26 February 2010

We owe them everything - Ethical Libertarianism



Yesterday I put forth the argument that ethical libertarianism requires moving us towards a level playing field. I used the example of school funding, but it can (and should) be extended to things like:
  • Universal Healthcare - because health conditions directly impact economic and academic success

  • Eliminating inheritances - This should be obvious; any supposed libertarian who is in favor of inheritances is a hypocrite

  • Establishing universal after-school programs - hopefully for equally obvious reasons


It also means that we have to address the historical and social reasons that the playing field is so uneven now - even if we are not personally responsible for it. Haiti is a perfect example. Regardless of the corruption of past Haitian governments, the financial obligations the United States (via the IMF, etc.) placed on that country are currently crippling it.

Likewise, we can look at our own history of slavery and racism; the results of that long, long mistake are still visible in the current economic landscape. The school example I gave yesterday is actually part of that equation. During the period of white flight (which isn't over, I should add), property values plummeted as those with money left. [1]

This wasn't - and isn't - due to anything inherent to people of color moving into an area. It's because of the racism of residents who view (note the present tense) the neighborhood as being less valuable because people of color moved in. As property values dropped, more "undesirable"[2] people could afford the houses and moved in - and the property values dropped more. This altered the funding of the local schools - thus hampering the children of those who lived there. People who had the money to move away (again, at the beginning of this cycle that meant affluent white people) continued to do so, and suddenly you have a very unequal distribution of wealth, and a very uneven playing field.

So again, to ethically and morally hold to the tenets of libertarianism, we must
  1. acknowledge the historical processes that caused this inequality, even if we're not personally responsible

  2. actively work to reduce those inequalities so that we can get to a level playing field


[1] I am again simplifying for the sake of clarity.
[2] Because it's not just people of color. One can make the argument that (in my region of the country at least) that many white poor folks are from ethnic groups that were marginalized during the waves of immigration at the beginning of the 20th century. They can be ostracized equally effectively.

Constant Process

Being an ally - or wanting to be one - is a constant process of self-improvement.

So over on Jim Hines' blog, he related the story of a woman who was raped at a con, and ended up writing an open letter to ask her assaultant to stay away.

And I agree with all of what she said, and what Jim said to support her.

Which is odd, because, the first thing I did was write a comment about how I was falsely accused of sexual assault as a teenager [1]. I did not say that the case Jim was talking about involved a false accusation - honestly, I have no way of knowing, and no reason to doubt the original accusation. I'm still not sure why talking about my own experience (which was a false accusation) was my first reaction. I'm mulling that one over. I'm pretty sure it's Not A Good Thing, so I figure recognizing that is a first step. I definitely didn't mean to undermine the woman involved, or to question her story, but I think I did a crappy job saying so.

Yes, despite me saying (and continuing to believe) that we must err on the side of the woman's statements, because our society is sexist and still blames the survivors for the assailant's behavior. I did a crappy job communicating that, and whether intentionally or not, ended up taking the side of the apologists.

Dammit.

So let me try to make this clear:

Until we can get our society's sexism fixed, until women do not need to be afraid of repercussions for accusing a man of sexual assault, we must always take the woman's word over the man's. Yes, even if that means that some guys get falsely accused. Period.

If you don't like that answer, if you think it's unfair that some innocent guys might get a rough break, then quit whining and do something to fight sexism in our society. Reinforce that "no means no". That date rape is rape all the same. Become a feminist, and work to actually change things. Recognize your own mistakes, and start your own process of self-improvement.

Until then, shut up.


[1] Short form of the story: I tried to kiss a girl on a couch with me, she moved away, we never actually touched lips, end of event. Later I find out she had told her friends that I'd assaulted her - because my then-girlfriend broke up with me over this thing I'd supposedly done.

25 February 2010

Where socialists and libertarians meet

The central tenet of libertarianism is a compelling one: People create their own destiny based on merit and effort. Especially when it comes to economic success, the idea that merit and effort equate to actual rewards is a pretty compelling one. [1]

Which is why I think public schools should be mandatory (no vouchers), and not based on regional funding like property taxes.

At least, if you're going to ethically be a libertarian.

Consider Dayton. Right now, the school systems here are funded primarily by property taxes [2]. Residences in Dayton proper have a lower average property value than residences in some of the suburbs (Oakwood, Centerville - I'm looking at you). This means that kids in Dayton schools have less money per capita for resources than kids in the suburb of Centerville.

This difference can be quite stark; in one instance that I personally saw it was the difference between computers in every classroom and kids having to share textbooks because the school couldn't buy enough.

Yes, it's possible that a child's talent could let them succeed despite those disadvantages. It's also possible that anyone on the Olympic sprinting team could beat me if they had a ten second handicap.

But that's not succeeding based on merit and effort. That's an uneven playing field.

Until the playing field is level, espousing libertarian economic policies is ethically bankrupt.

More tomorrow.

[1] IMHO, there's quite a few people (myself potentially included) who think they're better than average, but are not. These people tend to support libertarianism because they believe they'd do better - but are wrong.
[2] Yes, it's more complex than that; it's simplified for clarity.

24 February 2010

The Sinister Up-Nose Profile Pic

You may have noticed that my avatar/userpic/whatever is a bit... well... scowly now. I changed it because, between the release of Timeshares next week and the convention season starting up, I thought having a more up-to-date picture would be a good idea. (I wasn't visible under the scarf, and the one before that was from June 09. The picture at my main domain used to be from 2007, I think. I had short hair in it. Ah. Here it is.


And it's true, I don't often smile in pictures. Because they're often my one second, my one moment to actually appear serious.

If that - close examination will demonstrate that the current pic is an upnose shot. Which is really my point. As much as I might want to be the cool guy, I end up being Dante or Leonard. At best. Hell, I did an impression of Cookie Monster covering Lady Gaga. I thought learning how to do multiple regression was kind of neat. I'm unintentionally goofy, still trying to figure out this whole "social protocol" thing, and very much have the tendency to expound at length about facets of science (usually the social sciences) that nobody else cares about.

So I guess I'm also like Sheldon. Which, thankfully, definitely raises my "cool factor".

Bazinga.

Anyway, if you're looking for me at a con or appearance (now listed on the blog), look for someone that looks a lot like that picture up there.

Except dorkier. No, not that guy. Even dorkier than that.

Yup. That's me.

The Internet Needs Geeks

The internet needs geeks.

I don't just mean the sysadmins (as immortalized in both Cory Doctorow's short story and XKCD), but the run-of-the-mill geeks.

My son asked what the difference is between a geek and a nerd. For me, the difference is simple. Start with this misquoted and unattributed movie quote:
A nerd is someone whose life is focused computers and technology. A geek is someone whose life is focused computers and technology, and likes it that way.

