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Yellow Dog SFWA sells a Little Red Book? (Don't give it away!) [Apr. 13th, 2007|10:23 am]
Nick Mamatas
In recent months, Wal-Mart made the news by allowing union organizing in its stores!


Here's the punchline: this was in China, where the All China Federation of Trade Unions, a state-run yellow dog union, runs the show on behalf of the Communist Party in order to eliminate most chances of independent working class activity, strikes, slowdowns, greivances, etc. The ACFTU was initially defanged by Chang Kai-Shek, was dissolved after the Cultural Revolution, and was only recently allowed to function as part of the Chinese ruling class's plan to quell labor unrest so that foreign investment will continue. Plus, if Wal-Mart and other foreign investors step out of line, the Party now has a bit more leverage.

ACFTU is a perfectly tame yellow dog union.

Yep, it's a good time to be a sleazy Party cadre in China, especially if you can talk left while cracking the slave whip. But "Market Leninism" has been so powerful as of late, is there anyone still in the country who can do the former as well as the latter? Look no further, my Chinese overlords, Howard V. Hendrix, former SFWA Vice President, is now available for hire!

To wit, he wrote and then declared that he would only discuss privately, this tedious rant which culminated in this gem of Maoist political rhetoric:

I'm also opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they're just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they're undercutting those of us who aren't giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.

Where to begin.

One, scabs are strikebreakers and thus the lowest form of human life. There's nothing about using one's own electronic rights to put up a book, like, say, Move Under Ground, on the Web that is at all analogous to strikebreaking. For one thing, there's no fucking strike!

Two, free online publications, at least at this point, have actually increased sales and often increased advances for subsequent books.

Three, who is giving these things away? I was paid for Move Under Ground four seperate times already: hardcover advance, first chapter excerpt, German advance, and trade paperback advance.

This, of course, leads to four. Following Hendrixian "logic", anyone who writes for the free daily and alternative weekly newspapers or for that matter, broadcast television is "giving it away." Yeah, they've been paid (just like the SFWA members putting up their titles on the 'net), but the end user isn't being shaken down for money. They're just the product (eyeballs and earholes) for the actual customer (advertisers). Of course, "giving it away" to alternative weeklies makes me 50¢ a word, with plenty of reprint opportunities despite how free the Village Voice et al. are. (Meanwhile, science fiction's "Big Three" pay about one eighth as well with their ad-light digests.)

Five, if there is a class conflict between publishers and authors, SFWA should clearly come down on the side of those writers who wish to be allowed to exercise their electronic rights as they see fit. To complain about "giving it away" is to objectively bloc with the Big Five publishers that a matter of course claim full control over electronic rights without paying any more for books now than they did in the time before electronic rights emerged as a viable vector of exploitation. But what can one expect from ACFTU SFWA VP Howard V. Hendrix? Like all good petit-bourgeois, he knows who butters his bread. And it's trasnational capital. Doesn't Bertelsmann deserve everything it pays for, and at least a few things it doesn't? Let's ask Comrade Lapdog, uh, Hendrix. "Woof woof, whatever you say, boss! Bow-wow!"

Six, in the actual labor movement, scabs are confronted, not run away from via a hasty retreat to one's fancy mountaintop dacha. Of course, writing books and licensing rights to publishers (or otherwise exercising them) is not an example of the sale of labour-power; it's a petit-bourgeois activity. (Thus, the laughable bona fides about how Hendrix Arms doesn't need air conditioning. Is the hot tub lined with "fair trade" tile?) BUT, if one is going to ape some working class norms — albeit with all the authenticity of a pre-distressed bedframe purchased from Restoration Hardware for seven thousand dollars — one better ape them all and stick around for the consequences of being the employer's pet. C'mon, Howie, don't let all that Brazilian jui-jitsu go to waste! If you dye your gi the right color, you'll be able to limp right to the Party meeting right after tapping out.

Nah, I don't mean Mao jumpsuit grey, I'm talking yellow.

[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2007-04-13 02:34 pm (UTC)
I thought about linking that post, but just thinking about it made me tired. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: haddayr
2007-04-13 02:37 pm (UTC)
I just posted this to the LJ you linked:

How embarrassing for the SFWA that one of their officers doesn't even have a basic grasp of English vocabulary.

