Direct From the Mouths of The SuperAuthors

One of the strangest exponents of my IFOA experience this month has been the window into the business world of the festival’s handful of bestselling authorial behemoths. I ate dinner with a novelist (not in the intimidate, 1-on-1 sense, but in the sense of group dynamics just happening to sit us together) who spoke of a year-long book tour, of separate publicists in each national market, and of translations into Serbo-Croat and Swedish.

Obviously the writing life of a popstar novelist who sells millions of copies is markedly different from that of a moderately-famous-on-his-street poet with lifetime sales in the few thousands, okay maybe a couple thousand. Okay, well, I do alright for fucking poetry! What was most notable about this (and other) conversations was the tendency of this literary superclass to be impacted by trends in the publishing industry in ways exactly the opposite from how I experience them. A quick mention of the internet as democratizing agent (something that I hold to be self-evident) was met with a face of confused dismissal by one author, who spoke of torrent downloads of their recent bestseller numbering in the mid-four figures.

Now, it had never occurred to me that sites like The Pirate Bay even dealt in text files, so I was left opinionless when it came to this specific example. But as the conversation shrugged forward into more familiar territory, I found myself holding my counterarguments in check, choosing to bask in the rare opportunity to watch someone with whom I ostensibly shared a profession speaking ill of things I was thoroughly in favour of, and (most unusually) feeling that way for the same exact reasons.

I don’t consider myself a class-warrior, though I feel that my work is somewhat class-conscious (better to be conscious of it, as it is surely conscious of me). And it was this consciousness, not that warrior-instinct, that took hold of me as I listened to this person complain about Radiohead putting their album online, as doing so removed a revenue stream for their label that could be used to foster young musicians. The fact that such an argument is ridiculous (really, a major label would spend their Radiohead money on “fostering young musicians”, instead of just spending it on another Radiohead?) lost out to the spectacle of it being made. I was speaking to one of the maybe 20 or so authors in the world for whom things like big-box retail bullying and preferential shelving were doing them a world a good. In an industry populated by a million Mom and Pop Stores, I had come face-to-face with Walmart. While part of me felt like a sell-out as we ate out Bison Tartar and waxed philosophically about how eReaders will lead to increased book piracy, bearing witness to the other opinion won out, however temporarily, to the white-hot necessity of the argument.

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5 Comments on “Direct From the Mouths of The SuperAuthors”

  1. D.C. Says:

    Different strokes for different folks I guess. But, on the topic of Radiohead releasing their album for free download and “donate-what-you-wish,” I heard that it actually made them more money. Therefore, while this particular example did not help the record companies, shouldn’t it strike them as a possible way to go? For instance, making albums like ‘In Rainbows’ free to download and have an option to donate. I’m not a big city lawyer or anything, but I think that if a person loves the music enough they will want the band to make more music and they will donate. Just my POV though.

  2. voxpopulism Says:

    Yeah, it was one of their more successful albums. It also got a tonne of media attention for the novelty of the release structure. Of course, there’s only a handful of bands out there that could ever make headlines with their release structure, so it’s not a business plan that works unless you’re already famous going in.

  3. Damian Rogers Says:

    From my understanding of the situation, Radiohead left EMI well in advance of releasing that record independently — I can’t imagine that it would have ever (ever, ever) been made available in that way if a major label still had contractual control of the material. So then this guy’s position is, whether he knows it or not, that successful artists should never take commercial control of their own content — including the assumption of attendant financial risks — because this kind of autonomy deprives corporate entities of potential profit.

    Well, that raises my class issues, that’s for sure. I suppose it’s just an example of someone so well-supported by the system they are plugged into that they can’t see past their own experience. But he’s still a total idiot for talking out of his ass like that.

  4. voxpopulism Says:

    Damian Rogers: My friend Jeff is reading your book and really likes it. Hope your Open Book gig has gone well.

    And yes, that’s a fairly expert deconstruction of the position of my dinnermate. And one that I’ve done before and likely will do again. What was most memorable about the conversation was the spectacle of the argument being made. It’s like talking to someone, thinking they’re relatively bright and able-brained, and then they bust out something like, you know, “Evolution is a lie!”. You sort of just hang your jaw a bit and let them explain their views, because how often does the opportunity to witness something like this come by?

  5. Stephen Rowe Says:

    Ah, the financial side of things. It sounds dirty, but is a requirement these days.

    It’s hard sometimes to be sitting with other people who, generally speaking you might respect and listen to, spout off comments and opinions that you find vile. It’s something that, I think, is a reality of life. Unless you hang out with people who have no opinion, and we all know how fun they can be when you strike up a conversation.

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