A Culture of Free
Yesterday I speculated on one aspect of the future of books, the idea of how technology will (or won’t) affect the presentation of a book. Today my speculations are more about the market and the changing perceived value of a book.
One thing that concerns me about our current Internet culture is that it’s conditioning people to expect a lot more for free. Information is losing its monetary value because it’s available to anyone at the click of a mouse. We live in the “Information Age” but who knew that would mean information itself would depreciate?
In a culture where so much is available for so little, it means people are going to be less and less willing to pay for books. Initially this will apply to non-fiction books, and that dynamic is already firmly in place. There are some topics, such as parenting and many “how to” subjects in crafts, cooking, and home improvement to name a few, in which it’s already very difficult to sell a book. Anyone can go online and download parenting tips and instructions on how to bake a soufflé, keep your house organized or knit a scarf.
Printed books aren’t going to disappear overnight, obviously, even with the advent of eReaders on top of what’s already available on the Internet. For a long time to come, I think people will find value in books. The love of being surrounded by overflowing bookshelves, the simple pleasure of pulling a book off your shelf and flipping through it. The permanence and the physicality of a book—you can hold it in your hand and keep it, as opposed to having it disappear when you click away with your mouse.
But slowly, printed books will become less common, starting with topics that are purely for informational purposes. The books we read to enjoy and savor, or to ponder in a more leisurely way, will probably be around in printed form longer, and people will be willing to pay for them. Information that’s quickly changing, such as technology, is less likely to remain available in book form.
There are other factors eroding the perceived value of books besides the Internet “free culture,” and this is where it starts to affect the value of fiction as well. Publishers and booksellers have been concerned that the typical $9.99 price for an eBook is eroding consumers’ willingness to pay $25 for a new hardcover, or even $18 or $13 for a new trade paperback. The concern escalated massively in 2009 when big-box retailers like Walmart and Target began the book price wars, announcing they’d be featuring bestselling titles at less than half the cover price. Add to that the fact that you can now rent a Hollywood blockbuster movie down at the RedBox for only $1, and you have an environment in which our entertainment options are more plentiful and cheaper than ever before.
Everyone’s concern is that nobody is going to be willing to pay a decent price for a book anymore, and where does that leave the current business model of publishers and booksellers?
The writing is on the wall—things are changing and we can’t stop it. We had all better keep our eyes and ears open, and make sure our thinking doesn’t stay stuck back in the glorious 1990’s. Since consumers are less likely to pay higher prices, far fewer of us will be able to make a living either writing books or working in publishing. Stories and information will still be shared, but it will be a challenge to figure out how to profit from it.
The power you have right now to stem the tide is this: buy books. Buy them at brick-and-mortar bookstores. Buy as many as you can, as often as you can. Show the booksellers and publishers and the world at large that there are some of us—many of us—who are still willing to pay for a book.
And maybe if we’re lucky, the bulk of the revolution in the book world will happen when we are too old and decrepit to care. We’ll watch from the sidelines, surrounded by our stacks of books, and tell our grandchildren, “Sonny, I remember when….” And we’ll be okay with it.
Q4U: Do you think you’re expecting more for free because of the Internet?
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>Information DOES have monetary value, else college and trade schools would be almost free. What I don't like is that information, like many other goods, is frequently overpriced. There's just so much of it out there, you have to create a whole new industry to manage the information so that you get only what's important.
Which is more valuable: knowing that the sky is blue or knowing how the stock market behaves so that you can make money off it?
The second, obviously, but if EVERYONE knows how to make money off the stock market, that information becomes useless, because if everyone does what's best in a given situation, it makes things unstable.
Frex, buy low sell high. If everyone buys low, that very action drives prices up because of scarcity and demand. Now the price is high, so you have to sell. But who's going to buy when prices are high? To make a long example short, you get wild swings that invalidate all the knowledge.
So information has a value, as does inaccessibility to that information. I don't want everyone to know my secret method to make money on the stock market, because that will only invalidate the method when everyone uses it.
>I love books. I have shelves overflowing, boxes stacked in corners, more boxes in storage awaiting a move to new home (which will be a library with living quarters attached). That said, I'm buying an EReader soon, largely to save space. I reread most of my books and many are not available digitally, but new stuff will be digital. We'd best get used to it, both as readers and writers.
I've been in computers since '62 and I've seen the Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly. I also know better than to spit into the wind.
The Internet has democratized information and reduced the expense of that information, but has generally also lowered the quality. When anyone can publish, a lot of junk is produced. If nobody can make a living writing, that might actually be a good thing – it would mean we write for personal and social reasons, uncompromised by lust for lucre.
The real problem will be sorting the wheat from the chaff, the good writing from the garbage.
>Perceived value. That is always the balance. If you treat a thing like it is worth nothing, it is. If you treat it as if it has a value, it does.
I probably owe you an apology. I sort of knew that you didn't *really* think it was a bad thing – that's why I qualified with "almost". But you were positioning yourself as an advocate for those harmed by that trend, and that's what I was reacting to. (Especially the part about "information is losing its monetary value". I've always been a bit horrified at the thought that information, as such, should even *have* monetary value – but that's another and much longer discussion.)
So I did what I'm noticing myself doing a lot. I used your post as a springboard to rant about a general trend that concerns me. I'll probably always do that – but I'm trying to learn how to moderate and qualify my words so the original poster doesn't feel I've got them in my gunsights.
Certainly you do a huge service in maintaining this blog, and I really do appreciate it, which is why I'm a regular reader.
>I first sold an e-book in 2002. Since then I've seen a lot of comment about them, pro and con. I've come to believe that there will remain a place for both media, print and electronic, because each can fill needs for any given reader at different times.
So there is a useful place for both and I don't believe people should exclude one medium for another, or say that an e-book is not a "real" book. Didn't I take just as much time and effort and thought writing the e-book as the print release? After all, I didn't know what shape the book might eventually take, at the time I wrote it.
I welcome ACFW's declaration that "an e-book is a book." It's true.
