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Posts tagged ‘politically correct’

On Apple, royalties and glittery bits

After several weeks of not finding anything to really inspire a post, today there seems to be too many bits of inspiration. Some of them I’ve tossed to the side because, well, the blog would be bogged down in politics all too quickly. Those I’ll save for my own blog. But others are continuation of topics we’ve already discussed while yet others simply had me shaking my head and rubbing my hands together gleefully (okay, I’m evil but you guys already knew that).

Let’s start with the continuing saga of the price fixing suit filed by the Department of Justice against Apple and five of the (former) Big Six publishers and the accompanying class action and state suits.

Last month, Apple filed a complaint with Judge Cotes complaining of the actions of the monitor appointed to make sure Apple is living up to the judgment of the court.  The monitor, Michael Bronwich, is charging Apple $1,100 and hour plus a 15% administrative fee. Apple also contends Bronwich is acting “as an independent investigator whose role is to interrogate Apple personnel about matters unrelated to the injunction in an effort to ferret out any wrongdoing, all at Apple’s expense.” In conjunction with this allegation, Apple claims Judge Cote’s final order concerning the monitor, in which she gives the monitor the authority to meet ex parte with Apple executives illegally expanded the scope of the final injunction against Apple. This, according to Apple, lets Bronwich go on a “fishing trip” that has little if anything to do with his role as monitor in the price fixing case.

In a rather quick response to the complaint, Judge Cotes basically told Apple there is a process to follow and it didn’t. The first step in the process is to take their complaints to the Department of Justice. ““Objections are to be conveyed in writing to the United States and the Plaintiff States within ten calendar days after the action giving rise to the objection.” If, after reasonable efforts, the two sides can’t come to an agreement, they can request to meet with the judge. Judge Cote did take one other step. In response to Apple’s complaint that the original ordered allowed for ex parte communications between the monitor and the court, she amended the order to disallow such communications.

Now, let’s look at Apple’s main issues with the monitor — other than the rather obvious one that Apple just doesn’t like anyone looking over their shoulder to make sure no other anti-trust violations are committed. First, with regard to the reasonableness of the monitor’s fees, they do seem excessive. However, that will be an easily proven — or disproven — complaint. All the two sides have to do is show what the current going rate is for such sort of third-party monitoring. An agreement between the two sides should be easily had. However, Apple being Apple and the DoJ probably not wanting to look weak, who knows. Let’s hope Judge Cote has time on her docket for a meeting before long between the parties.

Where I foresee a problem coming to an agreement is the issue of whether the monitor should be able to meet ex parte with Apple execs. I, personally, have no problem with such meetings as long as the monitor is working under strict guidelines. He should not be allowed to go on “fishing trips”, as Apple alleges, looking for anything Apple or its employees may be doing in violation of the law. The monitor is there to insure the terms of the injunction are being complied with and nothing more. He should not be looking for anything outside the scope of the injunction.

Nor should he be hampered by having to wait to talk to an Apple exec until a corporate attorney is able to be present at the meeting. That would be like not being able to serve a search warrant until a defense attorney is present for its execution; Not only would the notice required for such action give the perp time to get rid of any incriminating evidence, it would slow the process down beyond the snail’s pace it is already at. The same applies with regard to Apple. The monitor has to be able to talk with Apple execs. They have the right to refuse to discuss anything without him without an attorney present. But to have to wait each and every time is not necessary, at least not in my layman’s opinion.

But that’s not the last of the news about the anti-trust suit the DoJ filed against Apple and the five publishers. Judge Cote has approved the last of the e-book settlements in this and related cases. Specifically, she approved the settlement involving Macmillan and Penguin. This means more than $166 million will eventually be paid out to consumers. But it won’t happen quickly. So don’t expect an early Christmas gift. The first payments will come no sooner than 30 days after the approval becomes final. Does this signal that the end is in sight for this chapter in publishing history? No. At least I don’t think so. Apple is still appealing the injunction against it and there are still third party objectors to Judge Cote’s judgment. But we are, in my opinion, on the downhill side of it. The only question is if publishing is going to cross the finish line and learn from what happened or if there will be an avalanche that will sweep away any lessons that might have been learned and leave legacy publishing even more engrained in practices that are outdated and outmoded.