A scab is a strikebreaker, not an independent writer who does what she wants with her work.

And I am being very, VERY restrained right now; I have other words (which I know how to use correctly) for people who use fightin' words like this with such a clear attempt to inflame and with such little understanding of history.
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[User Picture]From: james_nicoll
2007-04-13 02:55 pm (UTC)
How ... interesting that a highly placed executive in SFWA would be such a luddite.

On the plus side, Hendrix's dislike of the net should remove him from a position of influence in the near future. Can't influence people who can't hear you.
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[User Picture]From: prest0
2007-04-13 02:45 pm (UTC)
Then I guess you probably don't agree the the essay I wrote four days ago, titled Is Cory Doctorow Bad for E-books?
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[User Picture]From: kadath
2007-04-13 02:47 pm (UTC)
Don't hate on Cory! He's such a snappy dresser!
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2007-04-13 02:51 pm (UTC)
Indeed, I have no problem with e-books being used primarily as a sales tool for p-books. It's already well-founded that bookbuyers are paying for object, not content, which is part of why used books cost much less than new books. The object has been handled and is often hurt.
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[User Picture]From: cucumberseed
2007-04-13 02:53 pm (UTC)
This is the second time in 24 hours that I've heard about sfwa, and, indeed, the second time in my life that I've heard about them, and my reaction is exactly the same this time as last time.

Incredible consistency, those folk.
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[User Picture]From: tchernabyelo
2007-04-13 04:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that link.

Angried up the blood nicely, that one.

Unreal. Irony on, like, so many levels that I could easily be persuaded it's a spoof.
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From: ex_14thedit
2007-04-13 04:21 pm (UTC)
I think one of the mistakes Hendrix makes in his argument is to assume that if those authors who do make work available on line for free from time to time were to stop, readers would then somehow have a greater desire to read his books and the books of the other SFWA members he mentions. That is not necessarily true. You can give it away, but if a reader isn't interested it's not going to make a difference whether you charge for it or not. Likewise, if readers and editors of venues that pay a decent wage aren't interested in your work, whether you put it out for free or withold it doesn't matter. In other words, there are writers out there who want to blame the fact that they've had to publish a story in a crappy venue that pays poorly because of something some other writer has done when in fact it is that readers and editors have no interest in their work, or their work has yet to be appreciated. What Hendrix does is make the case that all creative work is equal in the eyes of the buying public and it's not. Besides, free samples have been a staple of business since its inception. When one of the soap companies sends me a free sample in the mail, and I use it and like it and go out and buy more, I doubt their union employees grouse about it. I'm in a union, and I just don't see that what he's saying adds up.
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[User Picture]From: wordweaverlynn
2007-04-13 04:46 pm (UTC)

Why yes, I am frothing at the mouth

Exactly. Writing is not commodifiable. A lightbulb is a lightbulb; they have no individuality. Every story is individual and *not* * Interchangeable*. So ebooks don't cut into the market. They build it.

And to use the language of unions in this distorted sense just sickens me. I've never crossed a picket line in my life. Doesn't this man realize that people died for the right to strike, for the eight-hour day, for union health and safety guarantees? And mine workers are still dying underground because the God-damned bosses don't give a damn about anything but profits.

The Internet puts the means of production in the hands of the workers--which is where it ought to be.
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[User Picture]From: ohilya
2007-04-13 04:30 pm (UTC)
As a reader, how the hell am I supposed to know who's part of SFWA or not? What, does each writer's book come with a little sticker that tells me "You're supporting an SFWA writer" ?

That would make for irritating and shitty advertising! "Come! Read our Scifi simply because we're organised!"
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[User Picture]From: autopope
2007-04-13 04:53 pm (UTC)
*Waves hand*

I'm a life member of SFWA. (I coughed up specifically to ensure that I had enough at stake not to resign in high dudgeon over ass-hats like this.)

Just in case you thought this was typical of the membership ...

The real issue is that there's a running guerilla war going on between the troglodyte tendency (as cited above) and those of us who, despite being (in nihilistic_kid's terminology) petit bourgeois self-employed types, don't actually think that aligning ourselves with the most-hated corporation in America is a good business practice.

