Today, Scott Craven stopped by to talk about book lending, used books, and what happens if ebooks become re-salable. I think you’ll find his post thought-provoking…enjoy!
I’m a cheapskate.
That’s not so bad. Most people are. But now it is way too easy, and I wish there were not so many cheapskates in the world.
It’s killing my career, and the career of many other writers.
My cheapskate ways did not get serious until my college days at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. This was back in the 1970s, when a college education was affordable without selling any internal organs. Tuition, room, board – not inexpensive, but reasonable. The only bill I hated to pay – the one that made me feel as if I was getting robbed – was for textbooks. In a day where trade hardcovers sold for $12.99, textbooks routinely went for $80 or more.
I was determined to cut textbook corners wherever I could. I prowled the used section, only to find that most texts were discounted just 10 to 20 percent. That’s when I got up early to line up for the annual used textbook fair that took place over three days just before classes started. Students priced and sold their own books. Now discounts were a more reasonable 40 and 50 percent. I wasn’t thrilled with an economics book in which roughly 80 percent of the text was colored in yellow highlighter, but for $50 instead of $90? Sold, baby. The sale often was thwarted by professors who insisted on the brand new editions – seriously, how much history changed between the eighth and ninth editions of “American History 1830-1955”? Did the South suddenly win the Civil War?
The habit of seeking the cheap spread to books of all kinds. Forget Waldenbooks or B. Dalton, I’ll just wait a few weeks and find the same stuff at the used book store for half the price. Or I could wait a few months and find the books on the remainder piles at major book chains.
Everything changed with the Internet. Which is fine. I was bellying up to the Amazon bar with everyone else, buying all sorts of 40-percent-off-list-price books.
Then someone said, “Hey, we could have these battery-powered readers that stay as thin and light whether it has one book or one hundred. And without the need for paper, cardboard or shipping, people can pay less for them.”
Count me on board.
Until August of 2012. That’s when Month9Books made an offer on my debut middle-grade novel “Dead Jed: Adventures of a Middle School Zombie.” The tagline – “Jed proves you can have plenty of heart, even if it’s not beating.” It’s a humorous look at a zombie who would give an arm and a leg to fit in, and often does.
I want you to buy the book, love the book and recommend the book to others. I want them to buy it and love it. If they want to sell it to someone else, that’s fine. But maybe that someone wants a pristine copy, not one dog-eared and slightly beaten up. Maybe after reading the first chapter or two, they will go online or to the store and buy their own brand new copy.
But here is the scary thing for authors. Apple and Amazon reportedly are looking for ways to allow readers to sell their e-books. The same book can be sold ten, twenty, thirty times. And each readers gets a pristine electronic copy, just as if it were new. Who would want to buy a new copy for $12.99 when you could get a “used” copy for $7.99 or less?
Authors would receive their royalty on that first copy sold. The other twenty or thirty times it’s sold, they’d get nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t write Dead Jed for the money. I wrote it because I thought it would be a cool story, and I envisioned that perfect moment when I am in a sixth-grade classroom reading a chapter to a bunch of kids, many who of whom are engaged in the story. And when I’m done, they ask the teacher if they can skip lunch so I can read one more chapter.
But authors can’t afford to give away their talent. Let me share a cautionary tale. I’ve been a newspaper reporter for more than thirty years. Over the last 10, more and more people are deciding they don’t want to pay for news. Thanks to the Internet, they don’t have to. As a result, dozens of newspapers have closed, and newsrooms across the country are shrinking. I know plenty of journalists – talented people with great skills – who are out of work. News coverage is suffering, whether those getting stories for free know it or not.
The cheapskate mentality affects other talent-based fields as well. Movies often are pirated. Music is “shared” by the millions with no money going toward the artist. It seems all well and good now since there are still many talented artists out there.
But think about the kid now who has shown a talent for writing. Or reporting. Or playing guitar. Or acting. What if that kid gives up his passion because the odds of him making a living are far more against him now than they were fifteen years ago?
I’m a cheapskate and always will be. I still prowl used bookstores, and make great use of the library. But when I believe something is worth reading, or watching, or listening to, I pay for it when I can.