Monday, November 5, 2007

My Take on the Writers' Strike

TV and film writers are now on strike after they failed to come to terms with the TV and movie industry about payments for new media distribution of their shows and movies. The industry is making money on downloads, despite the proliferation of pirated DVD's and downloads--but they're resisting giving writers a cut of the profits. Here are my thoughts on the strike.

There are plenty of established procedures in writing careers that strike me as exploitative. Ever since I started looking seriously at writing as a career, it's occurred to me that at some crucial point--or maybe consistently for decades and centuries--writers didn't stand up for their rights. As a result, certain practices became common procedure that seem horribly unfair, at least to me.

Kill fees, anyone? This one's at the top of my list, since I'm a freelance writer in my other life. I strongly feel that if you finish a project, you should get the full price for it--end of story. If the client doesn't like it, that's what the revision process is for. What writer took a look at a contract that stated he would get paid only a fraction of the full price if the publication decided--through no fault of his own and for any reason whatever--not to use his work, and thought "now this is a good deal"?

Book remaindering. If your book doesn't sell well, the publisher sells it at a steep discount--and you don't get a dime. How is that fair? And that's only if you're talking about a hardcover or trade paperback. They don't even bother trying to sell at a steep discount when it comes to mass-market paperbacks; the booksellers just rip the titles off and send 'em back to the publisher to be pulped. Jeez, why not at least give them to a used book store?

Royalty percentages are based on net, not gross. For every copy of your book that's sold, you'll get a check for some percentage of the profit (not a big percentage; something like 5% to 10%). But we're not talking gross profit here. We're talking net profit. That's the money left over after the publisher deducts printing costs, shipping costs, and all sorts of other costs it took to get your book from manuscript to Borders. Even movie stars get a cut of the gross, not the net, profit of movies they're in--but not writers. Guess actors have better agents.

No pay for DVD sales. Back when DVD's were getting big, writers failed to negotiate royalties for movies and TV shows that went to DVD. As a result, no writer gets a cut of any DVD of his movie or show. This is really unfair--in my opinion, any time money changes hands on something someone wrote, that writer should get a cut.

That's what this strike is about--new media rights. Writers want to get paid for movies and TV shows distributed over the web. And they have every right to, in my opinion. For decades, other people have been getting rich off the hard work of writers. It's time they took a little piece of the pie back. If there's any justice in the world, this will be only the beginning.

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