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“We All Gotta Eat, Even When Making Art”—Stiles Responds to Salon Piece on Money and Authorship

Money is the single biggest practical issue facing a working writer—so why don’t we talk about it more often and more openly? Enter Ann Baur’s refreshing call for writers to be more honest about money, published in Salon yesterday.

In the article, which is generating some worthwhile discussion in the comments section, Baur pulls back the curtain on what allows her to sustain her writing life: her husband’s substantial salary. In doing so, she recognizes the importance of open discussion about the financial realities of authorship in the digital age, especially now that downward pressures on book revenue have made it difficult for even the most dedicated writer to make ends meet. “In my opinion,” Baur writes, “we do enormous ‘let them eat cake’ disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed.”

AG Council member T.J. Stiles applauded the Baur piece when he posted a response to it. Stiles’ response took the conversation a step further, connecting decreasing book revenues to the erosion of copyright protection and the growth of digital piracy. Here it is, in full.

This is a very important article about the role of money in writing. The purpose of copyright is to foster new work by protecting the author’s financial interest in it, i.e. to help the author make money from creating art and knowledge. It doesn’t guarantee you an income—but money is its point, because we all gotta eat, even when making art. Yes, authors seek out other work to “support” their profession, but that’s no argument that they don’t need copyright protections. As the writer of this article notes, other work cuts our writing time, often kills it entirely.

In the nineteenth century, the United States didn’t honor foreign copyright; American magazines were filled with British work, reproduced without paying the authors a shilling. So we were able to read Dickens for cheap, but Melville had to work in the Customs House, his productivity cut by more than half, surely. The ease of theft in the digital age, aided and abetted by Silicon Valley titans who profit from piracy, has recreated those terrible conditions. And yet, the rights of authors are under attack by those who think that copyright protections are too onerous—something you can only believe if you don’t understand the purpose of copyright, or the realities of today’s media environment. Even under the best system, not everybody will be able to make a living as a writer, musician, photographer, filmmaker, or other artist. But this is no time to make it harder.