Defining Value Outside the Hippie Commune

In a perfect world, everything would be free. We would all voluntarily give of our time to help each other and make things and share things and it would be great. No one would be poor because everyone would be doing their fair share, and poor wouldn’t exist. Everyone would be valued and warm and loved and safe and fed and sheltered and protected.

But back to reality.

We don’t live in a hippie culture where everything is free. We live in a culture where everything costs money. Work is compensated with MONEY. Is it crass to mix art and money? Maybe for those who don’t do it and don’t know how much work it really is to produce something to distribute to the masses.

If you aren’t a writer, I would like you to do an experiment for me. I would like you to sit down in a chair every day and crank out 1,000 words of original fiction with a coherent plot. After you’ve done this for a month I want you to come back to me with a straight face and ask to pay 99 cents or nothing for the fiction you consume.

Once you’ve done it for yourself a few times, you’ll want to actually be paid for it. Writing isn’t play time. This isn’t a masturbatory activity for me. If I was independently wealthy, I still wouldn’t give it all away for free because I believe my work should be monetarily valued. And also because if I gave it all away for free, I would be helping to breed more entitlement into people, making it harder for others to make money.

The only reason I’ve ever given anything away for free or sold it for 99 cents is to build a platform and build trust in readers so they would give me a chance. It was never a permanent strategy. If I didn’t need to make money, I would have priced it higher to begin with and if people bought it, great, and if they didn’t, fine. To make a living as a writer one has to attain a certain level of exposure. Sometimes that exposure costs something. If I hadn’t needed to make some money I might not have set my prices so low “ever”. And if people didn’t like it, they could just not read it. But I didn’t have that luxury.

And now I know sales and sales ranks will drop some as a result of higher prices, but I think I have to be willing to suck it up right now. Because I can’t sustainably make it on 99 cent e-reads, no matter how big my backlist got. Plus I would resent the hell out of readers having to sell so much just to scrape together a barely-above-poverty-level income.

Outside the hippie commune in the real world, where most of us live, value is defined and shown through money. Monetary value isn’t the only type of value but it’s the most important to continued survival in our culture. I realize that creative endeavors have more than “just” monetary value. There are all kinds of kittens and rainbows and puppy farts forms of value that can be placed on a creative work. And that’s great.

If something I wrote is one of your favorite books, that’s awesome and I’m flattered, but you still need to compensate me for it. I provided a service. I entertained you. If I didn’t properly perform the service and you don’t feel sufficiently entertained, if you bought it on Kindle you can get a refund. If you bought it in print, you can resell the book to someone else and not buy anything from me again.

But you do need to compensate me because I did work. And work, in this culture is paid for. Financially.

I cannot pay my electric or gas bill on your praise. Praise is awesome and I love when someone loves my work but I still have bills. Right now my husband pays most of our expenses, but I still have some financial responsibility. I’d also like to get out of the crappy house I live in and into someplace nicer. I would like to own a car. If I am not monetarily compensated (fairly) for my work, I can’t do that.

Sure, readers don’t think about an author’s bills or financial situation when they buy a book. They don’t buy it so I can pay my electric bill. But if they don’t buy it I have to do something else to make money and I’m not going to write in addition to another job. One job is enough for me, thanks. We find it absolutely unacceptable to begrudge a doctor or lawyer or anyone else fair payment for their work. Authors should be able to make a fair wage. We’re working, too. We shouldn’t all have to write as a second job or small income-producing hobby.

So if you do place “any” value on my work at all, even if it’s the kitten and puppy fart kind of value, paying me is how you show that. Monetary value in this culture is inextricably tied to all other value because it’s how we show our appreciation for work well done. It’s how we build trust and show that we don’t take other people’s work for granted or think they are our slaves here to entertain us and do our bidding for nothing.

So it is fair for an author to set a certain price for their work and tie the price they charge and others are willing to pay into the value for that work? When there are traditionally published authors easily selling books for $6 and more on the Kindle, then an indie author asking for anything under $5 shouldn’t be controversial. In fact, once they have the platform, selling the same as NY pub authors are able to sell at, should be the norm.

It could be argued that NY books are overpriced on Kindle. And maybe they are. Some of them, however are selling at higher prices, which is a clear indication that their fans place a higher monetary value on their work.

I will always be a writer. I can’t help but be one. Most writers can’t. But, what I can do is control whether or not I share that work. And many other authors feel the same way. If we aren’t compensated, we won’t work. Does this mean that the whole world should collectively stand up and give a damn? No. There will always be someone willing to be taken advantage of just to get readers.

I just am not one of those people anymore. And I regret that I was one of those people for as long as I was, because it just made it harder for others to make money.

Here’s another writer with the same views. He’s a bit of an ass… but… he’s right:


This is a reprint of a post from Zoe Wintersblog.

Comments are closed.