This afternoon members received this email urging them to vote in the election to choose a new president:
There is only one week left to vote for the next National President of the NZ Authors!
So far only 13% of our membership have voted. We urge you to get on line and vote – or return your Ballot Paper to PO Box 771, Wellesley Street, Auckland 1141. Exercise your democratic right and vote for the person you want to lead us into the future!
I have asked each nominee to prepare a pitch which was to address the following questions:
The literary sector is undergoing its biggest reformation since the invention of the printing press. This is changing the way books are published and therefore the role of writers. What role do you think NZSA should play in this changing environment?
In these challenging financial times, members are questioning value for money when joining the NZSA. What do you perceive members want from their membership that they are not currently getting and what future ideas and initiatives do you have for improving services to members in the current environment?
The NZSA is facing challenging times in relation to funding and resources. What strategies would you employ to ensure the longevity and fiscal security of the organisation?The NZSA is undergoing a strategic and governance review in 2013. What are the key issues that you feel should be addressed in this review?Since that email went out, my previous blogpost on this issue, How to Steal an Election, has had almost as many visitors as yesterday’s one about Jesse Mulligan, which is this year’s all-time top-rater. Something is up at the NZSA. I wonder what.
No I don’t. I am in touch with unhappy members from Dunedin to Northland but none of them has an outlet. Well, I do, so here goes. When I joined 20+ years ago in Auckland, the monthly meetings were attended by CK Stead, Maurice Shadbolt, Dick Scott, Daphne de Jong, Kevin Ireland, Graeme Lay – big names, pro writers. It’s not like that now. To be cruel, it’s more for hobbyists than professionals. That’s fine, there’s a place for that, but the rise of the Sunday painters is one reason why the rest of the sector doesn’t take NZSA seriously as a partner any more. As one major publisher said to me last month, “None of my authors are members – so why should publishers treat NZSA as if it represents authors?” I couldn’t answer that.
A discussion is underway about establishing a new organisation that might better represent professional authors, eg the textbook writers who earn the bulk of payments from Copyright Licensing NZ and the many novelists who also regard it as a waste of time; there is another conversation in Auckland about setting up a loose organisation of writers and editors, perhaps designers. None of these people, all professionals in the book trade, feel that the NZSA represents them. I was on the NZSA’s national council for maybe seven years as a branch chair and then vice-president, so I don’t encourage these moves – but I can see why they are happening.
Add to this the confrontational approach the NZSA takes to the rest of the sector. Most members understandably have no idea about this, or how NZSA is no longer seen as a partner to engage in constructive dialogue but as an adversary. Personally, I find it embarrassing to go into meetings with publishers/funders/etc and be shown letters and emails from NZSA and have to answer a question like “What the hell are they on about?” (“Hell” being a polite substitution.) One member who does know about this, an old leftie from the UK, complains about what he calls “the Scargillite attitude”. If a union has lost the old lefties, it has lost.
And then there is the money. One member who understands the financials better than I do writes:
They are using reserves to fund operations without a plan which is a road to nowhere. If I read it right, there is only $11.3k left of the $30k reserves from six or seven years ago. Reserves should be used for capital purchases or special one-off purchases, not operating costs. Looking at the 2011 P&L there has been an increase in membership fees of $13.5k, decreases in grants of $20k, a decrease in sale of publications of $15.5k and decrease in workshop revenue of $6k. On the expense side an increase in contractors of $6k, bad debts of $13.5k. Over all there was a deficit of $8.7k. Put that together with the drawdown of reserves of $10k for the 2012 year there is a total of $18.7k of reserves gone into operating costs.Not good. If my friend is right, this is really, really not good. At the AGM in Dunedin the weather will be bracing. Let’s hope there will be some equally bracing questioning about the accounts and the, for want of a better word, culture of the organisation.
So here are Cream in 2005 with “We’re Going Wrong”:
I have had many emails in support about this, comments on Facebook etc. Most people wish to stay anonymous so as not to get offside with NZSA, especially people who hold official positions, but Mary Egan has kindly agreed to let me post her Facebook comment which is representative of what I’m hearing:
I can’t agree more with you Stephen. It has become a joke; an insult to us professionals who want to do the best by authors. It’s become partisan, aggressive, sadly lacking in planning and brings little intelligence to the changes happening in our industry. I remain a member, only just, but that is because I am committed to the idea and not the reality. We have to speak up, loudly. Speaking quietly doesn’t work.The Otago/Southland branch of NZSA has linked to the post on their Facebook page, and individual authors have tweeted and retweeted the link. We’re going viral.