The tyranny of the least flexible
Yes, you are about to persecuted by some idiot with his knees knotted around their neck. If only he’d take to yoga younger in life, they would not be in the position, and neither would you….
Actually, I was referring to a Nassim Taleb article I was pointed at. It was an interesting perspective – although, being me, I feel there are several things I thought he oversimplified or just plain left out, as well as parts I thus disagree with. To summarize: a society (or any system) fits in with the least accommodating that it retains. So society has to change their toilet stance because 0.01% of the population insist on being able to go to the toilet assigned to the sex they feel like they are today, because they won’t change their point of view, and at least part of society – that part which is in power is determined to accommodate them at all costs – and a large part of the population don’t care. Or, to put it another way – the lowest common denominator – education in a class who all have to pass is limited to the speed at which the dimmest can learn – because the dimmest cannot go any faster, but the brighter kids can go slower, and even if they are bored, still pass.
Taleb briefly mentions the cost factor (in terms of the Halal / Kosher) issue, where obliging these customers means de facto that manufacturers make more money making it worth it, because people who abide by Kosher or Halal rules will now buy their product, and the rest of their clientele are flexible and don’t care – and most importantly the added cost is slight, and the customer largely doesn’t know the difference.
He goes on to explain how time (and geographical spread) eventually means the most inflexible eventually wins, and cites a number of historical examples. There are two things he doesn’t mention, and they inter-relate.
The first is boiling a frog (or a lobster) slowly (his examples actually show how gradualist this process is).
And the second relates to the first. There are many examples of an intolerant minority attempting resist or force a change which get squashed like bugs. Logic says this is the case or we’d be extinct the cave in the Rift valley, in the dark, because Aunty Ugg thought this newfangled fire thing was just evil (like puppies) and was loud and vehement in her objection – and to keep the clan peace Uggly (a relation of mine) did not kick the old bag out the cave, or tell her to shut up and eat her singed meat – before she was next singed.
Of course, to be different and unusual and totally unexpected – as this is writing blog, I thought I’d relate this to… writing, both to the industry in general, and to writing as in what we individuals do. It’s fairly obvious that traditional publishing is very subject to the tyranny of the most inflexible and intolerant. Certainly, over the last 50 years, most readers didn’t care what the race, or sex, or sexual orientation or politics of a writer was. They would read the blurb, look at the cover… buy the book. If they enjoyed it they might seek out that author again. But as Larry Correia fisked so elegantly here: there is a small, intolerant, inflexible minority who will make a great deal of noise about it – and will be (or rather have been) appeased. Appeasement of course never works. Give everything they asked for, and they’ll be back next week making more demands, winning by accretion (the only way to break this cycle is quid pro quo where any concession is matched by the other side – but that’s a longer, more complex post with little to do with writing).
The point here is that the noisy, aggressive and inflexible minority are operating according to a system they know works – as Taleb points out, it has often succeeded. In fact has a roughly 50 year track record of success for them. I think many of them believe the lobster is virtually dead and they can turn the heat up to max. Hmm. I think they may be being a trifle impatient myself. I think a scalded and thus really angry lobster is due on the scene real soon now…
As I’ve explained before taking politics: Once, you had a situation where 74% of the customers would mostly buy any books but 26% would only buy from their own, which reflected their views. If you were in publishing it made sense (regardless of your own position) – sell books from the 26%, which pleased the 26% – that way you had a better chance at 100%. As the gatekeepers were part of the 26% everyone was happy, or at least everyone who mattered.
However, as Taleb points out: “if the manufacturing of Kosher lemonade cost substantially more, then the rule will be weakened in some nonlinear proportion to the difference in costs.”
Given the huge overhead in keeping the 26% and their NYC enablers happy being high – the difference between a trad e-book and an Indy e-book… I can see the product only mostly selling to the 26%, even if the content was palpably the same. It isn’t of course, I – for instance — don’t care deeply about appeasing the 26%, but do care about the rest. The 26% are not my customers anyway, and probably would not be. This is starting to result in obvious differences, and indeed the exclusion being applied, but in reverse.
