A Rant on Being Paid as an Author

Seth Godin had a piece up here about authors being paid and the new landscape of publishing, and while valid points were made, it still pisses me off and I felt like ranting to him a bit in response on the subject. So here we go.

Yes, the economics of all this is driving down value. It sucks for those wanting/hoping to make a living at it. The ability to “rise above” is even more difficult than it used to be. That’s the reality of it. It takes a different mindset and a different skill set to make it happen I think. The world changes and you have to adapt. However, I believe it’s a sad state of affairs that something as culturally significant as art is getting “trivialized” for lack of a better word due to the ease of production and convenience of content. Good art, whether music, writing, painting, or what have you, should have value, and deserves to be paid for.

It bothers me that content, and I’ll use writing as an example since I’m a writer, only has its value measured within the confines of writing. The mindset that stories are worth less because there’s more of them out there available for less kind of boggles my mind. People go out to one of the bazillions of coffee shops in their city, to sit back and read a story and drink their coffee, complain that the story they want is $4.99, but think nothing of paying the same amount for their drink. Do they not find anything wrong with that picture? Several hours of good storytelling provides less value than the coffee they sip along with it? Really?

Of course, you can say, that’s just the economics of how it is now, get used to it. Just because the economy wants to devalue something, doesn’t mean it should be. It irks me that so many writers seem to miss this point. And yes, I realize that from a economics standpoint it makes sense to sell more copies a $.99 than less at $4.99. I have heard the mantra. It’s worked for quite a few writers. It will continue to do so, and I imagine that we’re heading toward a point in the future here where dollar books will be the norm, at least in the realm of fiction. It will average out to be the most effective way to maximize income.

Is this good for the art of writing? No. Call me backward or old school or egotistical or whatever, but good stories are worth more than a fucking dollar. I honestly don’t care if readers out there want to be able buy five books a week, and need them to be a buck apiece so that they can fill their ereader library. Story does not deserve to be relegated to the bargain shelf in the local Dollar Tree.

Seth, you make good points about the nature of how things are now and where they’re heading. I can’t really argue there. The signs all point in that direction. But I do think you’re wrong in that artists do deserve to make money from their art. We should be paying them because what they do adds value to our lives and culture. Just because the amateurs can proliferate doesn’t mean the professionals can or should see their work devalued. I’m being bitchy and ranty here, I know, but it pisses me off that the consuming public (as a whole) seems to think that they deserve to be given art for nothing. I get doing art for its own sake. I write because I love to do it, but I have to say there’s less incentive or will be as we move forward, if nobody out there thinks it’s really worth the paper it’s written on.

Ok. Rant off. Back to writing.


2 responses to “A Rant on Being Paid as an Author

  1. I agree with you. Completely. As a nonfiction freelancer, too, I’ve seen this happening for several years. And I don’t have any answers. As long as there is an element who believes their writing – whether fiction or nonfiction – is worth so little, they will reason that hey can’t charge more for heir work. I’ve seen freelance pay go from $1-word to $0.50-word to less than a quarter and it angers me. Yes, I choose to be a freelance writer. Yes, I chose journalism school. Yes, I choose to use my writing talent to write fiction. That doesn’t mean I should not be paid a reasonable wage for he work I do.

    We haven’t seen plumbers or electricians lower their charges just because of the proliferation of Home Depot or the plethora of DiY home improvement shows…so why does that not apply to writers – many of whom have advanced degrees and all of whom labor at their craft?

    • Totally agree, Kristina. This change in publishing seems to have only highlighted and accentuated the public’s misunderstanding of writing and what it means to be a writer. It is far more than slapping words on a page, but then those that do this, believing that writing is indeed easy, just add to the accepted notion that storytelling is not a real art.