Is this really all your book is worth?

This week’s Guardian article about the death of books, writing and writers was called Are Books Dead and Can Authors Survive? I did find myself wondering, for just a moment, if The Guardian is mounting its own crusade to see us all off – they have one of these articles nearly every week.

Anyway, I sneaked a look at the words and was dragged into an article full of doom and gloom.

I realise this kind of article is intended to provoke a reaction and get people talking (otherwise what’s the point, right?) but there’s one thing that stood out for me. ‘The Free Revolution’ as the author of the article calls it. And you know, it got me thinking, because there’s something to this.

More and more, I think, people expect something for nothing. As if the world owes them something. It’s everywhere. And this is particularly true for artistic pursuits – books, music, films, games. It feels as if there are consumers of these things who believe they should be free. Well, here’s what I say to that. ‘Bollocks’. If you want to read a book, listen to music or watch a film that someone’s spent a long time over, working hard to create, then you should pay a fair price for it.

Which brings me to ebooks.

I don’t own a kindle, but I do own an iPad. I don’t, however, use it as a reading device, so I’m not really all that knowledgable about ebooks and how easy (or not) it is to pirate them. However, the article in The Guardian talks about ebooks, so it prompted me to check out the Kindle store to see what ebooks are selling and what kind of price they go for. I noticed that 99p seems to be pretty common; even 49p.

Is this really all your book is worth?

49p? Is that all it’s worth? That’s less than the price of a chocolate bar that’s mass produced and eaten in seconds. Cheaper than a pint that’s drunk down and pissed out and forgotten. Cheaper than a pack of paperclips or post-it notes. What’s going on? This is a book we’re talking about here. Something unique that someone has created from nothing. It’s designed to bring pleasure, entertainment, shock, excitement, nostalgia, horror, fear, tears, happiness, comfort, disgust, arousal –  it’s made to take you somewhere you’ve never been, show you things you’ll never see . . .

So perhaps someone can enlighten me about how this works. Maybe the 49p book is being sold as a loss leader? Is it thin? Is it badly written? Is this all the author/publisher thinks it’s worth? What?

My books on kindle sell for around £4.99 which seems fair enough to me. I spend a long time working on a book. I craft it very carefully. I check and recheck; read and reread to make sure it’s the best I can make it. My agent reads and checks. I re-edit. My editor edits. I re-edit. It’s copy edited. I re-edit. It’s proof-read. I re-edit. A graphic artist designs a cover . . . it’s time consuming, it’s careful work and it’s worth more than 49p? Surely?





6 thoughts on “Is this really all your book is worth?

  1. I have to be careful what I write here… …

    First, is anyone’s work worth the same as a chocolate bar? In my opinion, of course not. (‘Publishing type thinks price is too low’ shocker!) But then as you note, that’s not how much of the book-buying population thinks nowadays, particularly GenY. Indeed, any digital content (music, film, TV, books, even live sport) now has the pressure of a market expectation that prices should be low.

    After all, there are no print, paper, ink, binding, warehousing or distribution costs, right? Never mind that those costs account for much less than 20% of a book’s price. Never mind that ebooks in the UK attract the full 20% VAT whilst the print books are zero-rated. Never mind that, in reality, between those tax implications and the cost of IT infrastructure, publishers actually make less money from an ebook compared to its print edition… the general perception is that digital content is close to worthless and should be priced accordingly.

    Piracy also plays a large part here. It is so ridiculously easy to find and download an unprotected (hacked) illegal copy, and the act is so anonymous and wide-sweeping, that file sharing/swapping almost seems like an inevitability. Couple that with unimaginative legislation from the government (Hargreaves… call that a report?!), and it’s little wonder that ANYONE continues to pay cash.

    Certain online booksellers (mentioning no names) are also doing their damndest to commodify digital content, ofetn employing practices such as deep discounting (where they actually lose money on every sale) has without doubt helped to set up and sustain this market expectation of pricing. Of course, once that seed was sown into the customer’s mind, they could afford to allow publishers once again to dictate price and somewhat disingenuously publish on their product pages “The publisher is responsible for setting this price”. Charming!