In the “duh” department, we have the following quotes about e-book royalty rates paid by legacy publishers:

“there’s a lot of inertia built into the system . . . a strong incentive for publishers not to fairly pay authors for e-book sales.” (Paul Aiken)

“The problem is that [agents and authors] don’t know what to ask for, and publishers don’t know what to give.” (industry insider)

Aiken, who at the time of the quote was executive director of The Authors Guild, is referring to a system in which many publishing contracts have a clause “stating that an author will receive a higher e-book royalty rate if, and when, the standard rate changes.” Simply put, the industry standard won’t change until the publishers start paying higher rates but they aren’t going to pay higher rates because the industry standard hasn’t changed. Don’t you just love that sort of circular thinking?

But it is the last quote that blows my mind. After several years of a very healthy e-book market, why don’t agents know what to ask for? As for publishers not knowing what to give, don’t believe that for a minute. Publishers know where every penny of their money goes. They know how much it costs to produce an e-book. But they are also the ones who have tried telling the reading public — as well as their own authors — that an e-book requires extra art costs, extra editing, proofing, etc. No, it doesn’t. Once a book is edited, it is edited. It doesn’t matter how many different formats it is being published in. As for proofing, all you need is someone to put eyeballs on it to make sure there have been no glitches in the digital conversion process. It doesn’t take long and it sure as heck shouldn’t cost much. Cover art? Give me a break. You aren’t paying for two or three different covers. You are simply manipulating size.

Agents also know what to ask for, or they should. This is especially true for those agents who belong to agencies that now offer their own publishing services. If they don’t know how much to ask for, then they need to start doing their research. It is time for publishing — agents, editors and publishers of the legacy sort — to quit acting like things haven’t changed over the last ten years. More importantly, it is time for authors to quit letting them get away with it. There are alternatives.

And then, finally, there was this article that caught my eye the other day. First off, if these few items are the only controversies inside the world of science fiction and fantasy, we’re doing pretty damned good. The flip-side of their list of controversies is that it exhibits the current trend in SFWA and amongst some concoms to bend over backwards in homage to the great god of political correctness, even if it goes against the basic philosophy of the con or organization in question.

1. Elizabeth Moon and Wiscon.

When I first heard about this, I’ll admit the double-standard presented by the Wiscon concom and those condemning Moon bothered me. I could identify with a lot about what she said. Any parent with a child in school where “senstivity” courses in Islam were taught could. Heck, any woman ought to have been able to. More than that, Moon was exercising her right to free speech ON HER OWN BLOG. But she dared speak out against one of the PC darling topics at the time and the haters came out. Wiscon, after initially saying it wouldn’t withdraw her invitation as guest of honor, crumbled in the face of criticism and did just that. While Moon didn’t condemn the con for doing so, let’s just say that it seemed more than a bit strange that a con that prides itself on its feminist roots would remove her from the program when she was simply exercising her right to express her opinion about a religion that looks at women as second class citizens.

2. Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis on stage at the Hugos.

Now, before all the glittery ones get their hoohahs in an uproar, Ellison was wrong when he groped Willis and he was wrong with his response later. My issue is two-fold. The first is that Ellison has been held up almost as a standard to strive for in bad behavior by the same folks who now condemn him. We’ve all heard the SWFA folks laugh at how Ellison allegedly sent a dead gopher to a publisher. His antics are legend. But, until it became the cause celeb with SFWA and the glittery ones to go after anyone who is male, over the age of 40 and who doesn’t feel self-loathing for being male, no one said much of anything about it. Now, Ellison is simply another “example of the sexism of the old guard of SF.”