That's close (I'm handcoding the html tags while I write this in an open source notepad replacement), but it misses one other characteristic.

Geeks not only like their life - they are so excited that they want to share it with you.

I like that latter definition much better, because I've met wine geeks, opera geeks, movie geeks, music geeks, soap opera geeks... well, you get the idea. Sports geeks abound in the United States.

And that's what makes the internet awesome.

Geeks don't just consume culture. We share it (obsessively). We comment and critique it. We remix it. We riff off of it. We create it. [1]

And that's what makes the internet so awesome, and so much more than just another delivery system for prepackaged media.

[1] Respective examples: Wimp.com , fan wiki for Firefly , Transformers Evolution of Dance , How It Should Have Ended , Browncoat: Redemption.

22 February 2010

Road Apples - A 100 Word Story

Yes, it's that time again - a weekly challenge from the 100 Word Story podcast. Please take the time to go vote for my story over there. More importantly, take this time to check out Anton Strout's new book due out this week: Dead Matter.

I've been reading Anton's books, and he's been getting better as he goes. At this point, I'm really anticipating reading Dead Matter. Go pick it up! You can listen to (my) story below, or use this link if the player's borked in your feedreader.

"Hold this, Maude," Howard said, handing her his logout button, arms spread wide under pixelated clouds. "This virtual world is awesome!"

"Ew." Maude looked at her shoe. "Howard, I stepped in sh-"

"A road apple, yes!" His eyes shone. "The detail is amazing! And we can stay here until we want to leave."

"No, Howard."

"Baby, this is better than our old life. "

Maude hit her logout button and left, taking his button with her.

"No," Maude said to herself. "You just have to make real life better."

She left VirtuaWorld, whistling and tossing both logout buttons in the trash.

21 February 2010

Race matters, even on Olympus.

[Some small spoilers for Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief herein]

My 12 year old's reaction (who loves the books): "It's worth seeing, but don't get your hopes up - it's not like the book."

I haven't read the books, so my reaction was a little different. It was an okay (matinee/2nd run/DVD) fantasy action movie. The effects were, for the most part, great. The water was rendered especially well. Logan Lerman walked the line between being awestruck and cocky really well. Brandon Jackson played a solid sidekick (though see below), and Alexandra Daddario was a strong female lead.

There were some problems with the film as a standalone work. Things seemed rushed more than a few times. The foreshadowing of the final reveal was very heavy handed. Despite us hearing about the earth-shaking cataclysms that were looming on the horizon, other people (and their reactions) seemed conspicuously absent for the final third of the movie. There were some awkward acting moments - though I considered them plot elements. For example, I don't expect an immortal god to be able to relate well to his teenage son. Mr. Lerman's acting saved that scene - because he acted just like a smartaleck kid would. Still a fun movie.

...and then there were the other things.

  • We saw the trailer for the Karate Kid remake. Changing the protagonist to a Black kid just makes the theme of "white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member" be "Westerner manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of Easterners and eventually becomes its most awesome member". I hope I'm wrong with that.
  • Why are the two main characters of color in Percy Jackson (Grover and Persephone, played by Rosario Dawson) also all about getting it on? (To the point that Grover's a satyr, a literal half-animal.) I mean, really, aren't we done with the "oversexed dark person" stereotype yet? Hell, why not have the black guy hate country music and talk about the "benjamins"? Oh, wait. They did. Dammit.
  • I only saw one black Olympian. They had no lines. All the other Olympians are quite ... pale. I mean, yeah, they were worshiped by the Greeks - but that doesn't mean they all look like the Greeks.
  • Oh, and let the black comedic (though competent, thank goodness) sidekick to take one for the team while the white folks go save the day? Really? Didn't we get that out of our system with the Dungeons & Dragons movie?


Again, I haven't read the books, so I don't know if any of these elements are part of the books, or addressed there. I did notice them in the film, though.

Again, Percy Jackson & The Olympians was an okay movie. The racial elements I found troubling are, unfortunately, not surprising at all, and while distracting are not major elements of the plot. Catch a matinée, a second-run theater, or watch the DVD.

20 February 2010

Ebooks, Publishers, and Feeding Authors

[This is the 3,000 words from the last several days in one big, easy to download or link to (hint) post. I have NOT renumbered the footnotes.]

Some things just can't substitute for another. Rolling Rock for Guinness. Brad Pitt for Humphrey Bogart. Spongebob for Bugs Bunny. E-books for paper books.

Well. Maybe they can.

It's tempting to think that all creative endeavors need the same kind of business model. Historically, it's been true. Due to production costs (and duplication) costs books, music, and movies all had vaguely similar production and business models.

And then came modern computers.

First, music took a hit (and still is). Physical CD sales are bottoming out. MP3s (or FLAC, or Ogg Vorbis) are a near-perfect substitute for what you would buy in a record store. Perhaps the best indication of this is what so many of us do when we do get (or buy) a physical CD - we rip it to a MP3 player. The audiophiles who love the "warmth" of vinyl are romantic and part of the market in the same way that classic car restorers are part of Toyota's business plan.

And, of course, it made it easier to share music.

Both of these are a huge problem for record companies - but surprisingly not so for artists. For all but the biggest (and especially for mid-range and small artists), more financial support has come in through performances than through record sales. So for these artists, it's made sense to make more of their work available to more people through services like Jamendo, or free downloads from last.fm. In some ways, making some work available via a CC-license is roughly akin to radio.

The movie industry has taken a hit as well, though not as badly. While the technology is still becoming available to produce an independent movie, there are often huge quality issues. [1] Still, digital transformations have come to such a point that I know people who only use the streaming portion of their Netflix account. Both independent rental places and huge chains like Blockbuster have taken a massive blow due to the changing distribution model. Hence the huge drive for 3D and IMAX movies. Those are experiences that cannot be perfectly substituted by the DVD or streaming video at home.

But this is just recap. My real interest as a fledgling writer is in the publishing industry. Publishing is a weird beast. Movie studios and record studios [2] go for profitability with nearly every release - either monetary profitability or awards. There's a reason so many documentaries were underwritten by universities - until they became popular again in the last few years. There's a reason why indie artists tend to sound so different than the monoculture of the big music industry.

To the best of my knowledge, publishing - even the big houses - isn't run that way. They lose money on most books, but at least get them out there. It's akin to the way media industries used to view news programs - not as profit-makers, but something that added to the cultural landscape.

But no matter how noble that is - and it is noble and good - at this point the publishing industry has all the problems of both the music and movie industry. That's what we'll hit on tomorrow.

[1] This is my personal experience; YMMV.
[2] The big ones, and I reserve the right to be wrong here.

