info. The first feedback indicated that the Beacon’s account had been closed since March, and that any payout would’ve/should’ve happened before then. My indignation chilled as we kept in touch throughout yesterday and another former Becaonite was able to pass along the codes to Amazon. Turns out that the account was live, but was essentially now in the control of the University of Missouri system, which owns KWMU, which, in turn, owns the rights to the Beacon. As someone who knows the reality of media melds, this wasn’t something to get upset about; sending an invoice to the University of Missouri or a local website doesn’t really make a difference.

And I wasn’t upset at the end result of sales, which netted me, as you might guess from the title, the grand sum of $19.61. Meaning those 200 sales were a serious pipe dream. And I have a witness to this, but my first response when getting the number was: to laugh. I mean, what else can you do when $19.61 presents itself to you like that?

Once upon a time, in the ancient days of a year ago, I thought that there could be some value in a press that specialized in local-only titles, released exclusively on digital formats. My experience with the “Second Set: Encore” project made me think that the micro-niche model of publishing was the real way to go. A book on the Spirits of St. Louis basketball team? How about an e-book? An oral history of St. Louis brewing. E-book! A look back at the clubs and restaurants of our town, from Gaslight-to-today? Gotta come as an e-book!

Screw you, e-books.

Yesterday’s experience reminded me that even in a world in which the most-specialized content can find life online, we’re also in a world in which no one wants to pay for anything, at least not in any substantial amount. (So says the guy listening to Spotify at this very second.) The project was fun, with about 70 pieces emerging from the year-and-change of writing. The experience allowed me to reconnect with a ton of people from my old tribe. It allowed for, I think, some good writing to emerge, a bunch of cool stories to be shared and allowed some old wrongs to be righted. On a personal level, “Second Set” worked for me and it was received favorably by the folks that were meant to read it.

The $19.61, well, let’s just call it a modest tip.

(The pre-book series you can read for free: