By Thomas Neuburger
We live among thieves, constantly preyed upon, so constantly, in fact, that it's almost invisible. We pay $100 or more per month for Internet and cable service that costs (combined) $40 in Europe before upgrades. That's theft, yet few complain, and when they do, it's with a voice that pre-accepts surrender.
Most people are familiar with the price of sneakers — from about $125 to $250 or more for a “luxury” pair, unless you shop for discounts. Yet the cost of manufacture in near-slave worker countries is just the cost of materials — perhaps $15 — and by the time shoes get to the U.S., the cost is perhaps $25 per pair. The rest of the cost is people with their hand out, brand owners and retailers. And before you hear someone talk about “jobs” or “wages” in retail or online outfits, consider how low those wages actually are. You're financing a lot of profit at $250 per pair.
And in the retail marketplace, Amazon, with its half-trillion dollars in revenue each year, is the apex predator of our time, yet Jeff Bezos, the monomaniac who created it, remains surprisingly popular among the company’s younger victims:
To take another example, this time from the world of TV production, according to Publishers Weekly the creator of the series Cold Case estimates that her agency, one of the largest in the world and an eager acquisitor of its competition, made 94 cents out of every dollar she earned from the show. Yet we admire the climate that makes this kind of conglomeration possible in all industries.
Defying the Devil You Decry
Which brings us to the point of this piece, and one of those places where a comment about the world folds back on the comment itself.
Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow have written a book that takes on the predatory nature of modern capitalism as it impacts what they call “creative labor” markets. We would call this the broad, deep and thickened soup of content we consider “entertainment,” the consumable mental food that serves our leisure.
Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back has been written, agented, and sold to a publisher (in this case, Beacon Press, owned by the UU church). It's printed and ready for sale on September 27 from Amazon, or better, from the publisher here.
Yes, it's available on Amazon. As predatory as Amazon is, they don’t — yet — control all access to hard copy books. Supporting them supports a beast, but there are still other online stores and brick-and-mortar establishments about from which to buy.
But unlike Amazon, Audible, an Amazon acquisition, does control almost all access to audiobooks. Not just access to the audiobook market, but through its control of that market, to audiobooks themselves.
As Doctorow explains:
Audible has a hard and fast rule: if you’re a publisher or writer who wants to sell your audiobook on Audible, you have to let it be wrapped in "Digital Rights Management," aka DRM: digital locks that permanently bind your work to the Audible platform. If a reader decides to leave Audible, DRM stops them taking the books they’ve already bought with them. Publishers and writers can stop selling their books on Audible, but their readers are unlikely to follow them to another platform - not if that means giving up their expensively-acquired libraries.[emphasis added]
This means that if a writer’s audiobook isn’t available on Audible, most of the market is unavailable to the publisher of that audiobook. Which also means that it’s nearly impossible to sell audiobook rights to a publisher if you don’t want the audiobook to appear on the very platform that’s the enemy in the book you’re writing. Doctorow is adamant that his audiobooks not be available on Audible. How then to even publish an audiobook, if no audiobook publisher will touch it?
Doctorow has solved that problem by using Kickstarter to finance his own audiobook production. You can read about that effort here.
The Meal that Wants to be Eaten
But it’s an amazing world we live in, isn’t it? We are the meal that admires the banqueter. We honor thieves who rob us night and day. We see our predators as heroes. We take their pathologies as virtues — what would you call a person who lived solely for money, if that person were your neighbor? A role model or a madman? — and we teach their very worst practices at our best institutions, like money-hungry Harvard University, itself a study in pathology if you think it through. After all, it took until late last year to convince that school to stop investing in the death of its graduates' children:
How do we get out of this mess? How do we find our way home? Giblin and Doctorow have some ideas; their book may be a good place to start. I have others.
How did we get into this mess? That’s a question I hope David Graeber can answer.