In Shocking News, Popular Media Figure Makes Money

Been pinged a few times about the thing in which some folks are complaining that Neil Gaiman got paid a bunch of money ($45k or so) to make an appearance at a library. Neil’s take on it is here, but my take is below:

Really? An author who has had four books simultaneously on the New York Times best seller lists, has won an unspeakable number of literary awards, has written for and/or had his books adapted to film, the most recent of which was nominated for an Oscar, and who sold roughly a million books last year, might conceivably ask for and receive a hefty sum for a speaking engagement? Shocked, shocked, I am.

Aside from proof that the free market works sometimes, there’s the additional fact that Gaiman’s appearance fee was taken not from that specific library’s general fund, but out of a pool of money from the State of Minnesota designed to bring speakers to libraries, and the money in the pool apparently had to be spent by the end of the fiscal year or evaporate. Neil, in his bit linked above, rather sensibly suggests that speaker pool money like that should be allowed to roll over into the next fiscal year, but no matter how you slice it he wasn’t cruelly yanking books out of kids’ hands in order to make his financial nut.

(I suppose this is the cue for someone to bitch and moan about tax dollars being spent frivolously, but, you know, I can think of all sorts of worse ways to spend tax money than having a bestselling author talk to 500 people live and thousands more via radio (the talk was broadcast on Minneapolis Public Radio and is currently being streamed online) about the joys of libraries and literacy, and I don’t consider such a thing frivolous at all, in fact, so we’d have to agree to disagree on that one.)

One of the folks who pinged me asked me if I would charge a library $45,000 for a speaking appearance. Leaving aside the provenance of the money in Neil’s case, the more accurate question would be could I charge a library $45,000 for a speaking appearance, and the answer to that, alas, is “no,” so would doesn’t even come into it. But if I were in Neil’s particular situation, in which someone was offering me a pot of money, not from the library’s own budget, which was going to evaporate if it were not used? If it fit in my schedule, sure, I’d do that, no problem.

So, in all: Meh. I’m having trouble seeing the problem here.

96 Comments on “In Shocking News, Popular Media Figure Makes Money”

  1. I’m with you, John. I fail to see the problem here.

    Here’s a question: Would the reaction have been as strong had it been a respected politician or military veteran on the lecture circuit? What about a CEO or senior executive?

  2. I really have a hard time with the brouhaha on this, especially after Neil pointed out that he takes that money and donates it back to other library systems, etc. anyway.

    It’s silly. If I had the money, I would pay him that to come read in my living room. Worth every penny, I bet.

  3. Well said, John.

    I think Mr. Gaiman is neither the best nor the worst writer working today. I exercised my prerogative not to attend the event despite living nearby. I will probably listen to it at some point in the future (as I do with most of the MPR author discussions). It’s nice that these talks are available for anyone, anywhere, to enjoy.

    He’s popular. He fills seats. He’s entertaining. What more do you need?

  4. Indeed, there’s no real problem, here. Apart from the fact that Neil Gaiman appears to be making excuses for himself in this blog post. Then, it becomes eyebrows-raising-worthy.

  5. Josh Jasper:

    Oh, sure. I’m not at that particular bend in the curve yet, though. Alternately, no speaker’s agency has approached me to suggest to me that I am.


    I suspect he may be touchy that some people appear to be offended he makes money. Plus, I do suspect he’s correct that it’s less about him per se and more about someone else trying to bitch about that Legacy Fund.

  6. Actually, I think Neil’s fee is more than reasonable, if only as a gating function.

    If only people who complained about expenditures such as this understood non-profit budgets, grants, and the strictures on their generation and usage.


  7. It seems to me that the whole “use it or lose it” funding arrangement (which is VERY common in government) is the real culprit. If the library had not spent that money, it would have been lost to them. I see that arrangement all the time: in academia we frequently buy equipment and books we don’t really need because money is about to “expire”. There is not only no reward for coming in under budget, but doing so is frequently is used as justification for cutting the next year’s budget. I got a brand new monitor a few months ago in exactly the same situation. Didn’t need it. Didn’t really want it. But from my perspective it was free, and not spending the money could have been problematic later, so the decision was a no-brainer.

    So the library did the rational thing under the circumstances: the price of *not* bringing in Mr. Gaiman was just as high as bringing him in, so why not? It was only a matter of time before someone asked for a (justified!) fee large enough to raise eyebrows.

    If this newspaper is really interested in saving money (unlikely given that stadium they’re pushing for…) they should start by examining the government’s financial incentives.

  8. I read through the Boing-Boing (sp?) comments section yesterday (with Cory Doctrow’s reply) and while most folks were chiming in on Neil’s side, the few that were upset about didn’t seem to be coming up with any other argument than; “why should he get so much $$$?!!!”.

    Gee, I dunno, maybe because he’s been working his ass off since the 80’s (70’s?) and people really like his work?

    Man, people are weird.

  9. I don’t think it’s the money. It’s the way he tented his fingers and laughed after he asked for it.

  10. Thanks for stating your opinion on this, John.

    Have to admit it’s hard for me to understand why some people are upset about this. Even if Neil didn’t donate the fee to charity, there’d be nothing wrong with his getting paid for making a speaking appearance. I agree with Pete @2: other public figures are paid far more, and no one blinks an eye.

  11. My first thought on hearing all the hullabaloo was “Hello United States of America. Welcome to capitalism, this is the bed you’ve been attempting to force on the world, and you’re now complaining that you have to lie in it?”

    But that’s rather unfair to the vast majority of the US that a) haven’t actually been proselytizing, b) weren’t the ones complaining about it. :)

  12. If it bleeds, it leads.

    And if nothing is bleeding, go cut someone.

    Sounds to me like the newspaper is trying to create “scandals” to try and sell newpapers. And Neil just got cut in the ruckus.

    good for Neil, I say.

  13. For something local I would bet scalzi gets a few hundred dollars. Maybe $1000. To travel may be $5000 plus travel expenses. That is my best guess.

    This was a frivolous waste of tax payer money. If I was Gaiman, I would take the money. The money does not go poof at the end of the year, it just dissappears from the line of accounting. No one burns $45,000 in a fireplace.

