Recently, I wrote a post about Self-Publishing and book pricing (you can read it HERE), and through writing that post, talking with friends, and viewing the impact that my previous post had on Twitter, Tumblr, and Goodreads, I decided to write a follow-up post, concerning what I've deduced about books from my findings and chats.
Books -- e-books, namely -- have become very inexpensive. This is simply a fact. Books are, perhaps, less expensive than they have ever been before (films along with them, though video games appear to be steadily increasing in price; one can't say the same for film downloads as for film tickets, however, but I'll talk about that in a minute). And if we -- yes, I say 'we', because I hope I'm not the only one who feels this is unfair -- don't ban together, the price of books, and also their value in people's (readers AND writers) eyes will diminish, as well.
You might be reading this, and think that the low price of books is not that big of a deal; you are not alone. Unfortunately, while books have become less expensive, everything else seems to have become more expensive, and there are such business things as supply and demand, cost, etc. to think about. But, it makes me wonder...I may not be the best with math, and I may not be the most successful nor proficient businesswoman to walk the planet (though I do my utmost), but when it comes to demand...why are books, some of the bestselling things on giant websites like Amazon, so inexpensive, and yet they are in such high demand?
I believe there are a few reasons for this. One can argue that books are selling because they are inexpensive, and I am sure that this is true to some degree. If a reader knows that they can pick up four full-length novels for less than five dollars, chances are they will come back regularly, especially if they are an avid reader. However, aside from the pricing point, I believe there is another factor as to why books are becoming (and staying) so low in price, and this is it:
Inadvertently, perhaps, by making books so readily available for such low prices (not to mention free online in various places) at the beginning of the self-publishing e-book boom, authors and companies alike have made literature cheap, in both price and in importance.
Now, I am in no way attempting to step on any toes, or to say that writers don't appreciate their work, and that there aren't readers who appreciate it, as well. There are most certainly many of both. As a writer, I cannot say that I haven't priced my books low to capture the attention of readers, or offered free e-books -- because face it, there are so many books out there, it's hard to get recognition, and not get lost in the crowd, and this is marketing, as well -- but I will never say that I priced them low because I wanted to; just the opposite. I started the self-publishing game late, and I had a lot to learn, and by the time I got a handle on the ever-changing market (as much as it can be handled), books had already become so cheap that it was difficult to ask anything more than practically nothing for my literature, because readers were not familiar with me, and no one really wants to buy a book from someone that they haven't read before, anymore (that is a whole other topic, however). Consequently, I believe that readers, having grown used to the idea that books are or should be extremely underpriced have become accepting of the idea, and may not understand how they could be hurting their favorite authors, or books in general, by supporting these low prices -- and consequently, how their continued support of low prices might harm literature in the future.
I personally hope that books can find a happy medium; what it might be, I don't know. Authors never do forget that not all readers have plenty of money to spend -- especially when that author might not make enough off their books in a month to buy a cup of coffee for themselves. I mentioned coffee last time, and how disheartening and downright heartbreaking it was to see readers complaining that even books they may rate 4 or 5 stars are too expensive, when they cost less than coffee, but it wasn't until I was speaking to a fellow writer recently that we, together, really began to realize how serious of a problem this issue causes.
In pondering the sadness of the fact that it's alright for coffee to cost more than a good book, my friend and I began to wonder why exactly it was that people in general were okay with this idea, and why they would rather pay for coffee than for a book, which will take them much longer to savor. The question we ultimately posed was this:
Have literature and reading become a mundane for most people, instead of an escape -- a thrill, a hobby, an interest, a passion?
It would seem that the answer is: yes. I can't say for anyone else, but I usually buy coffee because it is something I enjoy, something that I want to savor, a treat that I treat myself to. It isn't a chore, and I don't do it because I feel like I have to, or because I want to wake up (no effect there, sorry), or because it's just something I've always done. But, say coffee is just a norm for you -- okay, so what about film tickets? Plenty of people enjoy going to see a good (hopefully) film, and will pay ridiculous prices to see it in 3-D, and eat dinner while they are out; they are treating themselves to something they enjoy, and that is great (I love films). I love theme parks, and they are expensive too, but I wouldn't want to miss out on the experience. And what about sports games, or theatre, or clothes shopping, or hunting, or anything else that is a hobby and is enjoyable? It seems to me that reading has lost some of its enjoyment, and that is reflected in the cheap prices, and hastily written manuscripts, and sometimes awful covers. And, most of all, it is reflected in the author's measly paycheck.
I love art, of all kinds. I think artists overall do not receive enough for their efforts -- and there is plenty of effort put into any work of art. Last time, I calculated even a quickly written 60,000 word novel would take over 90 hours to pen (minus cover art, marketing, etc.), with more like 300 to 600 being a realistic norm. It kills me that our readers seem to think all that is worth is $0.99...which might give me $0.35 for my effort, in the end.
I don't want to see the world lose its appreciation for literature, self-published or traditionally published. I don't want to see books become penny candy. I work too hard for that; we as authors work too hard for that. There is a reason the saying of 'To write, open a vein and bleed' exists. And, honestly, readers deserve better than this 'cheapness', too. Eventually, a disheartened author might want to either give up or not write the masterpiece that they could write -- because it seems as though it's all for naught. If not even large name authors can price their new works at $10.00, then no one is going to want to bother writing a good, not to mention decent book, because if they can't make something from their stories, then how are we, the lesser-knowns, supposed to? Why is it wrong to want decent money for your story? Why is it wrong to not want to work for free, or for very little, when so much time is spent 'on the clock'? Writing is not a profession that one should expect to make millions from (unless you're very lucky), but that doesn't mean it should be wrong to want to make something.
The biggest thing to any writer is that the reader enjoys the story, but when readers say your work is too expensive, it's like saying you're not good enough, like you're not worth that cup of coffee your reader might have bought their best friend -- it's like saying your work is cheap, and you are cheap, even if the reader praises the book, and really means well...because you spent time on it, and you know it's not trash, and it shouldn't be priced like it's trash; it's part of you, and it's important to you. I don't know about other authors, but hearing this makes me feel like: "Well, if you like my writing, if you praise it and enjoy it, then why isn't it important to you, too? You got behind J.K. Rowling, and James Patterson, and Nicolas Sparks, and Cassandra Claire, and all of those other authors -- why not me?".
So, what can be done about this? Readers, I hope this has opened up your eyes a bit. We as authors wouldn't be anywhere without you; you keep us going. We love that you love our work, and we appreciate your support, but at the same time, I think we deserve more. I'm not saying that books should be ridiculously priced -- no -- but I do believe that there needs to be a change. We are worth more, our time is worth more, and our stories are worth more. I don't want my life's work to be nothing more than one cup of coffee.
So, if you're a reader, please think about this, and please say something to your fellow readers. Speaking out is one of the best ways to be heard. And authors, please do the same. Let everyone know what you think, ban together with other authors. I think it's really high time we started saying something, and reminding everyone that, hey, we all have our things that we're passionate about -- but I'm passionate about literature, and I don't want my passion to go to waste; this is important to me, not just another fad, not just something that should be thrown away. Blog about it, talk about it, make videos, make gifs, write books, do whatever you can, but make your voice heard, and connect with other authors. I'm happy to help pass the word along!
Literature is still important. It doesn't matter if it has become a social thing, or if it's electronic, or if anyone can publish or not. Literature has not stopped being important -- but if we don't say something, some day it might not be considered as important, and that will truly be a sad day.