At the commenter above: I too have wondered why the Christian fiction writing/publishing market doesn't just say no to the bigger distributors. They might choose to break away as United Artists did some years ago when actors and film-makers got fed up with the stranglehold the distributors had on their ability to sell their work.
Good post, very thought provoking.
>I don't feel as though I expect more for free because of the Internet, but I do think that having access to free content makes me choosier about where to spend my money. It also makes me choosier about selecting free content, too, since there's so much to choose from. So I guess the really effect of having so much available for free is that it makes me more discerning. I only want to spend time and money on the best.
To follow up on what Karen said: As an e-reader, I now spend more on books than I did before I owned a Kindle. Even though the individual titles are less expensive, because the purchase is instant, I find myself spontaneously buying a lot more often—especially when I reach the end of a book with a sequel. In just seconds, I can move onto the next book. It's too tempting!
The market that has actually lost more of my dollars is audio books. I still buy select works for hands-free listening, and I subscribe to a lot of free podcasts. But I used audio books for commuting/travel, and since I'd rather read than listen where possible, I now default to the e-book format over audio.
>As a consumer, I go first to the internet for non-fiction information. If I need more depth, I will order a book from an online store, or visit a local bookstore.
I love bookstores, and will pop into them and impulse buy. I sometimes impulse buy hardcover fiction. I also buy many books as gifts.
As a writer, I likely give away too much information on my blog. It is in the spirit of wanting to be helpful. Perhaps one day, readers will repay the favor and buy one of my books.
>Michelle said, “Textbooks are ridiculously high priced and that cost is insane for one book.”
Are they really? Textbooks are typically written for a niche audience. On top of that the authors are often among the top minds in their field. Then there is the work involved in researching the topic and presenting the material in a meaningful way. There is a cost in printing the book, but that is minor compared to the other costs. While converting these books to e-books will lighten the book bag (a very good thing), it will not reduce the work required to produce the book or increase the size of the audience, so it will not reduce the cost.
It is a similar pattern to what we see with computer software. We see games selling for less than $100. We see business software selling for less than $1000. But some software packages sell for many thousands of dollars and custom software may cost a company millions. It comes down to the fact that when we are able to spread the production costs across our customer base, the cost per customer goes down. Books in a niche market will cost more because there are fewer people to bear the burden of the production cost. Any reduction in delivery cost will be insignificant.
>I would love to buy books, and walk regretfully past them in the stores without even letting myself look, because I simply can't afford them, no matter how much I desire them.
So for those who buy too many… you're picking up my share.
>Whenever we want an outing my husband and I go to a book store to browse among all those fascinating covers. Invariably I buy something I have never heard of just because of the blurb on the jacket and what I have seen riffling through the pages. How can I do that with e-books?
I'm sure they are great when on a journey etc. but there's nothing like the experience of buying, reading and treasuring a real book,
>I don't think I expect more for free, but I do definitely expect to pay less for things. Ebooks are cheap, accessible, and 'in my hand' in moments, without having to spend money on fuel to drive to the store. There's also no hassle with parking, crowds, or getting sore feet slogging through the mall.
Hardback books are not on my list. I simply cannot afford those prices. When I buy books at all, I buy paperbacks, and I prefer the luxury of shopping online still.
Sorry, but it's all about saving money for me.
>I meant those same people who now buy ebooks used to buy used paperbacks. Not that they still do, but some probably do because they are like a quarter.
>I believe artists and authors need to get paid for their work and piracy is terrible. But I also know some people who never buy print books anymore. They have ereaders and get the same book for less. The same exact book. At least with unexpensive ebooks authors and agents still get royalties. Those same people buy cheap used copies of books that authors get no royalties on. So I say let's write for both markets. That is what I do. I have both print and ebooks and totally different people read them so I am reaching a larger demographic now. Plus, one of my sons just bought a college textbook. One used textbook was $80. The same book was $135 new. Even on the internet it was that much (at discount textbook outlets). I would love it if he could download the same book for college for half the price. Textbooks are ridiculously high priced and that cost is insane for one book.
>I'm a book nut. I have room with floor to ceiling bookshelves that are full and stacks of books on the floor. I love them. Some are old from my days of teaching English and from my college Lit classes. I'll read them again and again. I've had to replace Little Women because I wore out my original copy.
Real books I go into a bookstore and buy or check out from a library are much more important to me than something on a hand held electronic device.
Like someone said, music is music whether it's on tape, CD, IPod or MP3, but a book is a book is a book and there's not really anything like.
>I'll answer it by saying I want something affordable. Books have been rapidly outpricing themselves for quite some time. I love books, and though I have an eReader, there is a difference with having the book itself. But I stopped buying hardbacks years ago ago because they were too expensive, and with the cost of paperbacks having gone up another dollar, I'm continuing to buy less and less. Instead I go to the library and get the books though–I just can't spend $30 for a single book only to find out the writer didn't do a good job (the last Vince Flynn book is like that). Even the eBooks are overpriced. Vince Flynn's new release was going for $14, which is probably a little cheaper, but it's $14 for a PDF file that will probably go down to $8 once the book gets released in paperback. See the problem?
I guess my choice is that I want better options than what I'm getting. I want to be able to go back to the bookstore a couple of months and spend more than I need to. It used to get me ten books. Now I can't even get four.
>I love music, but I haven't bought a real CD in over a year. Because, of course, I buy my songs online.
However, being able to listen to song samples so easily has exposed me to a ton of music I never would have found in the store…and that I've never read about or hear on the radio or had recommended by a friend. I never have time to browse the CD racks when I'm at Walmart (much less go to Planet Music) but I can be on Itunes or Amazon whenever I'm at home.
In short, I think it's balanced out. In fact, I may have bought more music than I would've if I wasn't able to purchase them digitally.
Isn't it the same with books? I mean, a lot of times I'll want a book when it first comes out, but by the time it comes out in softcover a year later, (or the used price on Amazon drops) I've forgotten about it. If I had the chance to get it the same day it came out for $10, I would. That has the power to create a lot of momentum.
It's the same with Redbox–sure, it's only a dollar. But it's also on my way out of the grocery store. Takes less time than Netflix. So consumers are (I think) renting more often than they normally might.
