The Value of Story

Most comments I post on twitter might get two or three mentions. Yesterday I posted a random thought inspired from someone else’s tweet, when I realized, with some annoyance, that people spend more on greeting cards than they do on many of their ebooks. The past couple of years have seen enormous changes in the publishing. It’s so easy to put a book out there for people to read, at least in the digital world, and even creating a paper version isn’t that difficult with a little time, effort, and money. And of course, over these times of great, digital expansion, we have seen a price war of sorts.

Readers do not want to pay more for a digital copy of a book than a paper version. This is completely understandable. While the difference in creation is actually not very much (printing/distribution costs only make up about 10-15% of total), the perception has been that they should be significantly less. The internet has developed into a strange creature, spouting forth billions of bytes of free information. There are people who put up creative media for free all over the place on the internet. We can find videos, photography, digital art, music, and of course, books. Unfortunately, I believe this fantastic avenue for expression and communication has done a disservice to the value of art as a whole.

You can go to places like amazon and scribd and assorted other sites and find free books. Finding something you might like is a bit more difficult, but again, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you’re likely to find something. There is an ever growing pool  of digital stories out there and I imagine that it will only get bigger as time goes on. Being able to sort through this is another issue worthy of another discussion. But, not only can you find free books, there are also many that fall into the 1.99-2.99 range. Now, let me be clear. I have no issue with people charging whatever they want for their books. Avid readers likely love this because it means they can buy more. The casual ready likes it because they don’t have to spend as much. All great for the consumer pocket book, and because of the way royalties are set up, an author still makes more per book at these prices.

So, it’s all win-win, right? On the surface I suppose this is true. Authors can make more, assuming of course they can garner the sales (all success stories aside, this is far harder than many writers might think). Readers can buy more books. All things digital should be cheap anyway! There’s no physical product. This psychological difference between physical object and mere representation is at the heart of this for me. The thing is, stories take place in your imagination. There is no physical product. Whether the delivery of the story is on paper or on screen, the actual product exists in your head. So, should the method through which you receive the product diminish its value? I’m going with no on this one.

Back to the greeting card comparison. Greeting cards typically run from about $2-6. Much like books you can send people free ones on line (though they aren’t as nice to look at). What are you paying for when you buy a greeting card? Typically you are conveying an emotion to someone, whether it be sympathy or joy or thanks. Is it worth $5 to convey a heartfelt emotion to someone you care about? I’d hope so. But that requires going to an actual store and finding an actual good card and then writing a worthwhile message. The same with books. You can browse on your computer, kindle, nook, or whatever, and get a book with a couple of clicks, as opposed to the the trip to the book store, which takes more time, more gas, and more effort to find something worth reading. Once again, the perception that making something easier and cheaper to get means it has less value.

With nearly any sort of art/craft, it’s value goes up the harder it is to collect. Make it cheap and convenient and its worth goes down. I see this happening with books and the digital flood. Convenience and ease are washing out the value of the story. In a few years, there will be millions of titles available through digital bookstores. Of course there are benefits to this. My little rant here has little to do with the benefits provided by the rise in digital publishing. This is all about perceived versus actual value. Digital publishing is lessening the value of the story. I pay $10 to go see a movie. Two hours of having my imagination filled with story. Hopefully it’s good. If not, then I feel like I wasted my money. If movies were all a buck, I’d certainly go see them more often, but would I perceive them as being as valuable? No. The investment was small enough to outweigh the possibility of it being bad. This is what I can see happening with digital books. If they’re cheap enough, I won’t feel like I’ve wasted my time if they were crap.

Honestly, I don’t want to get to that point. I don’t want stories to be de-valued to the point they are on the same level or less as greeting cards or a song download. Good stories are worth a damn movie ticket. Great stories are worth far more. If and when I get a digital reader, I won’t buy the dollar books or take free ones either (unless we’re talking promotional items, which is a different story). While I, as an author, certainly want people to read my stories, I’m not going to contribute to the devaluation of the written word. People buy too many stories for a buck and they begin to think they’re all worth a buck. This perception and mentality really bothers me. Storytelling is worth far more, to me and to our culture.

Ok, rant off. Not even sure I made sense with half of that. Lol. Happy reading/writing everyone, and I hope you enjoy your Valentine’s Day.

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