    If Gaiman is so wonderful the library could have charged a fee to attend, then the radio station could have sold advertising for a fee.

    I live in the 2nd richest county in the country (Fairfax county) and they have had rounds of cuts at the public library. There is a big staff cut coming this year. That $45,000 could have probably saved 2 people’s jobs (I doubt librarians make alot of money and alot of them are part time).

    If I worked at a library and layoffs were coming (laying off library staff is happening nationwide) and see this, I would be angry.

  14. Well, as one of the few token conservatives around here, is it reasonable for Gaiman to charge that much? Absolutely. Do I think that it’s a good use of government money in these times? No, it was a horrible use of government money, in my view, and if it happened in Texas I’d want to throw the people making that decision out. If it was “use it or lose it” funds, at a time when Minnesota’s running, per news reports, a three billion dollar deficit, the prudent choice would have been ‘we can’t afford this’ and lose it.

    But that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide in this instance. If they think it’s a good use of tax dollars, more power to them. People who want to pay higher taxes to support things like that will gravitate there, and people who don’t, will tend to leave.

  15. It would certainly be execrable if the library had invited Gaiman, he agreed to appear, at the last minute said “oh, did I happen to mention the $45K speaking fee?” and the library had to have an emergency raffle of its entire stock of Mo Willems books to pay for it. Since that’s not in fact what happened, I concur in the head-scratchery.

    Perhaps it’s just the way that some people immediately reject a band, or an artist, or an author, once they perceive said creator has become popular or – worse – is actually making a comfortable living off their art, instead of ekeing out just enough money to buy artisan coffee and pay the monthly mortgage on the garret. I Liked Him Before He Sold Out + I’m No Longer The Coolest If Everybody Reads His Stuff.

  16. Oh I completely understand why people are upset – in a time when all kinds of services are being cut due to tight budgets paying a substantial amount of money to someone who doesn’t need it to talk to 500 people isn’t the most fiscally prudent move. Discounting the radio audience, that fee for 500 people is $90 per attendee which is rather pricey – it’s probably good value if you add in the radio audience, but even then it’s easy to argue against this – after all, you’re mostly preaching to the choir if your message is “libraries are good things” and you’re talking to a) people sitting in one and b) people listening to MPR.

    However, if people are annoyed at Gaiman they’re being annoyed at the wrong party. They *should* be PO’d at their government for allocating that money (if they disagree with the purpose) and with the silly use it or lose it methodology which encourages spending funds vs retaining them. It’s a setup that incents the wrong behavior (spend, even if you don’t need what you’re buying).

  17. Frankly, I LOVE it that anyone, anywhere, wants to pay an artist of high quality and intelligence, who is an excellent speaker, serious money for hir time and effort.

    In a world where idiot grifter Sarah Palin can get $75-$100k for sneezing out someone else’s talking points, I say good for him, and good for the library system who is able to pay him.

    And Gaiman has done so much over the years to promote other up and coming writers and artists, contribute his efforts to all sorts of fundraisers and charities, and spend lots of times making himself available to fans (in personal appearances, book signings*, and internet presence) that people should leave him alone about how he runs his business. And yes, his persona, his appearances, his work is a BUSINESS, not just something he does for love. He’s great at what he does, you should no more begrudge him getting paid accordingly than you would a top surgeon or attorney who bills for their expertise.

    *I have been to at least two signings that were scheduled for 2 hours, but went on for 3-4 hours as Gaiman signed for everyone in the line, including those who brought stacks of books, and chatted and took photos with each person. In contrast to other signings I’ve been to which were very impersonal with strict limits on interaction, number of items, things that the author would write etc.**

    **I have no problem with authors making rules about their signings, everyone has to do what they have to do to stay sane in an exhausting setting–but I remember the signings with people like Neil Gaiman much more clearly and fondly.

  18. Interestingly, according to John’s original link, the kerfluffle was started by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, quoting an anonymous librarian angry because there are people “who need food and have lost their homes”, so presumably the Legacy Fund should have abandoned its mission and donated all its funds to the Salvation Army, or something.

    The Citypages blog article snarkily goes on to note that the Star Tribune doesn’t just have a mad-on for Gaiman:

    This isn’t the first time the Star Tribune has questioned the use of Legacy Fund money. Indeed, it has become almost as much of a crusade for the daily as their Epic Series on Drunk Driving (Spoiler: they’re against it). The Strib has been especially critical of money given to its competitor, Minnesota Public Radio.

    So, whatever. Newspaper that wants to build an expensive sports stadium throws a hissy because money was spent on a writer.

  19. Skip @17:
    It’s not up to individual libraries to save the budget, that’s the legislature’s job. And you can’t run a state with every single piece of it second-guessing whether it’s actually OK to spend the money that’s been allocated to it.

    The library (actually, the program) was given funds by the state and told, “This is what we can afford for your project, spend this for the public good” — it’s wrong of the librarians to say, “No.” That’s not their role in government. The fact that in many cases, “not spending their whole budget” is treated as “proof they’re over-funded” just compounds matters.

    Mr. Gaiman did the rational thing, putting a price on his time that he felt fair. The library did the rational thing, spending money that they’d been allocated in a way they thought maximized that money — getting the most bang for taxpayer buck. If the state government did not do the rational thing in a) allocating the money in the first place or b) setting up the rules to punish frugality, then that’s who you criticize.

  20. Oh, and here’s a little perspective:

    David Spade charges 50K and up for a personal appearance.

    Donald Trump won’t do one for less than $200K

    Others whose fees begin at $50K:

    Billy Idol, Mark Spitz, Mia Hamm, Cyndi Lauper, Dana Carvey, and lots more.

    At $100K:

    Zac Efron, Steve Wynn, George Foreman, Jeff Dunham. Note that these are for “personal appearances, autograph signings, public speaking and endorsements” not for performances.

    I’d say considering the talent of Gaiman and the contribution he has made to the culture (and continues to make, unlike most of the above), $45K is a bargain.

  21. @ # 9 John Murphy
    It’s not just government that funds this way.
    Private companies also do this kind of use-it-or-lose-it budgeting. And if you don’t lose it, it disappears from next year’s budget too.

