Tuesday, September 29, 2015
The new “cheap” is now “free”. We’ve seen it in the music business for a long, long time. We’re seeing it in the book biz now. Even in the workplace. It is self-serving garbage foisted on the public (and the content producers) by those who are greedy to the point of absurdity. They should instead be ashamed and embarrassed. They know they’re taking advantage of people, but they do it because they can get away with it.
Case in point
The head of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, started a firestorm last year when he suggested that jobless university graduates take unpaid jobs to bolster their resumes.
Huh? Why is this a good thing? They’ve gone through university, likely racked up big debts for that, and now they’re expected to work for nothing? Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but this is the basis of what the man said. I’d like to ask Mr Poloz this: would you work for nothing? There is a point to volunteering for a charity or something similar in order to build up your resumé, but working for a company whose goal is to make a profit and you’re doing it for nothing? And that’s supposed to be a good thing? Unpaid internships are happening more and more — and not connected to school programs, either. Young people are desperate enough to take a chance on these simply in the hope that they might get a job. Surely the businesses could afford even a token salary. Some do; most don’t.
As most of you probably know, I’m also a working musician. The two bands I play in often get asked to play charity gigs. In the band that I actually run, we won’t do a charity gig for nothing. Just to get onto a stage costs us money (parking, car costs, travel time, etc). My musicians are professionals who are relying on what they make. If I take a booking for a charity gig and don’t charge anything, they also can’t take a paying gig for that evening. We musicians don’t make a lot of money playing and every little bit helps. I can’t ask my guys to play for free — although I never ask for a huge amount. (What I do offer organizers is that some might give their pay back in order to support the event. I leave it up to each musician to decide what to do. I usually donate my pay back, but that’s me.)
Here’s the rub: we have had charity organizers move on when told we can’t play for free. These are the people who always use the phrase “great exposure for your band!” Sure. It might be. I counter with an explanation that the band is made up of professional musicians and we at least need a small honorarium to cover expenses. “We don’t have the budget!” I tell them that we’d really love to play, but I have to hold firm on that. Some move on, some try to help out, but it can be damned uncomfortable.
Even club owners get in on the act. “I’d like to see how you do. Play at my club (for nothing), and if you do well, I’ll book you in for a paying gig.” Some clubs actually charge the band to play there because the club is a happening place and it will be “good exposure”. Heaven help us! And there are bands that are actually dumb enough to do this.
And now I hear that organizers of conferences are getting in on the act. That is really depressing — and they should know better. Free books? Hundreds of them? All so a company can promote their business? Don’t you folks see what is happening? Vicki is damned right. And it is an insult to all of us who write.
The thing with writers, especially those who haven’t been published yet, is that they’re often desperate to get published, to have their work read. Many do it in their spare time. I don’t think those writers value their work as much as writers whose income depends — at least in part — on their writing. The carrot, of course, is as Vicki said, the hope that they’ll be discovered and they fall for the “good exposure” canard.
I’ve already been through this in the music biz back in my youth, and I know many other youthful musicians who have been in the same boat. Let me tell you this: getting “discovered” doesn’t happen very often. It’s more a matter of luck than anything. Think of it as winning a lottery where they odds are stacked astronomically against you. Sure, it can happen, but let me ask you this additional question: how much have you won on your lottery ticket purchases? There’s an old song by Billy Preston, “Nothin’ from Nothin’ Means Nothin’. That’s what I’m talking about here.
The sad thing is there is no real solution. I’m sure some published authors will contribute books to the Smashwords promotion for Bouchercon. That’s their right, but they should also be aware of this: they’re hurting all of us by not respecting our craft enough. Writers who are unpublished are desperate enough to welcome this dodge with open arms. It’s tough to get a book out. We all understand that. But giving your work away will not really do you much good. I’ll bet Smashwords wouldn’t take a healthy chunk of a book offered as a teaser. That would help everyone — but it wouldn’t be good for their business. Complete books are better for them. And if they come free, well, that’s icing on the cake. It would be stupid of them not to try something like this.
But if all of us told them “No free books but we’ll help with a teaser or two,” I’ll bet they’d take it.
Sad thing is, throughout society, many are so desperate to get noticed that they’ll work for free — to the detriment of all.