Slavery, Record Companies & How eBooks are Changing the Literary World

Posted: April 5, 2012 in Songwriting
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I know that a lot of folk would say that ebooks have changed literature in a way that is fundamentally flawed. I, however, feel just the opposite. Having come out of the music business, after a career of 25 plus years, I feel uniquely qualified to make this assessment. Recording deals and record companies after all are little more than slave labor for mostly nameless faceless corporations.  When a record company signs an artist they are then requiring them to pay all production costs and ancillary expenses out of the 10-15% of the proceeds an album makes.  Those of you good with math will note that the record company retains 85-90% of the profits.  So if some poor schmuck is lucky enough to sell 100,000 records (believe me a huge success at any time but particularly these days) but he had spent $125,000 to make it, he would most likely never see a profit.  The record company, however, would make a six figure gain, and would claim it as a loss on their books…because the budgeted amount wasn’t made back at the artist’s 10-15%.  Far from being angry the artist now feels beholden to the company, because they have deigned to let him stay around and record again…though they act as if he’s actually “unable to move units”.  And for this grand gesture that the record company makes, the artists, rather than balking and running as he should, gives the company ownership of his work.  Mind you, the artist created, conceived, recorded and delivered the work of art…the content…to the company….and also payed for it completely!  That my friend at its best is share cropping, and at its worst its slave labor.

It has stuck me lately that almost no one really wants a normal record deal anymore…shock!  Also, it has stricken me how the advent of inexpensive recording gear in the music world (that led to the ability of the everyday artist to beat the companies at their game) is closely mirrored by the advent of the ebook in literature.  Essentially both allow anyone, at any level of skill, to submit their works to the public forum.

In publishing, as opposed to in music, the rights to the work of art remain with its creator.  They acknowledge that the costs of production have been recouped and, since the the work has been paid for, it should remain with the writer.

My main problem with ebooks is that I love real books.  But I can easily afford many more of the electronic ones, and that is a very tempting lure.  In fact, in an effort to make peace with my aesthetic self, I’ve had to promise myself that the books I truly love I will buy again in Hardcover form…so my ebooks have been come my nuevo-paperbacks. What I’m trying to say is I can’t decide what to read there is just so much out there!  Apparently this also happened in music.  For while the record companies would have the world believe that music is irreparably damaged an selling enormously less than it was before…the truth is over-all sales of music have  actually gone up!  But the more they can make us feel that those who stray from the company line will be responsible for the death of music, the more they can continue their nefarious business model.

I see a lot of parallels between record companies and book publishing companies but I see more dissimilarities. That’s because, seeing their cash cow being stolen away, record companies have dug in their heels like the Children of Israel before the golden calf, and blamed everyone but themselves.  Book publishers have by and large realized that they are going to have to rethink how they think about themselves in the context of makers of content versus distributors of content…and they are embracing it.

Most of you reading this are Christians.  When someone with a lot, cheated someone else who didn’t have a lot, and then took it to the nth degree, how did God react? Here’s the thing. When Jesus comes back… you saying, “Everybody else was doing it” is just not going to cut it.

As they exist, record companies are slave labor. Free my people.

  1. lisa says:

    LUV THIS! Would be uber cool, to walk into a (Christian) bookstore, and see a book written by David Mullen! (A book of your posts, and more of your thoughts, would be a good launching pad.)
    God bless you…

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