Is writing being devalued?

Yes, if you ask Roxana Robinson, head of something called the Authors Guild, of which I am not a member. Heck, I’m not even sure how I would be eligible for this; I guess I need to sell a lot of copies when I finally do get published.

From the article:

“Writers are contributing to the fall in their incomes by penning free pieces for large companies in the hope that it will raise their profile and lead to book sales, Roxana Robinson, president of The Authors Guild, has told The Bookseller. She also said that Amazon was devaluing books and writing.

Robinson right, a novelist and short story writer who has also written a biography of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, has been president of The Authors Guild—the US equivalent of the Society of Authors—since March 2014. She said that “it is clear that writers’ incomes are declining”, claiming a drop in the number of people reading books and “struggles over royalty and prices” were among the reasons for lower incomes.

“Amazon discounting book prices means that there is a movement toward devaluing books,” she said. “And I think that has an impact on the way people look at writing. If Amazon keeps pricing e-books at very, very low prices, people start feeling, ‘well, actually, writing isn’t a valuable product’.”

But, she added, authors were not helping themselves by writing for free. “People write on Huffington Post, they write for Goodreads, they write for Medium.com: valuable sites owned by big tech companies that make a lot of money for those companies. Writers choose to write there for nothing and to provide content for nothing. That’s another issue, and that is something that writers are doing deliberately.”

Robinson said The Authors Guild would not advise any author to stop writing for publications, but argued that an article by an author on a website may not lead to book sales. “I don’t know that anyone has figures on sales that result from this kind of writing (for free),” she said. “Everyone says, ‘get your name out there’, but does that really translate to connecting to the hard mental presence of the book? We want writers to recognise what is happening, to be aware of this trend, that writers themselves are contributing to the idea that their writing doesn’t deserve to be paid for.”

Okay, here’s the rub: She is not completely wrong, but she writes from a different position than the rest of us.

Where she’s right: Digital content has basically been devalued to zero. The top selling mobile games are all free. How many people actually pay for music? You can stream free via Pandora or Spotifly, or just listen on YouTube. Sure, artists make some money, but not a lot.

A lot of this is because since anyone can get in, everyone can get in. And as the polar opposite in sports, where once an owner decided to pay top dollar for the best athletes and thus drove up the athlete’s salary, the moment some people decided to give away freebies because they were in a position too, people began to expect it. Woe be that writer who wants to make even a dollar off his/her work, when most of the public doesn’t mind paying $5 for a Starbucks grande latte. So in the sense that it’s become harder to make a living, let alone money, I think she’s on to something.

She is also correct that sites like Wattpad, Goodreads, Medium, etc., make money by essentially getting people to post free stuff, without being more supportive of indie authors who want to earn an honest buck selling their work (Wattpad is particularly unhelpful). While it does build exposure for some, it encourages people to expect to never pay for anything, because if you see all stories as merely words on a screen, and not anything with meaning to you, then it’s easy to just read free books. Look at all the folks who only ever go to the free-book section to download work.

However, suggesting that it’s bad to post free content to build a following is nuts. What am I doing now? How about your blogs, which I follow and read from time to time? How about Kboards, or Goodreads, or Wattpad, or any other place? The big advantage of these sites is that they allow anyone, even those without a “platform”, to get one. How can one get a platform if one isn’t already famous or well-connected? These sites, and the entire concept of self-publishing, do just that. It isn’t like I have a published op-ed column in a national digital newspaper with tens of thousands of views per article. So what to do if Oprah doesn’t know your cell by heart, or Bill O’Reilly can’t announce in on his show? Only via social media can some of us reach an audience.

The big question for anyone who writers, whether indie or trad-pubbed, is this: Will the market for paid books at least hold steady, or will we turn into the music industry, where a few megastars make tens of millions from sales of everything, while most indies struggle since no one wants to pay for their music?*
*I have bought indie albums before, so don’t blame me.
B&B: I enjoy reading posts from other bloggers, so don’t be a stranger, follow my blog and I will follow back! I also like featuring authors here. If you have a book and you’d like me to interview you, just message me and we’ll talk.
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