I spontaneously dropped by a friend’s house the other day after she’d just finished having lunch with some other friends that had spontaneously dropped by.
Sitting around the table, I struck up a conversation about books and writing (as I often do) with the stranger sitting next to me. It turned out that we were both former journalists, and we had similar tastes in books having just read Bewilderment by Richard Powers.
We hurriedly asked on another, ‘Have you read The Overstory?’
We then proceeded to rave about this book so much that the other five people at the table stopped their conversation to listen to ours.
Our enthusiasm and love for the book was so palpable that two people whipped out their phone to purchase the book on audible and ibooks.
Then someone said, ‘Oh, it’s fifteen dollars.’
The internet and social media has trained us to expect art for free.
Traditional writers are encouraged to produce content (videos, blogs, social posts) as a way to bring readers in and grow their audiences. Indie writers are told to make the first book in their series free because, apparently, 99 cents for a debut book is too much to ask.
A few years ago, singer Lisa Mitchell released a single titled, Everything is free now. The song is about Mitchell’s experience of being undervalued as an artist, how she has had to struggle financially because people aren’t willing to pay money for the skills that she has cultivated (that they presumably don’t have) and which they enjoy consuming.
The internet has made making a living as an artist more possible than ever, and yet, it has also told us that we have to give an extraordinary amount of ourselves away for free in the hope that our audience, followers, or subscribers will purchase our ‘real’ products or future products.
I’ve had my own awkward exchanges with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers I’ve met at parties (!) wanting a copy of my book for free.
Don’t they release the amount of time (5+years), effort (including a masters degree), and money ($2000+) that went into making that book happen?
I turned to my friend (who is a wonderful, amazing, generous, and truly kind person) and said, ‘The Overstory is eight-hundred pages long and it took five years to write. Fifteen bucks is a fucking bargain.’
If you can’t afford to buy books, that’s okay–libraries exist for a reason. More often than not, people aren’t buying books and art because they can’t afford them but because they have been trained not to value them.
In a recent vlog brother’s video, author John Green said that writing used to be fun and exciting, but now he finds the idea of publishing new fiction scary. He is crippled by the idea of receiving terrible reviews and disappointing his fans: ‘what if readers feel like I cheated them out of the $20 of faith they placed in me?’
And that’s the thing, most books don’t even cost that much (!), but something readers need to understand is the weight that measly price tag can have on a writer. It’s not about the monetary value but the fact that we have the gaw to place any value on our art at all. It takes a lot of guts to make something and then ask someone to buy it, even for twenty dollars.
And when buyers refuse to pay, our worst fears are confirmed.
Literature is dead; books aren’t valuable; writing and creativity are pointless; they do not enrich people’s lives, especially if they have to pay for it.
If there’s one hill (…there isn’t one hill…) I’d die on, this may be it: artists deserve to be paid for their art. I will always be in defence of the artist.
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