Author Calls Other Authors Who Give Away Content Scabs

from the say-what? dept

It appears that some folks are really, really confused. While there are plenty of people in the content creation industry who insist that even if they don’t want to give away their own content, they have no problem if others do — it appears that not everyone subscribes to that belief. Petréa Mitchell writes in to let us know about a statement from the VP of the Science Fiction Writers of America calling those who give away content online “webscabs” who he claims hurt other authors by undercutting the price of their work:

“I’m also opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they’re just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they’re undercutting those of us who aren’t giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.”

Who knew that letting the market work its magic was such a dangerous thing? The truth is that it’s not. As many have pointed out in response to his comments, the economy is not a zero sum game. One person doing well doesn’t necessarily mean someone else does worse. In fact, the use of non-scarce goods given out for free tend to increase the pie by increasing the value of the scarce goods. It’s even more amusing that this guy, a science fiction writer, doesn’t seem to realize this, when there’s clear evidence from publishers like Baen Books that giving away content for free increases sales.

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Comments on “Author Calls Other Authors Who Give Away Content Scabs”

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xanius says:

Re: Think about it

Now they are, they used to have a legitimate purpose in the world.
Now we have the teamsters that have more control in a business than upper management. If you miss 2 days of work, calling in sick or not, you get fired if the teamsters are the union for where you work. Even in oklahoma where it’s against the law to be forced to join a union, you won’t be hired if you don’t join it and if the union kicks you out, you get fired as well.

slimcat (profile) says:

Re: Think about it

Unions are collusions

Firstly, I don’t think that word means what you think it means. In any case, it certainly doesn’t apply to unions in general.

I was a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which is associated with the AFL-CIO, for 24 years. Yes, we often asked for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Just as often, we asked that our firefighting and medical training be kept up to date and that we had the most technologically advanced tools available to do our job, which certainly benefited the public we worked for. How you think this might be illegal, deceitful, fraudulent or a secret agreement is beyond me.

Beefcake says:

Funny, I’m opposed to authors who think all the content should be sold at a premium price so they can make more money, which undercuts the authors who think all the content should be read and the good stuff will set it’s own price. Mister Vice President would rather see certain authors feather their own nests with volumes priced at $29.95, which means other authors who just want someone to read them have to price their volumes accordingly. But if no one has ever heard of them, the price point is too high and they go un-read.

I’ll bet I spend more on science fiction works than this VP who I suspect hasn’t had to pay for a sci-fi book in years.

Casper says:


The next thing we will hear is that people like me who give software away free are “scabs”. I make little utilities all the time that are free because I don’t believe money should be charged for the use of something so basic. Examples would be image converters, simple database managers, basic networking classes, etc.

The same applies to any literature I may write. If I write a story for the joy of writing, I have no problem giving it away for free or for a slight compensation. I will not seek to make millions off a story (or rather make a publishing company millions) nor would I feel at all bad if my free stories displaced someones published work in the market. If my free work is better then then your work which is being sold, perhaps the problem lies in your works quality.

The right to do as I wish with my work is bestowed on me when I created it outside a binding contract with a publisher. These greedy, lazy, hypocrites need to go crawl in a hole and die.

Beefcake says:

I Should Have Read the Link...

…before my previous comment. I bought Empty Cities of the Full Moon a few years ago. It’s just another tired, forgettable drop in the sea of lousy sci-fi. If Hendrix is so fired up about it, maybe he should start writing decent books first. In the meantime, I wonder what he’d think if I asked for 2/3 of my purchase price back from him (for the 2/3 of the book I didn’t read).

Jamie says:

Aren't different writers in competition?