And what is a "decent" price? Shouldn't the buyers determine that, not the industry?
>Steve: All great thoughts and solid arguments. But um… where in the world would you get the idea that I'm saying "people giving away their knowledge free on the Internet is a bad thing"?
Acknowledging something is happening (people are giving away a lot for free) is quite different from saying it's a bad thing.
And just because it may be bad for the traditional model of book publishing doesn't mean it's innately a "bad" thing.
I've only had this blog for two years but I have over 600 blog posts that (I hope) attest to my belief in the innate goodness of giving something away in the spirit of "hope this helps."
It almost sounds like you are saying that people giving away their knowledge free on the Internet is a bad thing. I have to strongly disagree.
I have been active on the Internet since the early nineties, and from the beginning, I have admired the willingness of talented and knowledgable people to give of their time and expertise without expecting payment – just for the pleasure of being helpful. In this increasingly selfish and self-centered age where it appears people "know the price of everything, and the value of nothing" it is refreshing to see the counter-trend of people who just want to share and be helpful. These are the kind of folks who will stop on a lonely highway at 3 AM when my car is broken down and give me a ride to the nearest exit to help find assistance, and believe me, I have been thankful over the years that these people exist. When the Usenet forums still dominated the Internet, the commonly seen tag line on a post responding to a question was "hope this helps". This is the original spirit of the early Internet, and it still lives – though it is sometimes harder now to find.
If anything, the Internet has gone a bit downhill in the last decade. Increasingly, when new media are mentioned, it is not in the context of "How can I use this to reach out to other people and enrich their lives". Rather it is "How cah we 'monetize' this". "Monetization" is an ugly word for an ugly concept, but it has come to typify the bottom feeders of the "new" Internet, from spammers, to "Search Engine Optimization", to commercial bloggers.
Thank goodness the trend to "monitization" is not yet complete, and people still come on the Internet and give of themselves without expecting payment. If this results in the loss of some book sales, so be it – but I actually don't think this is as much of a problem as you believe. As a reader of technical books, and technical Internet articles, I can attest that one is not a substitute for the other. For a quick tip, a refresher, an intro to an unfamialiar subject, or an answer to a very specific how-to, Internet articles and forum posts are great. But for a comprehensive and in-depth treatment of a subject, such articles will never replace a thorough well-written book. And those will probably not be given away in large numbers, because the level of effort involved in creating them is such that it can't be supported without some form of payment.
So, commercial publishing has its place, and will always, I think, exist – although it may change almost beyond recognition. And people helping people without seeking reward will also continue to exist – it's part of being human – some would say the best part.
Hope this helps,
>Not sure we need the internet to devalue books when we have Walmart selling off the $10 dollar best sellers they had over the holidays for $5 now. $5. Two weeks after Xmas. Not the bargain bin rejects they're trying to dump, but very recent hard cover releases. I was tempted to buy the new Wheel of Time for $5 for my son, but I refuse to support that. I won't support sacrificing books to inspire more consumerism.
>My local library now has ebooks they lend out online now I seldomly read. However there is nothing like sitting on a couch or in bed at night, open that newly bought book and read until you realize you have to wake up in three hours.
A few days ago I rushed to my local bookstore as I wanted to read The Lovely Bones before the movie came out and I could not believe how crowded the store was. I mean it was very difficult to go down the aisles and it was as if it were the last day on Earth. People were grabbing many books they could fit into their arms. I couldn't help but smile though. It was so nice to see that happen.
Long live the printed book!
>I'll pay good money for a book. The bookstores love me…
The internet will never replace my love for a hardback on my shelf.
>I love books and own a lot, but must admit I'm buying far fewer nonfiction books than I did ten years ago.
I gave away all my cookbooks last year in fact, because I get all my recipes online.
When it comes to encyclopedias, atlases and even dictionaries, their information is changing too quickly now and the print versions are so expensive, that online is the obvious choice. I do still like to find 'coffee table' books with lots of photos and a specialist subject, to give as gifts.
Novels? Paperbacks, definitely.
>I definitely wouldn't pay for an encyclopedia set anymore. I loved the one my parents had when I was growing up. Loved it.
Now, I would worry about the info being outdated.
That's nonfiction though.
I spent a TON of money at my local bookstore for Xmas presents this year. A deliberate choice to help out our industry. I've also bought more books for myself – mostly by people I've "met" online. Hopefully my drop in the bucket helps.
>Livia: Delaying the inevitable? Well, yes, that's exactly what I meant when I used the words "stem the tide." I didn't stay "stop this abomination!" 🙂
>Hmm, to play devil's advocate, while I'm all for supporting the book industry by buying books, if it really gets to the point where we all have to go out and buy lots of books just to keep the industry afloat, then publishing is probably beyond help. The industry needs to find new models and ways to be profitable and compete with "free". Otherwise, we're just delaying the inevitable.
>Wow, I never felt so good about my big money purchases orders for the library. You can bet I'll buy all the wonderful books I can, while I can.
One bright spot in the industry is that school libraries like mine are still in high demand. The books go like hotcakes around here.
And so do the playaways!
>In some ways the internet is getting overloaded with rubbish and it can be hard to find decent, accurate information. I'm researching a historical fiction project and keep going back to the library for the "good stuff". What's on the net is in snippets that take ages to find and verify.
I use the library for fiction more than I used to, as well. Someone made the point that if you spend money, you really want that book to be good! The library is my testing ground for new writers. But when I do school visits, it amazes me how many kids don't have books at home and don't belong to the library. I think if they started with the library, like I did as a kid, it would lead them into owning their own books, no matter what the format.
>I've been using the library more often. I hate not doing my part in helping that writer get a royalty, especially since I want people to buy my books, but a girl's gotta do what's best for her situation…as long as it's not illegal. 🙂
Ah, Lisa, I'm in the same boat. Economic circumstances have forced me to cut back on book-buying so I can pay the mortgage and buy groceries. I like to think I'm doing my part by visiting the library. It keeps the author's book in circulation, and maybe encourages the library to buy another copy or two. (Okay, this is a stretch, but ya never know.) Also, I'm accumulating a list of authors I've discovered and loved, so I can buy their books when I'm able. And I spread the word about books I'm reading and loving, which has led a few friends to buy those books. So I do think there are things we can do to support fellow writers.
