Tuesday, August 07, 2012

There shouldn’t be no free lunch

Two of my blog-mates, Barbara last Wednesday and Aline yesterday, have posted interesting takes on what is probably the major issue in publishing today: just what are a writer’s books worth?

In Barbara’s case, she was not discussing books at all. Her piece dealt with social media, specifically how authors are now expected to spend larger and larger portions of their waking hours trolling the depths of social media all in an effort to promote themselves and their works. The bottom line for her in this is whether the dubious promotional value of Twitter and Facebook is worthwhile, considering that an author must trade off valuable writing hours in order to Tweet. Scroll down a few entries to read her thoughts. Barbara is an intelligent, pragmatic and thoughtful lady, and I suggest listening when she speaks. (In this case, it’s easy to see where her allegiance lays.)

Aline’s post from yesterday (just below this one) discusses the actual monetary worth of a writer’s output. When scribblers gather, one of the hot topics of conversation is always the paltry lack of monetary recompense for the weeks and months spent writing a novel or book of non-fiction. I suspect that if one could go back to a chance meeting of the storytellers and playwrights of ancient Greece, the situation would still be the same: how come we don’t get paid all that much? Read Aline’s piece. It’s well worth your time.

As she rightly points out, there always will be superstars in publishing, but increasingly (and worryingly) even really excellent, good-selling authors are making less money than in the past. The really salient point in her piece is that now authors themselves are slitting their own throats with the advent of cheap e-book offerings of their works. Yes, these authors (or publishers who go in for this sort of cutthroat marketing) might sell more “units”, but are they really doing themselves any favours in the long run? When the buying public begins to expect that e-books should cost less than a box of Kraft Dinner, we’re doomed – if we expect to make our living by the fruits of our prose.

My own point today is to share an article that appeared last week in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. It concerns the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling about what constitutes legal copying in our educational system: Like lunch, writing isn’t free.

So now, in Canada at least, a copyright to an author’s work means even less than it did in the past. Maybe it would be more accurate to start calling it a “copyfreely” the way things are going. All these people who seem to believe that culture (music, movies and books) should be free probably have never created anything of their own (other than a blog, Facebook shout-outs or the odd Tweet) and therefore don’t understand just what direction their wrong-headed idea is leading.

Creators of culture should be properly recompensed for their efforts. They must be. It’s fast getting to the point where full-time writing jobs just won’t exist. Writers need time and mental space to do their best work. Any of us will tell you that our jobs are infinitely easier when our minds are not cluttered with the detritus of day jobs and weakened by mental exhaustion. Writing should not be forced into the “interesting hobby” category.

Suffice it to say, the tide is now lapping a little more at our ankles, and writing is a little bit closer to becoming a hobby rather than the work of a lifetime.

4 comments:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick, as far as the stars not making that much either, somewhere I wrote that an editor had said that $5,000 is the new $50,000. The end isn't in sight yet either.

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