    Four years ago I got a 12-day trip to India with 3 co-workers because it was November and there was still money unspent that would disappear a month later. Couldn’t spend it on, say, salaries or bonuses, but a trip for 2 people turned into a trip for 5.

  22. I see nothing wrong with Mr. Gaiman making that much money for a speaking fee. The fund that he was paid out of was set up for the purpose of getting well known writers to come to libraries and such. No one or not many people complain about how much pro football or basketball players get paid.

  23. I suspect it was Neil’s requirement to be carried into and out of the auditorium on a palanquin, and that no one look directly at the author that put them right over the edge.

    In serious response, there is a time cost of money. Like you, John, Neil is a writer. That is his job. Time is finite. One can only work/write/whatever so much in a given day.

    This is just a brouhaha about nothing, and a way to take a cheap shot at a theoretical waste of taxpayer’s money.

  24. Don’t worry if we had 45K to throw at authors for speaking engagements you would be at the top of the list! (okay not the very top but at least a top 10… okay 20)

    Actually the only way that this is even a story is if there was some artificial inflation on Neil’s fee. Does he usually speak for 10K and decided to gouge the system? I highly doubt it but if 45K is his going rate and the library had the money to hire someone of his talent and fame then there is no wrong doing on anyone’s part.

    Could the money have been spent in other more practical ways? Probably but the library could have used the appearance to raise both awareness and money.


  25. How great is that library? I mean seriously.

    Waaaah. Boo hoo. No fairsies I wanna make 45k for the speaking of words. Public institutions drop that kind of cash all the time to bring in speakers.

    And that library lined up Neil “how fucking rad is that” Gaiman to come and talk to five hundred people. When was the last time you saw five hundred people in a library? And a talk there was radio broadcast? I for one will welcome our new totally righteous librarian overlords.

    Any money spent on getting people into libraries, into books, is worthwhile.

  26. I just want to know–if I offer Mr. Gaiman $45K will he come talk to me? I’m SO lonely….

    Seriously, the “use it or lose it–AND we’ll cut your budget next year” method of funding departments and agencies is the villain in the piece. Allowing at least some budgetary rollover from year to year (can you say “contingency account”?) makes a lot more sense.

  27. Gaiman also makes it clear that he set his rate high because he’d be just as happy to stay home and just write, but if someone’s willing to pay that much, he’ll put in an appearance. (And his description of speaking for an hour, taking Q&A for another hour and then schmoozing for yet another hour indicates that he’s not terribly grudging about how he treats the appearances.)

    Look, nobody held a gun to these people’s heads and told them A.) you must have Gaiman appear, and B.) you must pay the frieght. They made the offer and he took them up on it. (And, yes, if you choose to have issues with how the fund works, that’s also reasonable, but not something to be laid at Gaiman’s door.)

    Prior to getting into the DGA, I had to negotiate all of my working rates and overtime provisions. I usually set my OT rates ridiculously high…not because I wanted the money, but because I wanted the Producer to send me home after a reasonable number of hours. If, however, they wanted to pay me lots of money, I was happy to stick around. (I prefer to run my department so that everyone puts in a reasonable day and the production is still covered by someone from beginning to end every day.)

  28. They *should* be PO’d at their government for allocating that money

    Since the voters of Minnesota approved this in a referendum in 2008, you can’t even make that argument.

    (Reminder: Government is us. Or, Soylent Green style: GOVERNMENT IS PEOPLE!)

  29. MichaelC @30: you know what, it would be interesting to have a charity “Win Lunch With Neil Gaiman” kind of thing, where all proceeds left over after the speaking fee and expenses go to a worthwhile charity, and the winner gets to have a private appearance rather than a public one. Then we could have overstuffed newspapers complain about private entities overpaying a mere writer.

    This particular tempest in a teapot (to the extent it exists) reminds me of college, when the local SF campus group had to persuade the student council to allot funds to bring a certain Highly Entertaining author to campus to speak. When they complained about the expense, we had to point out (speaking slowly, and using small words) that a) they’d just spend the previous three council meetings complaining about spending money on arts events that almost nobody attended, b) this author had a very large following and c) admission would be free, so on weighing the cost-vs-publicity-vs-positive reaction to said fund-spending by students, it was a net benefit.

    The only person who did not vote in favor (she abstained) was a member who had seen said author at a speaking event a couple of years prior. I never did find out why that influenced her vote.

  30. I have to chime in as well, re: losing funding if the money isn’t spent. Not only did they have to spend it, they had to spend it in a specific way. AND add to that, depending on how their grant system works, the money might already have been in their bank account, in which case, either they spent it or they’d have to write a check and give it back.

    Most of us who work in the non-profit sector are wrapping up our grant years. There is the looming specter of, if we don’t spend it this year, we might not GET IT next year because the grantors will decide we haven’t managed the funds correctly, or we’ll get LESS because the grantor decides we can manage our budgets with less. And no, we can’t take funds that the grant guidance dictates must be spent on, say, training, and spend it on salaries. Trust me, as someone who’s gone through an audit with a guy who seemed to have it out for us: they will ask for that money BACK if they think you spent it not in accordance with the grant guidance, no matter how altruistic the ideals of “give it to the poor and hungry.”

  31. It’s pretty well understood in Minnesota, so the local media hasn’t repeated it, but non-Minnesotans don’t seem to be aware of how the legacy fund works. We passed a constitutional amendment that raised sales taxes and dedicated that money to environmental and cultural spending.

    So Skip’s suggestion that the library should have just said “we have a deficit and so we can’t afford it” is a bit off – if the library didn’t spend the money, it would not have gone back into the general fund. It would have been spent on other cultural or environmental funds.

  32. I recall that Bobby Fischer would answer chess questions for some very high fee, but it cost $500 for him to even open the envelope and then decide whether or not he would answer the question and cash the (much larger) check. Of course, I’ve only heard good things about Neil Gaiman and Bobby Fischer was an International Grandmaster Arse, but gatekeeping the requests is part of the point.

    (I guess this is not unlike Scalzi’s “here’s what I will tell you if you ask me to read your work piece” — it elevates the cost to the requestee of asking)

  33. It may have already been stated here, but the funds in question were earmarked specifically for bringing in authors to suburban libraries around the Twin Cities. They could not be used for other purposes such as adding to staff, upgrading equipment or buying books.

