The image at the top of this story kicks off the latest in a discussion that has lasted over a decade: That readers demand digital versions of books should be free.
Since before ebooks first became a thing, book possessors would take a book they’d bought, scan it into an ebook, then share if on the internet to anyone who wanted it, no charge. This was illegal. But because it was the internet, no one could stop these people from doing it. So they kept on doing it, like closet anarchists stickin’ it to the Man. This led to ebook producers experimenting with a number of schemes, including (gasp!) asking readers to pay for books, and being forced to lower those ebook costs to make it palatable for readers to part with their dimes for entertainment’s sake.
But there have always been those who refuse to buy ebooks. They’ve come up with myriad excuses, my favorite being “electrons are free”… as if the value of an entertainment product lay in the medium it is impressed upon, not the work itself. The other excuse, which is ladled like gravy upon writers like me, is “You’re not an author published by a major publishing house; therefore, you are an amateur, a hack, and I shouldn’t have to pay as much for your work.” By “as much,” of course, they mean “free.”
Aspiring writers have it tough. They are judged to be bad, specifically because they do not publish through a major publishing house. (You know, like one of the prestigious major houses that published the book at right.) In an industry ruled by trashy biops, cookie-cutter fiction by Famous Authors who are promoted just because they’re Famous, and series based on rehashed movies or kitschy fantasies, the unpublished author is somehow the one who has to prove they have a good product.
And even when they find their fans and gain a following, the fans still feel they deserve their efforts and accomplishments for free, just on account. They feel entitled to someone else’s work, and demand to pay nothing for it. Where I come from, there’s a name for that kind of arrangement.
I was thinking about this, about a third of the way through the novel I’m presently working on. I’ve tried various forms of marketing my work over the years, but it’s never worked out to my satisfaction or profit. And it’s because readers see me, an accomplished author of over fifteen books, as a slave for their entertainment; they feel entitled to take my works—to steal my works—as soon as I make them available. But when I ask for a little compensation for my time—hundreds of hours of planning, outlining, drafting, writing, editing, producing (with cover art), marketing and promoting—suddenly I’m a bad guy, a crook, a carpetbagger trying to rip them off… an uppity n***** trying to make trouble.
Consumers have, admittedly, been spoiled by other forms of media. Television, for example, is seen by most as a free service (even largely by those who pay for cable), and they somehow don’t consider that advertisers are paying to bring those shows to them. And the price they pay for a book is hardly equal to the cost of producing it; so they assume what they’re paying for is the paper they’re printed on.
But if a person can buy an apple at a farmer’s market, or a produce stand in front of an actual farm, and not feel as if the farmer has no business charging them for the produce they brought to market from that tree right over there, why don’t writers get the same consideration?
When I become aware that the very consumers for whom I produce entertainment treat me like an uppity nigga, suddenly the wind blows out of my sails, and I have an extremely hard time justifying putting one word down. The creative juices stop flowing, and my desire to write dies. Seeing the post above put me in that very mood all this weekend, and I got zero writing done.
To be clear, I have a wife and a mortgaged home. I pay taxes, utilities, insurance policies and groceries. I pay for my television, internet and cellphones, and I buy my own clothes. When I (IF I EVER) retire, I’ll still have most of those bills to pay. Since Roombas will probably have all the cleaning jobs by then, I’d like to be able to write to generate some extra income to keep me out of the poor house—or, maybe more accurately, the poor tent.
But I swear, I’d rather spend my retirement years begging for pennies on the street, than work the life of a slave, making the supreme effort to entertain the public and getting whipped by their barbed tongues for my effort.
Pass the word: I am no one’s uppity n*****. Neither are the rest of the writers out there. Pay for their books, or entertain your own damned selves.
I find it very appropos that my post, having been linked to a Facebook page devoted to teaching writers to make money off their books, has resulted in my being booted from that group. Guess I was too uppity for them, too; so I’ve been gagged and sent to the woodshed. Thanks for the validation and support, massas.