>I definitely see the truth to this message!
One area I can't imagine changing all that greatly in the coming years is children's literature. How can technology replace a board book that your baby loves to handle and chew on and get all good and gooey? I can't imagine downloading books for my girls to view on a computer or to be printed off on our home computer – no matter how cheap that delivery might be.
>I think sometime in the future books will go away for the most part. There will still be some out there for collectors or whatnot, but ebooks will dominate the book scene. I'm torn by that, though not as much as I once was. With new E-readers looking like they are easy to read, quite portable, and capable of carrying a ton of reading materials, I think I will convert at some point in the not-to-distant future. The good news, too, is that these E-readers will do nothing but improve, so it will be a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I love hard copy books (I have many books shelves full), but with the advancing technology, I'm beginning to see the light.
As for the question of whether I want more things for free now because of the Internet, the answer is a huge yes. I realize to get quality in most things, you need to pay, but for many questions that previously could only be found in books, the Internet has made me crave free information. Is this a good thing? Yes and no. I agree that information has become devalued in our society, but overall, having valuable information just a few mouse clicks away is not a bad thing.
>I don't think print books and e-books should be mutually exclusive–perhaps in time, they'll complement each other, rather than compete. IMHO it'll be like ebay vs. real auctions and antique shows: Lots of junk with a few gems open to the masses vs. "vetted" antiques that are available and affordable to a few. Any thoughts?
>Mama Bear said:I see this happening in printed news more so than hard copy books, at least for now. The newspaper industry is struggling with the 24/7 availability of news online and on cable. By the time the paper arrives at your doorstep in the morning, it is already outdated.
While this is true to a point, you also have to take into account what Rhys Milner said about quality.
Case in point: Tiger Woods' car accident. Online and television news organizations jumped on that story before all of the facts could be gathered. The result was a nation full of misinformed sports fans who thought Tiger Woods was on his death bed.
The problem with most newspapers is that they were — in the spirit of competition — too quick to allow readers free access to their commodity.
Once you've started giving something like that away, you fall into the "If you give a mouse a cookie…" cycle. Not only do customers expect the product to be free, but they want more and more for free.
So, to answer your question, Rachelle, yes I believe more people expect freebies because of the internet.
It's difficult, if not impossible to change that mindset.
Many newspapers editors now know the key to surviving cyberia is knowing their niche and to scale back on the content that is given away. Readers are going to see more and more stories available online on a pay-as-you-read basis. It's an adjustment newspapers have to make to remain viable in this age.
Those solutions didn't come without major mistakes being made first. The publishing industry is just now starting to feel its way through this. Yes. Mistakes will be made. But I believe publishers will eventually find a way to adjust.
This is a great topic Rachelle.
>I have always loved to read and purchase a ton of books each year. Since receiving my Kindle, I have actually read and purchased MORE books than I did before. And I've read new writers I would not have found otherwise and (gasp!) even fiction.
Now, I can hear about a book or read about it online and have it on my Kindle in a matter of seconds. Before, I may have followed through and purchased the book or not, or I might have gone to the library or waited to borrow it from a friend.
Instead of looking at those who love their electronic readers and the convenience of ebooks as the enemy and/or the downfall of the industry, I'd like to see the publishing houses take advantage of the medium. Why not reissue older, out-of-print titles at lower prices to generate revenue–what are you making from them right now? Or how about releasing the first book of a series for free or lower price for a promotional to get me hooked?
Publishers need to get creative and think out of the box.
>To the person who said that we all like free, I want to disagree. I don’t like free, but I live with it. I don’t even care that much for those freebees you get at conferences because it’s never clearly defined how many of something you can take. Besides, I would rather pay for a pen that works than to have a pen that doesn’t work with someone’s name on it. I think that is human nature and is a big part of why many people struggle with the concept of salvation being a free gift. We like paying for things.
But I wish there was a way for me to pay an amount that is equal to the benefit I get from something, rather than paying a fixed price. If I open a book and I can’t get past the first page, I would hate to think I spent good money on it. But if I open a book and enjoy it, I pass it around to my friends and they read it, I get it back and I read it again and then I get fodder for several good blog posts from it, I would feel a whole lot better about paying a much higher price and I would be glad to see those who created the book get the money.
>Additionally, information on the Internet isn't really free. People spend an average of $25-30 per month to access this free info. They then are constantly sold to in exchange for the information. They often make purchases they would not otherwise have made without the so-called free access.
Google AdWords is multi-multi-multi-million dollar business based off the concept of "free" and it is only the largest among a universe of similar services.
>But I like e-books! 🙂
It's much better for the author. More control, higher royalty rates. And anything that is better for the author is better for the agent.
For example, if I get 40% on a 10 dollar e-book, that's 4 bucks. If I get 10 percent on a 25 dollar hard cover, that's 2.5. (Unless my math is off, which is highly likely).
So, the agent gets 15% of $4, rather than $2.5.
Booksellers and publishers are a different matter – they need to start looking toward boosting quantity and consolidation.
I think your point about the devaluation of information is an interesting one, Rachelle. But I guess I believe there will always be a market for a good story, or expert opinions.
I think the accessibility of information could turn out to be a very good thing – a more highly educated population.
Anyway, I tend to be a bit more optomistic about this, although I freely admit I could be wrong. 🙂
>I wonder if the things people get on the internet are really "free". The old adage, "You get what you pay for" is still true. Yes, you can something for free, but is it what you really want? Does it do what you want it to? Is a lot of free junk worth more than a few good things?
Everybody will have a different answer. As far as books go, I want good books. And not to disparage print books, but there are good e-books out there, too. I buy both.