    The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, in reference to the creation of the Cultural Heritage Fund created by this amendment, states that “19.75% to a newly created Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to be spent only for arts, arts education, and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage (approximately $48 million in FY 2010 and $54.5 million in FY 2011).” The rest of the funds go to imrpoving and maintaining natural resources. It is funded by an increase in sales tax by 3/8 of 1%.

    It seems to me the funds were spent in accordance with the rules set forth in the amendment. I’m guessing most of the complaints are coming from those who either voted against the amendment, or did not approve of the arts portion of the amendment that I believe got added on (before the vote) as some sort of compromise.

  34. @19 RickWhoIsNotThatRick:

    Actually, the per-attendee cost probably isn’t all that out of line. Remember that most library functions don’t draw huge crowds. Say they had invited a non-famous midlist author instead (speaking fee plus travel ~$2,000). Unless we’re talking a major metropolitan library or a local author, I suspect that the library would be happy if 25-50 people showed up. So you’d still be paying $40-80 per attendee.

  35. Neil Gaiman at $45k? We’re lucky our medium’s stars are so cheap. I’m betting that if it was a Kanye West or a Nicholas Cage (not sure why you’d want to hear either of them speak, but you get my point) it would be an order of magnitude more, and would have to coincide nicely with some kind of self promotion opportunity.

    And I’m sure Neil has spoken words before and not charged anybody anything. I bet he does it all the time.

    It would be hilarious if he hadn’t, though.

  36. On BoingBoing it’s been pointed out that Neil Gaiman’s FAQ page has an answer for how much it costs to hire him as a speaker. A small snippet:

    Contact Lisa Bransdorf at the Greater Talent Network. Tell her you want Neil to appear somewhere. Have her tell you how much it costs. Have her say it again in case you misheard it the first time. Tell her you could get Bill Clinton for that money. Have her tell you that you couldn’t even get ten minutes of Bill Clinton for that money but it’s true, he’s not cheap.

    So yeah; I fail to see the problem at all.

    As for the government funding: yes, it does go *poof* like that. That’s the primary reason why research groups with DARPA and other funding end up with supercool hardware… that they don’t necessarily need.

    Rollover funding would be a cool idea. It’ll never get implemented, though, because that would require more accounting.

    (It is extremely annoying to see some of the write-ups of this on blogs; someone said, “There’s only two kinds of people in the world: those who would charge a library $45,000, and those who wouldn’t.” This kind of argument is so reductionist in many cases that… argh. Anyways, /rant.)

  37. The thing that gets me about this whole “issue” is that while most people are bitching about how much money he was paid they all seem to be forgetting that he gave all of it (after giving his agents their commission) to charity.

    So it’s not like he just got it all in small bills and is lounging around in a pile of money in his house like some greedy weirdo.

    He acknowledged the fact that it was a lot of damn money and he decided to do something good with it.

  38. iAmTheBuffalo @42: it’s nice that he gave it to charity, but if he hadn’t, so what?

  39. Neil sagaciously points out that the high speaking fee is to keep people from inviting him to things because he is, you know, a writer, who needs to write things.

  40. True, but as Neil pointed out, it’s really none of their damn business what he does with the money. He earned it. He even went so far as to verify that this wasn’t money being taken from the library’s budget, as it was a lot of money for a small library to pay.

    The goal of the fund, as I understood it, was to bring literary figures to small regional libraries in the ‘burbs, where people are. Gaiman’s appearance got people to come to the library, think about the library and discuss the library (before the controversy) and made them more aware of the library’s services and role in the community. The librarians felt, from what I’ve heard, that he succeeded. 500 people attended (which was as many as they could accommodate), it was played live and is now streamed on NPR in Minnesota and generated buzz.

    I would suspect the main reason that the money couldn’t be spent elsewhere is because the goal of the program was fairly specific and if they didn’t make it that way, it would never be used for that goal. The arts tend to be the first thing thrown under a bus in a tough economy; this was not the case, here. By making the funds expiring, they forced the library to actually fulfill the program.

    What I find hypocritical is that the newspaper that’s trying to make an issue of this has been pushing for a publicly-funded new stadium for the Vikings, to the tune of something like 17.5 million dollars…and they don’t consider THAT to be an unnecessary or frivolous use of public funds. Odd priorities, there.

  41. Good for Neil. He should get paid, he is sharing his knowledge and abilities with people. That sounds suspiciously like, you know, what we call work. Good Lord! He wants to get paid for his work??? What has the world come to?

    Seriously – if it got one person in the audience to pick up a book, it was well worth the money.

  42. To the person who suggested that few people complain about the salaries made by professional athletes, that is most assuredly not the case. People in this country are very petty in their opinions of others who have managed to realize the American Dream. Those with influence, such as the Star Tribune are quick to use that pettiness to forward their own agendas.

  43. The article quotes an “angry librarian” complaining about the fee. I know that librarian, it’s one of millions of clones, assigned one (or two or seven) to every single library in the world in a secret attempt to kill the joy of reading.
    Anyway, consider that Mr. Gaiman could live anywhere in the world and chooses to live in Wisconsin, and not on the super-neato Lake Michigan side either. So we know his decision-making abilities are suspect, and so deciding to take that 45 grand becomes more understandable. I don’t know why no one thought of this perfectly reasonable explanation before this.

  44. martin @48, if you followed the article, the Star Tribune apparently has absolutely no problem with high salaries paid to professional athletes, or huge amounts of money paid for arenas in which they may ply their trade. It’s only when money is spent on lit’rary stuff that the Star-Trib gets its presses in a bunch.

  45. “That $45,000 could have probably saved 2 people’s jobs”

    a) No, that’s maybe 1 person for one year with overhead (your costs to your employer are more than just your wage). Maybe.

    b) No, public funds are not fungible like that. We demand accountability from our public sector and.

  46. To all you folks out there, yes, the librarians absolutely should have said, “this is a poor use of funds”, and chosen to not use it, even if they were just going to “lose” it. Why? Because of the totally predictable reaction it got. So the money couldn’t be used for anything else. So what? If I’m in that library’s funding area, the next time they come asking me for money, say a bond issue to build a new one, my reaction is going to be that based on evidence, they can’t be trusted not to spend money frivolously, so not only ‘no’, but ‘hell no’.