... which brings us to book publishing.

In some ways, publishing's similar to the movie industry. As John Scalzi pointed out (rather amusingly), there's more to a good book than just the author's imagination. In other ways though, it's content distribution model suddenly become a lot more like the music industry. And that's a problem for authors.

The e-reader boom has only just started - but they're definitely here and getting more market share. While I don't think print is dead yet - Tobias Buckell (I think - I can't find the actual link right now) pointed out how our economic privilege skews our viewpoint - we are suddenly in a place where the ebook is, for more and more people, the exact same thing as buying the book. So we've got the problems of the movie industry (a finished novel is not a solo effort, let alone promoting it) with the now near-perfect distribution substitution of the music industry.

But the last time I checked, (most) authors don't do concerts. It's really hard to do an IMAX book. And unlike music, most people rarely re-read books the same way that they listen to music again and again. So trying to adapt either the movie or music models of digital distribution is problematic at best.

This implies some really big things about the future of the publishing industry. It's quite possible that the model as it currently stands is unworkable. [1] But that doesn't mean that one model or the other is inherently "dead" or better.

What's at question is this: Is the value added by typesetters, proofreaders, editors, agents, marketers, slush readers and retailers really worth what they're paid for it? I don't know the answer to that question either - it seems like that's something that would work really well in a free market kind of situation. Maybe that's the role that publishing houses need to emphasize - that they provide a context and market for these kinds of associations to happen. [2]

Of course, many economic entities (both publishing houses and retailers like Amazon) are trying to lock in profits by forcing the new technologies to conform to the old business model. That's where all the DRM and format incompatibility come into play (Wanna read ePub on your Kindle? Tough. Wanna read a Kindle document on your nook? Tough.). There's no technological reason things should stay that way, and the popularity of jailbreaking iPhones and hacking Wiis strongly indicates that consumers won't put up with it any longer than absolutely necessary. In this limited respect, information does want to be free, or at least platform-independent.

But one thing is for sure: As much as I hate to say it, giving away all of your work online isn't a sure way for authors to succeed in a meaningful way any more.

[1] I don't know - we'll touch on this in part 3
[2] My understanding is that while publishers do this now, it's not a market-driven thing, which is why authors have little to no control over marketing, covers, and the like. I reserve the right to be wrong.

In 2004, Cory Doctorow used the example of reading a book on the beach to partially justify his release of his novels as e-books (and to point out that they were complements, not substitutes). It would cost more (and at least be more of a hassle) to print the thing out and haul it to the beach instead of buying the paper copy. They were complimentary products, not substitutes. And he was right - then. Now, the e-book and paperback are functionally equivalent - and giving away the full product can directly cut into your book's sales. [1]

For Cory - and others, I'm sure - writing is only one part of their life. In fact, Cory's very much adopted the model that musicians are having to migrate towards: the writing (or music) is a way to get people interested in the other, more profitable things you do. That solution isn't a bad one - but it's not a workable one for someone like myself. The three big arenas of my work life (my "day job", my writing, and academia) do not reinforce each other.

I'm not coming out against releasing CC-licensed work. Hell, everything I've posted here on this blog is - including the flash fiction bits. But those are samplers. My thought (hope, really) is that you'll see those, or some of the other fiction that I've written elsewhere, and then go do things like buy a copy of Timeshares, or Hungry for Your Love, or every magazine that I have a story published in. Not because I'm some greedy asshat - but because I've got a busy life too.

See, I'll be writing stuff whether it sells or not. My static website has reams of it - literally stretching back over fifteen years. And I don't anticipate ever being a full-time writer; I enjoy research and sociology entirely too much to completely give that up. But I could write a lot more - and really justify it - if I made enough between academia and writing to quit my "day job".

Yes, releasing CC-licensed work can provide externalities - and ones that can be measured in cash. Recently I donated a bit of money to Peter Watts when he needed it [2]; that relationship (entirely online, I've never met him) was started by reading the backlist of his works that's up with a CC-license. The amount I donated far exceeded the amount he would have recieved had I simply bought his back catalog. That's great - but that isn't the way to run a business.

So where do we go from here?

[1] Some of the other things Cory says about "ownership", though, I believe are still extremely relevant. The threat – even unexercised – that Amazon could yank content from me is one of the reasons I'm not buying a Kindle.
[2] I'm neither looking for praise or to argue the merits of that case; that's beside the point.

I'm not sure what the complete answer is. Maybe there has been wage inflation and stagnation in the publishing industry. [1] Maybe that model has to completely collapse - but then what about the positive externalities (those well written but unprofitable books that publishing houses effectively subsidize that I mentioned back in part one)?

Perhaps there should be more "samples". Sampling - whether through serial fiction like the type Mike Stackpole is doing or releasing back catalog items like Baen has done - makes intuitive sense. But what about, say, Escape Artists? They've been around for years now, giving away CC-licensed content, and are (AFAIK) running in the black, primarily through donations. What makes their model different and workable?

Maybe it's not workable - but until more creators (and publishers, whether they be big NYC companies, quasi-DIY outfits like Escape Artists, or totally DIY folks like Brave Men Run's author Matt Selznick) put all the cards on the table, we won't know. We're all guessing in the dark - and a lot of people are going to be undeservingly hurt if they guess incorrectly.

So the only thing I can think of is for all of them - from the DIY podcast novelists to the big NYC companies - is to open their financial books.

Because I really do believe in a free market. And the market of fiction is already a differentiated one. One book is not a substitute for another, one magazine is not a substitute for another, one author is not a substitute for another. In a free 21st century entertainment market, the price should not be set by artificial constraints like DRM or device lockdown, nor should it be set by opaque deals and obscured supply chains. There's no need for any of that. Not anymore.

It's in their own best interests, as well. Maybe Escape Artists really is onto something. How could McMillan emulate that model? Maybe Tor or Baen could show (explicitly) how social media and free product is actually reinforcing sales.

I remember reading in Suck.com (that dates me, huh?) that less than 1% of banner ads were clicked - let alone turned into a sale. Yet while people bemoaned that horrible rate, they never stopped to think what the conversion rate might be from a billboard or newspaper ad. At least with the banner ads, they knew, and could focus on the things that brought in the most money. Because remember, the more we can make our writing profitable, the more we can afford to write.

And if we - as authors, publishers, and retailers - can focus our efforts on those things that bring us all money, then maybe we could spend more time writing and getting those written words to readers.

[1] I think there's wage stagnation and wage inflation in most of the "developed world", and think that we're fighting a holding action against a massive market correction downward as the rest of the world comes into more direct competition.

This is an unplanned follow-up, based on a comment thread started here by Matt Selznick.

