I’ve worked in publishing for over 27 years.
I have heard the slogan that copyright has not “kept up with” technology for a long time, yet no backing for it. The fact is, copyright law has “kept up with” photocopiers, it has “kept up with” desktop publishing and the consequent explosion in self-publishing and micropublishing, and it has “kept up” with the Internet. Copyright law does not need to be altered to accommodate new technology. Just because it is technologically easier to copy material without paying for it does not mean it is legal, or that is pays the copyright holders.
I have also worked as a technical writer for various computer companies, and possibly more relevant, my husband is a programmer, with two BAs (one in mathematics) and a Phd. (Well, he was a programmer till the company where he worked for over 35 years filed Chapter 7 … but I assume he will get another programming job at some point.)
Therefore I feel in a position to assure you that the vast majority of software and books produced, are commercial. At least in the sense that people invest enormous amounts of time and money in them in the often speculative hope of a return. I couldn’t afford to write or publish books without being paid. I’ve invested 19 years of my time and several hundred thousand dollars of my money in publishing nine books so far … and I operate on the typical micropress shoestring budget. My dining-room table is covered with computer equipment and I recycle envelopes. I work well over 40 hours a week—which I could hardly do if I had another job in addition. I don’t get a salary, I don’t get health benefits, I can’t afford employees, and I have no guarantee of getting a return for my costs. Which, by the way, takes some years per book to happen, if it does happen—I’ve got one or two I’m wondering about.
And now, my life is full of people who earn far more than I do, comfortably assuring me that if they don’t pay for my work, or if they snatch away years of income from it, I’ll slave away for them anyway. Or if I won’t (I’m failing to see any incentive currently), someone else will, so who needs me? Their vision seems to be to establish their own Third World right here in the US (and Canada, and Austria, and Europe, and other developed countries), with people creating software, books, and art for them free (or at least at bare cost), while they kick back and congratulate themselves on having saved a little money. Just like they enjoy the fruits of having their running shoes made in China at 50 cents an hour—presumably they don’t want to outsource all the books and art to China because so many Chinese don’t speak English.
I just got out the frequently delivered brochure for my local pizza parlor, Mozzarella di Bufala. Their pizza is pretty good, but it is not a gourmet restaurant. I can order a 16” large (10 slices), of most of their popular pizzas for about $25 (give or take a couple of bucks depending on the toppings). That’s the list price for most popular hardcovers (which are often discounted from list price on Amazon). They’ll sell me one slice of New York cheesecake for $4.50 and a liter of Coke for $2.60—if I ordered both the Coke and the cheesecake, I’d pay about as much as for a mass-market paperback.
Let’s not even get into what I’d pay to eat one dinner at Greens or Chez Panisse.
And yet I constantly encounter college students who unthinkingly plunk down the price of a couple of books at least once a week on pizza dinners, whining about the “greedy publishers and authors” who are “ripping them off” for books. What, isn’t food a necessity? And, why should farmers, grocers, etc., not labor free for the good of society, as a “collective”? Why is this one-way socialism, this privilege of doing social good for free or for fun, reserved for writers, artists, composers, and other creators of copyrightable works?
This is exactly an instance of the contemptuous attitude that is making me very seriously consider finding an entirely new profession. People are willing to pay for what they respect. I don’t mind if people do not want to buy my work for any reason they choose: They think it’s too expensive, it’s of no interest to them, they think it’s dreck. Fine. But I am completely being fed up with being told they very much want my work, but they only want it free (pirates, or people who expect me to give it all away), or they want to seize control over it to get a large part of the revenues from it (Google), or they want it at a price they think is “fair” (news flash: I can’t afford to sell it for less). I’m constantly being assured, by people who know nothing about writing or publishing, and who are just repeating slogans, things like:
I have no costs other than printing. Apparently, spending a year or two writing, editing, illustrating, indexing, etc. is unnecessary.
If I only saved my money and treated my work like a real job, I could afford a copyright term of 14 years. Of course, I’m not only not paid any salary or benefits whatever, my profits are slender and take years to arrive. Meanwhile, I have to constantly pay for my housing, groceries, dental care, etc. Why am I somehow not entitled to earn a living in addition to bare payment for my costs? Why, exactly, am I supposed to suffer while the people who demand that I work for them earn comfortable, secure salaries?
I’m just doing this for fun, so I don’t need any money. Variants, Of course I’ve got another, full-time job, so I don’t need any money. Writers earn so little money anyway, surely they won’t miss this income if it all goes away. Why, exactly, is everyone so sure they know all about my personal income and feel just fine they can allot it to themselves (by not paying for my work)?
Then there’s *Writing is fun, so writers don’t work for pay.” Many people have jobs and professions they enjoy—including many people who assert this. They still expect to be paid.
And the kicker, We know you’ll continue writing anyway, even if we don’t pay. Hello? What kind of idiot do you think I am?