    How long had they had the allocation? A year? And they didn’t find anything better to spend it on, along the way? That’s bad management, and deserves to be censured. What would have been better? One ‘rock star’ appearance blowing the whole thing, or say a monthly series, each paying the authors about 3-4 grand each?

    Yes, the librarians should have, in the end, decided not to squander the money and let it go back into the fund, where other wiser folks could use it.

  47. Daveon wrote:
    It may have already been stated here, but the funds in question were earmarked specifically for bringing in authors to suburban libraries around the Twin Cities. They could not be used for other purposes such as adding to staff, upgrading equipment or buying books.

    And may I also add, these libraries (not surprisingly) aren’t exactly going to be the top of a publisher’s wish list when planning a book tour. Oprah, yes. A suburban public library in Chicago — not so much…

    And while folks are bitching Neil over this, you don’t hear so much about the considerable efforts he’s made over the years to get his book tours off the well-worn track of major cities and big chain stores and into small indie and specialist booksellers that need all the publicity and sales they can get.

    Finally, if the Stillwater Library can point to Gaiman’s visit being a huge success for them, then they’ve got a stronger case for maintaining a dedicated speaker’s fund in an economy where public libraries are hardly complaining about the supertankers of high denomination bills being backed up to their door.

  48. Skip@52:
    To all you folks out there, yes, the librarians absolutely should have said, “this is a poor use of funds”, and chosen to not use it, even if they were just going to “lose” it. Why? Because of the totally predictable reaction it got.

    I take your point, but could I respectfully suggest that if a public library is going to make decisions based on “totally predictable reactions,” I’m feeling a chill down my spine. Don’t maintain your buildings or equipment, because its entirely predictable the local Tea Baggers who think books are a pointy-head elitist waste of taxes anyway are going to complain. Save yourself a headache and outsource your book buying to the local preachers…

  49. Count me in as another person who sees no problem here. It isn’t like that money would have fed the poor or healed the sick if it hadn’t gone to Neil Gaiman or another writer. Although, I suspect (because I’m a cynic) that if they had brought a more “literary” or “mainstream” writer in to speak, there wouldn’t have been nearly as much of an uproar.

  50. What would have been better? One ‘rock star’ appearance blowing the whole thing, or say a monthly series, each paying the authors about 3-4 grand each?

    Uh, the former?

    This is an easy game: both of us can make unsubstantiated assertions about what would be “better” and they can both equally valid! Excellent.

    (See, also: Opinion, Why Yours Is Not Equal To Fact.)

  51. Craig:
    Or as they say around here – “Who needs a library? Everything you need’s on the internet.”
    I might add that the ancestors of the tea partiers used to comment that you didn’t need computers in a library when a card catalog worked just as well. Not that they actually ever used a card catalog, they were just in the library because it was a polling place and they were there for their once-every-two-year effort to vote somebody out or kill a referendum.

  52. Skip @52, back up in @17 you said this was for “the good people of Minnesota” to decide; having had it pointed out to you that the good people of Minnesota were directly responsible for setting that money aside, you’re now complaining that the library actually used such funds as intended.

    And of course the nice thing about playing contrarian is that you’re always right in hindsight. If the library sets up a monthly lecture series with unknown or midlist authors, you can complain it was a poor use of funds because so few people will attend and they should have paid for one well-known author to give a speech. If the library lets the money go back to the fund, you can complain that the library failed to take care of its local constituency, let some other library grab an unfair share and did wrong that way. If they spend it earlier in the year, they should have saved it for a good opportunity later on instead of frittering it away early; if they wait till the last minute, they’re incompetent and desperate.

    You are right about “totally predictable”, but perhaps not in the way you intended.

  53. When I read the story first, the fund’s limitations (uses–I still don’t know if it’s only for speakers–and expiration dates) weren’t overly clear in the sources. Now that they’ve been made clear, I can only argue that those limitations seem to be counter-productive in certain ways. (The time limit particularly. I can understand having money set aside to bring in authors and artists and other speakers. I just can’t understand why it was allowed to get to the point where they had a surplus of 45K right before expiration. Why not plan ahead and get 5-10 excellent speakers instead of one astronomically famous one? Then you’d have ongoing draws for more people. Even if Gaiman were Teh Awesomest, he still draws from a particular demographic. Get more speakers, and you can draw in more demographics and excite more folks.)

    I also never had a beef with Gaiman charging out-there amounts of money for his time. I do the same thing with my art, and NOBODY knows who I am, but time is very important and a non-renewable resource. And if he can get 45K, more power to him. (I say this as a girl who has the collected Sandman, and most of his novels.)

    It is true that there’s a lot of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” for the library in question. And I don’t really blame them for saying, “Hey, money for speakers! It has to be used pronto? Let’s get Gaiman!” I just think there’s a leaky oversight in how these funds could be rolled over or otherwise implemented. (I don’t think the program should otherwise be abandoned either–but it would be nice to have some flexibility that could be voted on. After all, it’s probably a bit hard to take advantage of the Legacy program if you’ve had to cut your hours way back because of funding in other areas. I know as a library user, I’d prefer longer hours in the evening compared to one speaker, but that’s not how the funding was set up.)

  54. Writing, like any profession, is about making money.

    Even if the budgeted money wasn’t going to disappear, the man still deserves to be paid for his time.

    I know writers who charge 1,000+ a day for their services. It’s fun, it’s art, but it’s also business.

  55. pixelfish @59: and then they’d have people complaining “Why don’t you ever get any big-name authors in? You could pack the library if you had Neil Gaiman or Elmore Leonard or Stephenie Meyer come to speak, but no, you have a handful of unknowns and only a dozen people show up each time. Why can’t you stop wasting money like that and use it all to bring in one superstar who’ll have 500 people attend and MPR will stream the appearance live?”

