Freedom of Information and Supporting Pagan Creators 1.5
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Article ID: 3063
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,764
Times Read: 12,718
Author: Isaac Bonewits [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: November 13th. 2000
Times Viewed: 12,718
Many of you who have visited my website a few times will have noticed that my web pages, as well as the workshops and interviews I do, contain many references and "plugs" for other authors of whom I approve, and some folks have wondered why I would recommend "competitors."
Granted, I do get occasional referral fees from Amazon.com for books purchased because buyers went to Amazon from my site, this doesn't add up to much, and I get nothing from books purchased on my recommendation from other stores.
I recommend good books by other authors because there are so few of them, because I feel that authors deserve support from their colleagues as well as from their readers, and because it is important to every subculture (which Neopaganism still is) to support its own "economy."
Most readers have only the vaguest ideas of how authors earn their livings, often assuming that published ones are naturally wealthy. They get these ideas in part from news stories about "best selling" authors getting huge book advances and/or selling movie rights for millions of dollars or pounds; unaware that only one writer in ten-thousand ever sees more from her or his writing than the original book advance of a few hundred or thousand dollars or pounds.
I'm lucky in that my best known book, Real Magic, has been in and out of print for almost thirty years, generating a trickle of royalties three years out of five. Yet with roughly 250,000 copies sold around the world, in three languages that I know of (English, Dutch & Russian), my total direct income from the book during those thirty years has been less than $25,000 -- or about ten cents per copy.
Another source of the myth that published authors are rich is the fact that, for centuries, only those who were wealthy (or subsidized in some fashion) could afford to spend their time writing. This has been true even throughout the last several decades. I remember being told often by my friend Randall Garrett, a science fiction author, that the three things a writer most needed were, "a tweed suit, a briar pipe, and a spouse with a steady income!"
"Ah, but what about those speaking fees famous authors get?" I hear someone asking. Steven King, Danielle Steele, or New Age superstars may receive thousands of dollars or pounds for speaking gigs or seminars, but lesser known authors receive proportionately lesser fees (for mine, see my Presentations page). The reason you see so many Pagan and other authors dragging books to festivals, or hawking psychic readings there, is because the usual Neopagan festival or speaking event pays far less than the author would have earned staying home and cranking out a few more pages. At the end of most festival seasons, Neopagan authors and speakers usually find ourselves having lost more money than we've received.
Some of the reasons for these results have to do with the "poverty consciousness" so popular in the Neopagan community, which I've discussed at length elsewhere. But many have to do with the basic anti-intellectualism of American (and I suspect, Australian) culture. After all, a speaker is "just talking," and anybody can do that! The idea that printed or spoken words could have any real monetary value is alien to most people, in large part because they do not perceive the years of effort that go into learning the craft of writing and speaking well, or the hours of painful sweat that can go into writing a single chapter or one-hour speech.
So why do Neopagan creators keep writing and speaking? For most of us, it's because we love our deities, our planet, and our communities enough to live at a "lifestyle" far lower than we could earn otherwise if we were, for example, holding down the kinds of well-paying "blue-collar" and "white-collar" jobs that most Neopagans have. Many Neopagan clergy who aren't writers, teachers or musicians make the same decisions, literally sacrificing comfort and financial security for their vocation.
Members of many mainstream religious communities, whether rich or poor, would be deeply ashamed if their clergy lived at standards significantly below that of the average member of their congregations. Yet this is one topic on which most Neopagans seem willing to be "shameless."
In recent months, I've been reading articles in magazines and online about the "freeware" and "shareware" movements among computer software writers, as well as the arguments pro-and-con concerning the downloading of music and video files on the Net. There are now major controversies over the very concepts of "copyrights" and "intellectual property," with creative artists, consumers, and corporations taking diverse and often strident positions.
"Shareware," for those of you new to the Net, refers to computer programs that one can download and try out before buying. The assumption is that users who like the software will be willing to pay what they, or the software authors, consider "a fair price" (or a small donation to a worthy nonprofit cause), which is usually much lower than equivalent commercially produced and distributed software would cost. Shareware originally worked on an "honor system," and some still does. "Freeware" refers to programs that are put out on the Net with no return expected, other than perhaps postcards, user feedback, and opportunities for programmers to improve their skills and earn reputations with which they can later build professional careers.