Did the VP forget that all of the different writers are in competition with each other for sales? So aren’t they already attempting to “feather their own nest” by trying to get readers to buy their books as opposed to other books? This isn’t the case of all writers being paid an hourly wage to produce content. Each writer gets paid more if his/her books sell a lot of copies. They don’t get paid as much if their books don’t sell a lot of copies. So anything that causes more book sales is a good thing for the author, as well as the publisher.
Having high sales volume and high popularity seems like something that would allow actually make a better bargaining position for the writer when attempting to negotiate with publishers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Janis Ian wrote an article years ago that contained the following excerpt:

Or take author Mercedes Lackey, who occupies entire shelves in stores and libraries. As she said herself: “For the past ten years, my three “Arrows” books, which were published by DAW about 15 years ago, have been generating a nice, steady royalty check per pay-period each. A reasonable amount, for fifteen-year-old books. However… I just got the first half of my DAW royalties…And suddenly, out of nowhere, each Arrows book has paid me three times the normal amount!…And because those books have never been out of print, and have always been promoted along with the rest of the backlist, the only significant change during that pay-period was something that happened over at Baen, one of my other publishers. That was when I had my co-author Eric Flint put the first of my Baen books on the Baen Free Library site. Because I have significantly more books with DAW than with Baen, the increases showed up at DAW first.There’s an increase in all of the books on that statement, actually, and what it looks like is what I’d expect to happen if a steady line of people who’d never read my stuff encountered it on the Free Library – a certain percentage of them liked it, and started to work through my backlist, beginning with the earliest books published.

“The really interesting thing is, of course, that these aren’t Baen books, they’re DAW—another publisher—so it’s ‘name loyalty’ rather than ‘brand loyalty.’ I’ll tell you what, I’m sold. Free works.”

I am sure Mrs. Lackey will be inestimable wounded that some dude most people have probably never heard of considers her a scab.

Leann says:

If you're not an author you don't understand!!

Amen. As a writer, I agree with her entirely. The other thing that must be stopped are those bottom feeders who sell brand new books for .01 cent on I look forward to Microsofting those lowballers with a billion dollar publishing company standing behind me.

Casper says:

Re: If you're not an author you don't understand!!

So what your saying is rather then competing and delivering a superior product, you would rather infringe on other authors liberties? Did you think that comment out before you posted it?

You are calling those people “bottom feeders” even thought they probably gross more then you will in your entire life? What is your definition of top and bottom?

Now, if I write ANYTHING and decide to sell it or to give it away for free, you have no say in my decision. Unless I am under contract with a publisher for the work, I could care less if it derails your work because it is selling for less. To me that shows your work was not worth the publics time to read in comparison to mine and you should do a better job of competing.

“If you’re not an author you don’t understand!!”

What don’t non-authors understand? Writing is no different then software development, music, painting, or any other form of conceptual production. From that post, I would conclude, in fact, that it is you who do not understand the basics of the market and free competition.

Leann says:

Re: H1B Immigrants

I see a parallel with “cheap” H1b immigrants 🙂

Instead of crying that they can’t find competent Americans to fill these high-tech jobs, companies should be investing heavily in our high school students. Just like coaches go after hungry and talented high school basketball players, company reps should be out actively recruiting smart kids from the inner city. Nurture them and mentor them along, and sign them to a contract. Support the young in this country instead of harvesting the talent from overseas.

Edmond Woychowsky (user link) says:

I'm an author and what a load of ...

As an author, and part-time mad scientist, I feel that while a royalty check is nice it isn’t the be-all and end-all of writing. It actually feels pretty good that somebody cares about what I have to say. That’s why I wrote a book for Bruce Perens’ Open Source Series where after a period of time the book will be available as a FREE download. After that the only time that the book will cost anything is when it is printed on dead trees.

Anonymous Coward says:

What's in a name...

Anyone know if that term “scab” has any precedence in this particular usage?

I just find it ironic that I think of the term “scab” as being an inherently positive thing. A scab is the body’s way of controlling hemmoraging and providing shelter to the wound so that recovery can take place.

The desire to rid oneself of scabs is a desire to be free of the wound, and there is nothign wrong with that. However, trying to prematurely remove the scab only causes the injury to get worse, induces more hemmoraging, and makes the overall healing process have to start over.

So I think the name scab is perfect in describing these authors, who are in the business for somethgn other than making the established publisyhing companies richer. That seems to be EXACTLY what the publishing houses need in order to make themselves better again.

