The Autonomous Archipelago of Åthorland
It was Friday night in the city of Writing when the shit hit the fan. I didn’t make it down to the SF Café myself till Saturday afternoon or so, having been off at a gig that Friday night; so when I finally stumbled in, somewhat worse for wear, to grab my daily brunch of coffee and a cigarette over the Twitter Gazette, the kerfuffle was already in full swing. It’s war! people were saying. War! The neighbouring states of Amazonia and Macmilland have gone to war! Even the poor citizens of Åthorland have been dragged into it, much to their chagrin! Chagrined? They were downright pissed, those Åthorlanders. Since there’s a rather sizeable contingent of them who hang out at the SF Café, it was hard not to notice their impassioned speeches from their counter stool pulpits, the conversations going on in the booths.
For those of you who don’t know, the tiny autonomous archipelago of Åthorland lies off the coast of this fair nation of Art. Just a spattering of craggy islands, it is, each with little more than a stony croft inhabited by a wild-eyed Åthor, with only their herd of kittens for company and inspiration. Each Åthor is a creative anchorite, you see, hoping to scrape a living for themself through their strange cottage industry — which we’ll come to in a minute. Most fail to do so, in truth, subsidising their… well… survival with summer-jobs as barnacle polishers or starfish attendants. A few manage to scrape by without this additional income to bring them up to the breadline. A tiny few — like Good King Stephen, for example, or the renowned Jakie Rowling — make such a success of it that the fame of their wealth spreads around the world; but their coral palaces and caviar-and-cocaine banquets are a far cry from the pitiable poverty of most Åthors, huddling in their stone-built shacks, living off the bacon harvested from their cats, drowning their sorrows in alcohol and (occasionally) the odd hit of of the hard drug they call kudos. Still, they’re a hardy people, the Åthors, and downright thrawn in their commitment to the Åthorlandish craft of kitten hair rug design.
This is the primary industry of Åthorland. If the islands of the archipelago can be a little barren, to say the least, what they do have going for them is the wealth of strange shellfish to be gathered from the beaches, or prised from the rocks; for from the ground shells of these crustaceans and molluscs come the myriad of powders with which the kitten-hair yarn spun from their looms can be dyed in every colour imaginable… and then some. It’s not perhaps the most practical skill, granted, but it’s certainly unique, the way these Åthors seem able to invent wholly new shades — and just when the rest of us least expect it, when we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve seen every shade of blue under the sun, even that one Hume was so bothered about.
In and of itself, that would be… a nice feat but not terribly commercial, but it’s what they do with all those threads of many colours that’s important, weaving them into intricate patterns that make the Persians look like amateurs, every kitten hair rug a weaveworld one can virtually walk in never mind on.
Back in the old days, so it’s said, every summer, the Åthors would come over to the mainland in their coracles, and hike from city to city. Arriving in the agora of each, they’d find a corner and spread their exquisite artifices upon the dusty ground, taking a groat or two (or more) from any who wished to tread that kitten-soft fur between their toes, to gaze into the whirling curlicues and lose themselves in the articulation of sensation for half an hour, an hour, a day, a week. Rich lords would act as patrons, buying rugs to furnish their marble floors, relishing the chance to walk on them any time they wished, sometimes appreciating them more each time they did so, sometimes becoming bored with the repeat experience. So it goes.
This was long ago though, and now one doesn’t even have to be a rich lord to experience the joy of an Åthorlandish kitten hair rug. In each of the continental principalities or kingdoms within a day or so sailing of Åthorland, a mass weaving industry has emerged. So, in the summer, instead of traveling from market to market, the Åthors cart their wares from manufactory to manufactory, hoping to sell the kitten hair rug they have hand-crafted, thread by thread, as a prototype — or to license its design, to be more accurate, for mass-production.
From Prototype to Product
This is where the Kingdom of Macmilland comes in. There are a handful of others, but they’re not important here; all you need know is that each of these little sovereign territories stands proud as a Phoenician city-state and every bit as mercantile (and often, yes, every bit as mercenary because of that).
To say that kitten hair rugs are Macmilland’s major export doesn’t do it justice. In each nation — Macmilland, Hachettia or wherever — the weaving industry is nationalised. Trade and Industry, Church and State, all are bound together into a great metropolis of a corporate entity, walled like ancient Jericho, gated like old Jerusalem, ruled over by an oligarchic board of the bourgeois, presided over by some latter-day Melchizedek of a merchant-king.