    It’s possible that the library is managing its funds poorly. It’s also possible that the funds languished because events were canceled, or they managed it so wisely that they had a surplus, or because nobody could agree on how to spend the extra and suddenly with the end of the year looming they had an opportunity to bring in a Big Name. Who knows? I don’t, so I’m a little disinclined to re-enact the parable of the father, the son and the donkey.

  56. I think that at least part of this stems from the idea that Gaiman, popular as he is, is a “mere writer,” and that writers, particularly writers of science fiction and fantasy, aren’t supposed to be able to command large sums of money the way that movie stars, athletes and politicians do. When is the last time you saw a fantasy or SF writer (or any other author of fiction) on Leno or Letterman? Apart from the likes of Grisham or Clancy, you almost never see fiction authors on late night talk shows.* Writers are supposed to stay in their little ghetto and like it.

    Good on Neil for challenging this idiotic mindset, I say.

    *I know, Neil Gaiman has appeared on The Colbert Report, and Greg Bear once managed to get on The Daily Show, but even on those shows, fiction authors are rare. Stewart and Colbert much prefer authors of non-fiction books on politically timely topics.

  57. Neil Gaiman can and should charge whatever the hell he feels like charging for personal appearances and such. His time. His business. He is perfectly capable of finding the supply-and-demand price point that suits him.

    Was it a waste of Legacy Fund money? Well, the way the fund’s been handled might not please me if I were a Minnesotan, but that is what it was dedicated for, so it’s a question of particulars and not of the worth of the fund itself. And everyone’s gonna have their own opinion on how to handle such a fund. Anyone all that upset abut how it was handled should put in the time and effort to be in the position to make those calls. Dedication talks, whining walks.

    I suspect however that most gripers just want to gripe, and no matter what use it was put to, they’d object. In public service I meet these people every day. They mostly haven’t got Clue One about how real government budgeting and expenditure works, much less the straitjacket constraints usually placed on such dedicated funds. As someone noted above, had it not been spent on Gaiman it would NOT have gone back into the general fund to buy food for the hungry or anything, but to fund similar cultural events elsewhere.

  58. Hoorraaayyyyy Free Market Capatalism!

    If he can get that much, for just talking.. Why not? And if he feels guilty about it, there are any number of charity’s that he can give the money to who would love to have it. Or conversly, he could just blow it all on hats! Either way, Good for him!

  59. Has anyone else here every worked at a public library. Perhaps they make ’em from a different recipie up in the great state of Minnesota, but at the ones I’ve toiled in you couldn’t change the brand of toilet paper in the staff loo without several months of feasibility studies, environmental impact audits, consultation rounds and a six hour meeting of the management committee. Don’t think Gaiman got invited — and paid — on a whim. :)

  60. A couple people have mentioned pro athletes. That’s a completely irrelevant comparison as they’re not paid via public funds.

    I don’t have an issue with Gaiman getting whatever people will pay, but I’m not surprised that a high level summary of the issue got a reaction (“The library is paying an author $45,000 to speak”) given the background of tight government budgets. However, once a few details are known (that it came out of a fund earmarked for that purpose mainly) I can’t see the reason for continuing furor. IF the people of MN are annoyed that any one person gets this much, they can demand that when t his program is renewed it have a cap.

    Skip – forgive me if I’m misremembering here, but aren’t you one of those who, during other discussions about political issues, has maintained that the will of the people should be followed and not, say, courts? IF so, and the people of MN voted for this, what’s your beef?

  61. John said:
    “Aside from proof that the free market works sometimes”
    In what sense was this the free market? The people who spent the money were spending other people’s money, they had no upside for saving it, and no downside for spending it — a process about as far from a market as you can get.

    Matt @13 said:
    “Welcome to capitalism”
    See comment to John above. It ain’t capitalism when you spend money taken from other people.

    I don’t blame Gaiman from taking it, but if a substantial portion of his speaking fees are paid from similar pots of money, the “value” of an appearance and speech from him is distorted — he’s been subsidized by OPM — and it’s not a free market or capitalism from his end of the equation either.

    John Murphy @22 said:
    “And you can’t run a state with every single piece of it second-guessing whether it’s actually OK to spend the money that’s been allocated to it.”

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out, though? If California and Greece had been run that way, “default” wouldn’t be the first word thought of when discussing them.
    Besides, wouldn’t the libraries have a better idea of how their appropriations should be spent than the collective wisdom of the state legislature?

    mythago @33 said:

    “The only person who did not vote in favor (she abstained) was a member who had seen said author at a speaking event a couple of years prior. I never did find out why that influenced her vote.” HE grabbed her boobs??

  62. #20 Colleen: In a world where idiot grifter Sarah Palin can get $75-$100k for sneezing out someone else’s talking points…

    If might be worth paying Sarah Palin $45K to appear at a library, if only so she gets to see what the inside of one looks like.

  63. RickWhoIsNotThatRick@67,

    Regarding the comparison with pro athletes, it’s not as irrelevant as your comment suggests. The economic interplay between state/local governments, sporting franchises, and individual athletes is complex. I’m not claiming any particular expertise, but even I know that stadiums/arenas are funded via local bond issues. One study I saw said the state/local contribution to the construction costs was about 60% of the total, with the franchises picking up the rest. The franchises then lease the stadium/arena via a complex formula that involves various revenue streams. To the extent that funds are left over, the profit is returned to the franchise and not to the governmental entity. To some extent, that money covers some of the athletes’ salary costs that is paid by the franchise.

    Bill @ 68,

    The market was free with respect to Mr. Gaiman. He set a price for his time, and buyers could choose, or not choose, to pay the set price. They could even negotiate for a lower price (and Mr. Gaiman indicated he would accept a lower price in some circumstances). The fact that the library had public funds available to it does not change the fact that they could choose to use the funds to pay Mr. Gaiman’s appearance fee, or not.

    For example, if they had wished, they could have hired 10 different authors and paid each one $4,500, and had a group event.

    Your comment that “it ain’t capitalism when you spend money taken from other people” is spurious. Mr. Gaiman was allowed to compete in the marketplace for his own economic gain, he was permitted to set a price for his private property (his time), the marketplace determined that his price was fair, and the parties used the law of contracts to establish a pricing agreement. That is the very definition of capitalism.

