Sunday, January 03, 2016

Pay the Writer?

I just read a repost on Passive Voice called Pay the Writer. And I disagreed with most of it.

Why?

Because no one owes me a living.

Repeat that to yourself. Say it out loud if you need to.

No one owes me a living.

A sense of entitlement is a dangerous thing. If you're lucky, you'll find readers. If you're really lucky, you'll make a few bucks.

But just because you can string a few pretty sentences together doesn't mean you get to earn a living.

I know how hard you work, because I also work hard. But I'm not entitled to earning a living, either.

It's a very dangerous thing when writers start to believe that they are owed something for their work. It's also fallacious.

Let's say you're a ditch digger, because--as a wise man once said--the world needs ditch diggers too. And you spend 8 hours digging a ditch, busting your ass in the hot sun.

Do you deserve to be paid?

Sure, if someone hired you to dig that ditch. If you're just randomly digging ditches that no one commissioned, on property no one owns, you don't deserve anything. You're an idiot. Or a dreamer. Or both.

Same thing with writing. Just because you wrote it, doesn't mean you deserve to be paid for it.

Q: But! But! But! But what if someone reads what I wrote? Don't I deserve to be paid then?

A: Someone reading your book is not the same as someone hiring you to dig a ditch.

First of all, when you write a book, you can potentially have an infinite number of readers. Let's say you work on it for three months. Well, someday your great-great-great-great grandchildren might read that book in the year 2155. Do you really think you deserve to get paid for something you wrote 139 years ago?

That ditch digger, assuming he was hired, dug a ditch and got paid for his time. He doesn't continue to get paid every time someone looks at his ditch. He got paid for the hours he put in, then he didn't get paid anymore.

The doctor who got a $700,000 salary for 2015 got paid $700,000 for 2015, and no more. He doesn't continue to earn money on hours he worked last year.

Are Khufu's relatives still getting royalties every time someone visits the pyramids?

Intellectual Property, which is protected by archaic copyright laws, can allow creators to continue to get paid for things they wrote long ago, for long into the future.

Personally, I don't think that's fair. And I've blogged about that at length in the past. But we'll hold off on making this an argument about reforming copyright, and focus on the belief that if a writer spends an hour on a story, they deserve to be paid over and over for that hour for eternity.

It doesn't make sense.

Q: But! But! But if someone reads a book, shouldn't they pay?

A: Not necessarily. You don't pay the writer if you check out a book at a library, or buy it used, or borrow it from your buddy.

Q: That's because readers haven't been properly taught that those venues don't pay writers.

A: Kinda like teenagers haven't been taught that drugs are bad? Do you think being taught makes a difference? While you answer that I'll be over here, getting stoned with my teenage son.

Heads up: there has always been free media. You could spend fifty lifetimes reading books and watching videos and never pay a cent. Welcome to the digital world. It's here to stay.

And beyond the free stuff out there, I believe subscriptions are quickly outpacing sales when it comes to ebooks (according to my own numbers). Kindle Unlimited pays me less for borrows than it does for sales, and my sales continue to go down as borrows go up.

Also, whining to your customers that they should spend more money on your work because you're not getting paid, and calling that "education", isn't a wise way to get in their good graces. Just sayin'.

Q: So are you okay with this borrowing trend?

A: It is what it is. Educating readers isn't going to change anything. Pleading with Amazon for scraps won't change anything. I expect this trend to continue, and whining isn't the answer.

Q: What is the answer?

A: The answer is looking for new ways to monetize your IP. But, again, that isn't the object of this blog post. This blog post is about writers who believe they deserve to be paid. I think this attitude is bad, and potentially dangerous. Encouraging a sense of entitlement isn't a good thing. Irritating readers is shitting where you eat. Believing that you deserve to earn $100 an hour on a book you wrote in 2005 is nuts--and I say that having ran a BookBub ad yesterday for Bloody Mary, which I wrote in 2005. I sold over 3000 copies and made about $2400.