Interesting times. A ghetto in which people are prepared to pay that premium might be the best Trad publishing can hope for. It will, de facto, be able to carry far, far fewer writers and publishers – at best 1/3 of the present load. As a writer, there start to be serious advantages in not being in it, although there will be a market to their own inside it.
Looking at this from the writer’s point of view, being intransigent with a customer who doesn’t have to buy your work can be… terminal for your career. Yes, I know a la Ghostbusters Remake you can try to scold your audience into paying to see you or they’re vile sexists etc. But well, it didn’t work for the prohibition, and didn’t work for them. It didn’t work very well for Chuck Wendig and his Starwars franchise story either. Chuck was being a smart cookie (I think anyway), backed by at least some of the traditional publishing establishment – not with the gay angle, but with the second person present tense… If he’d got enough readers used to that… well, it shuts down the readers to third or first person past tense. One grows used a form (it’s a one-way filter, if the newer books are written like this. In time it will win). In that way, well he’d have successfully eliminated the ease of reading for a lot of readers for a huge body of historical and rival works. As a writer… there goes my pension. As readers, there goes a huge volume of used and cheap books. I don’t wish him the best in this.
My own take –as a writer, on the lowest common denominator issue is that it is possible for a skilled writer to write at a number of levels. I’ve been accused of writing ‘Airplane’ reads. That’s good. That means the dumb bunnies saying this could at least grasp that level and follow the story and, it seems enjoy it enough to follow it. As to the rest, so long as I don’t bore them, and they can find other take-aways to please… well, that is some success. And as an airplane read I’ve helped some people recover from the TSA. I should be a happy camper.
Talking of some success, the short list for the Dragon Awards are out. Now: an award’s prestige and relevance are derived not created de novo from the award itself – if someone decided to have an Oguh Award, and hand out plastic craters to the works that they felt deserved it… well, it would depend heavily on 1)How many people were involved and cared who won an Oguh. 2) Who won the Oguh? If it’s Jolene Neverherdofit, with 15 votes in Nomination and a judge (her lover and publisher) selecting and Jolene has no following, near no sales, and she doesn’t care enough to tell anyone… it’s dead in the water, a worthless award. On the other hand if Freda Bestseller wins, with a 1000 noms, 10 000 votes, and raves to her huge audience on social media, and book – with the label ‘Oguh Award winner!’ sells really well to people outside those involved, then an Oguh is worth winning. Next year it might even do Jolene some good… but not if all the winners thereafter were Jolenes. Your credit does not last indefinitely. In fact the Oguh is only as good as the last book a customer bought, with that label.
The Dragon Awards started well with a lot of popular authors with large following right across the spectrum as well as a few lesser known names. My congratulations to all of the the nominees and it’s great some fantastic talent and some friends there! So far there seems to be real excitement and pleasure from most of the worthwhile nominees, who are promoting it. Here is my bit to doing the same!
Here are all the nominees.
1. Best Science Fiction Novel
CHANGELING’S ISLAND has the rare distinction of being the only book to get into two categories: Best Fantasy Novel, and Best Young Adult Novel.
It was the last thing I expected and I could not be more delighted. A huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who nominated it. Because there are two great choices in Fantasy – Jim Butcher’s AERONAUT’S WINDLASS and Larry Correia’s SON OF THE BLACK SWORD…
I have decided in that category, although I am delighted to be nominated, to vote for Larry, and not further split the vote. I urge you to consider SON OF THE BLACK SWORD with your vote. I know… I’m up against Sir Terry Pratchett in YA – but he’s both dead and already has a few awards worth caring about, and voting for me would cause huge amounts of pearl-clutching and fainting, in the ranks of the puppy-kickers, and delight from me. So: if you enjoy my writing, enjoyed this book, please register and vote.