Sharon S. (whom you may recognize as one of the fantastic reviewers from I Smell Sheep) posted a link to an article from the Huffington post – Are E-Books Too Cheap? The article discusses the pros and cons of pricing your ebooks cheap and asks whether low prices devalue the authors work.
Ho hum hem ha.
The problem is that authors talk about two different value systems interchangeably and with no distinction. One, the value of the finished product; the story itself. Two, the value of the time and effort spent to create the product. In many cases, those two values have little to do with one another. A great book might only have taken a month to do, meanwhile a horrible book might have taken three years. It’s the same for all of the arts.
For example, music. I’ve never written/composed/recorded music, but I know it’s a long, arduous, agonizing process to achieve quality. However, I’m not buying that song or album because of the process (time, effort, etc) I’m buying that song for the product. It’s the value of the song itself that I, as a consumer, care about, not the value of their time.
The same goes for a painting, a movie, a cartoon, a drawing, etc. etc. Consumers pay for the end result – the product – or the name signed in the corner – still part of the product. They don’t care if it took you six months or six years to complete it. They aren’t reimbursing your time.
This leads me to a conversation I had a few days ago on the Self Published Author’s Lounge. I commented that I’ve been told before (and I have) that I’m not a “serious” writer because making money is not my first concern. Another author commented that there should be a distinction between being serious about writing and being serious about making money. Yes! I agree completely. There’s a reason that the “starving artist” stereotype exists. They are the ones who are serious about their “art”, not about the money, while the business minded tend to churn out what the market wants and what will sell because their goal is to make money. Personally, I chose indy publishing to avoid that mindset.
I price my books cheap. Why? Because my goal is to have readers, not make a fortune. Sure, I’d like to make money, but mainly I want to entertain people. Does that make me a vanity author? Is there any other type? Only someone vain enough to think their words have meaning would attempt to be an author or expect someone to pay for their work. YES! We’re all vain! Just like the painters are vain, and musicians are vain and photographers are vain! We want to show people the word through our eyes because we think that our version of it is spectacular! And despite what some people lip service, there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. If you don’t have that ego, then you’re not pushing your work out there in the first place.
This is where determining the value comes in. We’re pretty much all vain, selfish people (I can admit it!). We poured hours of our soul, spirit, tears and sweat into this work of art; we put a part of ourselves into it, and we deserve compensation! The problem is, that your soul, tears and sweat can’t really BE compensated. I have greedy moments where I start to think “I’m worth more than this!”. Then I stop, sit back, and think about when JK Rowling sued the Harry Potter Lexicon – whom she’d previously supported – because *she* was going to put out an encyclopedia and theirs would infringe on hers. The funny thing is, as a Harry Potter fan, I’d have bought both. After that, I now refuse to buy any more of her books. I’m not stupid enough to think my one or two sales are going to matter to her, but they matter to me.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be paid, because we should. There is a product to be paid for. The problem is how much do we “deserve”? How do we determine the value of the finished product? By the hours we spent on it? (in that case each of my books is worth less than the one before because I’m getting better and need less hours of editing) By the monetary investment you put into it? (That makes my entire series worth 55$) Or is it by the enjoyment people get out of reading the story? Call me idealistic and childish, but that’s how I like to think people value my book. Not as something that took me six months to do, but as a good story that they enjoyed and want to read again.