|I mostly just like this woodcut for the poppets. Srsly.|
I was reading an entry from a couple months ago by another Chaos Magician about piracy, occult authors, and the current situation that stands. A lot of the points he makes are very, very good. But I still find myself somewhat annoyed by certain things. I don't blame him for failing to consider them, but I'm going to offer my thoughts as a counter-point – not to be antagonistic.
So, let's start off.
Let's imagine I'm currently 20 years old. I work at Taco Bell making 8.50$ an hour, or the minimum wage in California. Let's imagine I go to school and I'm not getting much help paying for it, and I'm carrying a full course-load while working just beneath the full-time arrangement. Something like 34 hours a week or so.
Discounting what comes out of my paycheck for taxes, social security, etc:
I make about $315 a week. Or I make $1260 a month.*
If I live alone and I've found the cheapest possible housing, in the cheapest possible neighborhood**, around $250 (if I have a roommate). If I live alone, I maybe pay something like $500 a month. I will probably spend at least 100$ a week on food, unless I want to live on top ramen or buy nothing but generic and healthy products, which might reduce that price by a 5th. I'm already nearing having spent half my money even before I get it, just on cost of living. Now, let's say I go to city college, so I need between $800 to $1200 per semester, before including books. Including books, I probably shell out between $300 - $500 dollars per semester. This means that of my remaining cash, I'm probably putting between half of what's left or more in a savings account and not touching it to continue my schooling.
In the end, I'm left with $200 - $300 per month to spend. If I own a car, then the rest of my expenses are probably sunk into it.*** If I choose to forgo quick and efficient transportation and choose to have some money, I'm left with a minute amount of spending cash. So I scrap together $100 or perhaps a bit more for books. I might even have $5 left over for Starbucks! Hah!
I pay somewhere around $20 - $25 per publication. This is maybe cheaper now that ebooks are easier to get... Only a dollar or two actually goes to the actual author, with the rest being sunk into publishing expenses and heading towards the publisher having the ability to publish future works. I get between 4 and 5 books per month.
With, as Mr. Vitimus puts it, the high signal to noise ratio, I have to be fairly selective at this. I have to make sure my money goes where it deserves. The problem that begins to occur is in direct relation to the publisher, and their desire to make money. Going out on a limb, let's say that most publishers – even the larger and mainstream ones – want to put out good material. But to do that, they still have to publish crap books that are essentially worthless to continue making money and putting out other books.
Like I've said, I'm not making much money. Let's assume I'm also a noob, and so I'm sinking my money into beginner books. If I should discover that the publisher has given me crap, then I'm out of my cash. I can try to get it back, but it can become fairly unlikely in some cases. The publisher makes money off of me, but all I get is some paper and ink with material I already have – it's effectively worthless.
Assuming that something like 10 out of ever 100 books are worth my time, that still leaves a very large amount of crap books. This amount may increase or decrease depending on the publisher and their commitment to quality material. Since their primary goal is to make money, especially if they're a major mover and shaker in these parts, they don't actually end up losing anything when they knowingly produce a book filled with crap.
The loss sits on my shoulders. I now have maybe two out of four or five books that's worth my time, and if I really want to learn magick to improve my conditions (which, I imagine, many younger magicians do – I know I did! I'm happy it worked occasionally), about 50% of what I just got is a money sinkhole. The publisher has knowingly produced crap, and they have absolutely no liability in this unless I write a downright scathing review and others do it, too.
So they've made money off exploiting me, and my position, and my lack of knowledge. They get to walk way more or less free of this situation and continue to do what they do, and I get to feel the total effects.
To suggest that this situation is bullshit is not to understate this factor. Around twenty years old, I began sinking most of my money into academic publications. These are far more expensive, but I at least know I'm getting decent material that's been subjected to a peer review process – unlike the occult paperback market. I'm getting something at least remotely historically correct and if I'm smart, I can probably use it. When I got my copy of Richard Kieckhefer's Forbidden Rites, I think I paid something like $40. You can find it cheaper now... I can immediately turn to using CLM 849, and summoning up demons and trying to recoup that loss. It's only twice as much as most Llewellyn books I've come across, but unlike them, it's actually worth my money. I have a Grimoire to try and work with, and an academic's take on it to take into account.
Meanwhile, we might compare this with Christian Day's A Witches' Book of the Dead, which is also introduced by Raven Grimassi. Regardless of the validity of Day's book or not, which I've avoided reading, some issues occur. Some time ago Day came to the attention of the blogosphere when he hit the mainstream press for “cursing” Charlie Sheen for calling himself a Warlock. The ritual was uploaded to Youtube, and if it's still up, you can watch Day and crew botch the LBRP and make some massive mistakes. Based on the ritual on Youtube, some serious questions might be raised about the validity of his book, which was put out by Weiser last year. It apparently never occurred to Weiser that working with the dead and making huge, possibly dangerous, mistakes while working with the dead might be terrible for business... And consumers. The list price for the book is around $20 bucks. If I buy Day's book, I can probably look forward a bunch of techniques that might be dangerous even if they do work. Do I really want to trust someone that summons the dead and then leaves an audience outside the circle to watch? Do I really want to trust someone that can't even make sure the LBRP is performed correctly for a ritual publicly uploaded?
