Saturday, 6 October 2012

Show Me The Money - Elen Caldecott


I never studied economics at all, but I have a vague idea that the cost of things, commodities, objects, is determined by balancing what people are willing to sell it for with what people are willing to pay. Plus taxes, of course.

This can be illustrated by my recent decision to buy, on Kindle, Marian Keyes' latest novel The Mystery of Mercy Close. It was £10 as an instant ebook, but only £9 as a snail-mail hardback. If I'd been willing to wait even longer, I could have got it for £7 as a paperback, or 60p from the library (I'd have to reserve it), or, if I waited two years, I could have bought it for 1p plus post and packaging on Amazon. However, I wanted to read it immediately, so, it was worth £10 to me.

More recently, J K Rowling suffered a series (what's the collective noun? A witch-hunt? A mass hysteria?) of 1-star reviews, based solely on the fact that the £12 price-tag of the ebook was deemed too expensive. The convenience of an instant book wasn't worth it to the reviewers.

Of course, much of the vitriol came from the fact that JK is assumed not to need the money (there was little mention of the publishers who presumably paid huge amounts for the rights and need to make back their investment).

So, does the value of a product change if the person selling it doesn't need the money? There's a slim case for that, based on my understanding of how prices are set. But the amount of time spent on making the product isn't any less. The effort and graft are the same.

There seems to be an idea, among the general public, that writers are either starving in attics (which is considered stupid, but morally sound), or greedy fat-cats milking their fans.
I know lots of writers, but I know none who match either image. Most are trying to maintain a modest life-style through precarious means. Like any small-business owners, they have to be mindful of income and expenditure.

Personally, about half my income comes from writing and writing-related activities. The rest comes from three shifts a week selling tickets (so, you can probably make a reasonably sound guesstimate of my level of income! No lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills going on in this part of the West Country!). I write five or six books a year, some long, some short. I teach creative writing. I visit schools and libraries. I work reasonably hard (is it always a self-employed person's curse to believe they are lazy? But I digress...) So, I get cross when people demand that writers subsidise entertainment by producing cheap books.

If you don't think the price is worth it to you, wait until it becomes available in a cheaper format, wait 48 hours for the hardback to be delivered, but don't insist that the seller has to change their position. No-one owes writers a living, but equally, no-one has the right to take that living away. Not even from the rich ones.


www.elencaldecott.com
Elen's Facebook Page
Twitter: @elencaldecott 

17 comments:

Pauline Chandler said...

Thank you for this, Elen. I agree that it's really no use carping about the price of a book. I'm no economist either, but I know that in a free market, prices are set to meet supply and demand. And the truth about writers' lives bears repeating: great effort for an uncertain reward, especially if you're an established writer taking a fresh direction. The hoo ha over JK's new book has exposed some very unpleasant aspects of the book trade. I don't begrudge her a penny of what she earns. I do have questions about the low advances publishers expect their writers to accept, though. With advances in the hundreds rather than the thousands, you have to write a good many books, per year,to earn a basic wage. So, writers earn their bread in some other way and fit their writing around it. That's crazy. My best writing is done in a few short hours first thing in the morning. If I miss that creative window,it's a day lost, because the day has already jumped on my mental energy like a toddler! I'm lucky, I have two small pensions, but I think it's a tragedy that writers are not properly rewarded.

Liz Kessler said...

Elen, great post and I agree with every word!

Stroppy Author said...

Totally agree, Elen. No one ever says tickets for movies with Johnny Depp in should be cheap because he's rich. Why single out writers?

Tam said...

Great post, Elen. I really feel for J K Rowling, because her new book has taken a kicking for all sorts of reasons. I think it's time we started being honest about how much writing brings in versus the effort it takes. I don't write for the money (just as well, really) but I do think writing (and other art forms but I can only speak for my own) is undervalued. And don't get me started about those who expect us to do book-related events for free...

I love your point about waiting for a cheaper product - as you say, if you want it now, you pay the price. Like those who want the iPhone 5 now pay the astronomical price tag. Also love Stroppy's comment about Johnny Depp :) Imagine the meeting where that idea was put forward...

karen said...

This is a great blog post, Ellen - eloquently put. I do wonder if the online world has helped encourage a sense in readers that material should be made available cheaply or even for free. As some of my author friends know (!), my other obsession is sewing. There's a plethora of free material on the Internet - Youtube tutorials, blogger advice, free patterns. This is all fantastic for anyone trying to get into a new activity, but I've noticed that because of this, the audience needs carefully reminding sometimes that some things you have to - and should! - pay for.

karen said...

Me again! It's a great point about 'perceived value' also - and I think this is why self-published authors need to think very carefully about the price point they choose. Once a precedent has been set, it's very difficult to re-set it.

Lynne Garner said...

When asked by students how many books I've had published and I reply 21 their reply is often along the lines of "oh so you teach for pin money." I wish I did. And Stroppy Author great point!

Sue Purkiss said...

Er - do all books go down to 1p on Kindle after two years? If so I'm feeling even more guilty about the money I really didn't mean to spend on a series of Italian detective books recently...

Penny Dolan said...

Lots of wise words here. Hope there are readers out there listening.

A good point, Stroppy Author!

linda strachan said...

excellent post, Elen!

Elen C said...

Thanks, Everyone!

Sue, no, don't worry, I'm talking 1p secondhand paperbacks!

Linda said...

Strongly agree, Elen - great post. And of course we also have to take into account the 'wilderness years' when writers are slush-pile surfing and earning nothing at all.

Loved the Johnny Depp comment, Stroppy Author!

Joe said...

Thanks for standing up for writers Elen! Great post.

Katherine Langrish said...

Couldn't agree more, Elen!

Sue Purkiss said...

Phew! Guilt back to manageable levels now... thanks, Elen!

Nicola Morgan said...

Well said.

adele said...

I am late to this but you're quite right, Elen.