    Of course, weighing against the traditional pricing models is the very real fact that some people have made a lot of money selling novels at $0.99. I’m sure we all read how one or two self-publishing authors ave made a million from Kindle sales of their book, priced at 0.99 and 0.49. But those are exceptional. If it was really that easy everyone would be at it making millions.

    All of the above is neither here nor there. It is perhaps an explanation of how we find ourselves in this conundrum, that someone’s creative work of several years is finally sold for less than the price of a KitKat. But it doesn’t change the fact that the old models are changing. It is indeed easier to self-publish now, it is possible to self-promote, we are publishing more and more book year on year, and the balance of power in the publishing chain has shifted to resellers and service providers (don’t think of a Kindle ebook as a product, instead imagine that you are merely buying a service where some content is licensed to you).

    The fact is that the market now expects ebooks to be cheaper than their print editions. People expect to be able to buy it immediately, to have it within 30 seconds of paying for it, and to be able to treat it as a disposable commodity. If the price point for all books does eventually dip below $1, even for the big publishing houses, then the only hope for our authors is that the book-buying market grows massively, and that ebooks are sold in greater and greater volume.

    I believe in fairies.

  2. You mention piracy and how easy it is to download illegal copy and that highlights an important point. At least, I think it’s important. Many people seem to be of the opinion that if it’s there, and it’s easy, then it’s OK to steal it. There are ways to justify it – ‘If I’d had to pay for it, I wouldn’t have downloaded it, so the author/artist/publisher isn’t losing a sale . . .’ etc. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s theft. I imagine there are a lot of people who were outraged at yoofs walking into Argos and Sports Direct (or whatever it was) during the recent looting and walking away with things they hadn’t paid for, but they’d happily download a song/book/film to their pc without paying for it.

    As for those writers who make wads of cash selling 49p books, well, I don’t suppose the club’s very big. And for every one of those self-published (‘indie’) authors who can write and properly edit their work, I bet there are a thousand who publish badly written and badly edited books which people pay for – that, is the reason for the devaluation, is it not? A reader can afford to lose 49p if what they’ve bought turns out to be crap. At least with a conventionally published novel there’s some level of assumption that the words have been through some kind of corrective editorial process. (Editors are invaluable, I really believe that.)

    For me, though, I’d rather pay £8 for one good book than £8 for 16 crap ones.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more Dan, on all points. Downloading a book from a pirate site (or indeed any site) without paying for it is theft. The sad thing is that much of the public just doesn’t see it that way. Hence the pressure on the government to change copyright laws to be less restrictive.

      And much of the self-published stuff is indeed dross, badly edited, not proofread professionally. I too would far rather pay £8 for a lot more quality assurance, but once again not everyone sees it like that. What those authors are doing is creating a sausage factory of novels. They price it low so that people can’t object to the lower quality. The net effect is devaluing and commodification of books. It’s cheap because it’s crap, and it’s crap because it’s cheap. An ever decreasing circle.

      It’s a conversation for another time, but the rise of the ‘spam’ book is the logical outcome to all of this unqualified ebook publishing. There is software out there for you to type n a few keywords on a topic, and then the machine will trawl the internet for freely available content (e.g. Wikipedia articles) on those keywords and typeset them automatically into a book which is uploaded automatically (again) by the software onto Amazon Kindle where the individual charges what they like and it is printed on-demand. I bought one recently as an author thought they were plagiarising his book. They weren’t, but what I received was nothing more than a bunch of loosely-related Wikipedia articles reproduced and bound into a book. How much did this ‘old rope’ cost?


      I kid you not! So here’s a problem from the other side: crap peddled as highly niche/valuable books. When the customer buys it, even if they complain to Amazon and they take it down, the scammer just puts it up again under another title.

      Our industry is being besieged from all sides!

    • Someone once told me that “cream always rises”. I.e. the best always ends up on top. Your novels are the gold top to the self-publisher’s UHT. 🙂

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