Freeware authors generally had no complaints about a lack of money for their efforts, and I suspect that most were and are subsidized in some fashion, by their parents, schools or employers. Shareware authors, however, quickly learned that honor systems didn't generate much income, perhaps because individuals have such varying ways to define "honor." So they gradually began to offer multiple versions of their shareware, with additional functions, documentation, or technical support requiring users to pay varying fees (I don't know if they got this idea from commercial software publishers or vice versa).
Based on the concepts of freeware and shareware, as well as political and philosophical theories (such as those of Richard Stallman) of free information exchange, some people on the Net began to say that all information should be freely available, including digitized audio and video information -- hence the controversies over the online trading of copyrighted music and video files. These mirrored in many ways the arguments about photocopying of books and periodicals in the 1980s and 1990s. Publishers weren't too thrilled about the invention of the photocopy machine, while students, researchers and collectors were delighted. Similarly, cassette and video taping technology were controversial, at least until the music and film industries figured out how to make money through using them. It's been suggested that the music industry and its big name performers will stop fighting MP3 technology as soon as they find a way to make significant money from it.
Left out of most of these controversies, at least once they were "settled," were the non-superstar creators whose books, songs, and performances were copied, by individual "users," without a penny going to those creators. Some creators weren't bothered at all, considering unpaid copies to be sources of advertising that could build a following. Others felt that at least their "out-of-print" works were still reaching an audience (as I did during the years when Authentic Thaumaturgy was available only in photocopies). I strongly suspect, however, that most of us felt just a little bit "ripped-off" each time someone copied our work because they were simply too stingy to buy it (as distinct from being genuinely poor). That dollar or pound of income per book, or half that per tape, isn't much of a loss for a creator perhaps, but multiply it by hundreds or thousands of readers and it begins to have a real impact on his or her life. That missing money could have paid for new research materials, new instruments, classes to gain new skills, travel to gain new insights, or simply blessed time to think and create. For us "minor" authors, artists, speakers, and performers, tiny losses add up over time to big setbacks, some of which kill careers and all of which limit the amount of work we accomplish in our lifetimes.
Getting back to philosophy for a moment (away from that messy "real world" stuff), it seems to me that many of the ideas now being discussed about freedom of information contain some (deliberate?) confusion between the different kinds of information that exist, some of which (a) should be openly available to all, and some of which (b) needn't be or even (c) shouldn't be. As examples of just these three categories (of the dozen or so categories that could be delineated), I would offer (a) basic scientific/historical information, or evidence of corporate/government/military crimes, (b) medical techniques, poetry, fiction, or personal memoirs, and (c) instructions on making weapons of mass destruction. Remember, "all or nothing" arguments are rooted in Christian Dualism, not the "real" world. The fact that subtle distinctions may need to be made between differing kinds of information and audience does not justify tossing those distinctions out of your philosophy because they'd require work to define and teach.
At one point, a reader and I were discussing the Freenet and its system of decentralized, distributed file storage on the Net. That system essentially makes it impossible to ever suppress information once it's loose. Unfortunately, it also makes it impossible to ever enforce a copyright or patent anywhere in the world. As an author, this means that any of my work on the Freenet would never go "out-of-print," and I would never again have to deal with a publisher in order to get my thoughts shared with the world. It also means that anyone could impersonate me and publish items under my name, or plagiarize me, and I would have no recourse. Also, I would not necessarily ever see a penny of payment for my works, no matter how many people downloaded and used them.
As I told the reader I mentioned earlier, "Letting the authors get ripped off by readers instead of by publishers isn't much of an improvement. From what I know of the Freenet idea so far, it provides no financial incentive at all for writers to write, and thus is a backward step to the days when only the idle wealthy could afford to write."
To which he replied, "I have optimism and faith in humanity. People will give you $1 when they read an essay (I would). Of course, it's my faith in humanity that gets me in trouble..." So I decided to take his suggestions and give them a try. In early October of 2000 c.e., I gave visitors to my website the option to click a graphic and donate small sums of money to me, assuming that they had found something on my site that they thought was worth that amount to them. This required them to have a credit card and an account with PayPal.com, but I figured that most visitors already had cards, the account set-up process takes very little time, and they could always snailmail me a small sum if they preferred. With over 1,500 visitors to my site daily in October (250+ visitors daily in the other eleven months), even a one percent response rate would generate more than enough income to justify setting the system up.
