I went to quite a fascinating meeting last night, which I thought I’d share.
Some were well known, such as Bonnie Burnard and Joan Barfoot, and most people in the room were members of TWUC. Some were journeymen like Mark Kearney (one of the Trivia Guys). And some were writers like me, who are really just beginning their careers. It didn’t escape my attention that the youngest people in the room were not members, though that is to be expected, I suppose, because you must have a book published before you are eligible to join. (That said, most of the younger crowd had at least one published, so there must have been some other reason for our lack of membership.)
Ostensibly, the meeting was for members to have a chance to talk about the Google Book Settlement, but it was also a chance for the Chair of TWUC, a pleasant lady and an accomplished writer named Erna Paris, to make a short presentation about the activities of the union. Two things struck me about this remarkable and informative speech:
- Several times she mentioned how TWUC was just starting to get its head around this whole web-and-digital-media business;
- One of the main writer’s groups in Canada was JUST STARTING to get its head around this whole web-and-digital-media business.
Okay, actually four things struck me. TWUC is also doing some really important lobbying on behalf of writers on the copyright changes proposed by the Canadian government, and defending writers’ freedom of expression. Laudable work. The other main union activity is establishing programs to help older writers. This makes sense, as she mentioned that the membership of TWUC was aging. (Also valuable, necessary work.)
I didn’t hear anything about recruiting new scribblers. Or helping a younger generation of writers to get published so they would be eligible for membership, which would in turn drive up the union numbers and help support all the aging members and the nifty (necessary, good) programs for all the hackery in general, and the éminences grise in particular.
I was trying to make a good impression — which I realize I’m totally destroying now by writing this — so I didn’t say anything. This led us to the Google Book Agreement, and another astonishing discussion.
I don’t even pretend to understand all the complexities of this deal, but basically, here’s my take on it:
Google illegally scanned millions of books and posted them on the web (not in their entirety, but the are all searchable, ‘cause that’s the point.*)
Publishers and authors said, “hey”
Google gave a Jersey shrug and said: “what are you going to do?”
Publishers and authors said, “that was mean.”
Google said, “okay, tell you what. How about we give you some money for all this bootie? Here’s an agreement for you to sign.”
“And if we don’t?”
“Then you don’t get anything.”
Sound of grumbling, and (metaphorical, digital) pens scratching in their millions.
Aside: I don’t know, maybe I’m foolish, but I signed on as soon as I found out The Amadeus Net had been digitized. If nothing else, it makes the book more accessible, and there are at least links to where you can buy the book. For best-selling authors like Bonnie Burnard, I can see why I might not want to have my book up there. Of course, if you don’t sign on, what ARE you going to do? Sue Google on your own for its (admittedly flagrant, swash-buckling) breach of copyright?
This led to some reasonable questions, such as “what should I do?” and “what is this web thing I’m hearing all about?” Okay I’m making that last one up, but basically, this was the attitude expressed by many of the older folk in the room. Basically, this whole Internet thing is very inconvenient.
At this point, I felt it was my duty as a person who spends a lot of time thinking about the web (teaching, writing, playing) to mention that it might be a good idea for the union to do more than REACT to events. To plan ahead a little bit. I suggested that, perhaps (remember, I was trying to make a good impression), it would be a good idea for the union to form some partnerships with other writers groups and discuss how writers might be able to make a living after the book becomes a quaint artifact collected by tree-killing perverts. You know, get ahead of the curve a little bit.
This suggestion got sidetracked by a general grumbling about how the “free” culture of the Internet was such a problem, which is an argument I have some sympathy for – I would love to get paid for everything I write, but I don’t live in that world. I just missed it by a few years.
On the other hand, I get to do podcasts of my new novel, and get something as absurd and wacky as Marvellous Hairy in print, so I really can’t complain too much. But it would be nice to get paid for writing. Or at least make a living at it.
I’m pretty sure that it will be difficult to do it entirely on my own, though. So I’m going to join TWUC, and lower their average age by a hair’s breadth, in the hopes that I’ll be able to learn something from them about the business of writing, and at the same time, help other writers navigate the upheavals of the digital revolution.
Because I’m pretty sure about one thing: books may soon be eclipsed as the form of delivery, but people are still going to want stories – whether they’re in text, sound, pictures or beamed straight into our heads – and that’s still going to leave a place for the writers of the world.
So, the cheque is in the mail.
Thanks to Weevil for the photo. I added the text.