It’s a dilemma that many in my circles are puzzling over: in today’s world, authors have nearly limitless creativity and research sources and opportunities to get their stories out to a wider audience…but fewer people are willing to pay for them.
I’m an administrator for a few dozen authors’ Facebook pages, and from time to time I glimpse notifications of another message with the same question, phrased in a few different ways: “Why is your book (or ebook) so expensive?”
If you’ve ever wondered that yourself—and I don’t blame you, because I did too before I started working in publishing—here are a few thoughts that authors probably want to say but feel they can’t, because it seems a little too direct, a little too self-serving (even though it really isn’t).
It’s the same reason restaurant owners can’t give you a free dinner: because that’s how they make a living. Sure, a chef might comp a meal for a celebrity or a food blogger who will recommend the café to a large audience, but for the most part, they charge for their product both because it’s worth the money and because doing so allows them to continue making five-star creations.
Before I go on, let me first say: this is not intended to make you feel bad if you’ve ever requested a review copy from an author, talked about how ebook prices are too high, or can’t buy every new release that catches your eye. Not at all. You don’t have to feel defensive, because I’m also a reader who loves a good deal and lives on a budget.
This is just a different perspective, written in consideration of some people I care a lot about: our authors. It’s easy for them to get discouraged when hearing about general trends—readers buying fewer books at lower prices—or getting direct messages from readers concerned that their books are priced too high. My goal isn’t to scold anyone, just to ask questions that might be helpful when thinking about this issue.
“But I go through books so quickly!” I’ve heard some readers say. “I don’t have enough money to buy every book that looks interesting.”
I completely understand that. That’s why publishers and authors are huge proponents of libraries—they allow the government to chip in as a patron of the arts, and you can read a huge variety of titles for a grand sum total of…free! (Unless you’re like me and, ahem, manage to rack up the occasional overdue fine.)
Beyond that, though, most of us wouldn’t give a second thought about having to pay for other commodities that we use up quickly. Food, fancy coffee, tickets to sports or music or theatrical events—those things are all quickly over. They can’t even be re-experienced or lent to a friend like a book can. Yet I rarely see people asking for these products for free, or even expecting them to be dramatically discounted. It’s hard for me to understand why books seem to be the exception.
This is especially because I know readers love books. We can’t imagine life without the ability to enter other worlds and understand other experiences from the comfort of our own home, just by turning pages. We get so immersed in stories that we feel the heroes and villains are real. We can’t stop talking or thinking about those riveting plots and compelling characters.
How is it, then, that as a culture we seem to value a pumpkin spice latte more than the product of months and even years of an author’s time and effort? Why do authors keep noticing their sales dropping, piracy sites stealing from their paychecks, and notes from readers demanding lower prices? What makes a $15 meal at a restaurant seem like a good deal, but a $15 paperback seem too expensive?
I can’t answer those questions.
Of course, the title of this post is not always true. If you follow writers and publishers on social media, you’ll see book giveaways running almost all the time. And sometimes, authors will give free books to a launch team or influencers or whatever term they happen to use. Other authors are open to people requesting a review copy if they can demonstrate that they’ll put in effort to get others to buy the book.
Just know that if an author or publisher ever politely says no, that ebook won’t be on sale for a while, or sorry, I can’t give out more review copies at this time, they’re not trying to be mean. Authors have an abundance of creativity and story ideas and love for readers…but not always an abundance of free review copies to distribute. And that’s the way it should be so they can sell books in order to go on creating new ones.
So, how can you help? A few things:
- Buy books. (Obviously.) Especially for the authors you love the most, put those books on pre-order…who knows, you might be part of boosting that author onto a bestseller list.
- Give books as presents. If you’re going to spend money this Christmas season anyway, why not contribute to an author at the same time?
- Support stores when you can. Authors really want brick-and-mortar stores to stay in business, because we’ve looked at the stats: every time a chain closes, like Borders or Family Christian or even a large number of independent stores, some of those book buyers just switch retailers, but up to one-third disappear altogether. Amazon is great for reaching people without stores in their area, but they could use a little competition.
- Even if you can’t buy many books, there are other ways to help authors get more sales: leaving reviews and recommending your favorites to others, for example. But unless you’re willing to put in the effort to become a dedicated promotional partner, I’d say you shouldn’t ask authors for free copies, and even then, be gracious if they have to say no.
And with that, I want to thank all of you who are doing these things, and especially those who are taking time to encourage authors not just by buying their books but by telling them how much those books meant to you. It makes a huge difference!