Would you work for free? by Sean Kerr

Of late, I have seen a number of complaints with regard to the pricing of e books. There seems to be an alarming ‘trend’ that unless a book is 99c or free, it will not be considered. As an author, I find this very insulting.  Let me explain.

I work full time. As yet, the writing side of my life does not support my bank account, and like everyone else, I have to eat and pay bills. However, it is my ambition that one day, I will be able to give up the day job to write full time. We all have dreams, and I do not think this is an unreasonable one to aspire to. Dead Camp 1 & 2 took me two years to write. Two years. I did a huge amount of research and I made a huge effort to write something as well as I possibly could. Then I was lucky enough to find a wonderful publisher who loved the books, and I signed a contract. My Author life then began! My publisher edits and proofs my books. My publisher then designs the cover. My publisher then formats the books into the electronic formats required by all the various sites out there. My publisher then releases my books to a vast array of electronic retailers as well as their own stunning book site. My publisher then markets the books as best that they can. All of this takes time, resources, and a host of very talented, very dedicated people. Would you expect them to do this for free?

As an author with an amazing publishing house, I do not set the price for my books. I have no control over that. The price is set by a team of highly experienced, knowledgeable professionals within the publishing house.

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So, that is my side of it. What about the self-publishers?

I explored this option before I found my publisher, and it horrified me. There was no way on this Earth that I was going to release a book that had not been properly edited, proofed and formatted. There was no way that I was going to put a book out without a professional looking cover. Each book would have cost me in excess of £500 each to put out. The cost of proper editing, proofing, and covers, was beyond my means. Yet, when you consider how many authors are self-published, it is a wonder that any of them get their books out there and make money. The costs will vary for each self-published author. Some are talented enough to make their own covers. Some are already superb editors and proofers. But their investment is in the time, love and care that they put into every single book. If an author put a book out there for 99c, just how many books do they have to sell before they can see a return on their investment? Authors, self-published or traditionally published, deserve to make a living, just the same as every other human being on the face of the planet.

Society has changed. There is a feeling of ‘entitlement’ out there that is both unwarranted and disturbing. Most of us work very hard for what we have. I get home in the evenings and I do the same as everyone else, I cook dinner and then collapse on the sofa. My laptop is welded to my body and I write until late, then I go to bed and start the process all over again the next day. Most authors have to do this. So why, why would anyone expect them to sell their books for 99c, or worse, give them away!

I work in retail. I have an Interior Design business that I have run, with my business partner for almost 13 years now. It will not be around for much longer. Unfortunately, customers seem to feel that it is their right to hammer you down on prices, regardless of the expertise and excellence you provide. Our costs do not go down, rent, rates, VAT, the cost of producing the goods, in fact, these costs go up every single year, and yet the retail value does not. So, for every discount demanded, profits plummet. I foresee a time, very soon, when shops like mine will no longer exist. Everything will be done on line. For every order worth £1000 at retail, we are lucky if we make £300 profit, out of which we must pay rent, rates, VAT, and our wages. It is unsustainable. The same can be said with books.

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I recently had a conversation with an industry professional with regards to this problem, and what they told me was a right eye opener.

“If a reader who works, say an Electrician, were asked to do it for less or for free all the time, would they do so? Bet that answer is no. The answer would be no every single time. How much do readers consider their time and effort and skills/talent of what they do to earn a living worth? Do they do what they do to earn a living? Or would they be happy to do it for free or mere pennies on the dollar?

As an EIC, I earn a living managing releases/titles/editors/the back end/etc, (even authors at times) on a daily basis. While I love what I do, I would not do it for free. No one in their right mind would do what I do for free. I spend 8-16 hours, 7 days a week, sometimes up as early as 6 am or as late as midnight, managing the books from start to finish to make sure the books get into reader hands.

Then there’s the art team: 1 director, several artists. When you have to use a poser for a cover, it’s not easy making it look real and it can easily take 10 hours (no one does 10 hours of work for free), when you have to use photos, sometimes you have to merge 2-7 for a cover. Look up those photos and ask the photographer if you can have them for free. The photographer will laugh at you. The model has to get paid to pose, the photographer has to pay the model for each session and then artists have to buy any photos they want.

All of this costs money, so now if readers will look up that, they’ll get an idea of cover costs before the artist puts the photos into a cover. Web site including cart…yeah, we’re not going to discuss the headache, but we can’t run a site like an individual author because we have over 300 authors and 4000 books. Pick a webmaster, ask them what it costs to build a site for three authors, add a cart, maintain said site daily, be on call 24/7 if you have an emergency, and that each of you have 40 books. Now multiply that by the fact we have 10 times that. Our costs are not the same because we’re more a production line, but we don’t have the same thing being made each time because no two books are the same. Editors, proofers, formatters, convertors, artist, marketing, review coordinators, etc are all staff and all staff get paid from company profit. Logic dictates that no profit means no company and no company means no books.

We are not getting rich, trust me. While an individual author turning out their books might not understand the cost, we don’t turn out only 1 author’s books; we turn out over 300 authors’ books and we do it every week.”

Everyone has the right to make a living. Who are we to dictate who can earn a living and who does not? Because that is what happens when we demand cheap or free books, we are saying that the author does not deserve to earn a living, or be paid fairly for their hard work. It is a point that is worth considering. We all work very hard every single day. That work is worth something to us, but it is also worth something to others.

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  1. Good article Sean! I, for one, would rather pay more for a well written, well thought out, polished book. As far as .99 cent books, I’m finding that like much else, you tend to get what you pay for.

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