Milk The Words

While reading a news article recently about dairy farming, I had one of those odd thought moments. It seemed to me that milk and words suffer a similar fate in the marketing process. They are both products at the very bottom of a long production chain. This means that the selling price for the raw product, milk or words, is cheap in comparison to the end product. Read here paperback, ebook, creamed butter, or strawberry yoghurt.

As we are all aware, there have been ‘milk battles’ in many countries due to the decreasing returns a dairy farmer makes while retail prices increase. This can only mean that returns for the ‘middlemen’ are increasing.

In my mind, the publishing industry is now on the verge of its own little market war. The singular difference, though, is that producers of words can go directly to the market and cut out the middlemen. So this must be a good thing, then? Well, yes and no. It depends on how you like your book or strawberry yoghurt packaged, quality-controlled and correctly labelled. Pasteurised or non-pasteurised with just a small risk of salmonella?

Unlike milk though, prices for books are falling. The recent price drop caused by ebooks is becoming a worrying situation. Free or $0.99 is not fair value, and leaves no room at all for quality controls. Would you buy a cheap plastic container of non-pasteurised milk for your kids?

As an author I have to accept that ebooks are here to stay. Whether I like it or not. My concern is however, that quality will surely suffer, as neither traditional publishers nor independent and self-published books will be able to afford all the hard work that is required to produce a professionally processed book.

The only moneymakers now will be the manufacturers of e-reader devices, who, by the way, also control the distribution.

10 thoughts on “Milk The Words”

  1. I must agree that it is harder for writers to earn a decent living (although whatever it is that Dean Koontz does seems to pay well) but it's hard for me to say that .99 buys a substandard product when I loaded up a lot of classics on my Kindle for that price or less. I think publishing in general is in flux and it's mighty hard on writers.

  2. Veronika Kaufmann

    I've read a few of the free or very cheap books (not the classics obviously, they are free because they are in public domain). I am talking about the self-published ones. All were appallingly bad and full of errors. Since time is precious, people want to read good books ie good writing and no errors. You can flood the market with crap but no one is gonna read it. I do believe good writing has its price and people have no problem paying for it.

  3. Courtney Cole

    The industry has sort of put us writers in a corner by coming to expect $.99 books- especially from indie authors. I would disagree that all indie books are bad. That's not true at all. I would agree that SOME are bad and I've certainly encountered those.

    My debut novel, Every Last Kiss is good. I have people remark all the time that it is worth far more than the $.99 price-tag. And I know that. But see, in the industry right now, we've gotten to a place where readers are demanding low prices and we're sort of forced to giving it.

    But the industry is changing every day. It's hard to say what it will be like next year or even next month. As writers, all we can do is keep writing and hold on for the ride.

  4. Jess Mountifield

    It's very hard for a new indie writer to get anyone to take a chance on their book now with so many new authors flooding the market that i think the first books are all just being prices at $.99 just so people will be more likely to take a chance on them.

    Unfortunately there will always be a number of crap books published this way but even the writers who have been sensible enough to run their book through as thorough an editing process as they can afford are finding they have to price their books low and hope that someone will take a chance on them.

    I think authors and readers are going to just have to ride this one out and see what happens over the next year or two.

  5. Thank you all for your informed comments. I think Jess is right. We'll just have to see what happens. There's still a long way to go yet I think.

  6. It seems to be a kind of bigotry. People still believe these are vanity books as from the 70s. An editor liked some of my work quite a lot, especially an article on Jim Thompson, whom he had just begun reading. On the net, he told me about his life and I told him about mine. He told me when my article would run and said possibly he could advertise my books by printing some of their covers. I said great and sent him some PDFs. He immediately said no "I would have no credibility with my publisher if he saw me with these." Friends and family still don't think I'm a writer, even though I've written seven books and they haven't. It's like I've done something obscene. And of course I've written a story about the editor who rejected me. I call it "I Passed For Legit."

  7. Jess Mountifield

    I've had a similar problem Anonymous, I was eating lunch with my sister in law yesterday who I see maybe 6-7 times per year and I was telling her about what I'm writing at the moment. The second historical fiction book the short stories for a collection with other authors and the sci-fi series I was thinking of starting (all for kindle ebooks) and she just said, "So when are you going to try and actually get something published?"

    I then spent the next 15 minutes trying to explain to her why I didn't want to be 'published' as she saw it.

  8. Coral Russell

    Meh, who cares? Write, love what you're doing, and the rest will follow. :)

  9. Probably right Coral!
    But in regards to Jess and Anonymous, I think the bigotry is a 'writer' hang up. I'm not sure readers have the same attitude. If it's good, it's good. I've read some Amanda Hocking and although not my style, it was good. Yes errors and typos as well, but then again I found them in an ebook copy of Harry Potter just recently. So?

  10. Jess Mountifield

    Carol, for the most part I have a similar attitude to you. I love writing and don't think anyone would ever be able to stop me, even if i never made more than peanuts for it. Sometimes it can be a little grating that some people will automatically assume something based on a stereotype and it is one of my pet peeves.

    Derek you are probably right that it is more of a writer hang up than a reader one. That alone is an encouraging thought.

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