Sci-fi Icon Ursula K. LeGuin Denounces 'Profit' at National Book Awards



I am a fan of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and her Earthsea novels. At the National Book Awards yesterday evening, LeGuin received an award for her distinguished contributions to American letters. About time! The plain fact is that so-called literary fiction has devolved into an etiolated academic enterprise while the best contemporary novels are now being written by the authors of speculative fiction like LeGuin.

However, in her acceptance speech, LeGuin weighed in on the struggle between the international publishing conglomerate Hachette and on-line retailer As NPR reports:

Once she was onstage, she pulled no punches in a fiery speech about art and commerce. "We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa," LeGuin said. "And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!"

She was referring to the recent dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette over e-book pricing. The power of capitalism can seem inescapable, LeGuin said, but resistance and change begin in art. And writers should demand their fair share of the proceeds from their work.

"The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom."

I doubt that LeGuin plans to give away her books for free. (Available at Amazon for $8.99.) With regard to profits, LeGuin somehow failed to note that Hachette's revenues in 2013 were over 2 billion Euros with a profit of $233 million Euros. LeGuin and other authors who want their "fair share" are objecting to Amazon's discounting policy because, well, they feared that it would lower the amount of royalties (ahem, profits) they would receive. Of course, writers, like any other workers, certainly have a right to negotiate for the "beautiful reward" of higher pay. On the other hand, if books are cheaper, authors are likely to attract more readers. 

For an excellent analysis of the dispute between Amazon and Hachette read my colleague Nick Gillespie's article, "Amazon is NOT the 'Putin' of Books."

In any case, the two corporate giants apparently buried the hatchet last week.