Faced with the scale of this Behemoth, the average Åthor might be forgiven for feeling a little awed, all too aware that the only real leverage they have is their ownership of an original kitten hair rug. If they’re lucky they’ve recruited a good rug-hustler to tout their new design though, ensure a good deal for it. Even so, sometimes those city-states will try and take advantage of their might. (As the dreaded Disneyóna, for example, is notorious for its cruel “shafting” of unwitting Åthors. Those “shafts” are pointy.) Largely though, that might is of great benefit to the Åthor. Macmilland doesn’t just buy a design, chuck it onto the production line and pump out a bazillion identical copies. All the expertise of a city-sized system is brought to bear, not just the savvy of a cunning vizier but often the creative wisdom of a score of visionary craftsmen.
Is this truly the best shade here? Is that knot intentional? You might be surprised at the amount of sheer finishing put into the production of an actual batch of rugs from the original prototype. There are people whose job it is simply to perfect the texture by ascertaining the optimum proportion of breeds in the kitten hair — 80% Persian to 20% Siamese? Or maybe 15% Siamese with a 5% dash of Turkish Angora? And so on.
For the Åthor who manages to sell their first kitten hair rug, it’s often a revelation to see so many people spend so many months taking their work from prototype to product. It’s kind of a weird experience in a whole host of other ways too — being paid with a six months supply of cat-food and cabbages, for example, (a supply that can all too easily be traded in at the nearest market for a weeks-worth of caviar and cocaine,) having a promise of “some” (entirely unpredictable) further payments, at six month intervals down the line, if and when the rug “earns out” this “advance” (with the naive Åthor often not quite hearing the loud emphasis on the if).
We can put these to the side though; I mention them only as a reminder that, after all is signed and sealed, done and dusted, the Åthor will be rowing their coracle home to their island croft, with a copy of the slick finished article under one arm, to a winter they are now better equipped to survive, but not much more of a guaranteed future than that. Meanwhile, Macmilland will be exporting their rugs, sending them out to every rug shop within their legally-contracted domain.
And so, from its humble beginnings as a hand-crafted artefact on a desolate island, the Åthor’s kitten hair rug will arrive en masse in the People’s Republic of Amazonia. And across Amazonia, in the InstantStuff4U retail outlets that spring up in an instant on every street-corner at the blow of a whistle, (but we’ll come to those presently,) the kitten hair rug is stuck up on a shelf, with a price tag slapped on it.
The Value of a Kitten Hair Rug
Now, the thing is, there have always been those who don’t particularly want to play the rich lord, adorning the floors of their homes with kitten hair rugs. Some of us love that furry feeling betwixt our toasty toes, but for many it’s just about admiring the visual pattern. They do really admire that pattern for as long as it takes to admire it fully — a half an hour, an hour, a day, a week — but they don’t particularly care for the rugs as home furnishings, not least because one doesn’t always have space in one’s home for a few thousand rugs. Where a rug collector would hate to lose their most precious specimen, (“It really tied the room together,” they might say,) these folks might appreciate a chance to gaze into this or that rug’s intricacies again at a later date, but it’s not such a big dealio.
This doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the Åthor’s work, mind. Some will wait in line for hours in front of their nearest rug store, to snap up some new design the very moment it becomes available, if they haven’t put an order in for it even before it is available.
Sure, there are others who will happily just pop down to the local flea market, pick up a second-hand rug that looks intriguing, and trade it in for another when they’re (rather quickly) done with it. But it’s not that they’re dismissing the rugs by treating them as disposable pleasures. It’s just that it’s really more the leisure activity they enjoy than the thing in and of itself. It’s a little like buying a tankard or two of ale for them: you’re buying the beer to drink, and once it’s drunk it’s gone; you don’t particularly want to hang on to the glass; more likely, you just want a refill.
Actually, back in the day, when Åthors would sit in the corner of a market and ask a few groats from passers-by for the chance to enjoy their kitten hair rug, this was the standard metric of value — booze. With rugs pretty much coming in four or five sizes, it’s not even hard to calculate: there are the small and extra small ones that you might spend an hour or less on; there are the standard size ones, that really take a day to fully dig — a five to ten hour stint or more; and every so often some crazed Åthor will come up with a monumental epic size rug that’s a veritable odyssey of an experience, a rug that you could stand on and gaze into for months.
