Sunday, September 21, 2014

Special Snowflakes

I was sitting around this weekend wondering what to blog about.  I usually brainstorm these things while out walking my dogs, but I found no inspiration on my weekend walks.  Despondent, I started surfing through the links on the blogroll on the side of this page, and I came across something too good to pass up.

Those who've read this blog for more than a day know my feelings on the Hachette/Amazon dispute.  A group calling itself "Authors United" - a pretentious term that presumes to speak for all of us - has taken a very public stand against Amazon(curious that the publishers isn't doing this...mayhap it has something to do with this ruling that found that traditional publishers were illegally colluding with each other to artificially inflate the prices of ebooks, and the big boys were afraid of getting their pee pees smacked again over butting into the sphere of public debate, so they encourage their slaves writers to do it for them).  This group recently sent out Roxana Robinson, the Authors Guild President, to talk about how mean Amazon has been to poor, poor Hachette.

In order to continue, you should first take a look at the video in question.  You can find it over at this link on The Passive Voice, or at this one on Hugh Howey's blog.  I'd embed the video myself, but I haven't figured out how.  I know, I know...I'm a technological Neanderthal.

Ms. Robinson demonstrates perfectly why writers have had such a hard time getting better terms from traditional publishers - she is absolutely clueless about business.  Paul Kedrosky, the editor of Infectious Greed, does a masterful job of fisking Ms. Robinson in person, but there are a few points I'd still like to cover.

The first and most ludicrous point Ms. Robinson tries to assert is that books aren't products.  She claims they are intellectual property deserving of special status.  When Mr. Kedrosky brings up a few examples of other entertainment mediums that are considered products, thereby making books nothing super special, she makes an inane comparison to the intellectual licensing of software.  This is absurd - while your story itself might be intellectual product, the physical case it comes in is indeed a product.  It has a physical manifestation and I plop down plenty of real money to buy it.  And although you can't steal a piece of software and call it your own, if you buy a CD from Microsoft with Word or Power Point, the store and company consider it their product.  Ms. Robinson's comparison would make more sense if some was asserting that a book they'd written was original when, in fact, it was taken nearly verbatim from her, but that's not the case here.  Books don't carve out some special niche in the marketplace just because a person thinks the item is unique.  In fact, packaging it for sale makes it the very definition of a product.

Next, Ms. Robinson doesn't seem to grasp that Amazon is under no legal obligation to sell books for Hachette.  The contract between the companies has run out, so the legal framework of distribution no longer exists.  This is the very underpinning of the dispute, and Hachette authors should consider themselves lucky that Amazon is selling their work at all.  Amazon is being far more gracious than I'd be in their position - I'd tell the entitled whiners writers employed by Hachette to take their dispute up with their employer since it's their employer my contract dispute was with, not them as individuals.  Ms. Robinson acts entitled to her works being distributed via Amazon since she knows that Amazon is the largest distributor out there, and therefore a major source of her employer's revenue.

Finally, when she can't win the argument on facts - either because she has no reasonable refutations or because she doesn't understand the facts - she tries to go into victim mode by scolding Mr. Kedrosky for using the term "special snowflake."  She spends a good minute trying to make this about his use of a term that Ms. Robinson and the writers of the Authors Guild have earned.  These writers are acting as if they are special and that the normal rules of business don't apply to them.

That's the most maddening part of her diatribe.  Too many writers want to sit on purty pink clouds all day so they can dream up their next masterpiece, forgetting that this is still a business.  If you can't make money from your work, all that creative thought, nice as it might be, means little since no one gets to see how deep you are.  No matter what we might like, business is governed by pesky things like contracts, profit margins, regulatory requirements, and supply chains.  Just because a person thinks that their work is oh-so-special, that doesn't mean the market gives a shit.  You are not entitled to a living - you have to work for it, and that means working within the framework as it exists.  This entitled mentality is why publishing houses can get away with obscene practices like giving authors only 15% of the revenue stream, and then only doing so every six months.  If Ms. Robinson and her colleagues truly wanted to make a difference, they could turn their focus on the houses that treat them like interchangeable scraps of meat.  Until they do so, they'll continue to shill for the companies that treat them like dirt, and they'll smile while doing so.

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