3. Vox Day expelled from SFWA

Oh my. We’ve written about this some. Kate has some wonderful posts and comments about it.  So I won’t go into the details. What I will point out is that in this so-called list of controversies in SFF, it is apparently all right for N. K. Jemison to call Vox an “ass hole” because she didn’t name him even though the context of her remarks made it clear who she was referring to. But his response, which was over the top but — having read Vox — was probably meant to get a response — was enough to get him kicked out of SFWA. Why? Because it was racist and sexist and he’s male and not enlightened and SFWA is, apparently, the PC police of our industry now.

4. The SFWA Bulletin has a Sexist Trifecta

Okay, now my head explodes. I’ve written on this as have others of the mad ones. SFWA and some of its members have now decided that you are bad and must be punished if you are female and approve a cover with a “chicks in chainmail” type of image on it. Worse, if a couple of “old white guys” talk about women editors they’ve known and comment that these women looked good in a swimsuit, they are evil and must have their column taken away from them. Why? Because they are disrespecting the female sex.

WTF?!?

Again, if you are male, over a certain age and not apologetic for having a penis and for enjoying the company of women, you are the enemy I guess. And let’s look at the other side, just to show that there is a double standard. These same women — and so-called men — who object to these covers that “objectify” women have no problem with the bare-chested, loin cloth clad men on the covers. Why is that, I wonder?

Finally, if this isn’t enough to prove to you that the current crop of “enlightened” leader so-called leaders of the genre and its organizations aren’t just as bigoted in their own way, consider this quote that ends the article about these “controversies”:

Well, welcome to 2013. And the world wide web, where everybody, even those underprivileged nobodies you never had to listen to before, has a chance to be heard.

Everyone, it seems, except those who don’t fit their definition of politically correct and enlightened.

 

It’s Sunday morning and . . .

I overslept. And, before everyone thinks I’ve gone and committed coup here at MGC, I haven’t. It’s just that with LibertyCon this weekend, Sarah and I forgot to arrange for someone to guest blog. So, instead of having a dead day, here I am, trying desperately to figure out something to blog about.

In the publishing world, things are about to get interesting again. The Department of Justice’s case against Apple is now in the judge’s hands. Depending on what report your read, Apple either won hands down or the judge has already tipped her hand and will be ruling with the DoJ. Me, I have a feeling we’ll see a decision that sort of splits the middle — and one that will be appealed. No matter what the ruling, the issue isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the plea agreement terms between the DoJ and the five publishers to have long expired before the case against Apple wends its way through the judicial process. What that means is that, by the time this is over, we might again see a variation of agency pricing — remember, DoJ didn’t say it was inherently bad. It said the alleged collusion is what was in violation of federal law.

Then we have Barnes & Noble. The Nook, and especially Nook media, was supposed to be the savior of the company. Instead, this past year, and especially the last quarter, finds it as the albatross around the retailer’s neck. Not even the influx of cash from Microsoft has managed to stem the tide. Making matters worse, the retail storefronts have dedicated a good chunk of their stores to the Nook and the decline in sales is impacting the bottom line for the physical stores as well as the online store. Needless to say, this is making publishers more than a bit nervous as they wonder just what is going to happen with B&N over the next year.

If that isn’t enough, lines are being drawn in the sand of social media. You have one the one hand those authors and editors who have decided it isn’t enough to condemn the other side for daring to self-publish or work with small to micro-presses. After all, they are skipping the gatekeepers and not suffering for their art by waiting for someone to realize just how enlightened and wonderful their work might be (in other words, until it meets the political/social/economic trend of the day as decided by the publisher). Now many of those same authors, editors and publishers are jumping on the politically correct band wagon to condemn men who dare voice the fact they appreciate a woman for being a woman. These are the same ones who have been so quick to jump in and help publicly flog Paula Deen for uttering what is, admittedly, a word none of us — NONE OF US — should use. She’s admitted to using the word and has apologized. Whether she’s admitted to the other allegations in the suit against her, I don’t know. What I do know is that those who denounce her have already condemned her without seeing anything but her apology and the pleadings filed in the case. After all, if it’s been charged, it must be true. Right?

