Tuesday, December 11, 2012

5000 Shades of Grey

"Oh, no, my name's not Bella, it's Anna ... no, it's Ariadne ... yeah ... Ariadne!" Image source: Device

I read with pleasure that Random House is giving $5000 to each and every employee of the company who has been with them for more than a year, right down to the lowliest janitor and administrative assistant, in celebration of the tremendous success of "Fifty Shades of Grey" which has sold almost 50 million copies worldwide, at one point constituting one out of every five books being purchased by adults.

I applaud Random House for their brave generosity at a time when corporations in general are behaving with incredible stupid dickishness toward their employees and customers in reaction to the Democratic election victory. For example, Applebee's Restaurants, Papa John's restaurants, and Darden, the Corporate Monster that owns Red Lobster, Longhorn Steaks and Olive Garden have all announced moves that will decrease employees' wages, hours or status (moving from full time to part time) explaining that the now-likely continuation of Obamacare into law "necessitated" it.

In contrast with this sort of corporate dickishness, Random House looks really great!

However, I am not entirely delighted by the bonus, because I think part of it comes as a result of a capitalist organization looting a gift economy. I am referring of course to the Twilight fanfic community from which Fifty Shades of Grey. Remember, it started out as a straight up fanfic called "Master of the Universe" by Icedragon Snowqueen (James' pen name for fanfic) with characters lifted straight from the book.

And a key part of what made "Master of the Universe" and by extension, "Fifty Shades of Grey," so successful, was the work that some Twilight fans put into Master of the Universe for free, editing it skillfully to take it up another notch. Obsidian Wings wrote about their work, with examples. Clearly they had a LOT to do with the story's success, much more than most Random House employees.

Of course, the Twilight fanfic editors got nothing for their work. They did not sign a contract or anything like that, they just edited a story they liked, because they liked it, expecting nothing more in return than the thanks of the community and the chance to read the story.

Still, it does.not.seem.right!

Now I know legally the Twilight fanfic editors are entitled to nothing. But so often, what's legal has little to do with what is ethical. And I don't think this is a problem that could be solved by giving some Twilight fanfic editors a few thousand dollars (though it WOULD be the right thing to do!). But I do believe we are going to have to eventually deal with the moral issues of capitalist organizations essentially looting gift economies, and giving nothing in return. Perhaps quite soon, if publishers continue trolling the Twilight fanfic community for new works to publish.

Coming up soon: E.L. James vs. Lena Dunham vs. John Crowley. Really!

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