This evening I went with gra_is_stor
to the Seattle Asian Art Museum for a reading by two Chinese poets and the release of the anthology Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China
. I headed down early because it was a warm, sunny day, and spent an hour or so sitting at a picnic table in the park while reading essays from Heroic Poets and Poetic Heroes
and taking copious research notes. About 6:30, gra_is_stor
met me in Volunteer Park and we headed into the museum for the reading. We were actually the first people seated and one of the guys from Copper Canyon Press came over to talk with us. I told him that I'd been looking forward to the reading and that I'd heard about it through Copper Canyon and Elliott Bay's email. He expressed appreciation for poetry readers and I said that I ought to like reading poetry, given that I was a poet and had a wall full of poetry books at home. I noted I would have loved to purchase the anthology, but was flat broke at the end of the month. He said he'd give me a copy -- and he actually did! I was quite delighted, so thank you Joseph Bednarik of Copper Canyon for your kindness! I was able to get the book signed by the two poets at the end of the evening as well.
The reading itself was fascinating and I learned quite a bit about Chinese poetry, particularly from Xi Chuan's introductions to some of the poems he read by other poets in the anthology. He has quite a sense of humor and some of his work was very amusing; he read one from the anthology and two other pieces from one of his other works. His answer to Nietzsche was particularly funny, I thought. Zhou Zan is an advocate of women's poetry in China and has been the editor of the women's poetry journal Wings
for many years, as well as being a poet and the translator of some of the poetry of Margaret Atwood. She read her own poems and several poems from the anthology by other women poets.
I talked briefly to the poets when I got my copy of the anthology signed. They were asking for people's names so that they could personalize them and I wrote mine down briefly because it's an unusual spelling. They asked what kind of a name it was and I said it was Irish but spelled funny. They said that it could actually be construed as a Chinese name with a rough translation of something like "your plough," which I thought was pretty funny. Perhaps I cultivate the fields of memory.
My contract from Hiraeth arrived today. I just need to make sure they use my whole name in the contract (if they send me an editable pdf I can correct it myself) and sign and date the thing and we are go for a 2012 publication! The date is yet to be determined, but definitely next year. We'd been discussing autumn, but that decision will be up to the press when they have next year's schedule together. It's early yet to tell.
I got into a lengthy conversation/rant in twitter today with one of my friends about ebooks. He was complaining that he'd spent $50 on a book and wanted the ebook of it for free. His argument was that he'd already paid for the book so why should he have to pay for a second format?
My answer was that if he wanted a hardbound and a paperback, he'd have to pay for both of those formats. If he wanted an audiobook, he'd end up paying for that, too. He argued that an audiobook required people to actually read the book, and therefore it was worth something. Apparently he believes that there is either no work or no intrinsic value in an ebook, and therefore he shouldn't have to pay for it. He did accuse me of being greedy and wanting people to pay multiple times for the same material.
If an author wants to package a print and ebook copy as the same sale, more power to them. If they want to give things away for free, I'm fine with that. On the other hand, an author's work is worth something, no matter what format it's in.
He pulled someone else into the discussion and then asked me if I wanted to do away with used bookshops, too. I said that, in the end analysis, someone had actually paid for the books in the used bookshop at one point, unless the books were remaindered. Of course, with the rise of print on demand publishing, remainders may soon be a thing of the past, so any book in a used bookshop would of necessity have been previously paid for. Yet nobody walks into a used bookshop and walks out with a bag full of free books -- you do pay for them used.
What about libraries? I was asked. They're stealing a ton of revenue from authors, too. Isn't it really just the same if you buy a cd and upload the sound file to a website where anyone can download it? Aren't you just sharing it the same way you would a library book?
No, not really. A library pays for the copy and loans it out, but it always comes back. If you keep the library book, they charge you late fees and, eventually, a replacement fee if you don't return it. Regardless of what happens, there is only one copy -- paid for -- running around. The author still got paid for it. If you buy a cd and rip it, then upload it so all your friends can have it, it's no longer one copy of something, it's a dozen copies or a thousand copies, or ten thousand copies, and the artist never sees a penny of any of those. He felt that making copies was not an ethical problem at all because it's not a copy of something physical, it's just bits in the aether. But it's still someone's hard work and they deserve to be compensated, no matter how many copies we're talking about.
He then went on to say that just because the publishers are screwing the authors, does that mean the readers should get screwed too? I asked him why the authors and readers couldn't get together to change the way that major publishers do things, and he had no answer for that. Major publishers are making money at the expense of both authors and readers; small presses and independent authors are barely scraping by most of the time. But apparently I'm tilting at windmills for caring about the people who are actually writing.
He said if writing paid so badly, nobody should try to make a living at it. Authors should negotiate better contracts -- yet the publisher holds almost all the power in those situations, and a writer isn't necessarily going to get a better deal at some other publisher. Self-publishing is still very poorly regarded because so much of it is crap. Being able to be published by an actual press is still a meaningful thing, even if the technology is enabling individuals to publish their own work. If they're able to do a professional job without a publisher, more power to them. I've self-published before. I prefer to let somebody else do the bulk of the publishing work, so I do my best to have material that is good enough for someone else to want to publish it.
All that said, I don't think that's the point -- my point is that if nobody pays the authors, authors are going to have to stop writing for publication because they're going to have to be earning their living some other way. They won't have the time or the energy to write at all anymore, or they will write far less than they already do. Writers, musicians, and artists still have to pay rent and pay the bills, they still have to eat and maybe occasionally get some medical care. They have to buy clothes and put gas in the car if they have one. The work of artists and musicians and writers isn't worthless or valueless and there is no reason they should be expected to work for free. The vast majority of writers I know either work at other jobs as well as writing, or they have some other means of income. Most of them don't make a living writing. I certainly don't, but I have a pension that means I'm able to write and not worry about starving to death.
I don't think that copyright should extend beyond an author's death. That serves only the publishing house or the corporation that owns it, not the author.
I don't have nearly as much of an issue with, for instance, a homeless kid who is desperate for music or for something to read downloading a copy of something for free. They don't have anything to spend, and I would just as soon give somebody like that a copy with the hope that it will make their lives a little more comfortable, or at least tolerable.
I do have a problem with a person who has a job and can afford what he needs (including a $50 book) complaining about having to spend a few more dollars for another copy of the same material. Just because you have an entire library of paper books and want to replace them doesn't entitle you to free electronic copies any more than having a collection of VHS tapes entitled you to free DVDs when they came out.
I was told that the world disagreed and was voting with their feet, that I was tilting at windmills. (When have I ever not been tilting at windmills?) I was told that I was really just supporting a model created by publishers that didn't serve readers or authors. Laws don't matter, he said.
Maybe, maybe not. I still advocate paying authors for the work they do. Nobody should be forced to work for free.