What authors don’t bargain for

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. A fool and their money are soon parted. Money talks… one thing money says is, “I want my books cheaper”. This recent post in a respected online book group page isn’t untypical.

“Today’s ebook offer includes ‘Fludd’ by Hilary Mantel. I absolutely loved her Wolf Hall series, has anyone read Fludd, is it worth buying? I know it’s only 99p, but I have so many of these 99p books cluttering my Kindle I only want to download highly recommended ones.”

Where do I start?

Value for money

The Wolf Hall trilogy comprises approx 1,888 pages depending which editions you buy/borrow/steal. The Kindle UK prices currently add up to £17.97/$23.60, the paper editions approx £29/$38). The three audiobooks offer 77 hours and 41 minutes of listening, from a service costing approx £7.99 per month after the first month which is free. On that basis the entertaining and educational experience Hilary Mantel provides, that the reader above “absolutely loved”, cost them 0.0095p per page on Kindle,  £0.015p in book format, or less than the price of a cinema ticket as an audiobook for 74 hours more entertainment. If you want to convert those into fractions of US cents, be my guest.

 

Now this reader wonders about forking out 99p ($1.30) for another book by an author s/he knows s/he enjoys. Fludd, in paperback has only 186 pages. Well, it IS more expensive – around a halfpenny per page or .69 of  a US cent.

Clutter

Can you clutter a Kindle? This nerds’ paradise article suggests a basic entry level Kindle holds approx 1,100 books and a top of the range Kindle Fire HD a whopping 26,992. I suppose you could argue the books get lost if you download too many, but since this reader knows the title and the author, s/he should be able to retrieve it easily.

Other book related problems – shelf space, dust-gathering, fire risk, mildew, weight the floorboards can support etc – don’t apply to Kindles.

 

Quality

Before spending a paltry sum on something requiring no storage this reader wants “high recommendations”. God help any authors and publishers hoping a reader might take a punt on an unknown newcomer. I believe readers can get refunds if they don’t ultimately agree with the recommendations others make, even though reading is a completely subjective experience. I don’t know the procedure, it’s too unethical for me, but I’m told it’s possible.

Price

99p ($1.30) is considerably less than a coffee, less than one sock in the cheapest pair from Primark and what use would one sock be to most of us? You wouldn’t know whether the coffee tasted good or the sock was comfortable until you’d drunk it/worn it for a while, but most people risk that without requesting recommendations, clearing stomach or sock drawer space (yet socks are real clutter) or worrying they’re overspending.

Kindle 99p

 

The author’s position

Hilary Mantel doesn’t need this particular reader’s money. Her “net worth” as calculated by grubby celeb websites is between $100,000 and $1million (£761,000). The broadness of the estimate says all you need to know about the precision and fact checking of such websites. Let’s assume her assets are at the upper level, easily achieved in the UK not by selling books but by annual property inflation of approx 7% since a now 68 year woman probably signed her first mortgage application.

Besides the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, since 1985 Mantel has published 9 novels, 2 books of short stories, and a memoir. Without counting journalism and articles and assuming (ridiculously) she doesn’t own any property to contribute to her putative net worth, very crudely dividing £761,000 by 15 books we find each has contributed an average £50,733 ($66,622) across 35 years. My source for these statistics is so dubious I’m not even admitting what it was. But we could double (triple!) these earnings and a prize winning author, whose work is televised, studied and admired worldwide, would still not be earning in the super rich league. She may be the Roger Federer of her field, but she has far less need of a Swiss bank account. I bet Mantel’s accountant keeps a beady eye on those 99p sales.

What about others? The “i” newspaper says last year UK authors, writers and translators earned on average £31,153. This is odd because according to the Society of Authors, “median earnings for primary occupation authors (writers who spend more than half their working time writing) are £10,497 a year… the highest-earning 10% taking home about 70% of total earnings in the profession.” That £10,497 has to cover living expenses before any becomes “net worth”. 40% of us rely on a second source of earnings.