He pointed out that (aside from my cut-and-paste error with his URL), he's still not making a living wage with his creative work. The 1000 True Fans model is a great idea, but hard as hell to do. (If you're familiar with Mr. Selznick at all, you'll know that he's not whining, and that he is connecting with fans however possible.) One solution he suggests - rather than the economy-wide deflation I predict - would be for creators to charge more for their work.

This might seem counter-intuitive, especially given results like lifehacker's poll about e-book prices, but I think he's onto something.

There are two things I've heard Mike Stackpole say that have changed the way I think about books - and what I'm willing to pay for them.

The first is that all readers are patrons of the arts. This isn't hyperbole; it's recognizing that "arts" aren't limited to expensive black-tie operas and bazillion-dollar paintings by dead artists. Hell, it's even what copyfighters recognize when they talk about culture, and how excessive copyright impoverishes our common culture.

The second is that we need to look at entertainment value when we buy books. This tickles my economic heart, because in a free market, price does not reflect production costs.

You heard me right.

Price is a stand-in for value. Economists (and the public) often forget that price and value are two very different things. For example, I'll pay a little bit more to shop at a local comics store because I value local businesses. So when we talk about how much our entertainment should cost, the production cost is irrelevant.

It's all about how much entertainment value you get from it.

We don't pay more or less for movies based on production cost (take a look at just this one, very limited example of 15 low-budget movies that made a lot of money). Why shouldn't we extend that same metric to all other forms of entertainment?

For example, millions of people plunked down $10 (or more) for less than 4 hours of entertainment for Avatar - but you could get over twice as many hours of entertainment from Matt's podcast of Brave Men Run (which I highly recommend). [1] Isn't it fair to pay per hour of entertainment, whether it's an ebook, a dead tree book, a movie, a television show, podcast, or indie video game?

It's not the way we're used to thinking about books or video games. But I think that just maybe it's the way we should be.

[1] Yes, I realize they aren't perfect substitutes - substitute your favorite movie and novel here.

Pay what it's worth, not what you can get away with.

This is an unplanned follow-up (now part 5 - here's part one, two, three, and four), based on a comment thread started here by Matt Selznick.

He pointed out that (aside from my cut-and-paste error with his URL), he's still not making a living wage with his creative work. The 1000 True Fans model is a great idea, but hard as hell to do. (If you're familiar with Mr. Selznick at all, you'll know that he's not whining, and that he is connecting with fans however possible.) One solution he suggests - rather than the economy-wide deflation I predict - would be for creators to charge more for their work.

This might seem counter-intuitive, especially given results like lifehacker's poll about e-book prices, but I think he's onto something.

There are two things I've heard Mike Stackpole say that have changed the way I think about books - and what I'm willing to pay for them.

The first is that all readers are patrons of the arts. This isn't hyperbole; it's recognizing that "arts" aren't limited to expensive black-tie operas and bazillion-dollar paintings by dead artists. Hell, it's even what copyfighters recognize when they talk about culture, and how excessive copyright impoverishes our common culture.

The second is that we need to look at entertainment value when we buy books. This tickles my economic heart, because in a free market, price does not reflect production costs.

You heard me right.

Price is a stand-in for value. Economists (and the public) often forget that price and value are two very different things. For example, I'll pay a little bit more to shop at a local comics store because I value local businesses. So when we talk about how much our entertainment should cost, the production cost is irrelevant.

It's all about how much entertainment value you get from it.

We don't pay more or less for movies based on production cost (take a look at just this one, very limited example of 15 low-budget movies that made a lot of money). Why shouldn't we extend that same metric to all other forms of entertainment?

For example, millions of people plunked down $10 (or more) for less than 4 hours of entertainment for Avatar - but you could get over twice as many hours of entertainment from Matt's podcast of Brave Men Run (which I highly recommend). Isn't it fair to pay per hour of entertainment, whether it's an ebook, a dead tree book, a movie, a television show, podcast, or indie video game? [1]

It's not the way we're used to thinking about books or video games. But I think that just maybe it's the way we should be.

[1] Yes, quality and medium are a factor - but I can definitely point to books that entertained and enthralled me more than some movies, so it's not a strong rule that way. Factoring in quality doesn't invalidate the equation, it simply makes it a tish more complicated - (Hours of Entertainment * Quality of Work * $). The principle that you're paying for entertainment value holds.

19 February 2010

Opening the Books

This is part #4; you might want to see part #1, part #2, and part #3.

I'm not sure what the complete answer is. Maybe there has been wage inflation and stagnation in the publishing industry. [1] Maybe that model has to completely collapse - but then what about the positive externalities (those well written but unprofitable books that publishing houses effectively subsidize that I mentioned back in part one)?

Perhaps there should be more "samples". Sampling - whether through serial fiction like the type Mike Stackpole is doing or releasing back catalog items like Baen has done - makes intuitive sense. But what about, say, Escape Artists? They've been around for years now, giving away CC-licensed content, and are (AFAIK) running in the black, primarily through donations. What makes their model different and workable?

Maybe it's not workable - but until more creators (and publishers, whether they be big NYC companies, quasi-DIY outfits like Escape Artists, or totally DIY folks like Brave Men Run's author Matt Selznick) put all the cards on the table, we won't know. We're all guessing in the dark - and a lot of people are going to be undeservingly hurt if they guess incorrectly.

So the only thing I can think of is for all of them - from the DIY podcast novelists to the big NYC companies - is to open their financial books.

Because I really do believe in a free market. And the market of fiction is already a differentiated one. One book is not a substitute for another, one magazine is not a substitute for another, one author is not a substitute for another. In a free 21st century entertainment market, the price should not be set by artificial constraints like DRM or device lockdown, nor should it be set by opaque deals and obscured supply chains. There's no need for any of that. Not anymore.

It's in their own best interests, as well. Maybe Escape Artists really is onto something. How could McMillan emulate their model? Maybe Tor or Baen could show (explicitly) how social media and free product is actually reinforcing sales.

I remember reading in Suck.com (that dates me, huh?) that less than 1% of banner ads were clicked - let alone turned into a sale. Yet while people bemoaned that horrible rate, they never stopped to think what the conversion rate might be from a billboard or newspaper ad. At least with the banner ads, they knew, and could focus on the things that brought in the most money. Because remember, the more we can make our writing profitable, the more we can afford to write.

And if we - as authors, publishers, and retailers - can focus our efforts on those things that bring us all money, then maybe we could spend more time writing and getting those written words to readers. Because while we want to follow our passions, we also need to eat.

[1] I think there's wage stagnation and wage inflation in most of the "developed world", and think that we're fighting a holding action against a massive market correction downward as the rest of the world comes into more direct competition.

