Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ebooks, Price Points and..Oh...I Just Fell Asleep

By Jay Stringer

There's been a spate of quality posts on DSD of late. My partners in crime have been setting a really high standard in crime fiction blogging. The sponsors have had a word in my shell-like, and I'm here to lower the bar.

You guys all remember Seinfeld, right? That show about nothing? And one of my all time favourite stand-up comedians, Stewart Lee, has made a career out of nothing. And, in that rich vein, today's blog is pretty much about nothing. It's about my lack of an opinion.

It seems not a week can go by without the ebook pricing can of worms being opened. I reckon by now Dave will have added it to his list of blogging cliches (time for an updated list, I think) or for someone to declare print dead, and long live the ebook. Then the next week, the ebooks are just kinda okay and news of prints demise has been greatly exaggerated.

Then we're our own gatekeepers, and the following week we're not. To be honest, the only gatekeeper I'm interested in discussing is the herald of Gozer the Gozerian.

Do we price our books at 0.99? Do we price them at 3.99? Call me soppy, or an idealist, but I don't think we devalue our art by pricing it at 0.99, I think we devalue it by constantly talking price.

I'm not a car dealer, I'm a writer.

Two of the highest grossing films of all time are Avatar and The Dark Knight. But I don't care about money, all I care about is that one of them engaged and entertained me, and the other was poopy.

We're like the local theatres supported by arts grants who, upon threat of the grants being taken away, join the argument on financial grounds. Look at the art and the artists we've developed, they say, and look at where they've gone on to make money and help the local economy. Or, Look at all the playwrights and authors who've been supported, and look how many copies of their work have been sold. Whenever we defend the BBC from government cut backs we invariably trot out, look how much money it generates for the economy. Joining the debate on that level is an instant loss, in my eyes. I want these grant-supported theatres to say, look at that thing we did with the monkey and the balloon, it had no commercial value, but it was art. I want the BBC to say, Who cares what we put back into the economy, we make good shit that people like.

I'm not trying to drop anything on anyone here. I mean, many colleagues in this big crime writing club have given me great arguments on all the different sides of the debates. There are people out there making good livings from their chosen way of doing it, and there are others out there struggling to do so.

But the amount of time all of these issues takes up in my brain is about the same time I spend thinking about the flight velocity of a sparrow, or dwelling on the fact that we can be wiped out at any second by an asteroid.

I've had work published in three ebook anthologies so far -with a fourth on the way- and one in a print anthology. They've each been at different price points. The amount of time I've put into thinking about the prices? None.

What I will say, to touch on the edges of the pricing debate, is that so far I've earned more money -and reached more readers- through a story I initially gave away for free, than I have done from any that have been charged for at point of first publication.

Some people out there write full time for a living, so I can understand them entering the conversation on those terms. But it's not for me. I have a day job that takes up 35-50 hours a week. Aside from the powerful need to eat and have a roof over my head, the other benefit is that I can sit and write what I want to write. I honestly can't see any other point in giving so much time to writing, If i wasn't getting to write what I wanted, there wouldn't be any emotional investment.

I have an agent who can help me work on getting my writing to new readers, and in getting some financial reward that will allow me to spend more time writing. Because that's where it would be for me -not writing to make money, but making money to write.

I sent my agent an email recently on the topic of yet another website discussion about ebooks, gatekeepers and the fate of publishing. I think my exact words in my email were, "stuff will happen, or it won't, I don't know, I want to write."

Ebooks are pretty nifty, I like them, and it seems increasing amounts of people do. Let people charge whatever they want. The market has a way, ultimately, of dictating the prices on anything.

Seems to me that the publishing industry has been making things up on the fly ever since it first began. It's faced more game-changing revolutions than I've had warm dinners (and my belly is an achievement.) The one thing I'm sure of, is that as long as there is money in the world, there will be publishers figuring out how to get some of it. But that's as far as I'm going to go into having any kind of expert opinion on the matter.

You know what does take up brain space? I've had stories go out into the world in the past that I wasn't fully happy with, work that I rushed or never quite got. There has been fiction out there with my name on that was not good enough. That bugs me. That's likely to keep me awake at night, as is the development of my next project, or the fact that I haven't started a new novel in quite a while.

Price point? Not a moments thought.

It's looking like I'll have a collection of my own hitting the digital shelves soon. A collection of the 8 or so short stories that I'm most proud of. At that point I'll give price point a moments thought. The moment that it takes to speak to someone and agree a price. Then I'll be back to writing again.

I'm sure that ebooks and the fate of publishing will sort themselves out regardless of what I think or write on the subject.


Paul D Brazill said...

So, what is the flight velocity of a sparrow?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, I'm with you, don't have that much of an interest in the great debate about pricing. Read some thoughts before launching SC and that's about it. Have had a few conversations since, mainly because of the plans to launch Snubnose Press next month, but I don't think a public discussion of earnings is always ideal.

Allan Guthrie said...

Yes, nothing but price this and price that, and yet everybody knows what we really want to hear about is VAT. Can you do a blog on VAT, Jay?

Jay Stringer said...

Paul - I'd say we're looking at around 25 mph. Unless it's taking it easy after a round of golf.

Sandra- Glad it's not just me.

Al- I dunno...does this VAT involve swallows, asteroids or giant transforming robots?

Ben said...

I will quote Anthony Neil Smith: "You get the readers first. Then you get the money"

Mike Dennis said...

Great point about AVATAR and THE DARK KNIGHT, Jay. I might also add that films like DETOUR and THE CAT PEOPLE, whose combined budgets probably don't exceed the money they spent on donuts for the set of AVATAR, managed to become classics in spite of (or maybe because of) their low costs.