How to properly support writers/artists?

Russell Coker, commenting on my last blog, and apparently after exploring some of the links stemming from the SFWA kerfuflle, apparently stumbled on a post from former SFWA VP Howard V. Hendrix, where he took the amazing position (for a SF writer) that he hated the using the internet, and that people who posted their stories on the web for free download were web-scabs, has taken the position that since such comments were an attack on our (Open Source Developer’s) community, that he would resolve “to not buy any more Sci-Fi books until I have read all the freely available books that I want to read”. Obviously, that’s his choice, but while I don’t have much respect for SFWA the organization, and certainly not for their choice in past and current vice presidents, there’s another side of the story here.

First of all, Dr. Hendrix comments are not the official position of the SFWA, and there are many others who are SFWA members who would very strongly disagree with both the attitudes of Dr. Hendrix as well as the ham-handed DMCA pseudo-invocation by Dr. Burt. In addition, to quote Rick Cook:

The first thing you’ve got to understand about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is that it isn’t. Like the Holy Roman Empire, which in Voltaire’s phrase was “neither holy, Roman nor an empire,” SFWA is not an organization of science fiction and fantasy writers. While some of the leading SF and Fantasy writers belong, the vast majority of the members are people who barely meet SFWA’s extremely lax publication requirements. They are not professional SF or Fantasy writers in any meaningful sense of the term and many of them haven’t published a word of either science fiction or fantasy in years.

Secondly, there are plenty of Science Fiction writers that do really understand this issue quite well. In addition Rick Cook, whom I recommended in my last post, another example of a Science Function writer who has penned a very cogent series of articles about copyright, science fiction, and the business issues of being a SFF writer is Eric Flint. I strongly recommend his series, “Salvos Against Big Brother”,which includes a back-to-the basics examination of copyright quoting and reprinting two speeches by British Parliamentarian Thomas McCauley in 1841. Definitely worth a read, and again a demonstration that there exists Science Fiction authors that aren’t stuck in the dark ages; few (at least it is to be hoped) are like Dr. Hendrix.

Eric Flint is also a senior editor for Baen Books (read more about the founder, Jim Baen here). Baen makes all of its titles available in e-book form without DRM, and many of its authors have agreed to make their books available completely free of charge. Eric Flint does so for all or most of his books shortly after they are published in mass-market paperback form; others only make a few of their books available, typically the first or second books in a series (in the hopes you will buy the rest of their books) — a wise strategy, as he explains in one of his Salvos Against Big Brother columns.

More importantly, I strongly believe that if we enjoy an artist’s works, we should support the artist. That’s why I’ve directly reached out and given money to musicians, authors, and Debian release engineers. (Yes, that last was controversial, but to me and personal ethics, it’s all of the same piece.) Is patronage the right way to support musicians? Well, it’s one way, and I’ve always been fond of the “distributed patronage” model where we use the Internet to allow a large number of people to each contribute to support an artist’s work. The Big Meow is a good example how it might work. (By the way, to people who are wondering what is happening with The Big Meow — I have very recently pinged Diane, and she’s working on it. Between health and family emergencies, the last 12 months have thrown a lot of delays into her writing schedule.)

Are there other models other than patronage that might work? Well, there is the traditional one — just buying the author’s books. But what if we don’t want a dead-tree copy and just want to be able to read it on our Irex Iliad, and the book wasn’t published by Baen Books, or one of the few enlightened publishers who make non-DRM’d eBooks available? That’s a harder question. Personally, I don’t find “Copyright Theft” immoral per se. Illegal, yes, but immoral only if I haven’t done something to materially support the author. If I’ve purchased a new copy of a book, and the eBook version isn’t available via legal means, I don’t believe it is immoral to download it from a site like scribd so I can read it on my laptop. Of course, that brings up other questions, such as what if the book is out of print (because the publisher don’t think it’s commercially viable to reissue the books), the author is dead, and the widow needs money? Lots of hard questions, and no good answers….

But in any case, I think it is the right thing to do to support those authors we care about as we can, and boyotting all SFF books isn’t necessarily appropriate or helpful.

7 thoughts on “How to properly support writers/artists?

  1. Just to correct a factual error:

    Eric flint is not “a senior editor for Baen Books”. He is the senior editor (actually, Editor In Chief) of Jim Baen’s Universe. He is not, to my knowledge, employed by Baen in any other context.

    He is, of course, also a free-lance author and editor who publishes mainly through Baen Books, but that does not make him “a senior editor for Baen Books” 🙂

  2. Who said anything about a boycot?

    I’m merely changing my priorities. The fact that I haven’t got nearly enough time to read the books I would like to read is part of the problem (I have a pile of unread books, some of which I have owned for over a year).

  3. Antti-Juhani: I should fact-checked that better. I got that information from one of Jerry Pournelle’s columns, but given how bad he has been about fact checking in some of his web posts, I should have gotten independent confirmation.

    Russell: Fair enough, I just wanted to nip any ideas people might have had reading your and my blogs that this was a fair way to react to the stupidity of a few SFWA officers and old farts/curmudgeon authors, most of whom have stopped writing fiction I would enjoy reading long ago….


    The above page by Jerry makes interesting reading. Pity he stopped updating it in 2003.

    As for a “fair way to react”, it’s standard practice to avoid purchasing from people that they don’t like.

    For things that have objective criteria (such as how fast a computer is) the effect of disliking the vendor is small. For thing that have highly subjective criteria (such as how much you enjoy reading a book) then you have to expect the effect of disliking the author to be high.

  5. Thanks for including my sons and I in this equation. FWIW, Jack did have complaints about the entrance requirements for authors, wished they were more attuned to the professional, full-time writers, and would have happily licensed electronic editions provided he got paid.

    His book AND THE DEVIL WILL DRAG YOU UNDER *was* available in an electronic version, and he said he would agree to licensing based on the sales of that one title. Hardly anyone bought it.

    A shame, too, because if it had sold well, he might have been prodded into writing the sequel, which I would have enjoyed, even if no one else.

    However, whatever my complaints about the entry requirements for SFWA, their Emergency Medical Fund kept a roof over my head, and food in our kitchen while Jack was dying. I’m dubious about a system where people voluntarily pony up whatever they think an e-book is worth. I happily downloaded Dr. Pournelle’s FALLEN ANGELS when I saw it on the Baen site, but I doubt I’d pay anything for it. If I thought the entire amount would go directly to Jerry, I’d pay an amount equal to the author’s royalty (Jack got 6% of whatever the full retail price was, but surely Eleanor–both Jack’s and Jerry’s literary agent–was able to negotiate more than that for Jerry).

    I’ve never met Dr. Hendrix, but if I were depending on Jack’s royalty payments to pay my bills, I’d be cranky, too.

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