First off, I’m tired this morning. Had a wonderful weekend, and I really appreciate friends sharing their vacation with us, it made me feel like I’d gotten away from it all… mostly. Because Peter and Dorothy are in the same industry, so we talked shop while we were touring the USAF museum and then later, over dinner.
I blogged yesterday about an employee who had said something ill-considered, and in the process made her employer look very, very bad. Of course, one employee does not make a corporate culture, yes? But four employees (one former and still closely connected), on the other hand… indicate that all is not right with that company. There is a lot of spin right now, claiming that the employee is being personally attacked. No. This isn’t personal, it is business. She was promoting her employer with an incendiary statement to begin with, and then exacerbated it with an untruthful and potentially libelous explanation. It was a clear violation of MacMillan’s policies, if not Tor Books.
So despite the spin that you see being attempted in that twitter exchange (Thank you, Lissakay, for bringing this to my attention), this is not about swarming someone. I agree with Jim Butcher, who I quoted yesterday. Leave her personal life out of this. This is wholly about her professionalism, or lack thereof, and the corporate culture that encouraged her to think it was acceptable to post what she did.
There is a cliche in business “The customer is always right” and it exists for a reason. Somewhat obviously, the customer is not always right. Anyone who has ever worked in retail is painfully aware of this. But the underlying concept is that the customer is who keeps you in business.
Here’s a little lesson for Ms. Gallo and the others like her, who seem to have never learned certain business basics. You produce a product, people buy that product. After costs of production, and overhead, you receive a check, which you then use to pay rent, buy food, and things from other businesses. This is how it works.
Too simple? I think not. It’s clear that in the publishing industry in particular, a culture of ‘gatekeepers’ which Ms. Gallo proudly proclaims herself to be one of, have sprung up. These gatekeepers exist for a twofold purpose. One, to ensure that the right people get published. Not the best authors, but the right ones. As other avenues to publication open increasingly wide, the gatekeepers are left slowly realizing that their purpose is going away. Which has made them double down on their other perceived purpose. Making sure the right books get read. There has been an attempt over the last few decades to shame readers into reading the right books that have the right messages because that will affect the culture and lead to utopia.
Er. Except this isn’t what business is about, and it’s not what fiction is about in large, and they have completely missed the mark. You don’t call the work of some of your best-selling authors, and the best sellers of your competitors, ‘bad-to-reprehensible’ and not expect consequences. Free speech cuts both ways. She was free to call her customers (the customers of her employer) right-wing, neo-nazi, misogynist, racist and homophobic. Those customers were equally free to turn around and say that they laid the speech at the doors of her employer and demanded an apology, or they would simply not buy the products there any longer. There are other avenues, her employer is not a monopoly.
After all, this groundswell of outrage is based on far more evidence than the boycott of United Airlines (called for in Slate recently) is. How is this different than calling for a boycott over the words of a single employee of Mozilla (and if you don’t think a CEO is an employee, we need another business lesson). Once again, this isn’t about Ms. Gallo. This is about the business she works for, which seems to have forgotten that it produces nothing in and of itself. It is a mere channel from author to reader. In that light, how is allowing an employee to insult both authors and readers with impunity a wise business decision?
Perhaps only if we think of publishers as aristocratic lords of their own fiefdoms does this make any sense. Like aristocracy, making money is somehow seen as dirty, and getting one’s hands dirty with business is simply not done, old chap. Bills? But my dear, the tradesmen should be glad of our patronage, after all, it gives them the right to boast to their peers that Lord So-and-So gets his what-nots from them.
That’s not how it works. In the real world, you run a business by catering to what your customers want and need, supplying a product and in return they give you money. Make no mistake, publishers are businesses. Even if they seem to have forgotten that customers can simply walk away when they are treated with hatred and disdain.