What Is The Value Of Literature?

This morning, I participated briefly in a discussion about reading preferences between ebooks and physical books. In the course of the discussion, it became clear to me that there is an expectation on the part of consumers that a title presented to them in digital form should be priced dramatically lower than its print counterpart or, in many cases, it should be free.

While I can accept that ebook pricing by and large should be set on a different tier to its print counterpart, the concensus view point made me angry.

Readers have very little concept of the work an author puts into creating,  writing, editing and producing a story. When an author commits to a project, it can consume anywhere up to a couple of years of your life. The amount of research, character development, story development, editing, proof reading that is required of a writer is significant – and that’s before the manuscript is handed over to an editor and publisher.

At the end of that writing journey, when you have done everything to ensure that your story is the best possible story it can be, to be confronted with the kind of mentality that says – “oh I would never pay more than X amount of dollars for an ebook” or “I only read free titles” or I don’t believe ebooks are real books…”

It actually angers me.

The one side effect of the explosion in digital reading I’ve observed is the degradation in the value of writing as a craft by consumers and the degradation of the value of literature as a whole.

It is something that, I believe, should be addressed and challenged.

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2 Comments

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  1. A few things:

    1) To quote Joe Konrath “Nobody owes you a living”. It may seem frustrating that ebooks are expected to be cheaper, but truth is, I as a writer WANT to sell my ebook just as cheap as I can. I’ve spent over a thousand getting my book online, but putting it at just 3.99, I can recoop everything I lost in just a few hundred sales. Note that a reader base can reach the MILLIONS.

    2) Ever since the economy tanked, people have become more stingy with their money. I actually approve of this. Yes, this means I have to work harder to convince those people to buy my book versus just download it, but if the pitch is right, they will buy. 3.99 is less than the amount of food I consume in a day.

    3) I disagree with this notion that people look down on self-publishers. Yes, some do because they’re used to Big Publishers being the only source for books, and some self-publishers do not care to improve their writing before trying to sell online. But the times for publishing are changing. I’ve witnessed it ever since I began writing in 2011. It was almost inconceivable to self-publish at all, yet more and more people are doing it. Big Publishers often say that ebooks are flat, but the truth is self-published books are on the rise. I encourage you to look up Hugh Howey and Author Earnings.

    From my perspective, there’s nothing to address, and nothing to challenge. By selling our books cheaper, the market is shifting. Every day, more people are gearing away from big publishers. Keep a positive attitude, and witness with me the events unfold.

    • To be clear, I consider the 3.99 price point to be a perfectly acceptable price for a digital title. My publisher and I regularly track the market to see where the “sweet spot” is for pricing and of course, we don’t deny the realities of physical as opposed to digital.

      It’s when I see authors discounting their work down to 99 cents and/or offering it for free (for certain periods) because of a perceived need to satisfy the market – that’s when I get annoyed. To me, they are devaluing themselves as writers and they are allowing the market to devalue their work.

      Sure, the economy may have tanked but I don’t believe that authors be they independent or represented should react to that so acutely. I go back to an oft used but perfectly valid adage of the cup of coffee. One doesn’t think to lay down some coin for their preferred cup – an experience that might last 10 minutes tops. But they baulk at the notion of investing the same amount for a much longer, rewarding experience.

      I absolutely think that these notions of literary value – regardless of the form in which they come – deserve to be discussed and challenged.

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