>So when are the publishers going to ban together to form their own wholesaler (or distributer). As I see it, Amazon is a wholesaler. They don't spend money or effort to advertise books. The publishers sell hard copies, why not e-books themselves? Why wouldn't several Christian Publishers get together and get their "Eden" or whatever you want to name their warehouse) and make it the place to be to get Christian Fiction? Is Amazon so big it can't be taken on? Why don't Christian bookstores do their own online selling, even if it is to reserve a hard copy book or to send one in the mail?
Do I expect free? Facts and history is becoming free. Maybe bonus content could/should be added. How-to? A good woodworking book will always coax cash out of my wallet, but they are hard to find (most is pretty blasse).
Fiction? I will buy good fiction any day (and maybe a Star Wars book any other day…). It is hard to get good fiction for free unless it is old (and classic0 – doesn't good stuff eventually get to the point when it should be available for all? How long do we need to pay for rights to literature that is useful for teaching and learning? I don't know.
>I don't expect more for free. At least I don't think I do. I admit I will do a lot of on-line research on a topic and so I do take advantage of that. But the online info isn't always accurate and there comes a time when you want to be sure of the source and that's why I also purchase books and magazines so that I know I'm getting expert profession opinions or information.
This industry is going through its growing pains and I know it looks more like a threat right now than an opportunity but I believe there will be lots of new jobs that will come out of this challenge.
Your example of the book with learning knitting visually is a great example – I own several books from this series yet I confess that I actually learned the technique best when I went to U-Tube or found an author who made a DVD demonstrating the technique. In the knitting industry I think DVD's are fantastic for instruction and I'm willing to pay for them.
>I spend about $50 a month on books. I'll pay for fiction, because I like owning it, and I like the physical feeling of reading a "real" book. Ditto memoir and writing craft books. But I admit: I get lots of how-to information online for free. I don't like to pay for a book if the information is going to obsolete in a few months/years. I want a Kindle, but I'll always be willing to pay for good reading.
>Hardcover books at a bookstore are expensive. There's probably not a book on the planet I'd buy full price and I love to read. I do buy them at Costco or on kindle but rarely justify spending over ten dollars for them.
>I read lots of books I get from the library. That's where I've always obtained more books than I can afford to purchase.
But I've then purchased the ones I've loved, to keep forever. Quality of writing will still be what brings someone to crack open a wallet.
>I have been pondering your thoughts about the changes in publishing. I think that in time, the changes of today may return books to their pre very accessible state (say as in Benjamin Franklin's Time or Abe Lincoln's) when books were rare, expensive & precious. I agree that the value of storytelling will not go away but its shape & form will change and thus with it the way the publishing industry is right now. And then, yes, making it more difficult to make a living in writing.
As far as stemming the tide and buying the books, within the homeschool community reading books is paramount and the purchasing of new books takes place with vigor at various curriculum fairs. Home schoolers are doing their part to keep reading literature from books alive. May we all be raising a generation that keeps the book reading alive so it won't be gone even when we are old and future generations will also enjoy the pleasure of turning pages in a book on the beach, or in bed, or at a park.
>In reality, this is a misnomer. The reason the consumer can access information on the internet without paying for it is because of interactive marketing, which is a growing business.
To be honest, I'm not sure I'm concerned about this change, and that's coming from a book lover. The industry is undergoing a massive change–one that hasn't happened in its 500 years of existence (though every other industry has had massive changes in the past 500 years). We'll have to learn what it means to make a living with interactive marketing (for nonfiction). On the fiction side, though sales of paper books wane, I think we can adapt to the growing world of ebooks, not that this will happen in the next few years, as you mentioned. The truth is, story won't disappear. They've always been a part of our lives, orally, carved into stone tablets, calligraphied into manuscripts.
I love paper books–their smell, the feel of the binding giving way for the first time–but I think if we as writers are going to survive and compete with visual story (or, better yet, coexist with visual story), rather than launch an offense to keep the paper book alive, it might behoove us to look for ways to thrive in this new world.
>Good morning, Rachelle;
Yes, we are living in a time of great change, probably the biggest change since the invention of the printing press. A time of transition is always uncomfortable, unsettling, and scary. That is certainly true, now.
I want to comment on something that many people have mentioned, here: "I have a house…full of books." To most of us, that sounds completely normal. Well, it is only normal for a fortunate few.
First, most people have no permanent home or space to keep books. Before I bought my home, I was more selective about the number of books I bought simply because they are heavy and costly to move. That meant I used the library much more than I do today.
My second point is that most people do not have the disposable income to buy many books. Our penchant for buying books is based on our economic status – as is our ability to buy electronic tools to read electronic books.
Like many other parts of our economy, the publishing business depends on the existence of the middle class and the availability of leisure time.
At the time of our nation's birth, a single book was a tresured possession, carefully handed down to the next generation. Libraries were by subscription only and were usually owned by rich individuals. Owning many books was a statement of wealth.
We take these blessings for granted. The God who provided the blessings of: "I have a house…full of books," will continue to provide what we need, even if the publishing world collapses today. Should tomorrow look little like today – free or expensive books, paper or electronic books – the same God is over all.
You've said it yourself, Rachelle, your career is not you; books are not your whole world.
Our ability to cope with change rests in our trust in God.
>Rachelle, this is such an interesting discussion. Everyone likes free stuff. Free stuff has been used for years by marketers to get people to buy more — and by and large it works. Do I think people will stop buying books? No, I don't. I didn't stop buying CDs just because I can download music. Arguably, I buy more music overall. I didn't stop buying DVDs, or stop going to the movies, when I joined Netflix. The movie theatre is always filled. If someone allows me to download a free chapter of a book, will I buy it? To me this is similar to going to B&N and reading snippets on my own. Call me an optimist, but I think overall the trends can only be good for the market overall.
>I see it from a completely different perspective.
First, my credibility: I own more books today than I ever have at any point in my life. I'm littered with the things. I love them.
Second, the Internet, and yes, "free" has helped me to make better buying decisions than ever before. Free is good. Free is how money went from my pocket to the pockets of writers that I would have never heard of twenty years ago: Tosca Lee, Theodore Beale, Mary DeMuth, Cory Doctorow and, yes, even Terry Brennan!