[Note: Edited to fix the link to Mr. Selznick's work. Whoops!]

18 February 2010

Protect yourself against scams - 10 Mar 2010

An Invitation from Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray

As Attorney General, every day I hear about financial scams and crimes against individuals as well as small businesses struggling to make ends meet.

I am holding community forums across the state because I want to hear your concerns and experiences with household financial issues, scams and crime. We want to let you know about the programs and services available from my office that can help your community fight back against financial predators and the endlessly creative ways they find to target and rip off hardworking families worried about their futures.

Please join me at Sinclair Community College on March 10 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

I will be at the forum to listen to your concerns. Experts from my office will highlight how we can protect consumers, small businesses, victims of crime, children, senior citizens and others in your neighborhood. Dr. Steven Lee Johnson, President of Sinclair Community College, will moderate our discussion.

What: Community Forum
Where: Charity Earley Auditorium at Sinclair Community College , Building 12
444 W. Third St.
Dayton, OH 45402
Parking: Free parking is available in the Lot C Garage located beneath Building 12, which is on the corner of Perry Street and W. 4th St. Use West 4th Street parking garage entrance. Take the elevator to Building 12’s 1st floor and follow the signs to the event. Free parking passes will be issued at the registration desk.
When: March 10 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Book

[You might want to read part #1 & part #2 - the full thing will be posted on Saturday in one big post.]


In 2004, Cory Doctorow used the example of reading a book on the beach to partially justify his release of his novels as e-books (and to point out that they were complements, not substitutes). It would cost more (and at least be more of a hassle) to print the thing out and haul it to the beach instead of buying the paper copy. They were complimentary products, not substitutes. And he was right - then. Now, the e-book and paperback are functionally equivalent - and giving away the full product can directly cut into your book's sales. [1]

For Cory - and others, I'm sure - writing is only one part of their life. In fact, Cory's very much adopted the model that musicians are having to migrate towards: the writing (or music) is a way to get people interested in the other, more profitable things you do. That solution isn't a bad one - but it's not a workable one for someone like myself. The three big arenas of my work life (my "day job", my writing, and academia) do not reinforce each other.

I'm not coming out against releasing CC-licensed work. Hell, everything I've posted here on this blog is - including the flash fiction bits. But those are samplers. My thought (hope, really) is that you'll see those, or some of the other fiction that I've written elsewhere, and then go do things like buy a copy of Timeshares, or Hungry for Your Love, or every magazine that I have a story published in. Not because I'm some greedy asshat - but because I've got a busy life too.

See, I'll be writing stuff whether it sells or not. My static website has reams of it - literally stretching back over fifteen years. And I don't anticipate ever being a full-time writer; I enjoy research and sociology entirely too much to completely give that up. But I could write a lot more - and really justify it - if I made enough between academia and writing to quit my "day job".

Yes, releasing CC-licensed work can provide externalities - and ones that can be measured in cash. Recently I donated a bit of money to Peter Watts when he needed it [2]; that relationship (entirely online, I've never met him) was started by reading the backlist of his works that's up with a CC-license. The amount I donated far exceeded the amount he would have recieved had I simply bought his back catalog. That's great - but that isn't the way to run a business.

So where do we go from here? That's tomorrow.


[1] Some of the other things Cory says about "ownership", though, I believe are still extremely relevant. The threat – even unexercised – that Amazon could yank content from me is one of the reasons I'm not buying a Kindle.
[2] I'm neither looking for praise or to argue the merits of that case; that's beside the point.

17 February 2010

When book == ebook

[This is part two; You might want to read part one. The entire thing will be posted in one long-ass post on Saturday.]

So I talked about music and movies in the digital age yesterday... which brings us to book publishing.

In some ways, publishing's similar to the movie industry. As John Scalzi pointed out (rather amusingly), there's more to a good book than just the author's imagination. In other ways though, it's content distribution model suddenly become a lot more like the music industry. And that's a problem for authors.

The e-reader boom has only just started - but they're definitely here and getting more market share. While I don't think print is dead yet - Tobias Buckell (I think - I can't find the actual link right now) pointed out how our economic privilege skews our viewpoint - we are suddenly in a place where the ebook is, for more and more people, the exact same thing as buying the book. So we've got the problems of the movie industry (a finished novel is not a solo effort, let alone promoting it) with the now near-perfect distribution substitution of the music industry.

But the last time I checked, (most) authors don't do concerts. It's really hard to do an IMAX book. And unlike music, most people rarely re-read books the same way that they listen to music again and again. So trying to adapt either the movie or music models of digital distribution is problematic at best.

This implies some really big things about the future of the publishing industry. It's quite possible that the model as it currently stands is unworkable. [1] But that doesn't mean that one model or the other is inherently "dead" or better.

What's at question is this: Is the value added by typesetters, proofreaders, editors, agents, marketers, slush readers and retailers really worth what they're paid for it? I don't know the answer to that question either - it seems like that's something that would work really well in a free market kind of situation. Maybe that's the role that publishing houses need to emphasize - that they provide a context and market for these kinds of associations to happen. [2]

Of course, many economic entities (both publishing houses and retailers like Amazon) are trying to lock in profits by forcing the new technologies to conform to the old business model. That's where all the DRM and format incompatibility come into play (Wanna read ePub on your Kindle? Tough. Wanna read a Kindle document on your nook? Tough.). There's no technological reason things should stay that way, and the popularity of jailbreaking iPhones and hacking Wiis strongly indicates that consumers won't put up with it any longer than absolutely necessary. In this limited respect, information does want to be free, or at least platform-independent.

But one thing is for sure: As much as I hate to say it, giving away all of your work online isn't a sure way for authors to succeed in a meaningful way any more.

Why? That's tomorrow.

[1] I don't know - we'll touch on this in part 3
[2] My understanding is that while publishers do this now, it's not a market-driven thing, which is why authors have little to no control over marketing, covers, and the like. I reserve the right to be wrong.

16 February 2010

Not all entertainment is equal

Some things just can't substitute for another. Rolling Rock for Guinness. Brad Pitt for Humphrey Bogart. Spongebob for Bugs Bunny. E-books for paper books.

Well. Maybe they can.

It's tempting to think that all creative endeavors need the same kind of business model. Historically, it's been true. Due to production costs (and duplication) costs books, music, and movies all had vaguely similar production and business models.

And then came modern computers.

First, music took a hit (and still is). Physical CD sales are bottoming out. MP3s (or FLAC, or Ogg Vorbis) are a near-perfect substitute for what you would buy in a record store. Perhaps the best indication of this is what so many of us do when we do get (or buy) a physical CD - we rip it to a MP3 player. The audiophiles who love the "warmth" of vinyl are romantic and part of the market in the same way that classic car restorers are part of Toyota's business plan.

