There is quite the debate going on at the moment about the price of digital books, and the question is being asked why it is that they are being offered for such a low amount of money. I have heard all the arguments, the most quoted being that the consumer has grown use to low prices, and therefore demand cheaper books, and also that it is a cheaper route to publication, and so therefore should be cheaper, but somehow I feel sat here isolated from the rest of the world at my writing desk, that out of all the arguments within the debate, the one thing that appears to be lacking is the point of view of the Authors.
I cannot really speak for other author’s as I have only my own experience of writing, but I can say that for myself it is a very worrying trend and I do feel concerned about the way the larger global companies discount books and offer them at such low prices, often below the price they have paid themselves. Discounting is and has always been a large part of the printed book selling industry, but recent trends in the movement to digital has seen a sharp fall in the sales of printed books, and as more and more people switch over to one of the many digital devices, I fear my time as an author may be coming to an abrupt end, because with digital books selling at lower and lower prices, I find it hard to see how I will earn enough revenue to actually stay afloat.
I have just finished writing the latest in the series of books I have been working on since 2006, (Heirs to the Kingdom) and currently have three of the series out and the fourth is ready for publication. Obviously because this is a detailed series and I had been writing long before I got the first published in 2009, I am at an advanced stage in the writing process, and as you can see I am six years into it. I work every day of the week on the books, and due to the plot and the many layers within the books, I have a constant run of threads weaving through the series that have to be picked up and woven into them. The latest book in the series has taken me just over a year at 14 months to research and write, it has been a long drawn out process checking every step of the way that I have not missed out vital key issues from the previous books, and has also involved a great deal of research and fact finding missions, to ensure that the book comes across as being realistic, even though it is a work of fiction.
The research for the books can consist of Internet searches, book purchasing and reading up, or visiting locations that allow me to take photographs to aid in the process of writing accurately. All of this has a cost that is borne out by myself, I am like so many other writers out there working hard to establish myself in the world of fiction and trying to build a reputation for myself. I have used a self publishing company to get the books out, which not only has a cost for production, it also means I have to fund the costs of promotion, which has many related extra costs. I pay for the web site to remain up and running, and I also have to pay many of the various sites that feature my books, I try wherever possible to use as much free publicity as I can, but that is a shrinking market and so more often than not, a new site to help me promote comes at a cost.
I have spent six years writing almost full time, earning extra income selling jewellery which my wife makes, and purchasing my own books at wholesale to sell at events, its a low income way of living, but with some clever budgeting we survive as a family and push forward. When I first decided to publish this series, I sat for a great deal of time with my wife, and we looked at our prospects, having researched the subject in full, it was never going to be easy, but we have managed and have taken the long term view of slowly building up the reputation and taking it one sale at a time. To date we have invested quite a sum of capital into this project, its pretty much almost everything we had, and we have after three years of hard work, recovered around 5% of what we have spent, it is indeed a very long term investment.
This article is not a complaint, its an honest appraisal of what myself and others have done, for I know that in this I am not alone. I love writing, it has taken me a very long time to pluck up the courage to put my work into print, and now that I have, I can honestly say I am happier than I have ever been, as I have finally found something that I love and adore as a working lifestyle. I do not mind that its taken the last 14 months to put together the latest episode of my series, I have no qualms at all knowing I will now move forward to check the book over and over to ensure it is to the highest possible standard before it goes of to be proof read, a process that will take possibly another six months of constant scrutiny, because at the end of the day I know that there is growing readership of people who will read my words and gain a great deal of enjoyment from them, but I have to ask one very important question.
Why is it when it comes to the world of books and writing, that my efforts have so little value?
My books are not in a digital format yet, and even though this is going to be the future of books, you must agree that to sell what will finally reach 20 months of work for less than the price of a birthday card is somewhat insulting?
I know of no other industry where a man’s life and work have such little value, and yet that is what the digital readers demand, which in my case is a detailed book of over 200 thousand words for less than £4. The mad thing is that is not even my share, as profits have to go to the distributor etc… I think it works out about the total value of a cheap cup of poor coffee per copy sold. I must have drunk over a million whist sat here writing the thing. I suppose the question is… If I offer you a job and pay you the same, would you consider it for more than a millisecond? Of course you wouldn’t, who would?
Publishing is one of very few industries that exploits its most valued asset, the creative source, and no matter what happens in the future that will remain unchanged. All writers know that the odds of making a living that can sustain life are very slender indeed. There are a few very lucky writers who hit at the right moment and they are the 3% that make it as a full time writer reaping the rewards of their labour, the rest of us keep going in hope that one day someone out there will read our work and hopefully recommend it to their friends, which at the end of the day is how books become known, its no different to acting or dancing, all of us are waiting for that all important break, and some of us will never get it, but we live in the slim hope we may if we persevere. We love what we do, and we are happy doing it, but do not insult us beyond that, have the decency to understand how much time and effort goes into the process, and offer us a fair price for it. Digital may appear a cheaper option, but the costs are not really that much different from print for an author, it should be a cheaper version I agree, but lets keep the price a little fairer. It matters not how you read a book, whether its print or digital it has value, because for the reader it an experience that provides joy and excitement, and for the author it is often more than a year of their life.
Hopefully this will shed a little light which I feel enlightens the view, I shall remain a writer no matter what happens, and I shall see where that takes me, one thing I do know is that its going to be an interesting journey.