Cheap Books! The poor quality of fiction is our fault. Readers, I mean. Or more accurately, buyers of fiction. e-books, and online book selling venues, keep lowering prices, forcing authors to lower the price of their work in order to be competitive. If they are being forced to sell for creative time as low as $.99, or heaven forbid…giveaway books, why should writers spend a great deal of time perfecting their stories? Why pay for editors, shell out cash for professional book cover designs, get work proofread? Forget pride in your craft, this is about losing money!
I am not saying that all e-books are bad. The affordability of e-tailers being able to sell anything, regardless of quality, has flooded the market with half-ass written books. It’s like reality TV. There was, and is, a great deal of reality TV because it is cheap to produce and still makes money, even if most of it sucks. Same with book e-tailers. It costs them next to nothing to put a garbage book online to sell. If they sell one book, they still make money. It probably costs them the same amount to post junk as it does a best-seller. The minimal cost of selling is allowing them to throw a ton of crap against the wall to see what sticks. They don’t care, because like bookies, they make money either way.
Think of e-tailers like pimps. (I know, right?) The more hookers a pimp has out on the street, the more money he makes. Some hookers will make him a fortune. The ugly ones, not so much. His cost for putting a lot of ugly ones out there is next to nothing, so he does and still makes a little from each of them. He may have only one or two real money makers, but the majority of his revenue comes from the hundreds of ugly ones he has out there at no cost. Now swap the words “pimp” for “online bookstore” and “hookers” for “books.”
Should we get rid of the pimps? Unfortunately, we can’t, because they have eliminated, by virtue of pricing and profitability, just about anywhere else we can get the same products/services. It’s a bulletproof business model. What can we do about this travesty? Boycott the ugly hookers!… uh, I mean books.
Cliché, but possibly true
- Caveat emptor – Latin term for “let the buyer beware” – statistically speaking, there’s probably more than one sucker being born every day. As long as people are willing to be sucked in by substandard books, they will get what they deserve.
- You get what you pay for – Have you ever wondered why there are so many FREE books out there? Because that’s what they are worth. The problem is that they may cost you a few wasted days of your time reading them to figure that out.
- If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – If a book is free, or extremely low priced, ask yourself “why?”
Stop Buying Cheap Books
One solution is easy: stop buying cheap books. Can a book be affordable AND good? Sure. Once in a blue moon. Can a book be expensive and suck? Oh yeah! More often than it should. Hollywood is churning out crappy movies by the truckload and still charging $15 to get in to see them. As long as they keep their investment down, why do they care if you pay to see a loser?
Should we stop buying books altogether? Of course not. But if we boycott all the cheap or bad books, it will force online sellers to either raise the prices or weed out the bad ones. If good authors are making more money per title (theoretically), they can afford to get professional editing, covers, etc., to make their books better. A positive, repetitive cycle.
Stop Buying Bad Books
We are to blame for bad books being purchased. If we quit buying them, then eventually the bad writers would give up (or starve to death), or the e-tailers would quit putting them online. The problem is: we, as consumers, love low prices. We can buy TEN $.99 cent e-books that may, or may not, suck, or we can buy ONE $10 good book. Well, we’re going to buy TEN, of course. It’s a societal thing. We are our own worst enemies when it comes to a bargain.
Why These Ideas Won’t Work
The flaw in these ideas is that there is no reason for online venues to NOT sell schlock books, since it costs them next to nothing to list them for sale. Even if they sell just one, they make a percentage. Greed trumps pride, common sense, decency, quality, or pretty much anything.
Too Many Wannabes
On Facebook, there is a writing group called The 1% Writers Club. Their defining quote is that 81% of us WANT to be writers, but only 1% of us do it. The problem with that math is: if 1% of the world’s population actually become writers, that’s over 70,000,000 (70 million) writers. In just the U.S., that is over 3 million writers. How many of them are any good? How many will write multiple (probably horrible) books?
Everybody Thinks They Are A Writer
Let’s whittle that number down a bit.
- Of the 3-70 million writers out there, what percentage of them have actual (good) story telling abilities?
- What percentage of that number has the dedication and ambition to sacrifice what it takes to BE a successful writer?
- Out of THAT percentage, what percentage has the technical (craft) skills to write a good manuscript?
- Of THAT percentage, how many will, or can afford, to get professional editors, cover designers, proofreaders, etc., involved?
- Of THAT percentage, which of these writers will have the marketing wherewithal to market their books so that the reading public can actually find them to buy them?
What all that means is that there are way more people with the dream of being a writer than there are people with the skills, qualities, resources, and professionalism to actually be a GOOD writer. There are no “barriers to entry” to be a writer, so anyone with a computer thinks they can write. I mean, how hard can it be?
This means the wannabes and hobbyists will continue to sell their schlock books as cheap as possible to accomplish their dream of being a “published” author. Therein lies part of the problem with ridding ourselves of cheap books.
So it looks pretty grim for the good guys … well, the ones that do have some talent, some ambition, technical skills, dedication, and professionalism. They probably won’t rid themselves of the deluge of cheap books as long as the e-tailers can make a profit by selling anything with a title. It will get harder and harder for good books to emerge from the flood of the mediocre and sad. As long as the market is flooded with dreamers who will put anything written for any price, even FREE, in order to Live The Dream, it seems unlikely we will raise the standard of book quality.
Take heart, fair reader/author. All this changed in the last ten years. It is very likely that the technology, market, system, or some other factor will change in the next ten years and turn all of this on its head again. Granted, at that point, we will have twenty years of cheap, schlock books to weed out of the way to get to the good ones, but it could be A LOT worse…
2% of us could become writers.
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About Paul K. Metheney, the Author: Paul was the featured author for dozens of sports magazine articles, has two stories published in a recent anthology, a contract to be published in an anthology coming out later this year, is contracted for a collection of his own short stories, and is working on a much-delayed novel or two. Paul has nearly three decades working in advertising design, print, and graphic design. For the last twenty-five years or so, he has been working in the web design, SEO, PPC, social media, and marketing fields, including writing marketing copy for his client's blogs and social media on various subjects. Oh, yeah. He teaches those subjects as well at the local community college. Paul can be reached at his blog on writing, teaching, poker, travel, reviews, and all things politically incorrect at paulmetheney.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
In full disclosure, Left Hand Publishers, besides publishing some of his work, has contracted Paul's company, Metheney Consulting, as one of their book cover design artists and marketing consultants to help assist with author's branding and marketing.
Paul is happily married to his one-time, high school sweetheart, loves riding his Can-Am Spyder motorcycle, sporadically smokes a good cigar, and is an avid poker enthusiast. Paul is owned and cared for by two small Shitzus.
To learn more, visit his web site, dedicated to writing, teaching, poker, reviews, all things politically incorrect, and posts revealing genuine stupidity in the world: PaulMetheney.com or email him at