It seemed only obvious, in days of yore, in the era of taverns and bazaars, to convert time into tankards — an hour of rug-time for an hour of drinking-time, a tankard’s worth of ale. Keep me in ale for as long you’re on the rug, the Åthor would say, and we’re trading like for like, your entertainment for mine. A fair exchange, no?
At two groats a tankard, we can even translate that into cold hard cash: one or two groats for a little rug; ten to twenty groats for the standard size. It’s really quite simple. Or at least it was.
The Happiness That Comes of Haggling
The reality is, of course, that the industrial revolution changed all that. As the merchant-kings of city-states came in, with their manufactories built to mass-produce a plethora of Åthorlandish kitten hair rugs, these canny traders and industrialists saw that just as some were ready to pay more for a truly fresh beer while others would take their beer stale if it halved the price, just as some would pay more for speedy service while others would rather wait and pay less, the different attitude of different customers to kitten hair rugs translated to a different valuation, a different worth.
A cheaper version of the rug could be produced down the line, woven from common-or-garden tabby fur, sold for a mere five groats, and far more would buy this “mass-market” variant. The standard version became, in effect, a luxury commodity, a high-end edition for those willing to pay full cost, whether because they preferred the higher quality or, more likely, because they simply wanted it hot off the loom, the instant it was available. As that demand tailed off, the trade emissaries of Macmilland realised, it was even sensible to gradually discount those high-end rugs over the months following their release, to be flexible with one’s prices, sell at whatever the market will bear. It wasn’t long before the flea markets selling second-hand rugs had competition from stalls with “bargain bins” full of unused premium-quality kitten hair rugs that cost fifteen groats on their release, now selling for a mere three.
Many an Åthor gives a little meep when they see their work in such stalls, but such is business. Ultimately, the technology has benefited all concerned. The Åthor is able to provide their service — that exquisite experience of immersion in the sensual spectacle that is a finely-crafted kitten hair rug — to nigh on anyone and everyone.
Macmilland and their ilk earn a fair cut, on the whole, given that they are, contrary to common opinion, a whole lot more than mere go-betweens. And the customer can toddle down to any number of stores or stalls within reach, and most probably pick up a nice new (or newish) rug that, measured in terms of the hours they’ll spend on it, will cost them a damn sight less than if they were to spend that time quaffing ales in their local tavern.
This is the happiness that comes of haggling, and though few realise it, it is the customer who is essentially setting the price, by deciding what to buy and when to buy it.
But this is where Amazonia comes in.
The Kerspindle and the Kerfuffle
We could go into all the innovations brought to the system by the transportation revolution out of which Amazonia emerged, but it’s a story we all know, surely. We all remember seeing our first ornithopter flutter through the sky. We all remember the little tin whistles floating down on their parachutes. We remember unrolling the leaflets, realising that we simply had to give a toot to summon a salesman — and within seconds! — a salesman who could supply us with any rug in their whole inventory. You want it by tomorrow? We can do that. If you’re happy to wait a little longer, we’ll even do it for free. Tell you what, we’ll even do you a three-for-two deal like the brick-and-morter rug stores are doing. We’ll do a better deal.
The zealous citizens of the People’s Republic of Amazonia — every one of them a salesman ready to spring into action — built their new nation almost overnight by such strategies. Those strategies are, of course, far from altruistic, cannily designed to undercut the existing competition so as to establish and consolidate their own, shall we say, lebensraum; but international politics is a cut-throat business and when the customer gains so much from this sort of ruthless savvy, we tend to have little sympathy for the Principality of Borders, say, who would happily use similar tactics to try and drive their competitors out of business, crush and swallow them, aiming for the nearest thing to a conquest of the world they can get away with under the Treaty of Monopolis.
Anyway, all of that’s old hat. And you probably don’t want to hear about the more idiosyncratic features of the new world order born with Amazonia, from an Åthorlandish perspective. Like, say, the arcane art of Amazonomancy, by which Åthors lean out the window of their croft each afternoon to toot their whistle, not to buy rugs themselves, but to scry the complex ornithopter formation flying displays for “signals” of how well their own rug is doing, how sales are going in the Amazonian InstantStuff4U outlets that spring out, whirring and click-clacking, wherever one of those ornithopter lands — on any corner of any street in any city, town or village, pretty much across the world.
