Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Page back and join in the discussion of when darkness is inspirational and when enough is just enough. Then set sail with me and Alan as we move into the troubled waters of piracy.
ALAN: I was watching some DVDs today, all legitimately purchased. Some were American and some were British. The American-produced ones all start with a (VERY LOUD) advert along the lines of “You wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal…” and go on to point out that pirating DVDs is punishable by death, dismemberment, and life in prison (OK, I’m exaggerating a little there).
JANE: I’ll admit, it’s a long time since I bought a new DVD, other than anime. I’m familiar with the written FBI warning, but I hadn’t encountered this particular approach. You’re educating me again!
That said, as someone who makes her living through intellectual properties, I’ve got to say that pirating is not a good thing.
ALAN: Oh, it definitely isn’t a good thing at all, and the British DVDs are concerned to get the same message across. But they all start with a very short and not very loud advert which simply says (and I quote directly): “By purchasing this DVD you are protecting the British film and television industry. Thank you.”
Two very different approaches which are essentially saying the same thing. I know which one I prefer. I’d much rather be thanked than threatened.
JANE: I absolutely agree. I like the British approach very much. For one thing, it’s educational. I honestly believe that if more people realized how writers – for one – are paid, they wouldn’t be as inclined to pirate. It’s viewed as one of those “victimless crimes.” The British approach gives a name to the victims.
I know a couple of people who have written for Hollywood. Would you like me to ask them if piracy hits the writer or just the Big Studio?
ALAN: Yes please – I really don’t know very much about how screenwriting works. I’ve never met anyone who does it.
JANE: Okay… I’m back. Debbie Lynn Smith, who wrote for several popular T.V. shows, and is now working on the soon-to-be released comic Gates of Midnight, said: “Both freelance and staff writers get residuals. Residuals work on a sliding scale. So the first rerun gets about half the script payment. Then each subsequent rerun gets a percentage less. I’m still receiving residuals on Murder, She Wrote, Touched By An Angel, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
“There are also foreign sales, which pay much less. DVD is even less. Streaming – I don’t know anything about as I never dealt with that.”
Then I checked with Melinda Snodgrass, who in addition to writing novels and short fiction has written both for television (Star Trek: TNG) and film. She added some details about how screenwriters are hurt by piracy: “…we don’t get money on a movie unless somebody buys that DVD… yes, piracy hurts us worse [than it does television writers], but we also get money when Netflix is streaming a film.”
ALAN: That’s interesting. I had no idea that individual writers were affected like this. I thought it was only the big, faceless, greedy companies who got hit in their bottomless corporate pockets. If I thought about it at all, I suppose I just assumed that the small creators got an upfront payment for their work. Obviously I was wrong…
JANE: Oh, they do get an upfront payment, but pirates are keeping them from getting paid for continued use of their work.
Speaking of small creators… One thing that surprises me is how few people know how print writers make money from their books. Just the other day, we had some friends over. They were talking about selling some of their books to a used bookstore. I mentioned that used bookstores – especially now that most have their stock listed on the internet – were one of the things that were killing professional writers.
ALAN: I’d never really thought of second-hand bookstores as being harmful to a writer’s income. I know you don’t receive any money from second-hand sales of your books, but I’m surprised that the impact is that large. Furniture manufacturers don’t receive any money from the sale of second-hand furniture, but they show no signs of going out of business!
JANE: Ah… But second-hand furniture sellers are not likely to sell outside of their immediate market. After all, furniture is expensive to ship. However, many second-hand booksellers now have an on-line store. That’s changed everything.
Once upon a time, second hand bookstores were very useful to both readers and writers. Readers could try a new writer or series at a discount. If they liked what they found, then they would probably turn to a seller of new books to feed their habit – after all, a used bookstore would be unlikely to have a complete run of a series or everything an author had written. Now, that’s changed. A reader can go on-line and buy from a huge variety of used bookstores, often at an astonishing discount.
A writer receives nothing from the sale of used books. Since sometimes “used” books show up almost as quickly as “new” – a result of reviewers selling sample copies – not even the newest of the new works will earn a writer income.
ALAN: But doesn’t the publisher pay you in advance for your book?
JANE: Yes. However, the term is “advance against royalties” for a reason. If enough copies sell for the writer to “earn out” the advance, more income is forthcoming. Unless you’re a super-duper bestseller, used bookstores make earning out the advance less likely than before – and, even before the Internet, earning out an advance was far from certain.
Moreover, publishers estimate the advance based on how many copies sell. If copies don’t sell (because readers are buying used), then advances go down, fewer copies are printed, and the nasty downward spiral that has forced many formerly solidly selling “midlist” writers out of business continues.
ALAN: I’d have thought libraries would be more of a worry. After all, lots and lots of people borrow library books. That’s a lot of potential customers to lose. For a long time authors got no money at all from this, but a few years ago we got something called the Public Lending Right which does give authors a tiny income from borrowed library books. Do you have anything like that?
JANE: No. American writers get nothing but the original sale for library circulations. That’s why it’s a sort of backhanded compliment when a reader comes up to a writer and says, “I love your books so much! I’ve taken all of them out of the library five times!”
Also, after a while, libraries aren’t likely to have a full set of a series or all the works by an author. This used to lead to readers seeking out the rest, a demand for reprints, and other good things for the writer. These days… Not so much.
I’m not saying I don’t use the library or used bookstores. I do. Avidly. But when there are writers who I want to see able to keep writing, then I go out and buy their books new.
There’s a creative impact, too. Can you guess what it is?
ALAN: That’s a tricky one. Let me think about it and maybe we can discuss it next time.