  64. Nick @ 70 “The economic interplay between state/local governments, sporting franchises, and individual athletes is complex. ”

    tell me about it. I live in Seattle – we’ve had all three sports teams threaten to leave and the Sonics sold to an OK businessman who moved the team. We lost our first MLB team (they now play in Milwaukee, that’s right the Brewers were a Seattle team first). I’m as familiar with the interplay between sports teams and government as any lay person. And the comparison is still offbase – Gaiman was paid directly out of government funds budgeted for the purporse. No pro athlete is. People have short fuses for pro players for another reason I believe – when you make millions and hold out, dog it, play poorly for a long time you don’t have margin for excuses. Whining about motivation or having to play another position when you’re making millions doesn’t cut it with the people who mostly make $50k. None of that applies to Gaiman’s situation.

    @Bill – of course it’s the free market. Gaiman freely offers his services as a speaker for a given price. People are free to engage him or not. The fact that the money comes from the ogvernment doesn’t change the nature of the interaction at all. AS for ‘spending other peoples’ money’ that’s a silly objection – we can make the same comment about the roads in front of your house – those were paid by other peoples taxes. That’s what government DOES – it takes taxes and spends them on projects designed to benefit the citizens. If they diverge too much from what the citizens feel their taxes should be spent on it’s up to those citizens to get off their lazy asses and vote for other people. If it’s a minority of people who object and they are outvoted by others who DO approve of the general direction of the government, too bad. That’s representative democracy – it’s not a system that requires unanimity.

  65. Other than lending books and other materials, isn’t this what libraries are supposed to do? Bring the community together to enjoy a damn good author who possibly generated a lot of good press (I guess except from that newspaper that complained). Libraries put on community events all the time. They pay for people to do those community events all the time. That they were able to snag Gaiman is even better.

    I once listened to Ray Bradbury at our local library. I didn’t know or care how much the cost was. It was awesome.

    I’m glad to hear that he does donate to libraries. But if he didn’t donate this, so what.

  66. # Skip

    To all you folks out there, yes, the librarians absolutely should have said, “this is a poor use of funds”, and chosen to not use it, even if they were just going to “lose” it.

    I disagree. Well, maybe it’s a bad use of funds, but maybe it’s good advertising for the library. Maybe some of the 500 people who were there in person or some of the unknown number who listened on-line will stop by a public library a little more often or bug a legislator to increase funding. The library spent $45,000 on advertising and, even better, the money bought 500 people a fun afternoon and went directly to a guy who *personally* produces books that justify the libraries existence.

  67. Something interesting that Neil mentions in his post: he frequently will reduce his asking rate for worthy causes (like libraries) if someone asks him. In this case, he states, no one asked.

    Good for him that he can ask and get $45,000. But to echo what others have said, people can’t reasonably get mad at him for having someone meet his asking price. And if the citizens of MN voted for the fund to operate precisely the way it is described as operating, there are far worse uses to which the money could have been put (thinking of the whole Sarah Palin or Zac Effron thing here…).

    I haven’t gone to the newspaper’s site to see the comments there, but I haven’t seen anything here to suggest that any MN citizens are unduly outraged about this (perhaps John isn’t as popular in MN???). If it is their tax money being spent according to the law that they voted for, who am I to say them nay? Whether or not I agree with what they voted for is irrelevent – I don’t live there.

    But I have seen Neil live, and would gladly pay to do so again. I believe that that library got its money’s worth.

  68. “embiggened”. As I take the top of my right hand and slap it gently into the level palm of my left hand (Dave Letterman Style), there is your 45,000 damn dollars value right there folks!

    Neil Gaiman is a joy and a de – light.

  69. – State citizens vote to set up fund from tax levy for culture.
    – Fund sets aside money for libraries to bring in authors.
    – Library pays local author (Gaiman lives a 1/2 hour from the library in question) his regular speaking fee to speak.
    – Author considers it windfall money and donates it to charity.

    I’m failing to see the problem here.

    Oh I forgot:

    – Local newspaper with agenda against culture fund and for sports stadiums writes sensationalist front page story!
    – People all over world feel free to pontificate on how a local library spends funds allocated to it for a specific purpose.

  70. /begin rant/ The Strib is upset because the Vikings are not going to get their new stadium (and the Strib is not going to get to sell their site to them) and they’re angry that anyone else can get a cent of the State’s money. Or lack of money, anyway. And then this came along. Oh well./end rant/

    Or so it seems to me.

  71. Yet another reason I wish I lived in Minnesota.

    They’re still balanced out, of course, by the horrible power of winter’s icy grip.

  72. Ignorance is bliss. This is out of the same book as “City councillors take taxis for work and expense them to the city!? That’s an outrage!” and “Public sector executives get a pittance compared to the private sector, but I myself get a pittance compared to even them. Cut their salaries! Outrage!”

  73. I live in Minnesota. I voted for the referendum. I was not able to go to see Neil Gaiman speak (time constraints, plus limited seating). I did listen to his talk once it went up on the MPR page. Why? Not only did I pay for it, I wanted it (or something like it) to happen.

    I completely agree with bringing him in. There are tons of great reasons to do so, and few drawbacks. Yes, it cost a bunch of money. Sometimes really awesome things cost money. And Gaiman did his best to make sure his time was worth something close to what was paid for it. There are not a lot of areas that would have enough desire to contact someone like Gaiman to speak, and I am glad I live in one of them.

    So, will of the people, misbudgeting, whatever. This voter supports the decision.

  74. Last I checked, Salman Rushdie’s standard speaking fee is $30,000. Plus travel expenses, of course. I’m just glad Neil’s is bigger. :-)

    Michael Chabon I’m sure has a similarly large speaking fee, being a multiply-award-winning author with a book made into a popular movie too. And yet when we asked him to speak at a fund-raiser for the Speculative Literature Foundation, he very graciously did it for free.

    Anita Desai and Chitra Divakaruni both cut their usual speaking fee in half for community-based events I organized, when I emphasized the tightness of our budget.

    I gave a keynote speech for free at a small conference for undergraduate women of color a few weekends ago. But I charged several thousand + travel expenses when a sex toy party company (like Tupperware parties, but with sex toys) wanted me to fly out and talk about writing erotica at their annual motivational conference.`

    Speaking fees are complex calculations. Many folks will reduce their fees when there’s a good reason for it. But it’s still worthwhile to establish your price up front, so that those who can afford to pay it, do so.