Amazonomancy is probably the single most important aspect of it all to an Åthor but, well, the neurotic behaviour patterns of obsessive hermits aren’t really pertinent. No, there’s only really one innovation that matters here, and that’s the Kerspindle that caused the big kerfuffle last weekend. And by “kerfuffle” I mean “Cuban Missile Crisis level hostilities between Macmilland and Amazonia.” Or, simply speaking, “war.”
It all began with tapestries.
Who exactly came up with this new idea, it’s hard to say, but the idea itself is simple: some people, (as I say,) are happy to just look at that kitten hair rug design, aren’t really bothered about the feel of kitten-fur between the toes, and might actually even prefer to have it somewhere easier to look at — like right in front of their face; so what if we use this crazy new tech that’s just been developed to make tapestries instead of rugs? You could take that same basic kitten hair rug design and turn it into something that goes on your wall rather than your floor. If you don’t have to make them sturdy enough to be walked on, that makes them a bit cheaper to produce because it cuts out one stage of the finishing process. It makes them a whole lot more delicate, means you need to buy this special doohickey to hang them from, but the tapestries are so thin you can store oodles of them in this doohickey.
There are other pros, other cons, but the most important thing for many gadget-oriented rug afficionados is the convenience: if all you want to do is admire the intricacy of the design, the collapsible, portable doohickey can offer that experience anywhere you can find a place to hang it; and new designs are available at the toot of a whistle with Amazonian salesmen waiting at your beck and call.
It’s hard not to see the appeal. Those kingdoms and principalities whose industry is based on rug manufacturing and export were a little slow on the uptake, but even they soon realised this was a demand they’d be fools not to supply.
Here’s where it gets gnarly though. With their nationalised retail industry, their merchant airforce aiming for commercial air supremacy, the People’s Republic of Amazonia really sees the appeal, because they quickly come up with a neat new strategy. They produce their own brand of doohickey — the Kerspindle — and sell that the same way they sell rugs. (They’ve always sold a whole lot more than just rugs anyway.)
To encourage people to buy their brand of doohickey rather than anyone else’s, they strike a deal with the Kingdom of Macmilland and suchlike — who agree to supply them with tapestries that can’t be hung on any other type of doohickey. And to close the circle into a feedback loop of positive reinforcement, Amazonia set a price for tapestries that undercuts the high-end, new release rug version of the same design — ten groats, give or take a plinkle, where the average brand-new premium rug is fifteen.
But, wait! Remember how that cheaper “mass-market” version was produced down the line. Remember how this is based, in part, on the idea that some will pay more for a speedy service while others would rather wait if it means they pay less. Doesn’t it kind of throw a spanner in the works if you release the ten groat tapestry on the self-same day the rug comes out for fifteen?
Well, that’s where the kerfuffle kicks in.
A Declaration of War!
So at some point in the preceding weeks, The People’s Republic of Amazonia and the Kingdom of Macmilland entered into a trade dispute. The details of this appear to be rather complicated and dull — like all that bollocks that’s going on at the start of Phantom Menace, you know? — but it boils down to a basic disagreement, as I understand.
The way it stands at the moment, Amazonia buys tapestries from Macmilland for twelve groats or so and sells them to the punter for ten. Yes, they’re selling them at a loss. But it’s not that they learned their business strategy from Milo Minderbender, and they’re not selling them at a loss out of the goodness of their hearts; they figure more people will buy their Kerspindles if the hot-off-the-loom tapestries are a cushty deal. And when the hot-off-the-loom rugs are fifteen groats, they are.
Only thing is, the Kingdom of Macmilland just heard a big presentation by a delegate from the United States of Apple, suggesting a whole nother approach that’s actually a lot like the traditional way of selling rugs: price them high when they’re new releases, and drop the price in steps over the subsequent months. Weirdly, Macmilland would get less groats here, but this is what they’d prefer; they want new tapestries to be released at fifteen groats or so, which would mean selling them to Macmilland for ten rather than twelve.
