Connected Problems

Spent the weekend attempting to rewrap insulation on the wires in my head, with mixed results. On the one hand my agent really wants sample chapters for the romantasy (she’s a courtesan assassin, he’s a wandering swordmaster, hijinks ensue) and on the other there are revisions that really need to get done (Gamble first among them) and I want to get back to the serial as soon as possible because the Steelflower and her princeling need another lesson in cooperation. And if the former sets something on fire, the latter will be very happy about it–but their barbarian friends may not be.


Nothing will get done if I continue to flail, but flailing is part of the zero draft recovery system, and after staving off one book hangover by writing another book in a slightly less compressed timeframe I am forced to admit (again) that one cannot use a book hangover to fend off another book hangover. All one gets is FrankenZillaMega Book Hangover. On the other hand, I really want this romantasy off the ground and at least some sample chapters with the agent, so I spent time that I might otherwise have used attempting to get to another book hangover on worldbuilding stuff, just faffing about. Which was pleasant, informative, and healing in its own way, certainly.

So. The coffee tastes particularly fine this morning, even if I am certain I’m going to have to switch back to espresso. Drip is nice but it doesn’t have the slam effect espresso does, and that’s what I’m after. But that’s a problem for another month with some room in the budget, which may not come around for a while. Ah well.

The atmospheric river dumped a lot of very nice rain on us over the weekend, which we sorely needed. Rain here means snow in the mountains, and that snowpack takes us through the summer–especially with climate change producing heat domes, scorching, and summery Octobers. I am taking a great deal of solace in the fact that the planet will survive humanity just fine, and that’s the important thing.

Oh, and the big thing online right now is a video on YouTube/online plagiarism. Maybe some people will now admit it’s a goddamn problem since a white guy with a few subscribers has done an almost four-hour explication. (I’m not holding my breath.) Just like ebook theft, the apparent ease and perception of low consequences for online plagiarism have provided a bumper crop of pure shit. I hold the two problems related because of those two features–the apparent ease (it takes a few clicks to steal an ebook, it takes a few clicks to steal someone else’s content and “brand it” as your own) and the perception of low consequences (eventually writers stop producing what you love because they aren’t paid for stolen work, while the flood of shitty online plagiarism gives an illusion of “more content” while in fact lowering the proportion of real stuff you’d want to watch). Both are seen as “victimless crimes”–ebook thieves harass writers who protest and call us “intellectual landlords”, while plagiarists are rewarded with algorithm bumps and (in the case of LLMs/AIs) wads of venture capital cash. Apologists for both plagiarism and ebook theft use harassment and threats to wear down their victims, and are very successful in the short term.

Where this all ends up is the “enshittification” of entire industries. While I find that term beautifully apt and the initial explanation of it magisterial, I have not yet seen the person who coined said term offer apology for coming out swinging in defense of ebook thieves lo these many years ago, an act which sent many of their “fans” to harass less well-known writers (overwhelmingly marginalized or femme-presenting, natch) with threats for a long time afterward. As a matter of fact, the Big Name male authors who were on the “piracy is good” bandwagon years ago are fitfully starting to see ebook theft as a problem, probably because it’s pinching their own ample bottom lines.

But I digress.

The basic quandary here is that creative labour is deeply devalued, those who provide it seen as fungible and easy exploitable. In the long term this means less of the books, fics, movies, songs, and other things you love to consume. In the short term, well, it’s so easy to steal with a few clicks, everyone’s doing it and you might even get some algorithm cash, why not? Plus there are the shitheels who just feel good tormenting and harassing other people online; they love to take aim at artists, feeling like they can get a little clout every time they leave a shitty comment, a review-bombing, or sockpuppet around a block.

The people who love to steal artists’ labour are the same people who write nasty little letters demanding an author “write faster”, with a side order of demanding we write to their personal little peccadilloes. Under this kind of sustained assault, it’s no wonder series people claim to love are being canceled and wonderful writers can’t make a goddamn living so they leave the industry entirely. The end result is a flood of shitty pablum choking the ecosystem, and then the people who have terabytes of stolen art on their hard drives moan that they can’t find anything good to read/watch (or, let’s be honest, steal) anymore.

What will solve this? Meaningful consequences. What’s the thing least likely to be applied to these kinds of thefts? Meaningful consequences. So this is a problem we’re stuck with until it becomes socially unacceptable or financially disadvantageous to steal creatives’ labour. Which might not ever happen since it’s so short-term profitable to exploit creatives under current late-capitalism conditions. Creativity is hardwired into humans–we shall be Making Things forever, for it is what we are–and the exploiters quite naturally believe there will always be a fresh crop of neophytes to take advantage of or steal from.

Frankly, trad publishing could spend significant resources shutting down ebook thieves and make it financially disadvantageous to engage in said thievery, but they have not and I suspect they won’t because it’s a short step from there to disadvantaging the other exploitation of writers. Put another way, ebook theft doesn’t harm trad publishers enough for them to meaningfully discourage it, because as far as they’re concerned there will always be a new crop of people desperate to break into trad publishing who will accept predatory contracts and other mistreatment, while the old hands and more experienced writers drain away after trying hard for a long time to change the industry from within. I’ll say it again for the nosebleed seats: Ebook theft doesn’t hurt the corporations, it harms the individual writer you’re stealing from, who is overwhelmingly likely to be living below the poverty level.

Put yet another way, ebook theft provides a pressure point for trad publishing to make sure writers stay easily exploitable and therefore willing to accept worse contract terms, especially as trad is consolidated into fewer and fewer megahouses, at least one of which is now owned by the same fuckheads who killed Toys’R’Us. (Yes, I’m STILL BITTER, and likely will be for a while.) This is much the same dynamic as movie studios wanting to use LLMs/AI to pressure writers and actors into accepting worse contract provisions. Which didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons, but it was still a close-run thing.

Eventually there will be a market correction, probably when Amazon is finally regulated out of its monopsony/monopoly practices–that will cause a ripple through the entirety of publishing, and will probably burn down the monoculture of, in effect, less than four big trad publishers. Indie and small publishing houses will see a huge spike of growth and we’ll have a publishing ecosystem instead of monoculture, but the damage in the short term will be incalculable, we’ll lose a lot of good stories and voices during it, and who knows when this will happen? The thing about an avalanche or other natural disaster is that it can hold off for years while entire cities are built in its path, and warnings about “hey, this isn’t a great place to build” are shrugged off so long as it’s profitable.

Anyway, I’ve spent too much time this morning brooding on this bullshit. I’m sure I’ll get a crop of nasty letters/comments from ebook thieves and harassers, but what else is new? I find these two problems are connected at their core, but hold out no hope there will be any sort of solution so long as our society rewards the behavior it does. Retreating to a bog witch life grows ever more appealing.

I wish I could afford it.