Of Straw Men and Middlemen

I've been meaning to write something about Interstellar since seeing it on Saturday, but I feel like I need to see it again before committing to anything. It's a complicated, frustrating movie, and it isn't exactly the film I thought I was going to be seeing, so I'd like to see it again before committing to anything.

I know I should let this go, but Mr. Scalzi posted three more tweets in defense of "middlemen" and they've been stuck in the forefront of my thoughts ever sense. Here's what he had to say:

My initial reaction was "Does the word 'middleman' even mean what I think it means? I've been terribly wrong about words I thought I knew, so I checked the ol' dictionary and came up with this:

noun: middle-man
a person who buys goods from producers and sells them to retailers or consumers.

”we aim to maintain value for money by cutting out the middleman and selling direct”

Ok, that's pretty much exactly what I had been thinking. Anyone who adds value to the product is, by definition, not a "middleman." The middleman doesn't enter the equation until after whatever you're selling has been proofed, edited, typset, etc. The book is finished by the time the middleman enters the equation. 

Now, I know approximately nothing about business of publishing.. I don't know how cleanly you can make the distinction between "middleman" and "not-middleman." I know that, in the music industry, when you talk about "middlemen," you're talking about the major labels, distributors, wholesalers, and your retailers like Peaches and Tower and most especially Wal-Mart. 

I'm guessing these aren't the types of middlemen that Scalzi is defending. I think we're just talking past each other. I think we're just taking two different meanings of the word "middleman" and talking about two very different industries (as the discussion was originally about music). I hope that's the case. He doesn't seem like the sort to go off the handle when his fans are trying to say "I wish more of the purchase price went to the people who actually worked on the books you write."

OK, enough on this. I happen to love John Scalzi's work (the first e-book I purchased was one of his), I love his tweets, and I love reading his blog. We differ on this issue and I could well be in the wrong. I just couldn't get it out of my head until I put it down on something paper-ish.