Not long after I moved into my retirement center, a resident who’d learned I write novels, suggested I contribute a few to the in-house library. I declined, explaining that most of my sales were e-sales and that I made pennies per book. I couldn’t afford to give paperbacks away. The disapproval in the woman’s eyes was unmistakable, but a larger issue than my stinginess is at stake.
Anyone who reads this blog with regularity knows I’ve devoted much space to the negotiations over book pricing between the goliaths Amazon and the mainstream publisher, Hachette. During the struggle, artists lined up on both sides of the issue. Blockbuster writers supported Hachette while Amazon’s successful self-published authors supported the mass marketer. (“The War of the Words,” by Keith Gessen, Vanity Fair, December 2014, pg 168) Both factions attempted to claim the high ground. Hachette pointed out that scholars who took years to research a book couldn’t survive on the pennies they’d receive under Amazon’s pricing system. Amazon replied that increased sales from the lower prices would make up the difference. To some degree, Amazon has been proven right, at least where the “genre” market is concerned. (Ibid, pg 165) But no matter who’s right or wrong, the settlement came for the sake of business and because a new kid has appeared on the block, one who could topple the empires of book publishers and Amazon. Scribd, a new venture, does for books what Netflix does for film. For $10 a month, readers can inhale as many books as they like without incurring additional cost. What’s more, Apple’s new operating system makes paying for these rentals super easy. (Ibid pg. 211)
Pundits believe Scribd’s business model is likely to succeed and will no doubt inspire copycats, adding more competition to the booksellers’ market. The winner in this new game will be whoever makes books easier to buy and cheaper. In the face of new competition, book publishers and Amazon were compelled to bury their hatchet, which they did, recently. (Blog 1/2/15) But where is the fate of the writer in all this change? Hachette and Amazon have paid lip service to their artists but I see no fundamentals in place to support creativity. If all folks want is cheap books, the day may come when there will be none. It’s true a writer writes because he or she must. But it’s also true a writer must eat.