You savvy, well-informed folks are well aware of the ongoing chatter about whether the glut of free and low-cost books on the market is devaluing them. I’ve attended panel discussions on this topic where opinions varied widely. At that time (about four years ago) some panelists believed that setting the price of a new book at $.99 was devaluing the work by not paying the author what he or she deserved. The other side of the coin was, shouldn’t the reader decide what has value and what doesn’t? And that offering affordable books provides more choices and opportunities for new writers to find an audience? At the time, I came down on the side that low, or free book prices devalued the book, but not I’m not so sure anymore. Truthfully, the whole issue perplexes me.
As you can well imagine, services like BookBub, which send offers of free and low-priced books to subscribers every day, certainly makes it possible to obtain an entire library filled with free and low-cost books, but does that devalue them, or the authors, or the market in general? As an article in Book Riot states, is it truly the readers’ fault if they only choose to read free books? Think about it. Isn’t that what libraries have been doing for decades? Offering readers free books that the library paid for only once, and probably at a discount? Is this really a matter of devaluing the market, or is this a case of economics?
The Book Riot article correctly states that books are a buyer’s market folks. The author even cites Merriam-Webster.com’s definition of a buyer’s market…“a market in which goods are plentiful, buyers have a wide range of choices, and prices tend to be low.” But is that devaluing anything? What does devaluing really mean anyway?
Merriam-Webster’s definition is, “to cause (something or someone) to seem or to be less valuable or important.” So, when all these folks are talking about devaluing books, are they referring to the economic value or the artistic value? Or both?
I’ve watched Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, To Kill a Mockingbird and other terrific movies on TV many times. In some cases, I’ve never paid a penny to go to the theatre or to buy the book. Does that devalue the script, the quality of the storytelling, of the movie itself? Not at all. Those movies have extremely high value for me. Sure, I hope the authors made a ton of money. I would love to make a ton of money, but readers, publishers and Amazon don’t owe me a living. If my ebooks, which currently sell at about $7.99, are dropped to $1.99 for a week-long sale, does that suddenly devalue the work economically or artistically? Not to me, it doesn’t.
I suppose, at the end of the day, it comes down to how readers and authors define the value of a specific work. I’m going to stop pondering definitions and just strive to write better books.