Blame authors' fortunes on monopolism, not university professors, booksellers and librarians -- UPDATED

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S&S may be going to HarperCollins? Man, that’s sad. I worked for S&S during the Viacom/CBS split, and even then there were rumors it might be sold off. By media conglomerate standards, traditional book publishing doesn’t contribute enough to the bottom line. It only pays to the extent it can feed material up the line.

I could definitely see Amazon crushing author’s incomes to that extent if that includes vanity programs like the Kindle Lending Library.


Going after public libraries is absurd.

Raise a generation of kids without public libraries and see what happens to author revenues when they grow up.


From Scalzi:

Also, these are self-reported numbers from about 5,000 North American authors, which is a) only a small slice of those writing books, either full-time or part-time, b) represents those who knew about the survey and were motivated to answer it.

Point a is not a real problem, survey sampling works pretty well with small sample sizes (and this doesn’t seem that small) if you don’t accidentally or intentionally choose a biased sample. So point b and self-reporting biases are much more valid complaints.


Alas, indi booksellers are tomorrows Blockbuster. Probably 90% of what I read is not digital. Paper professional journal articles are an annoyance to file and retrieve, so I read PDFs. I am reading 3 books at the moment - 2 pdfs and 1 hardbound. I just published a paper academic book which is also downloadable. Alas, though I do not make a nickel, the book sells for $63! That is a rip, but I am sure many readers will find cheaper access.

There’s always been a certain amount of resentment of libraries because the idea that people are reading for free annoys them. Yeah, it’s short-sighted and stupid, but that doesn’t stop them from whining.

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The analogy with music and movies/TV is apparent. The content creators and content consumers are at the mercy of the middlemen, who reap the profit. Technology should be democratizing all areas of content creation and consumption, bringing the creators closer to the consumers with less interference and siphoning off less of the rewards. Instead, it’s just shifted the leeches from old-school media barons to techbro monopolies.

Since the invention of the movie, author salaries have been pretty bad. In the distant past, people like Twain or Dumas could get, if not rich, then very well off just from writing. Back when print was the only mass-market entertainment medium, buy books were IT.

Since the beginning of visual/sonic entertainments that don’t require literacy, literacy and author salaries have been declining. Lots and lots of people who might have bought books in 1885 don’t buy books. Why should they when they can get more bang for their buck from movies or TV? In the 20th century, “Don’t quit your day job” became a universal writers’ mantra because poverty was the most likely outcome of doing so.

Scalzi could have used one example from his own field: Among science fiction writers in the 20th Century, Robert Heinlein was a notable exception to the rule. He became famous among other SF writers because he was the only one who actually made a decent living JUST from his writing. Every other writer in the genre wrote SF because he felt the need to write imaginative works, and he wrote for magazines and newspapers under pseudonyms because he felt the need to pay the utility bills.

Now, books are an interest of only a minority of the population, because books place too great a demand on people. Books require people to be able to read and to think at least a little. And way too many Americans find thinking painful. It interferes with listening to Garth Brooks or R Kelly and it makes them realize that binge drinking and drug use are not sensible. Too many Americans don’t know a damn thing and they hate and fear anyone who does.

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Writing never paid all that well. There have always been a few stars like Dickens or Hemingway or Rowling who could get what they wanted from publishers or work around them. The best advice for anyone who wanted to write was not to quit one’s day job.

My father was a tax accountant who had a few writers among his clients, so I never had illusions about the writing business. (It was mainly 1099s, not W2s. Depression era kids like my father wanted W2s.) I think it is generally harder to make a middle class living than it used to be, especially for young people, but that’s been a result of our nation’s general downward mobility, a matter of policy.

Writing was always part of the gig economy whether you had a big publisher contract or just did work for hire on individual projects. It was always about selling the next bunch of words. Having fewer big publishers doesn’t help, but their big advantage is that everyone knows their names. People return their calls. It has always been possible to work around them. If anything, it is easier than ever.

I would argue that all of the people who might have bought books in 1885 haven’t bought books for years.


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