Free gives me the power to drill down to make a more perfect union with a book that I'm more than happy to pay for.
As a farm kid, I can remember the adults in my life complaining of the few pennies of income they received from a $2 box of cereal, even though they provided 99% of the edible content. I always thought how much more money we could make if we just made our own cereal and sold it directly to consumers. Of course, I realize now that although there would be a higher profit percentage in this model for the producer, there would also be a dramatic drop in price to the consumer. Good for the consumer to cut out the middleman, but the producer wouldn't see as massive of an increase in income as you might first assume.
When people buy good books, yes, they are paying for good writing, good presentation, good editing, and even a certain level of good screening, but they are also paying for paper pulping, binding, ink, distribution, corporate overhead and, quite significantly, two, three or even five printed books that were not sold to anyone else!
Making a more efficient publishing process should result in slightly more profits for the producers of content, a reduction in profits of middle processing (perhaps to their demise) and a lower cost to the consumer.
Books have been "free" for a hundred years – but Public Libraries have only, in the long run, promoted the purchase of books, not publishing's elimination.
The long-lamented death of the American "pulp" or "dime" novel came about due to a sea change in the publishing world. Cheap books, accessible to the common reader, did not make enough profits to sustain a publishing house with editors, distributors and New York rent, where as the more respectable "event" novels of Phillip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, etc. Could be packaged and sold through restricted distribution channels at much higher returns as blockbuster megasellers.
I'll put it another way: Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, a television quality entertainment, shot for a fraction of television's production costs, went on to make its producer nearly $2 million and counting. Actors got paid. Agents got paid. Fans got something they wouldn't have seen in the traditional channels.
So, yes, things are changing. But "free" is not the enemy, merely a medium, neither the bugbear its detractors make it out to be, nor the panacea its wild-eyed apostles claim it is.
The writers, editors and agents who will "win" in the changing environment will be those, like Rachelle, who use free as a lever to launch quality products as far as they can go.
I guarantee you that the author of a future bestseller in search of an agent will enter (or already has entered) a business partnership with Rachelle, initially due to the hook that her high-quality online "free" advice provides.
"Free," played well, means money for someone.
>Speaking of fiction only here: I don't expect more for free because of the internet, but it's very cool for a devoted reader (and writer) like myself to have the opportunities for free novels just for posting a review (which I take seriously).
So far, books are it for me. I buy them, I receive them, and I give them as gifts. But here's the thing. Since I buy my share of them, I want the best deal. Most of the CBA novels are overpriced for what they offer. Being self-published, I'm well aware of the costs to produce books. But you give me 80,000 words for $14.99, and I feel like I'm being ripped off. Sorry, but I do. So I'm going to purchase that book wherever I can get a better deal on it–yes, even if it's on the "used" list in great condition on Amazon.
>Rachelle, this is something that concerns me as well. Much of the price of a book is covering the cost of paper and printing and "handling" but what happens when there is no paper and printing? Will people expect digital books to be offered for less and less because of the ease of access? And then how does the author get paid for his/her time and talent? And how about the editors, publicists, marketers, etc.? Interesting thoughts, indeed.
>I'm too much of a book junkie to not buy books, personally. They're usually at the top of every Christmas and birthday list. My house is piled with them, and my kids fight over who gets to read a book first when one of their favorites is purchased. But I believe it's true that many people are relying on the internet for quick information rather than books. The problem is that the internet information is not very reliable. It's easy accessibility makes it a simple matter for anyone to throw their opinion up on it as fact.
The worse problem is that people in general tend to believe whatever they read without evaluating it critically, no doubt a result of our wonderful public education system. The second problem is probably that businesses like Amazon can undercut almost any brick-and-mortar store in price.
For the most part, it's a reader beware world on the internet.
>Both my husband and I work in books, so the whole issue is so scary to me. Books quite literally keep the roof over our heads. Trying to see it rationally (tough for me), I'd say that the information in books is still more comprehensive than what you find on the Internet. For example, I'm researching Gullah culture, and I can find interesting bits on the Internet, but it's nothing like what I'd find in a well-written serious book from a unversity press. When I researched my undersea books, I found out (sometimes the hard way) that the Internet is filled with Factoids, things that sound true because one person writes it, another person picks it up, etc, and yet it's not correct.
Anyway, please buy books everyone! I gave everyone B&N gift certificates for Christmas and plan to give them for every gift from now on. I go to my local bookstore every week and browse. I don't always buy, but I am trying to keep this store in business!
>I see this happening in printed news more so than hard copy books, at least for now. The newspaper industry is struggling with the 24/7 availability of news online and on cable. By the time the paper arrives at your doorstep in the morning, it is already outdated.
I agree with several of the comments about our mutual love for print books, but I see them becoming more a thing of nostalgia than common household items, over time.
>Rhys–great points about instant gratification and the younger generation.
Kristen–I wonder if the term "writing career" is going to become obsolete, or eventually apply only to a chosen few. Like playing in a band. Many do it for fun, only a few make a career out of it. Or playing football. I wonder if most of us will have writing hobbies rather than careers.
Rowenna–I think Amazon had the exact same idea you posed: Get people hooked on e-books at $9.99 each, then later raise the price. But it's getting people so used to that price, it will be interesting to see if it works. Will e-book sales fall back down again when prices go up?
>I have two words: "Fahrenheit 451" (if you count a number as a word, that is).
Most people think Ray Bradbury's book was about government censorship, but really it was about society self-imposing book banning little by little. He was predicting that people would fuss over the content in books–with different people wanting certain things banned and other people wanting other things banned (can anyone say "politically correct?"). Also, he wrote the book when TV had just been invented, and he foresaw people beginning to want their information delivered in little snippets, all in video format. Of course, he had no concept of the internet and Kindle and people reading books on iphones and blackberries, but still.
While the hows and whys of things have played out differently–we're not begging for banning of pieces of information, but rather demanding the availability of EVERYTHING so we can pick and choose–we are still on the road to having our information and entertainment delivered in streams of visual snippets.