Yet how many of them are out there screaming that all the producers and companies who use Alec Baldwin as a spokesman or actor should drop him? After all their high fives on social media after the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, you’d think they’d be after Baldwin but, since he is one of the “enlightened” — except on this particular issue — they aren’t.

And that, my friends, is an example of the double standard that is prevalent in our industry today. It is also an example of how you have to have a thick skin to survive. There are sharks in publishing and they aren’t necessarily the publishers and bean counters who live in the ivory towers in NYC. No, they are the authors who have been the darlings of those same publishers and bean counters and who now are realizing that being socially relevant might not be enough. With more and more writers moving away from legacy publishing and actually writing books readers want to read, these same dahlings of publishing are seeing their numbers drop. Not just their sales figures but their advances as well. And it is the advances they worry about.

Or at least they should, especially since most books published through legacy publishing never earn out (at least that’s my understanding).

For years, publishing has managed to survive through creative bookkeeping (ie BookScan numbers) and by knowing the mid-list authors would sell X-amount for each title. But many of those mid-listers have been cast aside. Some of the others who still have contracts to fulfill are not trying very hard to get new contracts with the legacy publishers because they have learned how much they can earn on their own. Why earn 25% or less per unit sold when you can go with a small to micro press and earn 50% or more? Or when you can publish on your own and earn up even more than that?

But it is more than just the increased royalties an author can earn by going with a small press or by self-publishing. There is the time difference between writing and publishing to consider as well. Traditionally published books generally take a year or more from the time an author finishes a book to the time it makes it to the bookshelves, whether digital or print or both. This is especially true when the book has to go through an agent for acceptance and then be shopped around. That time is much less with smaller presses and certainly if you self-publish. There you are talking weeks, maybe months, instead of years.

Then you have to consider that the publisher usually won’t order another book from you until seeing the pre-order numbers. If you have one of those wonderful contracts giving the publisher right of first refusal, that means you might not be able to write anything for anyone, even yourself, until they’ve declined to buy your next work. If that isn’t bad enough, most of the ROFR clauses don’t have a time limit on them. In other words, you could submit something to them a month after they’ve accepted your currently contracted book and they can sit on the second work until they see what your pre-order numbers are.

That is not a good thing.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say with this is that there is a small group of authors and editors out there who are pounding their chests in social outrage over what happened years ago (see some of the posts about the 1930-something letter from Walt Disney denying employment to a woman because there are no female animators in the studio at that time) as well as what two gentlemen had to say about events that happened thirty or more years ago all in an attempt to prove they are still relevant. Oh, I don’t doubt some of them are truly outraged. But some of them also refuse to allow you to post on their walls if you don’t agree with them. So there is an agenda and only the “right kids” can play.

To play, you have to follow their rules. You have to make sure your male characters are sorry for being male and that they never, ever do anything that might be seen as being chauvinistic — including holding the door for a female character. Unless, of course, that male is the villain.  Your female characters have to be enlightened and strong and modern and — well, you get the message. Oh, and make sure you never have a chicks in chainmail type cover. That is bad. But a nearly naked male on the cover is good. We can objectify them all we want because, well, we can.

Rolls eyes,.

Yeah, the double-standard bothers the hell out of me. For me, I’ll write my characters as the story demands. If a male winds up being a gentleman who holds the doors and pays for dinner, so be it. If he happens to like the way the female characters looks in a bikini — or less — well, he’s human. But if she wants to enjoy looking at him, all the more power to her as well. I will not keep them from having their guns if the story demands it and if a story needs a patriarchal society, it will get one.

In other words, I’m not going to sacrifice a story just so I’m politically correct. I can and will. I write to entertain and, hopefully, make some money. If in the story I can subtly get a lesson or two across, cool. But my lessons might not be politically correct ones. After all, I do believe in the right to bear arms. I believe a man should be a gentleman and a woman a lady, although she can be a bitch at times just as he can be a cad. Big business isn’t inherently evil and government isn’t meant to be our nanny.

But that’s just me and I’ve wandered on long enough. What do you think? Should stories entertain or teach or preach or what?