And over months, bear in mind, the price would drop until Amazonia could actually be selling those tapestries for as little as six, so those of us punters who don’t want to pay through the nose for our pretty little patterns in kitten fur could hang on for a more reasonable deal. Again, Macmilland isn’t doing this out of the goodness of their heart; they just think this strategy is more sensible in the long term.
Now, Amazonia and Macmilland just can’t see eye-to-eye on this, and in closed meetings, we must imagine, diplomats become a bit less diplomatic than they should be. Eventually Macmilland lays its cards on the table. If Amazonia insist on sticking to the current terms, Macmilland will just have to release the tapestry versions later — like it does with the cheaper “mass-market” rugs. If it didn’t, why it might as well just put the “mass-market” rug on sale at the same time and have done with it — and sit back and watch as everybody but a few obsessive collectors bought that Åthor’s design in kitten fur at knockdown prices.
At the point when I was trying to get my head around this part of the situation on Saturday afternoon, I figured a little grub might help. Now you can get full table service in the SF Café, a good hairy steak brought right to your table, and the best thing is, the chef in back is psychic, so he’ll have it ready for you at the point you actually order it. Fricking awesome, right? But this costs extra because, well, it’s an extra service. For folks who’re happy to slum it, there’s the cheaper option: wander up to the counter and give your order in to Old Mac; wait for him to call out your number when it’s done; then go up to collect it. You save money, but it’s slower; you don’t get that… instant gratification.
Table-service or self-service. Paying more to get treated like a prince among men, or sucking it up to save a few groats cause it’s not that big a deal. Hardly a radical notion, eh?
Only what do I notice when I pick up the menu to see what takes my fancy? Fuck me, if there’s not a whole new “no linen” option. With table service, they bring linen napkins, see, not that cheap-ass paper shite. That’s not why the table service is more expensive, mind — the terribly burdensome overhead of them having to wash all those cloth napkins — but for some reason the “no linen” option is priced like it is. The chef in back still uses his psychic powers to take your order before you decide. He still has it ready for you at the very point you decide. They still bring it right to your table. But if you go for the “no linen” option it costs pretty much the same as self-service. Fuckin’ A, as they say.
— How the hell can you afford to do this? I ask Old Mac when he brings my steak.
— We can’t, says Old Mac. We make the bulk of our running costs back on table-service. Self-service racks up more customers because it’s more affordable, but it’s more affordable because it’s a minimal profit per person. The “no linen” option doesn’t break even, and since we started offering it, it’s undercutting both those parts of the business.
— So why the fuck are you offering it?
— That’s what I’ve been asking myself, says Mac.
At this point I began to see why the Kingdom of Macmilland might want to revise their contract with Amazonia, why they might want to negotiate better terms for tapestries, why they might see only two viable options for themselves: to release high-end rug and tapestry at the same time, and have people pay more for the instant gratification, less if they’re willing to wait, regardless of which version they go for; or to wait and release the lower price tapestry when it won’t undercut a crucial part of their business, just as they do with the “mass-market” rug.
At this point, however, is pretty much where The People’s Independent Republic of Amazonia stormed out of negotiations and declared war.
The Blockade versus the Blogosphere
On Friday, without warning, Amazonia closed its borders with Macmilland. In the tiny autonomous archipelago of Åthorland, wild-eyed anchorites leaned out of their windows and tooted their whistles, only for Amazonian ornithopters to swoop low over their crofts and drop bombshells that left them stunned and horrified. Leaflets fluttered down from the skies, catalogues of Amazonia’s vast inventory with every Macmilland product — not just tapestries but rugs as well — stricken from them. Not for sale. Not for sale. Not for sale. Nowhere on those leaflets was there an explanation. No Amazonian diplomat held a press conference. The Amazonian premier made no statement. Instead, every Åthor whose kitten fur rug was mass-produced and exported to the world via Macmilland simply found themselves subject to an instant blockade with not a word as to why.