And, of course, it made it easier to share music.

Both of these are a huge problem for record companies - but surprisingly not so for artists. For all but the biggest (and especially for mid-range and small artists), more financial support has come in through performances than through record sales. So for these artists, it's made sense to make more of their work available to more people through services like Jamendo, or free downloads from last.fm. In some ways, making some work available via a CC-license is roughly akin to radio.

The movie industry has taken a hit as well, though not as badly. While the technology is still becoming available to produce an independent movie, there are often huge quality issues. [1] Still, digital transformations have come to such a point that I know people who only use the streaming portion of their Netflix account. Both independent rental places and huge chains like Blockbuster have taken a massive blow due to the changing distribution model. Hence the huge drive for 3D and IMAX movies. Those are experiences that cannot be perfectly substituted by the DVD or streaming video at home.

But this is just recap. My real interest as a fledgling writer is in the publishing industry. Publishing is a weird beast. Movie studios and record studios [2] go for profitability with nearly every release - either monetary profitability or awards. There's a reason so many documentaries were underwritten by universities - until they became popular again in the last few years. There's a reason why indie artists tend to sound so different than the monoculture of the big music industry.

To the best of my knowledge, publishing - even the big houses - isn't run that way. They lose money on most books, but at least get them out there. It's akin to the way media industries used to view news programs - not as profit-makers, but something that added to the cultural landscape.

But no matter how noble that is - and it is noble and good - at this point the publishing industry has all the problems of both the music and movie industry. That's what we'll hit on tomorrow.

[1] This is my personal experience; YMMV.
[2] The big ones, and I reserve the right to be wrong here.

Bona Fides

Here's a question you need to ask yourself.

"Why the hell should I listen to Steve?"

It's especially important as I talk about digital distribution and publishing over the next few days. I think I have something a little bit different to say. My questions (and possible solutions) are not quite like everyone else's. But I'm only a fledgling writer, and - as far as most of you know - I'm just some guy on the Internet. So here's my bona fides, in no particular order:

  • I have started (and continue to run) a successful business before in a virtual environment.[LINK]

  • I am a fledgling writer - but I'm not a complete noob, either.

  • I am not beholden to any particular model of publishing. I want to identify the most successful model. Period.

  • I have real friends who are authors and in publishing. This conversation is not academic to them.

  • I have training in economics - which is not the same thing as business training. I was also one of the folks openly predicting both the housing collapse and foreign investment problems years before they hit.

  • I'm not a front-line trendspotter. I do stand only a few steps back from them, often identifying fads just behind the early adopters.


All those are fine and good - but they're not the most important reason you should take me seriously. That's this:

I am not going to tell you a certain solution is the best one.

That's something you have to decide. I'm providing some additional information towards that purpose. Your comments are, of course, welcomed.

15 February 2010

Higgledy Piggledy - A 100 Word Story

One of the drawbacks in participating the Weekly Challenge is that sometimes the topics get... well... silly. Like this week, with "Anything You Want", "Higgledy Piggledy", and "Tree". Le sigh. Still, I think this story works - so go vote for it over at the Weekly Challenge site. You can listen to it below using the player, or download it from here if that's borked. The background music comes from this sample from the Freesound Project.









I ran as fast as my stubbly little hooves would go. Gary said my running was "higgledly-piggledly", but Gary's dead now.

My tree had fallen. It wasn't strong enough. Stronger than Gary's straw hut, strong enough to give me a chance to run, but that was all.

Ralph stared wide-eyed at me through the window of his brick house.

"Let me in!"

A tear ran down Ralph's cheek. He didn't open the door.

The wolf's breath was hot on my neck.

"Your choice, little piggy. I'll eat you any way you want."

I tried to choose something quick.

13 February 2010

A Modest Publishing (meta) Proposal

Over the last few months - and definitely brought to a head by the Amazon/McMillan kerfluffle - there has been a flurry of activity on author's blogs about pricing, authorial rights, self-publishing, and the idea of the pixel-stained technopeasant.

I real a lot of author's blogs - mostly ones I've either met personally or look up to for one reason or another. Rather than link to a whole bunch of posts, I'm just going to point (roughly) at some of the authors whose thoughts have fed into the following: Mike Stackpole, Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, Tobias Buckell, Monica Valentinelli, Robert Vardeman, Peter Watts, Wil Wheaton, John Scalzi, Pat Rothfuss, and Jim C. Hines. It's worth noting that I am not stating their positions. In fact, some of them have quite openly disagreed with the others.

I'm not anywhere near the caliber of any of the above - but in this case, I think my ignorance might just help.

So here's the situation, summed up (as best I can):

1) Publishing is a difficult business, with many books that publishers put out losing money.
2) Pay rates from publishers - especially for short fiction - tend to suck. As Pat Rothfuss recently said, "live somewhere cheap".
3) A lot of self-published work has - at least in the past - sucked in quality. (You can still see this, unfortunately, in some for-the-love markets.)
4) Culture is not purely a generative affair - to quote Steve Eley out of context, "Next week we'll bring you different words in a different order." Remixing and retelling is part and parcel of a dynamic culture.
5) Consumers of culture are inherently patrons of the arts - including picking up a comic book, watching a show on TV, or reading a paperback.
6) Content creators cannot effectively create without getting some kind of compensation for it.
7) There's a lot of content out there; it's difficult to get noticed among all the dross (see #3).
8) If it's quality work, it deserves compensation.

I don't think any of these are particularly objectionable (if you want to argue #4, remember that "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a retelling of the Odyssey, and that remixing and sampling have been authentic parts of much of the American music heritage for over a century). These propositions have led to a lot of disagreement about how authors should progress from here on out. Agent models, traditional publishing models, self-publishing, podcasting, Creative Commons licensing - everyone seems to have a different point of view about which is "right".

So let me suggest this - they all are.

There is no reason why Amazon (for example; this applies to any online bookseller) can't carry a self-published work (especially digital ones) - and they do. Issues of quality and exposure can be dealt with simultaneously through Creative Commons licensing of some work. I would not have gotten into Mr. Watt's or Mr. Doctorow's work, for example, if I hadn't had the opportunity to read it for free first - and since, I've bought copies for myself and given copies to others. Both Jim Hines and John Scalzi have creative samplers online - but it's not the entirety of their backlists, nor is it CC-licensed. Rating mechanisms from independent sites can help guide people to quality works - I was able to list the e-book version of Hungry For Your Love there (I have a story in it) fairly easily, and can point people to that. Wil Wheaton recently pointed out how Twitter helped his independent publishing succeed. Mike Stackpole has some great ideas about using serial fiction to keep an author's family fed while achieving many of the same goals of releasing your work under a Creative Commons license (without doing so). He even created a great guide to preparing your work for publishing for the Kindle. And there's folks who simply say that traditional publishing is the only way to go, no matter what.

