Let the Readers Decide

This is a response to a blog post I read where author Rob “R.S.” Guthrie makes the case for Amazon charging authors to publish digitally. My initial reactions came in a rush, and I’m not giving them the usual amount of consideration I would before posting, so this may sound a little ranty. But let me make it clear that I have no animosity or ill will toward Guthrie. We simply have differing opinions, and mine is subject to change as I reach the point he has as a published author.

Guthrie clearly states that while Amazon does not currently charge for publication, he is in favor of them starting. He also makes a few interesting suppositions I’ll respond to.

1) Are you going to buy many books at 99 cents when the others range from $2.99 up past $15.99?

I wouldn’t. Not if I didn’t know there were a fair number of outstanding Indie writers out there.”

Guthrie uses the time-honored model of “you get what you pay for” to back his view that readers uninformed about outstanding indie writers will overlook 99 cent books in favor of higher priced ones. He further asserts that many who do buy them are are motivated by the low price and simply hoard, not read them.

It would be interesting to see credible statistics to back either assumption. Lacking those statistics, it’s anyone’s guessing game. Besides, the business side of publishing only mandates the selling of books, not the reading of them. That isn’t to say I don’t care whether people read my work or not, it’s simply me trying to be pragmatic about the writing business. I do agree that word of mouth is a big selling point. But owning a book at least means there’s a chance it will be read.

2) “Back to imagining: A $500 initial investment to put that first book on the digital shelves. How big a reduction do you think we’d see in the firehose flow of books we are currently witnessing? I’m going to make a wild guess and say 75%… I also believe you would take a huge slice out of the dreck pie.”

In the paragraphs above this one, Guthrie gives his definition of “bona fide” and “serious” writers. In short, those are people who have written or wanted to write all their lives, and tried “seriously” to get published.

I’ve never submitted my writing for publication, but I have spent much of my life writing or contemplating the craft, so I’m happy someone considers me a serious writer. But using money as an entry barrier to publication in order to weed out non-bona fide writers, and reduce the “dreck pie” is simply wrongheaded. And I agree with Guthrie that if Amazon decides to charge for publication, that won’t be the reason. The bigger question is why would an author who has been through the creative struggle of writing and publishing think that kind of gatekeeping is a good thing? It certainly doesn’t work in politics, unless you truly do believe we have the best government money can buy. And as Guthrie mentioned, it would even affect a percentage of “bona fide” writers.

On this point I agree with Jason Konrath. Let the readers decide who to read, what format to buy, and what publishing models will eventually win out. Ebook proliferation and digital publishing are seismic shifts in the book world. But rather than signaling the end of an era, Amazon’s assumed domination is merely a prelude to the next big thing. As for ponying up $500 or $1000 to digitally publish, no thank you, I’ll use that money for artwork, editing, and proofreading to ensure I don’t wind up another ingredient in the dreck pie.