The King of Macmilland was quick off the mark though, summoning the radiovision cameras to relay his speech to all the Åthors who had contracts with Macmilland, laying out what exactly had happened and why. In their stony crofts, Åthors stopped peeling the bacon from their cats and listened in awed silence as the situation was outlined. And then they fired up their aetherotransmitters and began to spread the word. By the time I stumbled into the SF Café on Saturday afternoon, the Twitter Gazette was on fire with the news. Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Scott Westerfield, Charles Stross, John Scalzi — all these Åthors and more spoke out, many at length and all in more hard-nosed detail than this… um… freeform perspective of mine. If you want the full skinny on the ins and outs of it all, I highly recommend you go read them. But it wasn’t just those directly affected by the blockade who sprang into action. Even many Åthors who had nothing at all to do with Macmilland made it all too clear that they had utter contempt for Amazonia’s action here.
(Strangely all these Åthors seem to have adopted a fanciful conceit that this is to do with ebooks rather than tapestries, perhaps in some misguided attempt to create a sort of… metaphoric illustration, to storyise the blockade and thereby side-step some of the knee-jerk assumptions of loyal Kerspindle users and Amazonia customers as regards the Evil Corporate Weaving Industry, its mercenary exploitation of both artists and consumers, and its obstinate adherence to obsolete media. I can only say I think this ill-judged. Everyone knows, after all, that ebooks cost nothing to produce, that the writer simply hands their manuscript into some corporate lackey called an “editor,” who chucks it into an OCR scanner, presses a button and laughs as InstaPublisher 3.0 automatically transforms it into an ebook that can be marked up by infinity percent! Laughs all the way to the bank! Everyone knows that, don’t they?)
And so the blogosphere lit up, the aetherotransmitters glowing like beacon fires on the islands of Åthorland, heated by the friction of furious typing. Down in the SF Café, those wild-eyed anchorites were far from alone. Rug afficionados with no professional stake in the blockade, not even on a possibly-maybe-one-day-I’ll-sell-my-own-rug level, rallied round to support the artisans they admired. People who, as long-standing customers of the Amazonian ornithopters, had every reason to value the revolution they’d wrought, people who’d bought rugs and tapestries by the fuckload from those InstantStuff4U stalls, threw down the whistles they’d had hanging from their front doors (as part of this rather neat credits-for-referrals scheme,) and smashed them underfoot. The resounding message of the community as a whole? Fuck you, Amazonia! Fuck you!
Spitting the Dummy
Here and there, it must be said, a few voices snarled contemptuous dissent. Fuck Macmilland! they growled. They just want to screw me for as much as they can. They want to stop me from getting what I want when I want it. A tapestry costs fuck all to make, and they want to charge the price of a high-end rug? It’s just like the mosaic industry, with its fucking crazy-ass evil attitude to craftsmen and consumers alike!
I asked Old Mac what he thought of those voices. They’re customers, after all, and isn’t the customer always right.
— Man, I work in a café, said Mac. Sometimes the customer is a jumped-up obnoxious prick who thinks the world revolves around them. You can spot them a mile away, the kind of arrogant arsewipe who thinks they’re owed table-service just for deigning to bless you with their half-groat custom, the kind of fucker who wouldn’t tip if you fed them with a spork and wiped their mean and mealy mouth for them after. Sometimes the customer doesn’t know shit about the work that goes into the service they get. Sometimes they care even less.
Now Mac may be something of a curmudgeon, but…
One word that I’ve seen pop up time and time again over the weekend and the days since — wherever Åthors tried to convince Kerspindle users that Macmilland wasn’t just out to ream them for every plinkle they can, wherever those who habitually buy rugs and/or tapestries supported Amazonia’s unilateral pre-emptive strike as some sort of underdog’s sucker punch aimed to bring down a no-good racketeer, wherever those customers basically refused to listen to detailed breakdowns of the realities of the weaving industry — is entitlement. However the facts and figures fall out, in terms of how much it costs to produce a tapestry versus how much it costs to produce a rug, Old Mac is right about the attitude of some, I think.
You can tell them about the winter spent gathering shells and pounding them into dust, mixing up dyes and spinning kitten fur into yarn, designing and redesigning, trying to come up with… something wonderful. They don’t give a fuck. You can tell them about the actual advance most Åthors get of about six months worth of cat-food and cabbages, how really, honestly it’s far from caviar-and-cocaine.
They don’t give a fuck.
You can tell them about the weaving company’s consultant designers, how they’re in the business first and foremost because they love rugs, because they love to discover a new and exciting one, love to work with Åthors — even at the miserable wage most earn — to make it better, the best it can be.