Now they just need to learn to stop picking.

seth brundle says:

Not a new argument

This is largely why a great deal of people and businesses object to Walmart.

Basically Walmart just reduced the value of smaller retailer’s goods so much through economies of scale that they drove millions out of business.

It really is no different with fiction – if someone is giving away fiction (especially in your submarket) for free, then the value of your fiction is of course reduced.

Keep in mind that there are already less then 200 novelists in the United States who can support themselves solely by writing novels.

Writing fiction is not a very profitable business, I support any artist wanting to give away their art for free but do feel the pain of the authors who cannot.

Wolfger (profile) says:

Re: Not a new argument

This is largely why a great deal of people and businesses object to Walmart.

Basically Walmart just reduced the value of smaller retailer’s goods so much through economies of scale that they drove millions out of business.

It really is no different with fiction – if someone is giving away fiction (especially in your submarket) for free, then the value of your fiction is of course reduced.

That’s ridiculous. When Walmart sells something cheaper, it is in fact THE SAME EXACT PRODUCT. When John Doe releases fiction for free, it isn’t even close to the same product as, say, Robert Heinlein’s fiction. Not all fiction is equal. Not even close. People will continue to pay reasonable rates for quality fiction from authors they know they like regardless of how many John Does publish free fiction. The only people who stand to be hurt by this are other John Does, who expect to get paid Robert Heinlein prices for a work of completely unknown quality. Which is an absurd expectation, really.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not a new argument

Not all fiction is equal. Not even close. People will continue to pay reasonable rates for quality fiction from authors they know they like regardless of how many John Does publish free fiction.

There is an inverse lesson to be learned here as well. The “reasonable” rate must be consistent with what the consumer percieves to be reasonable. And consumers expect prices of goods to come down over time. Anything that impedes or seeks to reverse that will alienate the consumer, and sales will dry up.

I used to be an avid Stephen King reader, and purchased every one of his books (yes, I even own a hardcover of the bachman books).

And then one day came the green mile experiment. I’m (somewhat) smart, I did the math in my head. I realized that the publishing house was trying to extract more money from me than a hardcover would cost by releasing the book only in 5 (or 8.. or x..) softback issues.

WTF? They lowered the inherent value of the book, and decided to make me pay more for it? And why? Because I had no say in the matter. If I wanted the content, then I had to appropiate it in the one manner I was authorized by the publishing house.

Totally blown away, I stopped buying books for entertainment. If I really want to read a book now, I rent it for free from the library.

I never did purchase the green mile. I see its available in different formats now. I guess the experiment was a failure then? no clue. stopped caring.

I have only purchased technical reference manuals for work since then. (And have been reimbursed for each one by my employer as well)

Eldakka says:

Re: Not a new argument

“Keep in mind that there are already less then 200 novelists in the United States who can support themselves solely by writing novels.”

And your point is?

No-one has the RIGHT to support themselves by doing any job that they wish.

How many blacksmiths can support themselves solely as blacksmiths?

Or what about the men who used to come around with blocks of ice to refill iceboxes before fridges were around? Do they have a ‘right’ to be able to support themselves in that profession in this day and age?

You support yourself via a profession that it is viable to support yourself from, not just because you ‘want’ to do that profession.

And that is how I view the extreme copyright law extensions as to duration of copyright. They are a legislated method to continue the viability of an industry that, without legislated support, would have met its day and no longer BE a viable industry.

Anon emouse Howard says:

Re: Petréa Mitchell

Bob, Before throwing a chair at Petrea re-read the article. Petrea only informed Techdirt of the mentioned article. Petrea is not the VP in question.

Ever get a free sample of food at Sam’s? They are given away to get you to try it. Then, if you like it, you BUY your own. That VP needs to get his head out of his buttocks and write something peolpe are willing to buy.

Wyatt says:


You don’t need to be an author to understand, just common sense. Someone here posted that they are a software engineer like myself. In a sense I am an author of software. There is art involved in it as much as being an author. There are many careers that are very similar in concept.