  75. Why is it everyone is always so sure that someone else doesn’t need money?? Any idea what that other person’s expenses are? Or how much he or she gives to charity? Or how many relatives he or she is supporting? Or how much of his or her income goes to the tax department?

    But oh, the other person “doesn’t need” that fee. Of course not. How could he?

  76. I’m not sure I’d be happy with my state spending that much money in speaker’s fees when it could be spent keeping libraries open, (I was quite unhappy with my state college system paying the equivalent of a professor’s annual salary to Sarah Palin for one speaking engagement while raising student fees) but that’s something to take up with the state, not with the speaker.

    From Gaiman’s end of things, charging $45,000 so people won’t ask him to speak very often sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

  77. Nick: the marketplace determined that his price was fair, and the parties used the law of contracts to establish a pricing agreement. That is the very definition of capitalism.

    well, one party was essentially the state, paying the other party from money that eventually came from taxes. it’s a form of socialism, really, just on a small scale.

    Which is fine by me. Sometimes socialism is the best way to go. I’d rather not have Interstate66 owned by Penzoil and Interstate51 owned by British Petroleum, each with their own toll systems, and additional “access fees” to take a ramp.

  78. Well, a quick canvas of my fellow librarians here at work showed Mr. Gaiman’s idea of setting so high a fee that he doesn’t get asked to speak that much, so he can do his writer thing and write, would of worked. We would not have engaged his services and would have instead created a series of Author Talks. Yup, quite happily would have spent all the cash, maybe gotten some refreshments brought in and generally had a good time. So colour me jealous of having that kind of money to spend on authors or really any program.

  79. There are many authors whose books I think totally suck, yet who are popular, and good public speakers, and would easily pack a library if they were to make a public appearance. If a library hired one of those folks, I’d cheer them on – why not invite an author whose work many people adore, who gives good speaking appearance, and who would draw many more folks to attend and/or support their local library?

  80. Library Mark @85: “Yup, quite happily would have spent all the cash, maybe gotten some refreshments brought in and generally had a good time. ”

    Really? The grant guidance allows for food and drink? Color *me* jealous then. All our grants specifically do not permit spending it on food, except for a per diem during conferences and off-site training. If we buy food for events/meetings we host, it has to come out of our general fund.

    Grants are funny things. You have to read the fine print.

  81. That’s quite a high speaking fee for an SF writer. If Neil Gaiman can actually get it, then more power to him (he must really NOT like doing speaking engagements). My only take is that they could have gotten someone as good or better for perhaps half that price, even if they had to eat the rest of the funds allocated. Might have been worth it depending on how big a deal this becomes locally and how it affects future funding. My suspicion is that this situation is very unlikely to happen again as it really wasn’t the optimal use of that amount of funding (one could run a good speaker’s series for that amount, drawing in lots more people, for example)

  82. I admit to being a bit curious about the time that the library had to spend the money. It takes time to set up such things, messages back and forth, … and it may be that the contract with Mr. Gaiman became the feasible way of spending the money so that there would be more money next year. Minnesota’s going to be doing budget cuts, and the formulas used for such things tend to exaggerate unused funds — not only do you not get them again, but you get less because you “asked for too much”. It’s a wasteful game, but that’s what much of politics is.

  83. coolstar @ 89:

    My only take is that they could have gotten someone as good or better for perhaps half that price…

    one could run a good speaker’s series for that amount, drawing in lots more people, for example

    I don’t think you grasp just how popular and just how good Neil Gaiman is. I’m told he drew 500 people, which was the fire code capacity for the library’s facility. I’ve no doubt that he could have drawn over twice that if the library had a large enough facility.

  84. 45k seems quite high, to me (being about a year’s worth of my income), but I’m willing to bet that Gaiman regularly donates Appearances to various Good Causes.

    If there is a culprit, it’s the “use it or lose it” policy common in both government & private businesses.

    Otherwise, what I’m seeing here is a tempest and a tea-pot … and some people who don’t think it’s a proper function of Government to promote the cultural aspect of the commonweal. So I *shrug* — and think even more highly of Gaiman (much of whose writing I don’t especially like) as a person than I did before.

  85. @coolstar

    they could have gotten someone as good or better for perhaps half that price

    Sure, you might think Rosemary Rasberry is a much better author and even a better speaker, but I don’t think you could find any author who is going to generate the excitement in a library community that Neil Gaiman does today. Who would you pick? Does that person have the wide appeal and the track record for gracious behavior that Gaiman does?

    As someone pointed out you could get someone for a couple of thousand dollars that would bring in a small percentage of the crowd for roughly the same per capita cost.

    Moreover, no one is going to listen to Rosemary Rasberry on MPR. I’m surprised tht no one seems willing to calculate the value for all those radio listeners, and for the fact that the recorded talk will exist in perpetuity.


    I just don’t see this your way. It seems like a once in a lifetime experience for library goers and a fine experience for thousands of radio listeners, and even if these are tough economic times, I believe in our need for art and artists. If I were a Minnesotta taxpayer, I’d think the artist is worthy of his hire.

  86. I don’t see how Gaiman donating the fee to charity is relevant. He earned the money, he disposed of it as he wished. If he spent it on bitchin’ red sports car, that would be fine, too. His money, his business. Seriously, I’d like to see more f/sf authors tooling around in red sportscars; it would be good for the genre’s image.

    As for the library, it was allocated the money, the librarians and others involved in the decision to hire him to speak probably have a pretty good idea of local tastes, and it seems from the size of the audience that they made a pretty good call.

    Here in Illinois, we do things differently. The library would have caved in to pressure to spend the money to pay a state senator’s brother-in-law to do a reading from his latest Twilight fanfic; the brother-in-law would have scheduled the reading for a time that he was supposed to be working his county job, and then wouldn’t show up to either and would still cash both checks.

  87. The value of any product or service is exactly what consumers will pay for that service or product, no more and no less (econ 101). If organizations are willing to pay $45K for a speaker’s presentation, then that is exactly what it is worth.