My point? I agree with you :). With the availability of free information online, we need to be careful. But, I do believe there are enough true bibliophiles in the world to keep books in print–at least fiction, anyway. There is just NOTHING that beats the feel of a book in hand and smell of printed pages…. I for one am willing to fight. I'm sure I will eventually buy an ereader for certain things (because some books are ONLY available electronically), but I hope to NEVER have to give up my print books.
>Interesting–I'd actually thought of this almost in opposite in terms of people getting used to media in digital format. When digital music first came out, we didn't pay for it–we got it for "free" (and, ok, discovered eventually that it was illegal to do so). But having free access opened the door to feeling comfortable with it and preferring it, which is (in my opinion) why we're now willing to pay $0.99 a song. The same is and will continue to happen with websites–many that used to be free now have or are considering subscription or access pass for some or all of the site (Sports Illustrated's site was one I've heard of having this discussion).
I wonder–given this–if it would actually benefit publishers and the industry as a whole to start low with the price–or even offer freebies–of e-books to get people reading on the devices they already have (laptops, computers, smart phones, etc), get them hooked on the idea, then move them toward dedicated devices and higher prices once they're willing to pay (the same movement we took from listening to pirated music on our computers to buying music for our ipods).
Not that I much care for this–I still prefer traditional books. The ones with paper. But I can see a lot of advantages for e-books and hope they find a place in the market that only adds to writers' and publishers' ability to succeed.
>I don't expect more for free because of the internet. I love the internet for research and appreciate the respected sites I use to compile facts for my novels.
Yeah, sure, I love free books such as Harlequin's 60th anniversary downloads or getting Brandilyn's Exposure and Dark Pursuit, but I don't download books that violate copyrights just because I can read them for free.
I'd love to do more brick and mortar bookstore shopping, but our closest bookstore is 45 minutes away and that's in danger of closing. The next closest is 90 minutes. I'm forced to buy books at Walmart, Kmart, or online.
With the economy as it is and with an unemployed hubby who is a full-time college student, I've had to tighten my budget and let go of some of those fun purchases such as books. I've been using the library more often. I hate not doing my part in helping that writer get a royalty, especially since I want people to buy my books, but a girl's gotta do what's best for her situation…as long as it's not illegal. 🙂
>I like to think that my non-fiction books have quite a bit of entertainment value as well. Sure, you can find some/most/all of the info for free somewhere, but will you have as much fun reading it?
For me, my speaking engagements are starting to support my writing habit. 🙂
Difference being a quality blog like this one takes a deal of reader effort to find, it's not just the first thing on the list when you type in "writing" in google.
My point was also supposed to be related to the concept of effort as well as money being a cost. I suppose I should have been clearer and less rambling.
So yes, you have to be discerning to find the content that is quality. Though I can't think of the last "how to" website I saw that wasn't smothered in ads.
Mostly I was trying to highlight the ray of hope that people are willing to pay for quality, be it in cash or time spent. The internet, particularly for the younger generation (mine and below), encourages instant gratification and they tend to leap on the first thing that fills the bill or just go to yahoo or google answers and fire off a question into the beyond. Such as:
"Why are there school? Is point to it?"
No I'm not making that quote up.
But you get what you pay for, and as someone who earns their money and has very little, I like to spend it on something tangible that lasts.
>Totally agree Rachelle…information comes cheap because of the Internet. I personally see that as a good thing because there is no middle-man between knowledge and it's dissemination.
Sadly, middle-men often have an ax to grind and that influences what information gets disseminated. Obviously, this isn't always the case.
I think it supports what you've been saying about the need to build a platform before attempting to pub non-fiction. People will still pay through the nose to read what Dr. Phil has to say about parenting or what NT Wright has to say about the New Testament–even if you can get most of that information for free from someone else on the Internet.
I foresee the industry going more in that direction.
Have you ever read Ender's Game…it's very impressive that OS Card was saying this stuff 20 years ago, that before you can be taken seriously, you have first to make a name for yourself for free on the Internet. You see that today with blogs, etc…people gain a following and are then taken seriously rather than what's traditionally been the case…you're taken seriously then gain a following.
>Maybe…I like being able to google "how to" information. But those are books I wouldn't buy anyway.
I'm with you–hopefully this will take a long, looonnnggg time. Because it's depressing that as hard as it is to establish a writing career, it's going to get even more difficult.
>Times are changing. We can see it, but I think people will always buy books(especially fiction and devotionals).
The internet has replaced libraries for doing research, but when a person wants to immerse themselves in a book, they want to hold it in their hand; they want to be able to take it to bed or curl up on the couch. There's a "warmth" to a book that you don't find with a Kindle or laptop.
>Katie: Reading on a Kindle is nothing like reading on a laptop.
>Rhys Miller wrote, "there is very little of any quality that is free. Anything of any quality at all that claims to be free is usually so weighed down with advertisments that I can't stand to look at them…"
It's a curious argument, considering where you posted it.
There are quite a few bloggers I read regularly who don't get paid for it and don't have ads. But they're still high quality.
I also haven't found a lack of quality available on the Internet when it comes to "how to" topics.
The Internet lacks gatekeepers so it's "buyer beware." That doesn't mean there IS no quality. It just means you have to be discerning to find it.
>Having just had a computer crash, I am dubious about the reliability of electronic books. Imagine having read many books on a reader, highlighting passages, and then have the reader crash. I shudder to think of that. It is wonderful to be able to go back to a book, flip a few pages and find what you were looking for. Sometimes it is the cover that prompts my memory about where a quote is, and that is not so easy to do in an electronic venue. I tend to read with a pen in hand to underline important facts and love the feel of books.
While the internet provides some information reliably, recipes, etc. I also know that not all is reliable off the internet, not all who write with such "knowledge" really know their facts. A book that has gone through the process of being edited and fact checked is invaluable. This was underscored for me when my son was writing a paper for his 12th grade class and needed to have a word that he coined be available in some reference source in case his teacher asked for proof of its existence. He felt it was a good word that should exist, so without consulting me, he created a Wikkipedia entry for the word. I know Wikkipedia fact checks many entries, but the ease with which he could place a word into there was disheartening.
