Do words have value anymore?
I write. At one time, relatively few people wrote. In such times, words had value...and those who wrote them were viewed as special in some way. Indeed, there was once a time in which to be able to read and write would have been seen as almost magical. Now, however, everyone – well, almost everyone – can read and write. In fact, almost everyone seems to be doing so, simultaneously, on the Internet. Everyone seems to have a blog and everyone seems to be pouring their thoughts – such as they are – onto it. So, we have reached an age in which almost everyone is a “writer”...in the sense that they write. At this point, I am reminded of the line in the Incredibles cartoon, in which it is said something like: “When everyone is superhuman, no-one will be.” So it is today, with writing...when everyone writes, no-one is well regarded for doing so.
Yet, the ubiquity of writing is not my primary concern. The fact that so much of that writing is free, is. Blogs are free, in general. They are seen as something given away to the ether, for nothing. Do people value free writing in this way? It seems not. In an effort to defray my costs and input of time and energy into my blog, I urged people to make a donation...very few have done so. In fact, two people have. This does suggest that people, in general, do not place much value on that which they can get free (even if it cost someone something to put it out there.)
Some blogs are really well written. Some blogs are as well written as anything newspapers have to offer. This, again, is worrying for how it forms people’s attitudes to paying for writing: if they can get so much good writing for free, will they stop paying for good writing?
Then there is Amazon’s new promotion – the KDP Select programme. This is an initiative in which authors agree to offer their books on Amazon, exclusively, for 90 days, and then, in exchange Amazon will allow them to give their books away for...you guessed it...FREE...for five days each 90 day period. The idea is that by giving their books away for free, authors would be able to promote themselves. The theory is that, by doing this, authors will gain many new readers and will propel their other works higher in the rankings, as interested readers seek out their other works – and pay for them. Again, however, I am unsure of the wisdom of this. Writers who have participated in the KDP Select free giveaways, have seen their work massively pirated subsequent to give aways, as pirates pick up their work for free and load it up onto their torrent sites. Also some writers have seen relatively little change in the sales of their other works. Though, it must be said that some writers have seen significant sales of their works, subsequently.
My problem with KDP Select’s free books, is that it trains readers to believe that the real value of a book is zero. Readers, given access to a deluge of free books, will quickly come to value ALL books, at nothing. They will become people who believe that they have a right to access any book they wish, for precisely zero cents. This is already a problem with those who pirate books. They have a sense of entitlement to other people’s hard work, such that they feel they should never pay for it. In fact, some have an almost religious belief that it is “wrong” to charge for intellectual property. It never occurs to them that the creators of such property need to earn a living to allow them to continue to make such works. Without the possibility of a living from creative works, there will be no future creative works. The world’s supply of creative works will dry up. That, unfortunately, seems to be the destination of all present trends on price and remuneration for creative works. A world that does not pay for creative works, is a world that will not have any worth having – even for free.
The writing of a good book, often takes years, sometimes even decades to accomplish. Such books should not be given away for free, under any circumstances. Unfortunately, too many people are coming to value books at very little. They are willing to pay less and less for them. This is an act of massive collective stupidity, since it will destroy the very thing which they enjoy having (even though they don’t want to pay for it).
Blogging is dangerous. The KDP Select programme is dangerous. Piracy is dangerous. Each of these phenomena entrains people to believe that writing is free and not worth paying for. The cumulative effect of all of these influences, over time, may be a world in which there is no more shared culture. Many writers would choose not to share their work with the world, if there was no compensation for doing so. The question is: do we really want such a world? Do we really want a world in which creative people cannot make a living from their work? Do we want a world in which creative people fall silent? If not, then we should start paying creators for their works, on a consistent basis. They should be rewarded for the efforts they put into their work. So, I would urge you to ensure that you pay for the creative works you acquire – for not doing so, will usher in a future in which there are no more new such works. Is that really what you want?
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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