 

Earnings per year

Some good professional authors of adult fiction churn out a book a year. Most take longer. There’s research, redrafting, muses that run dry or scamper in the wrong directions, beta readers and agents to consult and editors to pay. I’m getting faster…. my first book took five years, the second three, the third (not yet published) two. Mantel completed her 1,888 page trilogy in ten. How long did that coffee take to pour? How many minutes to run up a sock on a machine? (Perhaps an unfair comparison. I prefer my working conditions to the knitting machinists’.)

Affordability

In the UK thousands live below the poverty line, after appalling economic policy over the past decades, especially right now. Readers who genuinely can’t afford 99p for a book, please know my comments don’t apply to you. I hope there’s still a functioning public library in your area, where you can freely access all the books you want.

Are books a licence to print money?

The market makes most fiction available at some point, in some form, for 99p. Subject to affordability, you’re free to buy or not. But never express your doubts whether the product is worth it to anyone – writers, readers, bloggers, reviewers or Auntie Ethel – unless you actually want some poor author to rant a blogpost from their garret, a post that should have been a constructive book review or some sensible writing advice. You can always support public libraries you know.

©Jessica Norrie 2020

 

35 thoughts on “What authors don’t bargain for

  1. Another thing that authors (especially new ones) don’t bargain for is the effort that is involved in marketing a book. It’s harder than that actual writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we’re very lucky to have a craft we enjoy so much, whether as a hobby or as a job. It’s just the way it’s valued by society that’s the problem and for some that is a big “just”.

      Like

  2. Have to say I love my kindle and Amazon and Facebook have introduced me to many 99p books that I’ve loved. I bought one this morning after reading the reviews. I’ve also found many free books that I’ve loved so much I’ve then bought further from the same author.
    As a reader, I look at reviews and with my kindle I do tend to buy more. I have many paperbacks cluttering up shelves and I can’t bear to charity shop them because I like to read them again.
    I’ve just had to bribe my 9 year old with robucks (currency for Roblox).. to read Percy Jackson.
    As a writer (unpublished, still working on first draft) I know how hard writing is.. very hard.. maybe we just write for the pleasure and stress of it rather then a really good paycheck! Or just hope that a reader will one day enjoy our words as much as we have enjoyed someone else’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t object to 99p offers in themselves. As you say they enable readers to discover new writers and take risks with limited budgets. I’d rather sell 100 books at 99p than 5 at £10! What I do object to is when such a low price becomes normalised as the VALUE* of a book. I also do struggle with the idea of anyone receiving my work completely free, as I also think it devalues the skill and work involved. The exception is if the book is a review copy, a competition prize or a gift. I’m all for giving books as gifts! Thank you for your comment and I wish you luck on your publishing journey. *Sorry to “shout” but this site’s WP formatting doesn’t allow italics or underlines in these answers so it’s the only way I can show emphasis…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thats okay I do agree with you, but as a reader I guess I like a bargain and a free book can be good, but i agree it is not good for the writer.
        There are many 99p offers. I have read now that you can no longer receive a review on a free book. Not sure if that is true but thats what I read. So that makes it harder for a writer to market their work.
        Thank you for the luck, I have a long way to go yet!

        Like

  3. For me, success would be a steady sale throughout the year. I’m not going to make money; it doesn’t bother me at all but I would like my characters to get an airing now and again. As to the price of books, I’m happy to pay 99c or 5 euro, or more, depending on how much I want to read any particular book.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh dear, I wonder if she asked the question for another reason…”I am such a picky reader that I am going to query the value of buying a book for 99p by Hilary Mantel” Anyway I won’t recreate the wheel Jessica as you have done a fine job of that…I agree with everything you say and will share on Monday Evening…hugsx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well that was what depressed me. Such posts aren’t new, but even when the author has proved herself again and again her work still isn’t worth taking a punt on. Where does that leave the rest of us? (Rhetorical question unless you want to write a follow up bog post!)

      Liked by 2 people

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