Thanks to a MySpace friend request (one of the few useful friend requests I've received), I discovered a new podcast for writers: Will Write for Wine. It's recorded by two romance authors, Samantha Graves and Lani Diane Rich. You can download it on their site (maybe — I've been having trouble with it) or subscribe to it on iTunes.
Michael and I listened to last week's episode — "Unscripted" — today. (I'm a writer, and Michael loves wine, so I figured it would be of interest to both of us.) In the episode, Lani gave the best explanation of the screenwriters' strike in Hollywood that I've heard yet. Basically, writers are getting the same royalties for VHS and DVD sales that they negotiated almost 20 years ago: 4 cents per $20 DVD. They were promised at the time that their percentage would go up, but the conglomerates apparently have conveniently forgotten their promise.
The writers, who are now striking, want a raise to 8 cents per DVD — not unreasonable, considering it's been two decades, and the conglomerates' excuse then was that they didn't know how well VHS (a new technology at the time) would sell. In fact, they are parroting that excuse now in their refusal to pay writers for online sales, such as downloads through iTunes and other virtual stores. The fact remains, though, that digital sales are pure profit — whether digital media takes off or not (which it will, of course, just as VHS did 20 years ago), they can certainly afford to give writers their cut.
To put this into perspective, this would be like you contracting a book to a major publisher, and having them turn around and start selling an ebook version without paying you any royalties for those sales. The ebook version competes with the hardcopy version, and since it is cheaper and easier to get, many readers might opt to go digital — which deprives you of the royalties you would usually get, at the same time as it saves the publisher considerable money on printing, storage, and shipping.
You'd be pretty pissed, I imagine.
In the podcast, Lani asks listeners to support the strike. She specifically asks us not to buy or download TV shows and movies online, since the writers are — as of this writing — not getting paid for them. I checked out the official site, and you can also support the strike by buying pencils: The pencils get sent to the conglomerate, and the money goes into a fund to help the striking writers.
I'm joining Lani on this one. Although I'm not buying pencils as of right now, I am pledging to not buy or watch TV shows or movies online until the writers start getting their cut. As of right now, negotiations are to resume, but the strike is not over. The writers still need our help!