There’s been much controversy this week over whether artists should be paid for their work. Until now I’ve remained silent because I didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction. I wanted to know my facts and present sound evidence as to why these arguments are so ludicrous.
Some of those arguments include:
- I can’t afford to buy books because I don’t make much money. [Understandable, but not an excuse. KU is cheaper than Netflix, btw.]
- I deserve to read any book I want without paying for it because I’m a special snowflake [yes, I’m paraphrasing this one specifically to be spiteful].
- Authors shouldn’t make the same amount for the first copy as they do for the 500th since each copy isn’t a new item. [Let’s address this in a minute.]
- Art should be free for everyone to enjoy. [And some art is. Enjoy that.]
- If an artist wants to be paid he/she should get a patron. [Ha!]
- I’m not really stealing. I just downloaded it from someone who did steal it.
Let’s address that last point:
Yes, 95% of us on the internet are guilty of downloading illegal content at some point in our lives. My point here is not to villainize those who don’t know any better. It’s to educate people so they understand why what they’re doing is wrong. Sadly, the majority of those involved in this self-entitlement hoohah are too young to remember the Napster incident. I admittedly still chuckle at the Napster Bad videos and comics making fun of Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield from Metallica. On a serious note, while they may appear more Neanderthal than man, they do have a point. File sharing sites are bad, because they subvert the system.
First and foremost: COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS ILLEGAL. ACQUIRING PHYSICAL OR DIGITAL GOODS WITHOUT PAYMENT UNLESS RECOGNIZED AND PROVIDED AS A GIFT BY THE OWNER OR CREATOR IS THEFT. It does not matter if you’re just getting it from someone else; you’re still stealing. You can go to jail for this, and you will deserve it.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, sweetness, but that’s the cold, hard truth. Your “innocent” actions are breaking the law. You aren’t special. You can’t break the rules and expect preferential treatment [We are not even going to talk about that little jackass rapist in the news right now or I will have a stroke.]. END. OF. DISCUSSION.
I sat down and did something very unusual for a literary type: I did math. [Insert awestruck gasps here.] Anyone who has a job should be able to appreciate what’s coming. This is a salary breakdown for writers. We as artists would love nothing more than to make our art our full-time jobs, but most non-artistics don’t understand just how much work goes into the things they think don’t deserve a price tag. So let me break it down for you.
Let’s assume I write one novel which tops out at 80,000 words, and I’m going to publish this novel in a traditional manner (i.e. through a publisher, small or otherwise). This means I’m not paying for edits, artwork, or formatting.
Now, let’s assume I’m an average-speed writer, fairly clean. I’m going to write 1,000 words per hour for decent copy. First novel draft: 80 hours of work.
Now we have revisions. Assuming clean copy and minimal self-editing is required on my part, we’re going to estimate another 15 hours for reading and revising. Accumulated total: 95 hours.
Then I hand my labor of love over to the publisher. I will then have at least one, possibly two or three, more rounds of edits with a professional editor. Let’s assume two rounds of edits at another 15 hours each. That’s 30 additional hours of work for this one book. Then it’s released into the wild.
Final total: 125 production hours.
For one book. Base rate. We aren’t going to factor into this the endless hours of promotion which goes with the successful release of a novel. Right now it’s irrelevant and the cost will increase so exponentially it will outweigh the benefit of writing the book. Today we’re figuring out how a writer can be full-time based on today’s financial standards JUST BY WRITING BOOKS.
Say my publisher is a generous one and offers me 40% of the net royalties for my book. If we list this ebook on Amazon at $3.99 (which, by the way, is MORE THAN FAIR for an 80,000 word novel), Amazon is going to pay the publisher at a 70% royalty rate, or roughly $2.80 per domestic copy. This, in turn, means I’m going to see approximately $1.12 per copy sold.
US LABOR STANDARDS:
Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25. This means the average full-time minimum wage worker brings home $15,080 per year, pre-tax. Net income is going to hang out somewhere around the $12,000 mark.
Now, let’s compare minimum wage standards to a single title, shall we?
THE UGLY TRUTH:
125 hours at $7.25/hour is $906.25 pre-tax. Once we make it, we’re going to have to put back 20-30% to pay our taxes because we’re contractors, not on payroll.
Assuming we’re steadily selling books, that’s 809.16 copies sold in a year JUST TO BREAK EVEN.
Now there’s a national movement to raise minimum wage to $15/hour because we’ve firmly established that American inflation rates make it impossible to support a family on $15,000/year. Let’s revisit the numbers under this new standard.
$15/hour means a gross annual income of $31,200 pre-tax.
125 hours at $15/hour is $1,875.00
That’s 1,674 copies I have to sell in one year. 140 copies per month.
This means an author making minimum wage writing full-time (while only being reimbursed for the time accrued by writing and editing) would have to publish 16 ½ novels a year. That’s 1,320 hours of work to produce enough fiction to make a living.
Unless an author is already established with a wide following, selling 1,700 copies of a book will take longer than a year. The average indie author is selling somewhere between 5 and 50 copies a month. Which means assuming the best (50 copies per month), we have to triple our output to 49 books per year.
3,920 hours of work in one year to make a lower-middle class salary.
Let me point out here that a full time job consists of 2,080 hours of work per year. 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. That means to break even at “minimum wage” standards, we authors have to work 1,840 hours more per year than the average fry slinger at Mickey D’s without receiving overtime pay. That’s 75.39 hours of work per week to make the same money you make in 40… with no guarantees that we’ll even meet that minimum.
So please allow me to call bullshit on this self-righteous notion of art for art’s sake. You can take that shit back to MGM and let them keep it on their logo.
To those who want to say an author’s work should be prorated and they should make less per copy the more copies they sell, I pose this question to you: how would you feel if your boss approached you today and told you the following: “Yeah, we really like your work but you’ve been here several years and we’ve already paid you your value. We’re going to start paying you less money for each hour you work.”
You’re pissed just thinking about it, aren’t you? It’s unfair, right? Well guess what, sugarbritches… THAT is EXACTLY what you’ve suggested for us. It’s disgusting. It’s despicable. And to us, you’re now an asshole.
These epithets aren’t coming from the minimum-wage crowd, either. This is coming from the middle class – people who have the luxury of cars, cell phones, blu-ray players, coffee addictions, and expensive hobbies. You can pay $5 for a cup of coffee to enjoy once, but you’re too damned cheap to spend $3 on a book which will last forever? If that’s the case, then you don’t need the book. And if you’re willing to go to jail over $3, then please have a nice life, wherever it may lead you.
By the way, the days of patrons are pretty much over. The plebeians don’t need the support of the patricians because they can do most of the work themselves. That and the patricians tend to be the ones demanding freebies, so your argument is invalid.
This is why you need to stop poor-mouthing and pay the damned writer.
But you still want free books because somewhere five years ago your mama told you that you were special and you can have anything you want. Well, you can. And you want to know how to get them?
Become a book reviewer. Reviews are a form of currency in the literary world. Most authors and publishers are more than happy to hand over free books to reviewers – to people who actually leave reviews. Unfortunately, Amazon’s system is built on a review-based algorithm, meaning books with more reviews receive more visible promotion space. If you leave a review, good or bad, you’re helping that author.
Even if you insist on stealing the book to read, the least you can do is review it. If you refuse to pay money, you can significantly lower your douchebaggery level by giving two minutes of your time. And for god’s sake…don’t tell the writer you think all of their stuff should be free and pirate sites are a good thing.
There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get punched in the face.