I don't deserve this. I'm lucky as fuck.

Q: So what attitude should writers have?

A: I hope to be read. Any way possible. Free books, libraries, loans, used, whatever. I believe that the more readers who find me--whether they pay for it or not--the better off I'll be.

Q: But what if two million people read you but no one pays you?

A: If I have two million fans and I can't figure out how to make money off of that, then I'm an idiot.

But rather than try to squeeze money from every single person who ever glances at one of my IPs, I think the smarter thing is to sell stuff to people who want to buy stuff.

I don't fear free ebooks. I fear obscurity.

Q: And what if everything becomes free and no one buys ebooks anymore?

A: That could happen someday. But something will come along and monetize that model. Where there are fans, there is cash spent. I can't think of any situation that works differently.

But we shouldn't be expecting all fans to pay. We shouldn't be whining that we're owed something. As a writer, you're contributing to the collective creative output of the species. Good for you. But no one is forcing you to this. If you can get paid, awesome. If you can't, go find someone to pay you to dig a ditch.

Blaming Amazon, or bookstores, or libraries, or ebooks, or readers, for your inability to turn your clever words into eternal and infinite cash isn't the way to go. Less time whining and blaming, more time writing and innovating.

Q: But what about piracy? What if people are stealing my stuff?

A: You mean like someone broke into your house and stole your bike, thereby preventing you from continuing to ride that bike?

Q: No. I mean stealing my IP.

A: You mean plagiarism and bootlegging? They're selling your ebooks without your permission and keeping all the money?

Q: No. I mean they're reading my ebooks without paying.

A: Like at a library or used bookstore?

Q: Yeah! I mean no. What it they got it by file sharing?

A: Are you telling me that it upsets you when someone goes through the trouble of downloading your ebook and reading it?

Q: Yes. Without paying me.

A: Because you think you deserve to be paid every time someone reads you?

Q: Yes.

A: Do you pay the creator of every YouTube video you watch for free?

Q: No. But they have ads.

A: Then maybe your ebooks should have ads.

Q: They choose to put their work on YouTube. I don't choose to be file shared! I'm being pirated, man!

A: I've blogged at length at how I don't mind piracy. But, again, that's a topic for another blog post. This one is talking about writers who feel they deserve to be paid.

If you feel you deserve to be paid, and get upset that people are pirating you, there is an easy solution: stop writing.

There is no one forcing you to write. And certainly no one forcing you to try and sell what you've written. You wouldn't go swimming in shark infested waters, would you? Especially if you were bleeding.

Well, writing an ebook and then being shocked that you were pirated is the same thing. If you don't want to get eaten, stay out of the water.

Piracy isn't going away. Go do something else with your precious time if piracy bothers you, because if you create any sort of IP that anyone is interested in, that IP will be pirated.

Not only are you not owed a living, but you will never stop people who want to experience and share your work for free. Our species shares information, freely. It's the reason civilization exists. To try to limit that is a fast track to censorship and flies in the face of net neutrality. The reason oppressive regimes have always existed is because of their ability to limit information and the free exchange of ideas. Sorry, but I support open and free sharing of ideas over your insistence that you earn $2.74 from every person your reads your opus.

Q: You're a hypocrite. Why don't you write for free if you love free so much?

A: I'm not saying writers shouldn't be able to make a few bucks if they can. I'm saying the world doesn't owe them, so stop whining about it. I consider myself lucky to be read, and even luckier that there are avenues where I can make some money. But I also understand that getting rid of libraries and used book stores and piracy would be a bad thing, even though I don't make money in those venues.

Do you really want to prevent people from reading your work because they can't afford it?

Do you want to miss making a fan because they don't want to spend any money on you until they've tried you for free first?

Do you really think they only value books have is what people pay for them? And that everything available for free has zero value?

Do you believe that berating your customers and potential customers is ever a good thing?

You insist the writer get paid?

Instead, thank the reader.

Because if you get enough readers--no matter how you acquire them--the money will follow.