How well did it work? Since I put the donation boxes up my website (especially the Real Origins of Halloween essay) has received nearly 100,000 visitors. As of late January 2001, the 0.02% -- one-fivethousandth -- response ratio and average amount (of roughly $1 per 1,000 visitors) donated has remained steady. Unfortunately, I can't afford to keep this website going for much longer at that rate.
I say this not to whine, nor to embarrass anyone, but to point out that there are some unseen holes in anti-copyright theory. Most Westerners (some would say, most humans) use money as the rock-bottom measure of all value. Things that are a high priority in our lives are the things we spend money on, or give money to; things that aren't, we don't. I've often suggested that we could build or buy Neopagan temples in every city in the U.S. and Canada, if we simply collected one piece of silver jewelry from every Neopagan at every festival for one year. Yet, the very same people who "can't afford" to donate to a Neopagan temple or community center or other organization on a regular basis, have no problem buying science fiction books, videos, comics, beer, pizza, jewelry, fancy ritual tools, robes, etc., etc. This is not a pattern unique to Neopaganism -- almost every nonprofit organization or movement tells the same tale. People generally have money for those things that bring comfort, pleasure and ego-gratification. Everything else has to wait in line and hope for the best.
I suspect that most people on the Net, whether Neopagan or not, if given a choice between giving small sums of money to deserving strangers they will never meet, just because it's the right thing to do, or else keeping the money to buy toys or gifts for themselves or their friends, will do the latter. This pattern will become even more evident on the Net as going online becomes ever easier for the foolish, uneducated and shortsighted -- after all, most of the people intelligent and wise enough to understand long term consequences have already been on the Net for a few years. Yes, I know that's terribly un-P.C. of me to say, and no, I'm not thinking of those of you who are genuinely poor and were only able to get a computer, and hence online, recently because you had to wait for them to get cheap.
We Neopagans like to think of ourselves as smarter, more creative and more complex than those who belong to more conservative religions, and by and large most of us are (another un-P.C. fact). Multi-model theories, pluralism, ambiguity, and polytheology are not easy for most Westerners to grasp, which is yet another reason why we frighten fundamentalists of all persuasions. But the dualism which underlies mainstream Western culture still influences our daily thinking and feeling patterns. We still fall into habits based on the fantasy that matter and spirit are separate, and that artistic, creative, and spiritual activities happen in a different world than rent checks and grocery bills.
I'm not the only Neopagan leader or author to notice all this. Fritz Jung, who with his partner Wren runs witchvox.com, spoke about this in an essay called, "Community Support, Does it Exist?" a couple of years ago. As he said in last year's update, "Not much has changed... We all still struggle to find the cash to do this kind of work. As predicted, several good folks that used to do this work, simply went away." Also on the witchvox.com site is an essay by author Maggie (Benson) Shayne called, "Writers, Farmers, Witches and Copyright", in which she focusses on the casual plagiarism that so many Neopagans engage in, saying, "I would like to see the Pagan community take a stand against the wanton abuse of its own best and brightest."
Prolific Neopagan author Patricia Telesco wrote me, "It amazes me that people forget we work for every cent we get in royalties. They don't see us in front of our computers or scouring over research books for upward of 500 hours to write just 200 pages of text. They're not in our kitchen when we blurily make coffee after being up late so we can write when the little ones don't want fruit snacks or a story. Our families, friends, and co-workers often give up a great deal of time with us just so we can persue this passion -- and give something lasting to the community. ...The bottom line comes down to serving those that serve before we loose our teachers, our leaders and our elders to burn out. If we value their wisdom and insights, we will begin to share the load."
Sisters and brothers, your authors, musicians, speakers, webmasters, organizers and clergy can not live on blessings and goodwill alone. Please, buy their books, tapes, CDs and videos instead of stealing copies. Donate to those groups and websites who provide valuable services. Go to your high priestess' house and do her dishes once in a while, or watch her kids for an evening, or in some other fashion give her the gift of free time -- which in some circumstances can be even better than money! And please, stop criticizing authors or teachers for the "crime" of reaching out to "newbies" and "Baby Pagans" -- it's a lot more work than it seems, and we were all beginners, once upon a time.
Copyright © 2001 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is retained, and this entire notice is included. If you would like to be on the author's personal mailing list for upcoming publications, lectures, song albums, and appearances, send your snailmail and/or your email address to him at PO Box 372, Warwick, NY, USA 10990-0372 or via email to email@example.com. Specify Announcements and/or Discussion list.
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