Thursday, May 12, 2011

Am I Screwing Over Writers? - What Is Writing Worth Week

Before I start this post, I want to say thanks to all my followers! I've just reached 151 and it's lovely to have all of you guys around! :)

This was supposed to be the final post in What is Writing Worth Week (otherwise known as W4), but Blogger decided to crash on Friday so I've delayed it until today. And I spotted something over the weekend that is slightly related but not quite, so I won't be leaving the subject of ebooks, print books and the relative cost of each behind just yet.

Anyway, in the meantime I have decided to return to my Irish Catholic roots and examine some guilt.

All over the internet, people are talking about the death of the traditional publishing industry, in spite of the fact that the overwhelming majority of books sold are still print books rather than ebooks. I think 'dying' is too strong a word to describe where publishing is. 'Worried sick' may be more apt.

I've talked before about how my book budget goes further on the Kindle. I feel this is good - more authors get to rack up a sale, and as I'm the kind of person who recommends, reviews and retweets obsessively, they also benefit from word of mouth. Low price points give me the chance to try new authors in genres I don't usually read. It seems win-win to me.


I love bookshops. I love that they exist, I love browsing in them, I love buying from them. And my buying habits are apparently driving them out of existence. Naturally, this feels quite crap, because ten years from now, I don't want to be visiting a London without Foyles, a New York without the Strand or even living in a Dublin without Hodges Figgis.

I still try to buy print books. But they no longer represent value for money.

However, there is another way to look at it. The difference in price between a print book and an ebook is either:

a) the premium you pay for a luxury item

b) a necessary cost because I want a book that isn't available on the Kindle, or is priced too high on the Kindle (this comes up a lot!), or

c) a charitable donation to sustain businesses that I like to support, similar to the extra money I pay in order to buy Irish, shop locally or shop ethically (I do all of the above when I can, which is not as often as I'd like)

I don't begrudge the extra cost, and I'm happy to continue spending the extra money on print books for a book I really want, a book I want to lend people or a book I can't get any other way. Sadly I'm not in an economic position to do it every day, for reasons of storage space as well as money. I consume lots of books. I have gone from depending on the library and the charity shop to supplement my habit to depending on the Kindle.

And there we've hit on the nice guilt-assuaging part. If we began with the Catholic guilt analogy, this is my confessional, right here.

A good chunk of the money I spent on books wasn't reaching the publishing industry anyway. I was paying library fines (seriously, do not ask what my current balance is with the local library, I may cry), or I was buying second-hand or borrowing from friends. If we assume I had a monthly book budget of, say, twenty euro, let's say ten of that was reaching the publishing industry and ten was going to Oxfam or Chapters or whoever I was relieving of tatty paperbacks.

Now it's going to Amazon (and Oxfam are getting some of my clothing budget - swings and roundabouts). It's going back into the publishing industry in most cases (I don't buy many self-pubbed Kindle books), and it's allowing debut authors to rack up sales. It's allowing me to spread the word about debut authors. It's nice.

It's important to try to support bookshops. But there is space for both, and in the world of low price points, it's important to remember to support bookshops. We are in danger of losing a lot.

But we're gaining a lot, too.


  1. I have a Kindle and I love it (way more than I thought I would). But to your point, prices are often much more than the paperback on Amazon, or a used bookshop. I also share books with my mom and she doesn't have a Kindle.

    I find that I miss going to book stores. I have so many memories from my youth that come from bookstores. I also have such good memories of having a book in hand and the comfort it provides me.

    I enjoyed reading this post. :)

  2. I think there's definitely room for both bookshops selling printed books and online stores selling ebooks.

    Just the other day I ordered a book from Hodges Figgis. Over the phone of all things! And it'll get here quicker than Amazon can deliver, and a euro or two cheaper, as well.

  3. Thanks for the comment Kitty, glad you enjoyed the post. I find Kindle prices can be very high too, but it's never too hard to find something else I like that's cheap, either.

    Space is a big issue for me too. sometimes I have paid more for the ebook because I know it's a book I won't want taking up space in my house, but I do want to read it.

    Paul, I'm about to do the same, but not with Hodges Figgis :) There is a lot to be said for kicking it old school.


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