I don't see why all of these cannot co-exist - not even among different authors, but even within the same author's work. It's worth debating which of these models (or what mix of them) will work best for individual authors. It's not worth getting upset over - because again, the technology is available to allow all of these to exist, and still ensure authors get paid. The back end mechanisms can still be as invisible to the end-user as the current murky world of publishing is to the average reader (you know, the ones who think authors determine what covers go on their book or how much they sell for.) If it doesn't exist already, then instead of us expending mental energy pointing out how each other is wrong (or worse, setting up straw men about each other's position or devolving into ad hominem attacks).

Instead, let's instead figure out how we can help everyone succeed - both as patrons and creators of the arts.

[Edit: The bullet points in this post have some good (and more concise) discussion of the same topic.]

12 February 2010

Restless Legs Suck Ass

Some of my first memories are of restless leg syndrome. Being in the back of the car, in an airplane, and feeling the discomfort.

That was in the 70's and 80's.

I'm one of the (approximately) 10% of people with restless legs syndrome who experience it as pain, and that's gotten worse as I've gotten older. I went to doctor after doctor trying to find out why I hurt at night, why it seemed to be "reverse arthritis" (it hurt when I didn't move). Nobody had any answers. For years.

Because I experience it as pain, it's not just that I'm kept awake. The pain also means that it's hard for me to concentrate, think, or otherwise use the time in any meaningful way. Daily, this would keep me up past midnight - and on bad days up to 4 or 5 am.

To put that in context, for the last 15 years or so, I've had to wake up for work somewhere between 5 and 6:30.

This means, of course, that the next day I'd be worse than useless. I'd make stupid "tired" mistakes. It's a miserable thing. And then it would often repeat again the next night.

Last night was bad. I don't know why.

From eleven pm until about four am, I was only able to doze at most in 3-5 minute periods before the pain in my ankles woke me up again.

Yet I know there's people who think they have RLS who probably don't. The number of people I see who use RLS as a "reason" they can't hold still for a test has gone up dramatically in the last ten years. I'm sure there's some people who find it convenient, or suggested the disease (or treatment) to their doctors.

But damn, do people have to be assholes like this guy?

There's a lot of things springing up in our society's health. I have no doubt that patients go to doctors convinced they have the latest fashionable disease or need the most heavily advertised pharmaceutical.

But at the same time, we're radically altering our environment. [1] Plastics did not exist at all until after the Civil War, , for example. But now they're everywhere - and even small amounts of offgassing could, over time alter long-term health. We don't know. There's no real way to prove it. We do know we have drugs in our water, and we have drugs in our food that weren't there years before. Hell, there's a significant body of research suggesting that our cleanliness and sanitation comes with the drawbacks of asthma, allergies, and bronchitis. [2]

When we have these new syndromes and diseases, realize that our world has changed, in very fundamental ways. Maybe some (or even most) of it is driven by pharmaceutical companies trying to make obscene profits.

But when you're mocking and being judgmental, don't forget the very real people who actually do suffer.


[1] And I'm not even talking about global climate change, etc.

10 February 2010

Run a TOR router from the City of Peace [crossposted]

I'm crossposting this to all my blogs today - I think it's that important.

With the news that the Iranian government has banned Gmail, it becomes more evident that the TOR network (and other anonymizing tools) are necessary on the Internet.

It can be hard for a Westerner to believe that this kind of anonymity is needed, but when simply speaking against the government can lead to arrest, jail time, and even execution... well, it's easy to see where you wouldn't want to broadcast your identity.

The EFF pointed out how hosting a TOR router helps protesters in Iran (among other places) last year:
Internet users in Iran are using Tor to both (a) circumvent censorship systems and (b) remain anonymous while reading and writing on the Internet. Both are critically important to the safety of protesters, many of whom fear retaliation from the government. Preliminary reports indicate that use of the Tor client in Iran has increased in the days after the contested election.

That article also explains how your PC is needed to help, and some more basics about the TOR network.

With Iran's banning of Gmail, it looks like that time has come again. Turn your avatars green on social networks, sure. But if you really want to make a difference, now, then start up a TOR relay on your own home network. You can limit the bandwidth used so it can literally help those struggling for freedom - and still have your YouTube videos load buffer-free.

The home link to TOR is here; an easy-to-follow install guide is here. TOR is a cross-platform program.

Run a TOR router, help democracy [crossposted]

I'm crossposting this to all my blogs today - I think it's that important.

With the news that the Iranian government has banned Gmail, it becomes more evident that the TOR network (and other anonymizing tools) are necessary on the Internet.

It can be hard for a Westerner to believe that this kind of anonymity is needed, but when simply speaking against the government can lead to arrest, jail time, and even execution... well, it's easy to see where you wouldn't want to broadcast your identity.

The EFF pointed out how hosting a TOR router helps protesters in Iran (among other places) last year:
Internet users in Iran are using Tor to both (a) circumvent censorship systems and (b) remain anonymous while reading and writing on the Internet. Both are critically important to the safety of protesters, many of whom fear retaliation from the government. Preliminary reports indicate that use of the Tor client in Iran has increased in the days after the contested election.

That article also explains how your PC is needed to help, and some more basics about the TOR network.

With Iran's banning of Gmail, it looks like that time has come again. Turn your avatars green on social networks, sure. But if you really want to make a difference, now, then start up a TOR relay on your own home network. You can limit the bandwidth used so it can literally help those struggling for freedom - and still have your YouTube videos load buffer-free.

The home link to TOR is here; an easy-to-follow install guide is here. TOR is a cross-platform program.

09 February 2010

I remember "mailman" and "policeman"

I remember "mailman" and "policeman". I remember objecting to the terms, and making the same stupid comment: "So what, is it going to be a personhole cover next?"

Which just goes to show how big of an idiot I was back in the late 80's.

I've since learned better - but it can be really hard sometimes to explain to others why we should make certain word choices and not others. Here, let's have a re-enactment:
Random Person: "Don't do a half-assed job of that."
Me: "Y'know, half-assed is a sexist phrase."
RP: "What?
Me: "Yeah. It refers to the way women had to ride sidesaddle. So it means doing it like a woman." [1]
RP: "So what if half-assed used to be sexist? I don't use it that way."

The Portly Dyke helps. In "Watch Your Mouth" (part one, part two, and part three) she clearly runs through how to determine when it's a bad idea to use such terms (and why), how these sorts of words get changed, reappropriated, and co-opted, and what you should do instead.

