I’ve just read a cri de coeur on social media from yet another writer ready to throw in the towel. Not that she intends to give up writing, you understand – what she is giving up is the unequal struggle to make even a very modest living from it.
When I began writing novels I certainly never expected to earn a living from it – but even I was taken aback by the amount of effort (writing itself, promotion) that I needed to put in to receive even a tiny return. The increasing expectation for the written word to be provided for free, at least over the internet, certainly doesn’t help.
I have long since thrown in the towel myself. The struggle to sell reading material, even at a very low price, became more trouble than it was worth when it began to affect my health. I still have books for sale, all inhabiting the murky lower depths of the Amazon rankings – but I no longer put myself through the soul-destroying process of trying (and failing) to promote them. I write for fun these days. And in a sense that makes me part of the problem for the struggling writer.
Why is this? Well, my future writing is likely to be available for nothing. Anyone who wants a copy can have it. I might even serialise my work (I still think of it as work) on this blog. This allows me to concentrate on my writing without the stress of trying to run what is effectively a failing small business. It’s the only way forward for me.
If I were the only person in this situation it wouldn’t matter. But I suspect increasing numbers of people feel the same. The result can only be that the internet, in all its forms, is flooded with even more ‘free content’. It’s already easy to find free downloads of books (legitimate or not) and to read newspapers and articles of all kinds. This blog post, which takes time and thought to write, comes to you free of charge, my dears. No-one need ever pay for something to read – so why would they? Pretty soon only the best known authors will be able to get away with asking people to pay for their books.
So must we all go with this inevitable flow, or is there a solution for the struggling author? The only one I can think of is to give e-books away for nothing – and charge for advertising space, in the way many blogs (not this one!) already do. Many other kinds of entertainment, and the internet itself, pay for themselves this way, whilst making the content free to the user. What do you think? Would you mind finding pages of cleverly targeted advertising (I’m sure that’s possible) in your e-books if you received them for nothing? Authors and publishers already use the space at the ends of e-books to advertise their other titles – isn’t this just taking it one step further? The author then gets paid from the advertising revenue rather than directly from the audience. Does it matter? I’d love to know what you think.