They don’t give a fuck.
You can tell them about those who have to pore over every square millimetre of the revised (and revised and revised) prototype, looking for knots and loose threads that shouldn’t be there. They don’t give a fuck. You can tell them that even tapestries must go through a whole long process that makes them not actually that much cheaper to produce than rugs, that dropping the little extra step that makes it something you can walk on doesn’t save much, not when most of the cost lies in making your woven artifact flame-retardant. They don’t give a fuck. You can tell them that the true value of a mass-produced craftswork that functions essentially as a leisure service, providing entertainment, is not a matter of the per unit cost marked up, that a solid ten hours of diversion, maybe more, is surely worth as much in rug form as it is in the form of ale, that a pint an hour at two groats per pint is really quite a good deal. They don’t give a fuck. You can tell them that getting an even lower price than that, getting a high-end rug hot off the loom for fifteen groats, is a mark of how customers already benefit from prices bound to demand and open to haggling.
They don’t give a fuck.
You can tell them that their rejection of your pricing strategy is entirely within their rights, that they can just walk away and spend their money elsewhere if they really think that paying more than ten groats for a tapestry is being rooked, that if they do so that very act will contribute to driving down prices by lowering demand. They don’t give a fuck.
Wait a minute. Back up there. Simply not being able to agree on a fair price is not an option? They’re outraged at the thought of someone not caving to their demands?
It takes a monumental sense of entitlement to desire something so intensely that not being able to have it now renders one furious, and yet to bristle with even greater wrath when asked to stump up a price in line with that desire. This is just spitting the dummy.
There’s a little echo of that attitude in the statement that was broadcast over the airwaves from Amazonia the other day. At the time of writing, the blockade is still in place, the kitten hair rugs of every Macmilland-contracted Åthor still unavailable through their service; but posted on a forum, from the desk of some unnamed minion on the “Kerspindle Task Force” — in distinct contrast with the radiovision broadcast from the King of Macmilland himself — a communique was sent out to loyal customers, admitting that eventually they’d have to give in. As others have put it most succinctly: Amazonia blinked. But it was a source of no little amusement in the SF Café that included in this memo was a little rhetorical turn of phrase characterising Macmilland as having “a monopoly” over their own products.
Oh, how we laughed. Some began a campaign against Amazonia’s monopoly on the Kerspindle. Some expressed shock that — ye Gods! — Nabisco has a monopoly on Oreos!
— Oh noes! said Elizabeth Bear. I have a monopoly on Elizabeth Bear works too.
Amusing as it is though, it’s a telling little sign of one of two things: A) a risible idiocy on the part of the scribe who penned it, some sort of infantile worldview in which it’s scurrilously mercenary for someone to…um… have control of their own fucking products, because diddums not getting what diddums wants is just so unfair; or B) a cynical attempt to push that sort of button in the reader, to cast the legally contracted producer of an Åthor’s kitten hair rug designs as a ruthless controller preventing the free use of those craftworks (by “monopolising” them) rather than facilitating the free use of those craftworks by fucking making them.
Bear’s joke is pointed, skewering the craven elicitation that lurks under that word, the way it panders to — seeks to exploit — an ugly selfishness that might just as easily dismiss the claim of any Åthor to their own work. Go on, it urges. Spit on all the time and toil they put into it. Surrender to that sense of entitlement. Resent that bastard who says they have a right to control what they made themselves, if it’s something that you want. They’re just a venal miscreant seeking to monopolise it.
Oh noes! The Åthor has a monopoly on their rug!
I have a message for the People’s Republic of Amazonia. I have a monopoly on my fingers too; I can do exactly what I want with them. I can offer you my forefinger, on the understanding that you’ll sell it for ten groats, or I can walk away from that as a bad deal for me. I can offer you my thumb to sell at fifteen groats now, and my pinkie finger six months down the line, to sell at five. Or not. I can offer you my ring finger to sell at fifteen if it sells right away, but on the understanding that we drop the price in stages as the months go on. You can refuse these offers, of course, but I can make them as I will and be as intransigent as I want in the haggling because, yes, I have a monopoly on my fingers.
Tell you what though, Amazonia: I’ll give you one of those fingers right now. I’m keeping all the others to myself at the moment, but giving you one of them right now.
Can you guess which one?