I think there will always be a place for books and am encouraged that my children use both electronic books and real books. For pleasure reading they prefer to have a book in hand, not a gadget. In fact today I am off to get my daughter a new book that she requested. She constantly has her face in a book. I know my library will continue to grow, and I pray that when I have grandchildren that I can give them a love of books as well! Heather
>I do my part, much to my husband's… and our budget's… annoyance. You're right. I pray the day that no books are bought comes very, very far in the future.
I think another key is to instill the love of books in our children. Read to them, buy them books, take them to the bookstores and let them leisurely pick books off the shelves. Do it as a "pleasure" activity and not a chore (i.e. dont' do the whole "You have to read thirty minutes before you go outside to play" thing"… unless of course it's a kid who hates reading so you have to use that tactic, LOL)
Regardless, I think at a young age you can instill that love of books, and hopefully we'll preserve it at least for one more generation? Maybe?
>This too shall pass (I think). I know a lot of people have the Wal-mart mentality, in that they prefer a lot of cheap rather than long lasting quality, but I think our readers are willing to pay for our product. It’s a different industry, but Kevin MacLeod provides music as free downloads and makes money from donations. I don’t know how much money he makes, but I know I’ve given him money for the music I have used in videos and I assume other people do as well. People want a good deal, but they don’t want to steal to get it.
I don’t think the real problem is that readers are expecting lower and lower prices. The fact is that the consumer doesn’t know how much a book should be worth. They have no concept of how much money the publisher invests, how many people purchase the book and how much time the author put into it. If we tell them that $1 is a fair price, they’ll take our word for it.
So, the real problem is the willingness of authors to work for free. We all keep putting out all this free content, hoping that it will be our ticket to a paying gig. We spend hours at the keyboard to produce a manuscript to get a publishing contract and though we want the best deal we can get, secretly, we would let the publisher have it for free, just so people will read our work. Until we start taking pride in our own work, the consumer will never see the true value.
>I promise you I do my part. I have a house overflowing with books. Much to husband's dismay at times.
>I don't know a thing about motorized vehicles, but I do know you can't replicate riding a horse. 🙂 Besides, an automobile can't step over things. Horses can. For these loud contraptions to be of any valube at all, someone has got to build a lot of roads.
Now, if the roads were already there…
>I think about DVDs versus old school VHS, or CDs vs. mp3s. You can't buy a VHS anymore, and CDs are sort of rare. But here's where I cling to hope (maybe naively so)…whether you buy a VHS or a DVD, or listen to a CD or an mp3, the experience is still the same. You're still watching a movie on the screen or listening to a song. The experience isn't what changes – it's the technology that delivers that experience that changes.
But book reading? There's nothing that can replace the experience of holding pages between your hands and flipping through them as you soak up a story. Reading off a computer just doesn't do it for me. Not when it comes to my fiction. There's just somethign much less cozy about snuggling up in bed with a laptop as opposed to a flexible, worn book. I don't know… I'm probably naive. Maybe young kids won't give a rat's behind about cuddling with a laptop or some other digital device. I'm probably in denial. I just would really hate to see the day when books, actual books, become obsolete (and not just because I would like to make money off them someday).
I hope you're right. I hope I'm old and wrinkled and hobbling by the time that day comes.
>You simply can't replicate reading a book. It's like you say: the touch, the feel and the smell of a new book is heavenly — up there with freshly baked bread and summer fields. Going to your favourite bookshop, browsing until you find that special book which you know that you will love reading and keep proudly on your shelf afterwards is one of the few experiences which remains as magical as it was in childhood, and its power never fades.
There will always be 'book lovers' but I doubt there will ever be 'e-book lovers'.
>It's already happening. There's a website called 4Shared. You can't get everything there, but you can get a fair amount of books for download in pdf, txt and even ereader formats. For free. My understanding is that the books are scanned in with text recognition software and then uploaded by whichever user feels the need to upload them.
It's sad, but the minute content goes digital (think mp3's, movies etc.) it becomes far too easy to get it free and that is exactly what is happening with ebooks.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that at least people still seem to buy the odd cd or dvd, but I don't think its the younger generation doing the buying.
>Heaven forbid that we give up our need for real books. I enjoy the act of browsing for books, checking out the back copy, analyzing the graphics…How will we be able to tell quality books apart if they all look the same on a Kindle or Nook? They can't replace the sense of adventure and exploration you feel in a bookstore, searching for a new book or discovering a new author…Where's the challenge if it's all-too-easy to plug in an e-reader and order online? BORING!!!
>It's true, the internet seems to encourage a perception that "anyone can do it" when it comes to writing things down. Because so much is available for free, people are coming to place less value on the work that gets put in to creating a book of any kind.
Though this is a function of the larger societal problem of a sense of entitlement combined with laziness. All too common.
However the one thing we have on our side is the concept of quality, while there is a great deal available for free online, there is very little of any quality that is free. Anything of any quality at all that claims to be free is usually so weighed down with advertisments that I can't stand to look at them and would rather go buy something bereft of ads.
Theres a horrid thought… Free novels online that you scroll through page by google ad covered page…
"Johnny carefully opened the door to see" ENLARGE YOUR —- FOR A DOLLAR A WEEK.
It's a cool idea for cyberpunk writing but a horrid idea for reality.
>HILLARY from yesterday
Sorry, I have no blog. If I knew your needs I'd relate the best info I know to help.
I love owning books. When I was teaching I had over 900 books in my classroom. I donated them to an elementary school when I "retired." I am now repurchasing a lot of those same books, so I can study and learn from them. When you purchase a book you own a little piece of someone's words and ideas. I am sure the publishing industry will find a way to survive e-books.
I live in a town of about 100,000. We are down to one major bookstore. However, it's always full of people purchasing books. I make purchases about twice a month. I have about $80 in giftcards and I will be purchasing books with them. Through the blogging world, I have "met" several writers with new books either just out or coming out. I plan on purchasing them, so I can give an educated opinion about their works on my blog.
Long Live Paper Versions of Books!