When it's not holding flame wars, SFWA does valuable work providing emergency medical funds for sick writers, acting on behalf of writers who've been ripped off by unscrupulous publishers and agents, and helping kittens across busy roads.
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[User Picture]From: eyebeams
2007-04-13 05:29 pm (UTC)
C'mon, Howie, don't let all that Brazilian jui-jitsu go to waste! If you dye your gi the right color, you'll be able to limp right to the Party meeting right after tapping out.

You're just all catch-wrestler jealous.
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[User Picture]From: chaotic_nipple
2007-04-13 10:21 pm (UTC)
A few years back at DragonCon, there was a panel on the Baen Free Library. One of the writers on the panel(the name escapes me at the moment) made essentially the same argument. John Ringo's face went through the most amazing contortions as he heard it, I wish I'd had a video camera...
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[User Picture]From: gavroche42
2007-04-14 05:50 am (UTC)
What about George Paul's reaction?
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[User Picture]From: scalzi
2007-04-14 01:19 am (UTC)
Personally, I think the plural of Webscab should be Webscabies.
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[User Picture]From: redplum
2007-04-14 06:52 am (UTC)

There's yer t-shirt right there.
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[User Picture]From: ghostwes
2007-04-14 07:02 am (UTC)
Off-topic, but I really like the cover art for Move Under Ground. Who is the artist, if you don't mind me asking?
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2007-04-14 01:09 pm (UTC)
The delightful Travis Anthony Soumis.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-04-15 12:57 am (UTC)
From an interview with Peter Watts:

'As a way to publicize the book, Watts recently released the novel online under a Creative Commons license, which means it's available to read for free on his Web site, he said. "Someone snuck me a few figures from Bookscan, and those suggest that sales of Blindsight nearly tripled the week after I set it free," Watts said. "All of a sudden I'm getting fan mail from Brazil and Colombia; Blindsight's getting blogged in Portugal and Russia. ... [I've even had some readers] demand that I set up a PayPal account, because they want to send me money."'

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[User Picture]From: riteturn
2007-04-15 12:10 pm (UTC)
I just had a story published by Baen in their new Universe online magazine. It likely will never see paper unless it is published in an anthology. But I got over $700 for this little short. So not all of their e-publishing is give-away. They actually utilize every sort of publishing - sometimes conventional, sometimes electronic, and sometimes as a form of advertising. If you have already collected payment for the hard cover and the paperback then putting the same book up for free can stimulate significant sales of your OTHER books. It's like a drug dealer giving away free samples. If the product is good they come back for pay. The writers who are afraid to give anything away have no confidence in their product, and an exaggerated opinion of what their work is worth that has already gone several rounds of conventional publishing.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-04-15 03:01 pm (UTC)

Webscab? or just good marketing

Just look at what a "Webscab" like Scott Sigler did with ANCESTOR on Amazon, on 4/1/07. Sold 3800 books in one day; number one in Horror and Sci Fi, number seven over all. Almost every one who purchased the book had already listen to Scott read the story and even helped him edit it for consistency. He now has a three book deal with Crown for INFESTED (was INFECTED). The story was read on his podcast and he is currently working his way through the ROOKIE. He has given away four free audio books, all of which did not have a contract when they were given away. As a writer I will be following Doctorow, Sigler, Tee Morris, Mur Lafferty, and others. Into the brave new world of the future, After all isn't the SFWA a Science Fiction Writers Association. Next thing you know these "Union" boys are going to be asking us to stop reading the authors who use the Gutenberg device.

Blessed Be, C. A. Sizemore C.A.Sizemore@cox.net www.casizemore.com Morality; is doing the right thing and not caring if any one is watching.
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[User Picture]From: hutch0
2007-04-15 09:54 pm (UTC)
Could someone explain to me how my posting a story online for free - which nobody will want to read - will stop people going into bookshops and buying stuff they do want to read?
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[User Picture]From: chaotic_nipple
2007-04-17 06:28 am (UTC)
The same reason that the availability of promiscuous trollops prevents men from marrying "nice girls", I guess... ;-)
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[User Picture]From: memegarden
2007-04-23 06:12 pm (UTC)
Let's go after all those people who have sex with people for free, too. It cuts into the prostitutes' business!
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