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Cheap at Twice the Price
Guest blog post by Devorah Fox, author of The Lost King, The King’s Ransom and The King’s Redress in The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam literary fantasy series.
The other day I was in the craft-and-hobby store looking for supplies with which to decorate my table at the upcoming book signing and sale for my latest release, The King’s Redress. The tale is set in the Middle Ages and peopled with kings, princes, knights and mythical creatures, so I was delighted to find an entire set of armored knight figurines complete with caparisoned steeds. I also spotted a robed- and crowned king and a delightful dragon. I was about to put the dragon in my cart when I realized that this single item cost more than a copy of the book that I sought to promote.
I found myself wondering why.
All right, somewhere an artist was involved. Someone had to come up with the initial original design but that was where the artistry ended and the mass production took over. This figurine was a piece of plastic stamped out in the gazillions by some machine, yet it still cost more than the book that I labored on for eight months. That didn’t seem right.
In Port Aransas, Texas, where I live, we have a rich and vibrant artistic. Our many galleries are stocked with stunning paintings and sculptures. I’m in awe of one painter in particular who can portray water so compellingly that I would swear there was actual movement on the canvas. His paintings sell for thousands and tens of thousands of dollars and while they are well worth it, sometimes I wonder why. It’s true that he has spent a lifetime perfecting his craft and puts weeks and months into his work, but so have I and my work doesn’t command anything like that price.
I tell myself, “His painting will hang on a wall where it will be seen many times a day, providing continuous enjoyment, whereas my book will be read once, so maybe that’s why his work carries a higher price tag.” Then I correct myself. I’ve been told by fans that they have read my book more than once and discovered something new each time. So it’s not a matter of amortizing the acquisition cost over the number of impressions.
Perhaps the price is related to the fact that there is only one iteration of that painting, but not even that is strictly true, but because he does issue giclee (digital) prints of his work.
Maybe the issue isn’t that his paintings cost so much but rather that books cost too little. This wasn’t always the case. When books were hand-lettered and bound they were precious and pricey. It’s tempting to blame Gutenberg’s movable press invention for depreciating the price of books. Being able to make multiple copies certainly made them more affordable but that’s no reason why they should be cheap. One could just as easily say that today’s books are cheap because digital technology makes it even less expensive to produce a book.
However, the low cost of manufacturing copies doesn’t make it any less time consuming to write the book in the first place. Writers still put a lifetime of learning and practice into their craft. Weeks, months, even years go into writing just one novel. Yet e-books sell for 99 cents from which the author may earn 35 cents. Thirty-five cents, on which income taxes must be paid.
It seems hardly worth it. We might was well give our work away and the industry encourages us authors to do just that. Visual artists are also often asked to give their work away and many of our Port Aransas artists donate work to be auctioned off as a fundraiser for a worthy cause. That’s not the same as being urged to give away books to “get your name out there.” All that does is get our name out as writers who think their work has no commercial value. I fear that recipients of free books consider the work to be worth exactly what they paid for it.
Of course, the list price isn’t the only measure of a book’s value. Being told by fans that my books opened up the world of fiction for them, or validated their own life experience, or inspired them to write has given me immeasurable satisfaction but let’s face it. We have bills to pay. We have to earn a living and writing is what we do. We should be paid for it and paid well. Why aren’t we?
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