I have over a hundred books in my Kindle cloud. Probably more than two hundred. I don’t know the exact number but trust me when I say there are lots.
And I’ve paid for only a fraction of these.
Before you go getting your knickers in a twist, I came by each and every one by legitimate means: because I review them on my blog I have many books sent to me by authors and I have around 30 digital ARCs from NetGalley which have been read and reviewed, or are in the queue to be so.
But by far, the greatest number of titles on my Kindle have been free and I have read very few of them. From today, I’m not going to download any more free books and once I tell you why, I hope that you’ll join me.
The rationale behind giving one’s work away for free is to get noticed. Sell enough titles and Amazon may include your book in it’s “people with your buying history have also bought…” promotions, despite the fact they have paid nothing for it. And there is always the chance of joining that holy-of-holies, the Amazon Top 100 list. You know, the list of people who have given away the most books for free.
In what other creative sphere – in fact, in any enterprise – do producers give their work away? Would you do eight hours in a supermarket for nothing? Expect a surgeon to replace your aunty’s kidney for no recompense? Walk out of a gallery with a Howson original under your arm to a cheery wave from the custodian? Yet as writers, as ‘independent’ writers, that’s exactly what we have come to be expected to do.
Producing a book takes time. Time and, most importantly, money. To do it properly, we are told, you must hire an editor, engage a professional designer for your cover, have a website and full social media platform. Where a traditional publisher will perhaps speculate to accumulate, hoping to make back their investment and go on to make a profit, what’s in it for the independent? A minimum £500 spend, their book downloaded by many people who only do so because it’s free and then perhaps never even read it. Why should they value your work when you put so little value on it yourself? To give away your creations for free marks you as a hobbyist, not a professional writer who has belief in themself.
A quick look today at Amazon’s top 100 paid list shows nothing costing more that £7.20 in the top ten. And the £7.20 is the heavily discounted (from £20) pre-order from Dan Brown, such a publishing phenomenon that I’m not sure we should even consider him. Half of the books in the top ten cost less that £1. So if we’re not giving away our books for free we’re charging such a small amount for them, we’d almost be as well to. And with Amazon charging £0.20 or £0.59 for some traditionally published books, what chance does the independent have of getting noticed?
I acknowledge that it is only ebooks which are given away, not tangible, holdable,line-up-on-the-shelfable tomes. Is our work worth something only if we can hold it? Is the intellectual worth of our writing less when it exists only as a collection of 1s and 0s? Surely a book is worth paying for regardless of the medium through which you choose to experience it?
I have no answers for any of this. I don’t know what I’d do to change things as the free/low cost culture is so prevalent in the book world, but I do know this: I don’t have to encourage it.
From today I will no longer download any non-review book for free. I respect the amount of work a writer puts into his book and want to place a value on it, even if it’s as little as 77p. Only by having faith in ourselves can we expect readers to have faith in our writing.
I’m a writer and a reader, not a charity.