In Lady Windemere’s Fan, one of Oscar Wilde’s characters defines a cynic as “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” (Act III). Some of the blog posts and articles I’ve seen this year makes me wonder if there are readers who fit this description, too, by whining for lower book costs or for pay for book reviews. I’ve been sitting on these pieces for a while now, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to discuss them. I’m still not quite sure, but I’m going for it anyway. First, book costs:
- Conrad Scoville, “Why an Ebook’s Price Matters More than You Think.” BookBub. 23 July 2015.
- Annoyed Librarian, “Pay As You Go.” Library Journal. 2 July 2015.
This conversation has been going on since before there was a commercial book market, I daresay. Every time I see it, I want to grab the readers who want cheaper books or give authors grief for the price tags, I want to throttle them. I want to show them breakdowns of how the cost of a book is divvied up between the publisher and the author and how little the author gets. I want to point out authors that are hugely popular who still have day jobs, like N.K. Jemisin and Nobel winner Tomas Transtromer.
And yet, Conrad Scoville uses sales data in his article for BookBub to show that price matters even among deeply discounted ebooks. Shoppers are more likely to take a chance on a book priced at $1.99 than $2.99. Scoville only looked at discounted book sales, but I suspect the patterns are similar for books priced $9.99 and $14.99—new title prices.
The Annoyed Librarian’s blog post refers to the changes to how Amazon plans to pay authors who publish via Kindle Direct. Rather than charge a flat rate for the entire book, Kindle Direct will pay out with pennies per page. Kindle Direct is only on platform for self-publishing, but Amazon is a huge force in the market. If this model is adopted widely, it will be just that much harder for authors to reap any kind of reward for writing.
My point in discussing these articles is to try and articulate the possibility that arguing for deeply discounted prices devalues books in consumers’ minds. iTunes, I think, has trained us to pay low prices for what we perceive as a digital file. How much can 1s and os cost? But with iTunes, you’re buying a single song. The book equivalent would be to pay $.99 for a chapter or a poem—and pay full album price for a whole book. When I feel myself slide into that mindset, I remind myself that an author spent years writing it. An editor spent months proofreading it and working with the author to shape it. The publishers worked hard to make sure I heard about the book in the first place via reviewers I trust. And if I still can’t bring myself to shell out $14.99 for a book I might not like and won’t be able to give away to another reader*, I’ll borrow it from a library. At least someone paid retail for the book.
- Ashley LaMar, “Book Bloggers Should Charge for Book Reviews.” A Silver Thing. Undated.
- Shannon, “Do Book Bloggers Know Their Worth?“ River City Reading. 31 May 2015.
A few months ago, Ashley LaMar caused a brief scandal on the bookish internet for having the gumption to ask for money in exchange for book reviews. LaMar laid out her reasons. It takes time to read books and evaluate them and write about them. Then the publisher gets access to whoever is reading the blog (hi, guys!) when those readers make a decision about a book via the blogger’s review. It’s not a crazy idea. Shannon, from River City Reading, had one of the more civil rebuttals I saw at the time. The main point of that rebuttal is that freelance book reviewing is a hobby. If it takes too much time, there’s no one who’s going to fire us for not reviewing books. This is a hobby. Who gets paid for a hobby?
The longer I’ve considered these articles, I more I see the points of LaMar’s arguments, but I still strongly disagree with her conclusion that we should be paid in cashy money. Getting to read advanced reader copies months before I book I’ve been looking forward to is more than enough compensation for me. Besides, my blog isn’t about shilling for publishers. It’s about sharing my ideas about books with whoever might be reading (hi again!). And I’m fairly sure that I my reading and reviewing turned into a paid gig, it would kill the joy I have for reading. I had a hard enough time reading some of the books I had to read to get my BA in literature. I don’t know what I’d do if I got paid to review shit like Grey.
All that said, I can see the argument that pay might help increase respect for book bloggers. We’re taking over from the professionals as arts coverage is getting slashed—not that professional book reviewers could get anywhere close to reviewing all the books that come out in a year. Right now, the way for book bloggers to gain respect is more organic and based more on a combination of the books they choose to review and their talent in reviewing said books—i.e. you write well about books a lot of people are curious about. I like this model. It keeps things honest, as much as is actually possible.
* This is my biggest quibble with ebooks, to be honest.