‘Who Decided Our Worth?’ Do Free Books Give Away Authors’ Value?

Image - iStockphoto: bdspn
Image – iStockphoto: bdspn

‘There’s Something Badly Wrong’

For those following the industry! the industry! in its digital melodrama, tossing books to the crowd free is not new.

But the question of whether today’s plethora of free offers may devalue books and/or authors in readers’ minds is not going away as easily as some folks wish it would.

Roz Morris
Roz Morris

The London-based author Roz Morris (both traditionally and self- published) became concerned enough about the issue this week to write Free book giveaways – when do they work? When don’t they? In it, she writes:

I’ll admit that I worry we give away our work too easily. If we create a culture where a book costs less than a sheet of gift-wrap and a greetings card, there’s something badly wrong. An ebook may not have material form, but it does give you more time and experience than something you glance at and throw away. And tellingly, the people who get cross with me for speaking out are the ones who say they refuse to spend more than a couple of dollars on a book, or berate me for not putting my books into Kindle Unlimited.

Indeed, the question of her headline — when do free books work? — is not the interesting part.

The key issue here is what people think of books, now that they frequently can be had for less than the paper they come wrapped in at Christmas.

The “free” debate is a worthy one, in part because it points to a confusion about what the digital dynamic represents. And this frequently is lost in the self-publishing world — where seldom is heard an unemotional word.

(1) What “digital” is about is distribution. It makes it possible to move content of several kinds around much more easily and less expensively than before. It makes it possible for you to publish a book yourself — also to make a film, record an album, devise a video game.

(2) What “digital” is not about is art — or even entertainment. While digital means you can publish a book, it doesn’t mean you can write your way out of a Starbucks bag. You may be awful. And you can publish. You may be radiant. And you can publish. Digital, like justice, is blind. It distributes the good and the bad, not just in books but in any medium to which it’s applied.

(3) And what digital does not promise is an audience. This is where “free” comes in. While the going complaint is that traditional publishing doesn’t deliver the marketing support it once did, a book with a “house” at least enters the world “in the system,” meaning the standard supply chain. It will be listed in that publisher’s catalog, which in turn is something that retail buyers and/or librarians look at routinely to find inventory. In happy cases, there may be much more, from sales-department efforts and mainstream media attention to publicity campaigns and advertising.

‘Free’ As A Bid For Attention

Offering content free of charge (not “for free,” by the way), is a way to tempt a consumer to try something he or she might normally have passed up. It’s used a great deal by self-publishers because without publishing-house support, a new author arrives on a retail platform as an unknown.

So, like a sample of a new peanut butter offered by that grinning, aproned person at a small table in your supermarket, the author offers a free book, or one nearly free, to try to snag a shopper’s eye. Generally, it’s thought that making the first book in a series free will come-hither the readers.

But the bigger question, and the one that gets the most interesting comments on Morris’ column, is about marketplace ideas of value.

What does a price of zero do to the readership’s appreciation of an author’s labor?

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether: ‘Who Decided Our Worth?’ Do Free Books Give Away Authors’ Value?

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com


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