Monday, November 12, 2007

Hollywood Writer's Strike

I’m sure by now everyone has heard that the Writer’s Guild of America is on strike. Other than some of your favorite shows going on an early hiatus, what does this mean to you?

Say you’re a cake decorator and you’ve spent six months perfecting your recipe and your design. The bakery, who pays your check, compensates you for your time, then proceeds to sell your recipe, your design and pieces of your cake while they rake in the cash. They’re making money (and publicity) off your product while you receive nothing extra.

Messed up isn’t it?

In a simplified fashion, this is what is going on with the Hollywood Writers.
Ten years ago DVDs, internet streaming downloads, and internet purchase downloads didn’t exist. Now that the movie / tv studios are making money hand over fist with these new technologies while the writer is making nothing more than their standard pay.

A good example is the HBO show, The Sopranos. HBO took in 300 million on Sopranos DVD sales then took in another 200 million when they sold the series to the A&E channel. Yes, I said, 500 million dollars.

What did the writers receive?

Nothing. Not even a kiss on the cheek.

The very popular show, UGLY BETTY, can be viewed online for free and there are commercials embedded in the feed. Commercials that advertisers paid for. The studio claims it is promotional while the writers receive…nothing. Now, how can the studios pull in monies from advertising yet tell the writers that is promotional. Trust me, the IRS doesn’t recognize ‘promotional’ income any differently than income from straight sales.

The fiction / non-fiction writing market is also dealing with this issue. Fifteen years ago there were two basic markets, Audio and Print. Now that the electronic media has come into being, what some publishers are doing with regards to paying the authors for this new venue is a crime, IMHO.

A standard NY house pay scale is between 2 – 10% of a paperback sale price. So here comes the e-market which has quite a few advantages for the publisher: – intangible asset, no warehousing required – low overhead, the file is already 90% in line with the ebook format when its sent to the printer. At this point all it needs is a reformat to the standards and it’s a saleable product. – no editing, paper, supplies etc – only space on a website

So how much (on average) are the authors receiving for this new, viable media?

4 – 6%.

Now, reread the paragaph above about the standard NY house pay scales, I’ll wait.

Do you see what I’m getting at? The house is still making the usual paperback rate for this new media (which is crazy IMO – but lets not go there) while the author gets the same or LESS than the rate for a paperback – a product with considerable overhead.

I think it’s safe to say the days of most companies looking out for their writers has gone the way of the dinosaurs. We are no longer artists, we’ve been forced into the role of content providers. What they do is special, magical, and they shouldn’t have to deal with their employers giving their work away for free. While I do not write for the television / movie industry, I support their strike wholeheartedly. It’s past time for writers to stand up and remind the industry of the value of their work.

Besides, when your favorite shows go into repeats, what would be better than supporting your favorite writers and picking up a book? :)

1 comment:

Mechele Armstrong said...

Great explanation of what's going on. You know, I never thought about ebook royalties the way you pointed them out. Huh.