At one point or another, we’ve all heard someone say “Books are too expensive” no matter what the price is. Whether you’re going out to Chapters, Barnes and Nobles, or some other bookstore, you’ll be going out and spending anywhere between $20 and $40 for a hardcover book. If you’re on Amazon buying an e-book, you’ll be spending anywhere between 99c and $20. That cost doesn’t really matter though, because no matter the cost, someone will complain.
But what do books really cost? When you think about it, hundreds upon hundreds of hours go into the making of a book; from the first idea scrawled onto a napkin, or typed into Microsoft Word, to a reader going out to a store and buying a copy. There’s the dozens (if not hundreds) of hours and late nights that go into just the first-draft, then the many revisions. There’s the time spent with an editor being nit-picky and going through it over and over (not to mention the time sending out queries/waiting for someone to request the entire novel and sign a deal with the author(s)), designing the cover and interior, planning PR and marketing, and finally, promotion for the book. There’s probably stages and a billion details I’m missing, but the point is, it’s a lot of work. For all that work, people need to be paid — and that’s where the cost of books come from (not to mention things like material — paper, ink and all that stuff).
A friend of mine, Jeff Mariotte posted a link on Facebook for one of his books, The Slab. It was being offered for free as an e-book as part of the Kindle Select program, he had a pretty long post about it, and there’s one part of it that really stuck with me. (Besides the part about how awesome a story it is, I can vouch for how great a book it is, go buy it!)
“Giving away mulitple copies of a book that I worked on for a long time, writing and rewriting and revising and polishing, sweating and giving myself finger cramps, is not an easy thing to do. I’m a professional writer, and part of that deal is that the writer should be paid for the work.”
Authors work hard, editors work hard, everyone who plays a part in the publication of a book works hard. When you start the mass-distribution of free books, everyone gets ripped off. Amazon does offer many ebooks for free, and no matter where you go online there are ways to get free books. Demonoid, and other torrent-based sites will get you thousands of books for free at once. There have always been ways to get books for free — that’s what libraries were made for, for the sharing of books. Readers have been finding ways to do so for years, whether it’s picking up dozens at Goodwill for 49c each, sharing with friends, or leaving them behind in public places. For these, the authors don’t receive any compensation but does that mean that the downloading of books is just the common day equivalent of going to a library? It’s hard to say, and I don’t think there’s any one answer but the accessibility of free books online has undoubtedly lead to fewer books sales, and quite possibly the closure of book stores such as Borders.
Think of it like movies, let’s be honest — most of us have found a movie that looks interesting to us, but since we’ve been unwilling to spend the $14 for a movie ticket, we just wait for it to be available online. (Though, don’t get me started on the people who will happily buy tickets for a movie, getting two hours of entertainment then complain about the price of books which give you days of entertainment) Even though a lot of people still go out and see the movie, and buy the DVD, it still results in a lower revenue for the movie. The same holds true for books. Books aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny.
Authors don’t get a lot for every book that’s sold. It varies, but they’re typically contracted to receive 10% royalties from the sales of their books, 15% of that 10% goes toward their agent. If it’s a hardcover book, and it’s being sold for $25.00, they’re looking at getting $2.13 per book sold (before taxes). Which, still isn’t bad at all if the book hits mass-production and becomes as well known as some titles such as the Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but it’s rare for authors to hit that status. They do receive an advance of their royalties, which is about 50%, which is great and is in the thousands of dollars, though that is typically put towards marketing and promoting their book. Until there have been enough sales to cover the amount of their advance — they don’t see another penny. So, there are a lot of great books out there, a lot of fantastic authors that aren’t getting the recognition or the money they’ve earned. In a lot of those cases, it’s not that no one is interested in their books, but it’s that those authors aren’t that well known, so people are skeptical about spending money on it and turn to online sources (or just stick with best-selling popular authors). Sales, and free books also affect how much the author gets paid, it’s a tricky thing — they receive less for those sales (or nothing at all from the giveaways or other sources of free books), but if done well it can increase their sales and lead to them making more.
We live in an expensive world, and a majority of us are struggling to make a living. Rising costs don’t make it any easier but that doesn’t make theft acceptable. It’s just not a viable excuse. Authors work hard at writing their books, it’s their job and they deserve every penny they can make for it. If you borrow a book from a friend — or if you download it somewhere — if it’s a book you like, do them a favor and support them, buy their book – for yourself, or for a friend. If you can’t afford to do that; write a review. Spend a few minutes back giving back to the people that enrich your life with mystery, wonder, and fantastical adventures. They’ve created worlds for us to enjoy and explore, show your appreciation and buy a book.
- Adventures in Self-Publishing, Chap. 9: How to Price your Book and Does it Matter? (consortiuminfo.org)
- Future of Books: Will Publishers Weather the Changes? (openforum.com)