Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Books Shouldn't Be Free

My favorite authors are all professionals, meaning they get paid for their work, some more, some less. Some worked other jobs (most did at some point, and it's a valuable experience), some didn't.

I hear many authors (and other artists) say that they don't mind giving away their work because they don't do it for the money, they do it out of love for the work and because they want people to read what they've written. But the idea that someone doesn't need to be or should be paid because they're not doing it for the money doesn't hold up. Only artists are taken advantage of that way, and we let it happen by the false sense of competition created and the devaluing of our work ("You should just be happy someone's reading your story.")

"Hi, I'm a doctor. I don't do this for the money, it's because I love healing people. So, no, you don't have to pay me." 
"Hi, I'm an architect. I love what I do, and heck, think how many people are going to see my building. No charge for my services of course." 
"Hi, I'm an inventor. I love dabbling and creating new things, so sure, you can have my patent. I don't do it for the money." 
"Hi, I'm a scientist. Science is my passion and my life. Of course I don't expect to be paid for what I love to do. I'm happy to help society." 
"Hi, I'm a teacher. I love children and helping them learn and become better grown-ups. You don't have to pay me for what I do, I do it out of love." (oops, that's just about true for teachers, who are also screwed!) 

Our society values what we teach it to value by our choices. Some of those choices are difficult and require courage. I don't think every author should be paid a large amount of money for their work. I think those whose work has value should be compensated financially in a reasonable way because THAT is how our present society expresses cultural value. As soon as tech gear and rent and food, etc. is free, I'll be happy to give away all my stories.

We all shape our society by the decisions we make. Whatever yours are, as a person who creates or as a person who enjoys the creative work of others, realize you're affecting more than just yourself.



  1. I teach Creative Writing at university level, and it's remarkable how many of my students say that, at first, they'd happily give their work away for free just to get it out there. And I agree to a certain extent. Building some kind of body of work and a reputation is crucial for budding authors, and sometimes putting work out there for free can be a way to do this. But the line does need to be drawn somewhere...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for your comment (and for stopping by). I honestly don't have a dogmatic position on this. I could easily write a post about why an author SHOULD give their books away for free when they're unknown. Several authors who are successful now did so. For some it boosted their sales, but I think for more, it grew them a fanbase and from that they were able to sign a publishing deal with a big publisher. Of course, if people are taught the mindset that books should be free, that's not going to help you much once you're trying to sell your books while with a major publisher.

    But I guess I was writing more about why books should not be free as long as other things aren't free. No reason artists should be the ones expected to make such a sacrifice, especially as they are usually the least able to do so financially.

    But the question of the promotional value of giving away free books is unanswerable. For some it works, for others it doesn't. You may see me giving away at least some free stories very soon to test this.

    I would highly advise you to listen to this interview with bestselling author Scott Sigler On How To Be A NY Times Best-Selling Author. He talks about this issue and podcasting.

    Thanks again Dave!

  4. I thought about this tonight while driving home. I pondered the question at what point does one earn the right to make their living through their art? The difference between being a writer, a painter, or a poet versus a teacher, architect, or doctor is that the former are all artists. And while one could argue that teaching is an art, architects all draw, and that doctors; well I often think doctors are just guessing. But that is not the point. My point, which I seem to have misplaced, is that artists have the right earn their living from their art but to be able to do so is a privilege.

    There must be happy medium between giving away the store and charging for everything? If you find it let me know. As currently I can not get anyone to pay me for my skills (teaching) or my art (poetry)..but it can't be like this forever. After all, nothing that can't last forever will.

  5. "artists have the right to earn their living from their art but to be able to do so is a privilege."

    Why is being able to do so a privilege for an artist any more than it is for someone else who does what they love and are good at?