Are Cheap eBooks Ruining Literature?
Okay, I’ll bite.
Chad Post at Publishing Perspective posted an interesting bit of link bait in a post claiming that cheap eBooks are destroying people’s minds.
While the post doesn’t actually live up to its premise, it does provide some food for thought, essentially saying that cheap books are destroying traditional publishing.
It doesn’t help that the author (a publisher, himself) takes an elitist shot at popular self-publisher John Locke.
At BEA, Keith Gessen introduced me to the works of John Locke (probably not the one you’re thinking of), a best-selling Kindle author whose books are all sold for $0.99. He made over a hundred thousand of dollars in royalties last year — far exceeding the wildest dreams of most every mid-list (if John Locke is even midlist) author in the country. Having read the opening of one of his “Donovan Creed” novels, I can assure you that he’s not selling all these books due to his talent. No offense intended, but let’s be real about this — it leads to a much more interesting conundrum.
Two of my longstanding issues with e-books are: a) how your brain processes texts read on a screen, and b) e-books make books feel like disposable entertainment. I’m going to leave the first for a separate article and/or book, but I think the second objection is valuable here.
Which brings us, of course, to what I suspect is the root of why this post is proving so popular – it’s the whole battle of traditionally published versus self-published.
Self-publishing has a stigma associated with it. Those who had to resort to “vanity” publishing were treated as lepers, deemed as not good enough to get a “real publisher” to buy their work. In many cases, that assessment is accurate.
I’ll be the first to say it, there’s A LOT of self published shit out there.
But here’s the thing – if you can sell thousands of copies of your book, you ARE A SUCCESSFUL WRITER!
You’re entitled to your opinions of what makes a book good, but to knock others who have PROVEN that they can tell and sell a story, strikes me as not only elitist, but also . . .
steeped in jealousy that you haven’t figured out what these “lesser authors” or self-publishers have mastered.
I responded in the comments at the site, but I’ll also post my thoughts below:
I disagree that eBooks cheapen the value of books. Either you like to read or you don’t. We all know people who buy books all the time yet never finish them. Books, for many people, have always been impulse buys. People who enjoy reading will read regardless if they bought a physical book or an eBook. I still avidly read both.
In most cases, I suspect that cheap eBooks likely lead to sales which never would have occurred in the first place, rather than subtract from physical book sales. I’m more likely to check someone out at .99 or $2.99 than I would at $9.99. But I’m still going to buy from the big authors I’ve come to know and love no matter the price.
To your last point, no, not all publishers can thrive in this new market. Nor should they.
You either adapt and provide value or you find enough people to support your business model in some other way. Holding prices artificially high for the sake of propping up a failing business model will never work because the truth is, authors no longer need publishers.
Let me rephrase that – authors are now becoming publishers.
Writers finally have the opportunity to go directly to their audience and build their own fan base/readership. They are no longer held up by production schedules or the interests of the publisher. They don’t have to take a pittance in digital sales royalties or take a back seat to another writer in the stable. In short, writers can now write their own rules (pun intended).
So the question publishers need to be asking themselves isn’t how can we force our will onto others, but rather, how can I provide value to my customers? How can I make the book buying/reading experience more valuable so people will feel compelled to support our efforts?
Not an easy question, I know, but I’m sure the most creative types will find ways to thrive. Or more indie author/publishers will rise. In any event, “literature” is no worse for the wear and the readers win.
Read the whole post over at Publishing Perspective.