Let me make one thing clear before I dig into this: Like anyone who was a college student at one time, I’ve learned to love free things. Who doesn’t really? That said, working in the publishing industry has caused me to greatly reconsider freebies, and actually grow to dislike them. Let me explain-
Before digital books and e-readers existed, doing a 100-book giveaway was so not a thing that happened for most publishers. Especially for CQ, still only 3 years old and learning to walk and talk, giving away hard copy books isn’t something we do everyday, and almost always is a straight loss for us. But we don’t live in the ’90s anymore (RIP Walkmans and cassette tapes) and e-Books do (thankfully) exist.
As you all of you know, this led to an insanely large boom in new authors, and the amount of books being published each year, which at first I was flapping around about. Now though, I’m feeling more like Gob from Arrested Development.
Since there are so many books competing for attention over each other (and, let’s be honest, Netflix), many without the resources of big publishers, the obvious way to earn more sales and attention was to offer your book cheaper, and since the cost of printing was zero, why the hell not, right? Wrong. Because the price keeps getting lower, and giveaways and freebie prizes are so amok that the market demand is essentially nonexistent. I have friends who read maybe a book a month, if that, and yet whenever there is a free e-Book, they download it, because why not? One friend in particular is working full-time, taking night classes for her masters, and she has over 300 books on her ereader that are unread. There’s no way she is reading even a third of those in the next year, so the benefit of awareness and promotion from that freebie isn’t going to happen. She’s also not likely to pay for a book for quite a while either, since she already has so many at her fingertips. This would-be customer is now completely off the market. Now imagine that happening thousands of times over. Not only has the supply grown like a teen on steroids, the demand has been halved at best.
The price dispute between Amazon and various publishers is a hard debate, because on one side, people have to eat, and get their dues to do so. On the other hand, who is going to pay $25 for one book when you could get 25 books for the same cost? No one. The bigger issue here with eBooks is that people view them as zero cost items that are pure profit for publishers and authors when that is simply no where near the case. Yes, a substantial amount is saved by not printing the book, but the fees for artists, editors, beta readers, publisher staff, and submitting books to retailers’ systems doesn’t go away. More to the point, if I was an author, and had spent the better part of a year or three working on a book that was then told it will only sell at 99 cents, I would feel incredibly diminished, how about you?
I’m not saying I support cartelization, being illegal and all, but perhaps we as publishers, authors, and readers, need to agree to respect the time, effort, money, and stress that goes into making a novel. By pricing them reasonably (at least $3, I mean really), and as readers actually buying books for their quality, not the latest free download, and supporting the authors that we do love, we could do quite a bit more for our authors, and the publishing system. Thoughts?