The Last Indentured Servants

If you’re a writer, you’re not a slave, you’re an indentured servant.

If you’re a writer, you might make 50 cents to $1 for every book sold by a conventional publisher. If you’re an artist, you could make a lucky dollar off every t-shirt sold by a site like TeeFury or Threadless. If you’re a musician, your music can be played tens of thousands of times on a service like Pandora or Spotify and you’ll get two or three cents per song. It’s like the insurance fisherman.

If you’re a creative artist today: writer, artist, type designer, web creator, musician/composer, really — anything outside of working people in film/TV — you’re an indentured servant and your chances of earning your freedom are slim.

Every trade on this list gets paid today. Most tradespeople don’t have to work more than 8 hours a day if they don’t want to.

So Joe Writer spends one year writing this book. He gets paid $3,000, and he just earned $74.55. Thomas Nelson pays quarterly (in theory). They are notorious and a “self-publisher,” which means that statement really is fabricated. The number of authors they even pay $3,000 up front to is vanishingly small. Other writers have worked for years to explain the nature of book accounting to the world.

But it’s really simple.

Even if writers get paid something, they often work for years with zero pay.

Just like, you know …

Indentured servants.

I don’t know a lot about music industry profits, and only a little about film/TV profits. I do know something about trade publishing profits. They stink. It isn’t just the writer that’s being ripped off, as any of the thousands laid off by big publishing in the past 15 years can attest.

Amazon isn’t a publisher, it’s a retailer. It pays 70 percent of sales to the writer, not 8–15% (or maybe “25% of net” on e-book sales). A few hundred more writers in North America are making a living now through self- or cooperative publishing.

I just know it’s obvious on the face of it that our society values just about every trade or profession more than the creative ones.

A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members — Gandhi