David Bowie in 1996, a year before Bowie Bonds were introduced
Here’s another kind of speculative fiction, or non-fiction for writers to consider: packaging your current and future earning potential into a security bond investors can buy and sell–or at least thinking of your work (past, present, and future) as valued commodities.* In 1997, David Pullman, an investment banker working with David Bowie, created financial instruments known as “Bowie Bonds” to “securitize [Bowie’s] back catalog”. An article on Phillymag.com explains how the bonds, which acted as a loan against future payments, worked: “Artists would get a lump sum of money now without having to wait for future royalties.”
The bond sounds like the advance traditionally published writers negotiate as part of their book contract–except writers would presumably have to pay the money back if their future royalties/earning potential could not cover the initially projected value. Since most contracts don’t require return of the advance if a book doesn’t earn its advance, a bond like this would not make sense for most writers, but it’s an interesting model to explore as digital tools make the publishing and book selling industries more financially transparent and empower writers to take more ownership of the business of writing. Moreover, the bond taps into the way some artists already value their art.
Upon cursory rumination, the Bowie Bond seems like an instrument or model only really famous or financially successful writers can begin to entertain, but young creatives have been making calculated risks based on their art as long as art has been appreciated. One of the things that struck me as I watched the film Straight Outta Compton was how both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre walked away from millions at at least two points in their careers to either maintain their safety or avoid becoming further entangled in strangulating contracts.
There was a power in their exit because it spoke to their faith that they could reinvent themselves. They were essentially betting on their talent and work ethic, and their future ability to monetize them. Their belief in their capacity to recreate and improve upon their past success was a bond of sorts.
How can new and emerging writers quantify the current and future value of our work and intellectual property without allowing financial value to motivate or compromise the art? How can we figure out how not to let the tensions between commercial realities and artistic integrity hamstring us while others profit from our intellectual property? How would believing in the worth of our work change the way we approach the financials of writing?