Regardless, this guy is full of BS. Most likely he sees the free books being read more than his own and is a little upset about it. He is assuming that people are only reading these books because they are free. He can’t possibly imagine that maybe his writing sucks. Some of the best short stories I have ever read were free.

William says:


There is an old saying “A high tide Raises all the boats” And if this guy were smart he would realize that getting people interested in Sci-Fi is good for his industry for both free and premium content. Premium content will always come at a price and his writers will reap the rewards of this fan fiction or whatever that he is now criticizing. What they are providing is a gateway for people to enter the Sci-Fi world free of charge, He should be paying these people not criticizing them

Anonymous Coward says:

What I don't get is...

Why would someone read something only because it was free? I don’t care if something is free, if I don’t like it, I won’t read it. If there’s something that’s good, but not free, I’ll read it. How much of a cheapskate would you have to be to force yourself to only read something that’s free? I don’t see free books undercutting the sales of regular books at all, unless they’re just a lot better than the not-free books. In which case, they better start trying to write better stuff. I don’t recall anybody calling Google a scab when it started offering a bunch of different apps for free that you’d normally pay for. In fact, with some apps, other companies followed suit and made theirs free as well.

I hate when people automatically attack anything that hurts their business. Just cause its not good for you (which in this case, the only way its not good is if they can’t write as well as the free authors) doesn’t mean its evil. Business models, markets, and all that change with the times. Change can be good. Someone just needs to find the right balance of what to offer for free and what to charge for and they can probably become very wealthy.

And to the person who said there’s only 200 novelists who can support themselves solely on writing… well, what do you expect? Even if you consider each genre, or subgenre for that matter, as its own market… its still FLOODED with products from different sources. The only way books survive is because of publishers. It’s like having a market with hundreds of competitors. Assuming they all have something to offer, the revenue from the public is going to be split up WAY too much for that many of the writers to make a living. However, due to there being a much smaller amount of publishing houses, the revenue can still be considerable enough that they can stay in business and keep publishing books that couldn’t make enough to ever publish themselves.

Publishing houses are like what the RIAA should be, except in recent times, everybody’s just getting way to greedy and not actually caring about what they should be doing, but instead about how much they could be making.

comboman says:

Publishers are the scabs

Just like in the music industry, the reason more artists (in this case authors rather than musicians) can’t make a living off their work is not competition from other authors, it’s because most of the profits are consumed by the publishers/distributors. Selling direct to readers via the web is a good way for authors to make more money (even if they have to give away some content to get people interested).

Anonymous of course says:

Screw You Two

The veep pissed because he’s not getting his
undeserved cut of the pie.

Mitchell is pissed because he wants a closed
shop. Creating an environment where the
mediocre with connections can flourish and
at the same time artifically inflate the wages.

Screw them both.

Some very good Sci-Fi and horror writers
cannot get their work published, so they do
indeed give it away on the web. At the very
least they get some recognition and maybe a
thank you. Beats the hell out of a form letter
notice of rejection.

I’m proud to be among the legions of webscabs.
Maybe someone will print that on t-shirt.

Petr?a Mitchell says:


The quote in the original post is not from me, but an excerpt from the rant the outgoing VP of SFWA. I have no problem with free stuff being available.

I also have no problem with it if you want to make your work available with some kind of DRM. It doesn’t make me any more or less likely to buy it; I prefer to read fiction off of dead trees because I spend enough of my day looking at a monitor already.

As for sf-related writing, here’s my little-known fanzine. Short reviews, trip reports, obscure news, and what I modestly believe is the most complete near-term listing of upcoming sf conventions anywhere.

glitch says:

that sounds like the def of unions

a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions

swap “fellow” to plain old “other”

sounds like this org is a wanna be RIAA/MPAA

i only buy used cd’s and movies but don’t do books at all for entertainment

Cleaver Nickname says:

Unions suck

Unions are a key reason why this country’s economy will eventually and outright FAIL. When we have a auto-worker (union) that is paid $45/hr to bolt a seat to the frame of a car, we have an egregious act of self sabotage. Then we wonder why we can’t compete with other countries and become bitter and protectionist when the jobs end up off-shore. That’s not to say that everyone doesn’t deserve to make $45/hr, but it should be a just and fair compensation for the work you are performing.

