Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Suggestion For Right-Wing Authors: Go Hollywood And Go Union

Under the heading of "Schadenfreude Alert," Kevin Drum links to this story about disgruntled conservative book authors who are suing their publisher, Regnery, the notorious source of some of the most dishonest right-wing screeds of recent years. Seems Regnery may have been short-changing authors on royalties through some fancy footwork involving books distributed at very low cost through publisher-owned book clubs.

As you can imagine, Kevin's post has elicited plenty of comments mocking the conservative authors for their sudden disenchantment with the glories of unfettered capitalism and their equally sudden enthusiasm for our "out-of-control" tort system. I am certainly happy to join the derisive chorus. But from another angle, this story is just a different version of the dynamic we see at work in the current strike by film and TV writers.

In both cases, the issue is fundamentally the same: How should ancillary revenues from a media product generated by creative talent be fairly distributed among the people and organizations that contribute to its success? And in both cases, we see the same basic principle at work: Given the opportunity, a media company will always look for ways to ensure that new streams of money will flow directly into their pockets, leaving as little as possible for the creative originators.

And why not? The management of a TV network, a movie studio, or a book publisher is ultimately beholden to the shareholders, and their main responsibility is to maximize profits. Obviously they have to pay the writers something--otherwise nothing will get written. But as good capitalists, their job is to try to make that something as small as possible. Which naturally leads to conflict, whether in the form of a writers' strike or a lawsuit.

Of course, the Hollywood writers have a lot better chance of ultimately getting a fair deal on their royalties than the Regnery authors, and the reason is the clout they demonstrate by striking. And even if the Regnery Five win their lawsuit, it won't benefit the thousands of other book authors, at Regnery and elsewhere, who basically have no choice but to accept the contract terms their publisher offers them.

So the real lesson of both stories is that unionization is the best path to securing workers' rights.
It's nice to fantasize about the conservative authors (and their readers) eventually coming to recognize that . . . but I'm not holding my breath.

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