As author of a book in e-book and a paperback formats, the whole e-books price fixing saga is of some interest.
For one, it seems a trifle odd, and perhaps troubling that this appears to be more of a techie, IT geek issue than an issue for the book industry. Most of the coverage I’ve seen comes from IT media.
Second, and perhaps related, the discussion so far seems to have largely ignored the role of readers and writers and to focus on the business aspect of publishing. I call them – well, us, because I’m one – writereaders. We read because we write and and write because we read.
As such, I appreciate ebooks being available at significant discounts to paperbacks and hardcovers. While I can claim book purchases as a tax deduction – writer’s perk – I have never believed a paperback novel is worth $35 off the shelf. Especially when the writer is likely to get maybe $8 from each sale.
As a result, I feel I should lay out some karma and make my own books reasonably priced and accessible.
I prefer to see us all as part of a writing and reading continuum. It’s a bit like pedestrians and drivers. Each is obliged to respect the other, and that is aided by the fact that we can be, at given times, either. We therefore understand the rules of the road by being in close, possibly daily, contact with both sides of the equation.
So too, for writereaders. As a reader I want reasonably priced books and as a writer I feel I am therefore compelled to put my money (lack of) where my pen is and make my books reasonably priced too. I want people to read my books. I want them to be accessible. that’s why I am keeping my ebook at $3.99 and my paperback at $25.
The business models that the allegedly colluding publishers are working on – whereby higher prices must be implemented to justify the profits of the publishing industry – are not sustainable. Authors (real authors, not celebrities) want to be read. That bottom line is at least equal to, if not more important, than all other issues. Almost everyday I wake up and I have to write. That I can (sometimes) get paid for it is a fluke of circumstance and something for which I’m grateful.
For most of us, if we can make a living writing, that’s great. Everything else is a bonus. I work hard to make a better income, but I am driven by my ideas, not my pathetic bank balance. While stardom and massive fortune are goals we all have, not all of us will make it there. Having a major publisher doesn’t necessarily help.
To make a living as a writer is a privilege, but for most of us its a job. And we need a market. As such, pricing ourselves out of the market is both bad business and, in a wider sense, irresponsible. Our job is important and we should value it not just in terms of the economic rewards we might reap, but also in the contribution we make to the culture of ideas and thinking.
Books are not just sales units. They are somebody’s sweat and often tears. They should be available to as many people as possible because each is a reflection of our context, our times. Good books or crap books all have their place, their market. If Amazon, for now, is manipulating the system by making Kindles cheap and keeping the prices of books down to build the e-book market, then so be it. For now, many can benefit from that.
There are a lot of upsides for cheap (and occasionally free) e-books and the most important is that it can undercut the oligopoly of the big publishers, not to put them out of business, but to even up the market and make good quality books more accessible. There are problems with e-books too, but nothing’s perfect.