Or do I want to spend twice that amount of cash on a solid book?
Another example: Migene Gonzalez-Wippler's Santeria: the Religion put out by Llewellyn. However much the information on Santeria in it might be correct – and with what I'm about to say – the information contained in the chapter on Palo (chapter 19) looks to be complete crap, mixed in with drama and misinformation that can be best be said to be extremely divisive. Especially when considering the sheer number of practicing Paleros who are also Santeros or Santeras. Again, the price is around $20. For just a bit more, I could pick up a copy of Palo Mayombe by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold from SI. I may not learn much about Santeria in it, obviously, but at least I'm not being spoon-fed bullshit and forced to reconsider everything written in the book when I stumble upon glaring issues. You can find Santeria in plenty of bookstores; you will have to order SI's book in most cases, especially in the U.S.
Now, Llewellyn could have fact-checked the bullshit. So could the editors at Weiser. They didn't bother, and produced their books. Why? Even if it's crap, if someone buys the books then they lose fuck-all. This is compared with their complaints about piracy, wherein Llewellyn has been hilarious. I won't even get into it. Every word I've seen that company issue on the subject has been hypocritical: they rip us off all the time, and never, ever consider that it might be wrong to do so. They take advantage of our communities and then pretend we should act like they help us. As much as I appreciate books from Patrick Dunn, Fr. U.D., and a few others that are worth reading, I'm still left with an overwhelming majority of publications that are rehashes of the same tiresome Wicca 101 bullshit, or recasting other forms of magick as Wicca (and thereby confusing beginners, who the rest of us are forced to try and educate: it's beyond tiresome, it's very annoying).
No accountability is held to the publishers for this glut of bullshit. Nor to many of the authors, who are often recast as celebrity figures and treated as a godsend.
However much I want to support the worthwhile authors, how am I to tell? Are we to begin requesting that future authors put a chapter of their forth-coming book on a blog so that we can get a feel for what's about to produced? Should we just accept the sink-hole scenario, which hurts everyone? Should I suggest that you never work with certain publishers again?
I believe that there are more reasons for piracy being frequently performed than many authors realize. I want authors worth being supported to be supported – but what about the crap? Who pays for that? Who takes that hit? As the former kid who lost money to Llewellyn, I think they owe me an either better policy when it comes to editing, or they need to accept that they poisoned the well. They pursued money above quality.
I contrast this with S.I., who has not only begun publishing paperbacks but also made cheap e-books available for the future magicians of tomorrow. When they began complaining about piracy, my biggest complaint was that the publications could not be obtained by everyone and therefore it was unfair to place the full blame on the pirates. If all of your publications range from $120 - $150, then only a select amount of consumers can obtain them. That means the only default for someone who cannot is to either pirate it, or sit around and save up until the book maybe falls out of print. This situation has been rectified, and I do applaud them for that.
So you have to ask yourself a question:
“When I publish my work, do I want to ally it with a publisher committed to excellence, or someone who will put me in every store?”
If you choose the latter, then you reap what is to come of it. Buyer and writer beware! Your work may end up shunned, not because it's bad, but because everything around it is bad. It's not terribly fair, but it's also the way things are going.
As for “paying it forward?” I have discussed this factor with many of the pirates I know, most of whom are poor kids that I laid out earlier. Many of them actually state that they try to buy the materials in hardcopy the second that they can afford it. Plenty have told me that if they love something, they review it. I doubt more than a few could take you out to eat, though, bro.
As for actually paying occultists for their hard work? I love the idea. But I'm still left questioning it.
I want to see Jason Miller travel the U.S. and get payed for his important work; I'd love to see the same of Barrabbas and R.O. and many more. Then again, do I think that Christian Day, or any other easily identifiable moron to get paid to teach potentially harmful techniques to noobs that know no better? Absolutely not. If that's the future of witchcraft or occultism, count me out. I'd rather write for free and never be paid a cent for a lecture, than tie myself to such a system.
We stand a crossroads, I guess, as an occulture. The question is: will you support more crap, or will you work on changing the situation by refusing to engage in a system that has become unthinkably filled with crap?
When you publish with a company, you're choosing to make a type of alliance, or a pact. Thus you will be considered not just on the merits of your work, but the works produced around it. I think many authors, especially the ones publishing today, forget this. Don't. Either work to change the issues with your publisher, or publish with someone else.
At this point, you are left with very little choice. I'm sorry it's this way. But it has been for $30 years. As the Depression and economic issues set in, you should expect the state of affairs to remain. Consider who is buying your work, how much time and effort it takes for them to get it, along side with your own concerns.
I wish him the best with whatever book Mr. Vitimus writes next.
*This is a very high estimate due to ignoring the issues that I've already said earlier.
** I can look forward to living next to drug dealers, etc. Which, in fact, was the case when my roommate and I lived for precisely around that amount over half a decade ago. So, yes, what I'm saying is more than a bit person.
*** To avoid those expenses, I used a bike. More physically taxing, but economically cheaper.