The same applies to this writers union. I fully agree with some of the comments thus-far that suggest volumes priced high, as per union standards, will be beneficial to the big named writers but in the same vane be detrimental to the obscure and unknown writer.

John Hancock wrote:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The founding principles of this country, in and of themselves, dictate that an author has the right to charge what he feels (not what the union feels) is a fair price for his works or even to charge nothing at all!

Alan Petrillo says:

Re: Unions suck

Mr. “Cleaver Nickname”, you are wrong. While the UAW does indeed provide an example of a union cutting off its nose despite its face, the vast overwhelming majority of unions and unionists are not like that.

The problem here isn’t unions demanding a living wage for their workers, it is major corporations’ demands for higher and higher profit margins. Half a century ago an 8% profit margin was considered good. Today, however, corporate investors demand nothing less than a 20% profit margin. It is this demand for greater and greater profit that is driving American jobs overseas. After all, why should a major corporation pay an American $20/hour when they can pay a Mexican $20/day, or an Asian $20/month.

Fortunately, I work in the transportation sector, so they can’t export my job. And, in addition to that, I am a member of the Transportation Workers Union.


Anonymous Coward says:

Isn't it obvious?

If you give something away for free how is that taking money away from the industry?

The person that uses the free content is more likely to spend money in that industry. Provided the product was not crap.

The only difference is if they liked the free product they will be more willing to purchase like products from the same producer.

This person obviously can’t hold their own in the industry they are in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn't it obvious?

If you give something away for free how is that taking money away from the industry?

The person that uses the free content is more likely to spend money in that industry. Provided the product was not crap.

The only difference is if they liked the free product they will be more willing to purchase like products from the same producer.

This person obviously can’t hold their own in the industry they are in.

Marc (user link) says:

I See This Issue From Both Sides Now

Both sides of this argument have some validity. One one hand, if Writer X posts a book for free online and I read it for free, that doesn’t mean that I won’t spend $18.95 to buy Writer Y’s book a month later.

On the other hand, a writer’s organization such as the SFWA has a duty to make sure that its members get the best treatment possible and they don’t want to backslide to the old days when writers were taken advantage of.

cravenus says:

baen FTW

let me just say, baen has the ideas. i picked up the latest book in a series im collecting, and what was in it? a CD with all the authors OTHER works,both in that series and out. 23 books for the price of one.

And i still went out and picked up paper copies of them, its just now i know if im going to like the novel beforehand, and not just getting a fancy paperweight.

Anonymous Coward says:

re: collusion

I believe the collusion comment was in regards to the legal monopoly certain unions hold over their product (labor). Antitrust regulations keep corporations from monopolizing, or by backroom contracts oligopolizing, and industry and keeping prices artificially high. Meanwhile, certain unions, which are a business even if they like to pretend otherwise, are given legal protection even when they have what is essentially a monopoly.
My grandfather used to be an electrician, and in order to be an electrician in the city he lived in he had to be a member of the electrician’s union, and any contract work, i.e. the big jobs for businesses and such, was doled out by the union. Surprise, surprise friends and family of the union leaders got the big deals.
Anyway, my point is, most problems with unions are a result of special legal protection, not inherent in the unions themselves.

As far as this VP’s comment, why do you bother giving this guy advertising? More people outside of the SciFi writing community probably know who he is from this article than from his writing. He should look at how much author’s and other artists used to earn. And yet, even without artist’s guilds, or the National Endowment for the Arts, or relatively easy means to propagate art, we can still look back to any period of the last 500 years and find art that today we consider classical, or great or revolutionary. If anything, the overabundance of art is going to make it harder for future generations to look back and say oh, that is brilliant. For every great musician, there are hundreds if not thousands of Sanjayas cluttering up that space.

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