These should be required reading. Get to it. :)

[1] Yes, I know that you can find places online that claim the term "half-assed" comes from other, non-sexist roots. Except... well, none of them agree on the origin of the phrase, which means that I'm far from convinced of their explanations. I mean, this idea of "half-adzed" sounds like a post-facto justification, which disagrees with all of the possible origins at dictionary.com - and those disagree among themselves on the etymology and the date of origin Let's just go with the example, okay?

08 February 2010

Haggis - A 100 Word Story

Yes, it's time for a 100 word story. This one, again part of the Weekly Challenge, was based around the topic "haggis". You can listen (and vote) here. The background sounds (or music, if you like the pipes) is from the freesound project. Specifically, this sample and this one. You can listen to my story using the player below, or if that's borked (like in some feed readers), download it here.









"Welcome to Haggis Anonymous. My name's Bob."

"Hi, Bob," the crowd said.

"It started with bridies and a utilikilt," Bob said. "Just a little something at the Renfair. Then I tried blood pudding - and liked it."

Murmurs of sympathy came from the seated members.

"Before long, I wore tartan and piped bagpipe music into my office." Bob paused. "I'm a dentist."

The others contemplated the combined horror.

"Then I ate haggis. Every meal. Snacks, even," Bob said. "I went clean one year ago."

"How?" the new kid asked.

Bob smiled. "Eating the closest thing to haggis that isn't. Hotdogs."

05 February 2010

The Value of Cheap Trinkets

My son wanted to use the dangling crane machine.

"There's games and balls and stuff in there," he tells me.

"Most of that stuff isn't worth very much, kiddo," I tell him. "And the odds are against you."

I point out to him the shape of the hook, the positioning of the items. All the ways the deck is stacked against him. I explain that even if he managed to get something, it would probably be cheaper to just buy it from the store.

"What about those games that give you tickets?" he asked me. "I got over 200 tickets one time, and I got a lot of prizes."

"What kind of prizes?" I asked him. "Were they expensive ones? Or do you think you spent more playing the games than the prizes cost?"

His expression drooped.

So I asked him the next question: "But did you have fun?"

"What?"

"Did you have fun playing the games? Would you have paid to just play skee ball?"

"Well, yeah. They were fun."

"Then that's the value, kiddo. And you wouldn't have been able to buy that in the store."

Economics lesson concluded, we finished our pizza.

04 February 2010

The hate lasts forever

I've noticed you [1] getting more conservative. And I don't mean that in a good way.

You see, over the last eight years I've actually become less liberal about a lot of things. You can argue that I'm more radical and outspoken about the things I do believe in and the causes I support. [2] On the balance, though, I'm more of a left-leaning moderate anymore. So if anything, my views should be closer to yours.

But they're not.

You've become more conservative. And by that, I don't mean "regurgitating FOX News talking points" - though you've been doing that too. I mean things like bashing poor people for their "wasteful ways" while the heating costs alone for your McMansion could feed them for a month. I mean things like being scornful about starving children while drinking your fancy coffee. I mean things like denying the breaks your social class and race have given you even while you talk about the social connections you have. I mean things like saying, without exaggeration, that someone fighting an addiction "deserves to die because they can't be bothered to kick the habit." I mean things like judging people's intelligence by how they pronounce certain words, while denying that you've got an accent. I mean things like using "homo" as a slur, for fuck's sake.

It's not political, really. I can't even really excuse it as a way for you to justify what you have, and not feel responsible for others - though that would be bad enough.

It's just hateful shit.

I expect it from politicians (on all sides, unfortunately). Hell, I even expect it from news commentators. But I never expected you - the real people I know - to start acting like them too.

I don't know why you've been changing like this. Maybe you've always been like this, and I just didn't notice.

I'm not asking you to agree with me. I've always enjoyed verbally sparring with you.

I'm asking you to be human again.

[1] This isn't written specifically to you. It's addressing parts of a whole bunch of people. But enjoy that nice fitting shoe.
[2] Anti-racist, GLBT rights, equal rights for women, and so on.

02 February 2010

Pulling Your Fair Share

Everybody gets pissed when a co-worker isn't carrying their own weight. But the ways people determine what a fair share is seems to differ.

The region I live in has a history of blue collar industry and white collar "professional" work. [1] (There's also a healthy mix of "green collar" military and "tweed collar" academia.) The way people determine a fair share seems to be determined by whether they were raised with a blue collar or white collar work ethic, regardless of the industry they're in now.

I can pull examples from two hourly employees of a company I've worked with. The company, like many, is experiencing some belt-tightening, so employees are encouraged to leave early (thus reducing payroll costs) if the day's work is completed.

Employee A almost never leaves early. She will always be clocked in - though not always actively performing work. She will also complain bitterly about her co-workers ("slackers") who volunteer to leave early because "they're trying to get out of work". Her first job was in an automobile factory.

Employee B will frequently leave early. She will actively volunteer to go home early whenever work is completed, or can be handled by the remaining staff. She will also complain bitterly about her co-workers (whom she also calls "slackers") who will "sit around on the clock and not do any work." Her first job was being an assistant manager of a service-sector franchise.

It's striking that the language each of these women [2] uses is so similar as they describe each other - but for completely different behaviors.

My suspicion [3] is that these are cultural artifacts, even though both employees are now in a white collar job. This is something especially important to people in the Midwest and Rust Belt as we shift our focus away from industry towards information.

As our economy continues to change, this kind of cultural clash will happen more frequently.

We can either let it continue and destroy morale and productivity - or we can start figuring out how to get everyone on the same sheet of music right now.

[1] These are huge generalizations. Huge. I'm well aware of that.
[2] You realize that I've changed details, right? If you think I'm talking about you, you're probably wrong. But enjoy that shoe; it fits on your foot so nicely.
[3] No, I've not done a research study. If you have, let me know!

01 February 2010

Anything You Want - A 100 Word Story.

Yup, it's that time of the week again. I use a dirty word in this story. Oh dear. Will you ever be the same?

Okay, seriously, though, you can hear the other entries in this week's challenge over at the 100 Word Stories site, and vote for mine (and any other deserving stories) there. You can listen to my story alone below, or you can use this link if the player's borked (like in some feed readers). The background music is from NiN's CC-licensed album "The Slip".










Assholes have destroyed everything I want to say to you.

"You're special to me. "

"I've never felt like this before."

"I would do anything for you."

They sound cheesy. They're all true. But you don't believe me.

I understand that. I know why you don't believe me. I know you've been played before. I know they said all those lies to you.

I know.

They confessed.

They're inside, chained to chairs. Every guy who has ever lied to you, who has ever hurt you. Here's the knife. Do whatever you want to them. You choose. Anything.

Just believe me again.