What is the Price of Creativity?

The book business continues to dishearten me. The recent pursuit by the government against the major publishers and Apple on antitrust charges gives Amazon a virtual monopoly with the ability to charge whatever prices they want, eternally undercutting the competition. This also gives Amazon control of the royalties the authors earn, which is little enough to begin with, and makes self-publishing on Amazon an even more attractive option. Which gives Amazon even more control.

Perhaps the publishers were charging more than people would have liked, but frankly, as much as I hate the major publishers, there is more at stake here than simple manufacturing costs. Admittedly, it doesn’t cost anything beyond an initial investment to produce an ebook, but what about the value of the contents, the creative output, the artistry of the writing itself? No one complains that the painting they bought for $100,000 is overpriced even though it merely cost the artist a few dollars worth of paint and canvas, so why do readers begrudge writers compensation for their creativity? What didn’t exist now does. Shouldn’t there be value to that?

And that is the real issue here. Value.

Readers don’t seem to care that the art of writing no longer has any value. They can get an endless supply of books free or close to free. They seem to believe that good writing will rise to the top, that bad writing will simply fade away, but that is not true. What sells is adequate writing, writing that is just good enough to get the job done. Some good books might find a readership, but if they don’t, it does not negate the inherent value of the book. Nor does a barely adequate book become a good book simply because it sells.

Huge numbers of people shrug and say, “Ebooks are here, get over it.” They are thrilled at the disappearance of any “elitism” that might once have been conferred upon published authors. Anyone can write. Anyone can publish. What everyone believes they can do, no one values. People are reading more now because of the low cost and ease of ebooks, but are they reading anything of value, are they becoming better human beings because of the books, or are they simply passing time?

I was shocked the first time I heard that books are considered entertainment, that books compete with movies and video games for entertainment dollars. Books are more than entertainment. Or they should be. The written word becomes part of us. What was conceived in one mind comes to life in another. It’s a connection between two human beings who have never met. Isn’t that of greater consideration than a fight over entertainment dollars? Through books you can travel to other places in the world, and you can travel to other places in your own mind. You can experience feelings, ideas, philosophies that you never knew you had. Isn’t that more than mere entertainment?

I’m not sure I want to participate in a book world that places such a small value on the written word. I’ve been trying to find a reason to write again, but frankly, I don’t I see the point.

15 Responses to “What is the Price of Creativity?”

  1. leesis Says:

    Pat I wonder if things really are that different when it comes to the ‘value’ of a book. There has always been crappy books and well written books just as there has always been snobby readers and readers who read any old thing and it seems to me that the world of ebooks just makes a whole lot more. Some are well done and incorporate deeper meaning, connection, learning, some are simply fun, and some are just plain rubbish (all of course in the eye of the beholder).

    It seems to me the real question is whether an author can actually make a living with the advent of ebooks. However given how nigh on impossible it was to get published pre ebooks the question seems just the same as ever. I do think when a book touches people it does rise to the top, whatever its format because we humans deeply need story telling. Of course whether the author or Amazon makes money out of that…well that’s another matter.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      But authors have never been forced to take so little for their efforts. Drug companies are allowed to tack on the cost of experimenting and formulating the drug ad infinitum, but oh, horrors! Let’s make sure that writers don’t get compensated for the hours they spent working on their craft. Drug companies are allowed to set whatever price they want, but let’s not give pubishers the same right. What would happen if pharmacies were allowed to set their own price, AND were allowed to decide how much of that price goes to the manufacturer? That’s exactly the deal the DOJ is giving Amazon.

      Maybe it’s just me. Everyone else seems quite content with Amazon and all they stand for.

  2. knightofswords Says:

    I think the DOJ is going after the wrong people. Of course, we also need to slap some sense into people who want their books to cost next to nothing. Well, fine. Using Amazon’s pricing system, authors and publishers will go out of business. I can’t make a living selling books for 99 cents that took several years to write.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Exactly. I am so tired of the attitude that $.99 is a fair price for an ebook. Why would I ever spend all that time and effort to write a book for just a few cents? Someday I might write for myself, but I don’t see the point of writing for publication any more.

  3. Kathy Says:

    “What everyone believes they can do, no one values.”

    I absolutely agree with this and it is one of my continued rants. I’m losing my motivation to write. It seems that my entire career has been me keeping one step ahead of everybody else – lol! Every time I master something, then the world starts doing it, and then I have to reinvent myself in order to stay employed. Becoming a novelist was my latest endeavor that I started 10 years agol If I’d known then that it was going to turn into the publishing world of today, I never would have started.

    I blogged today about how I can’t get motivated to finish my current manuscript – I don’t know if it’s too much real life going on – the cross-country move, losing our beloved cat, me getting sick when I was weak with grief or what. Maybe it’s just the state of the publishing and social media world – with everybody else talking, there just isn’t that much motivation to share my words and thoughts anymore.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Kathy, that sounds like my life — always trying to master a new skill to stay one step ahead. Becoming a novelist was also my latest endeavor, and that also started about ten years ago.

      If people don’t want to pay for my words, I’ll stick to blogging. Someday, perhaps, I’ll write fiction again, but with the way the book world is now, there doesn’t seem to be much reason.

  4. jrafferty11 Says:

    Pat, I also find the DOJ efforts puzzling as they are ignoring Amazon’s efforts to become the true monopolist of the book market. This won’t stop me from writing or trying to get published through traditional channels on my next novel, but there’s no question in my mind that a novel takes MUCH more effort than say, writing a song. I’ve done both. I’ve written songs in as little as 1 hour and my first novel took 15 calendar years. So they’re both worth 99 cents? True, the value is in the output, but today’s trends are vastly reducing the value of creativity in any of the artistic fields that can be represented digitally.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Good point, James! I’d forgotten that songs go for $.99 cents, also. It makes me wonder why the concerted effort to devalue the written word? Whatever else is happening in the book world, the truth is that wordsmiths have lost whatever worth they had. The whole publishing racket has become a contest to see who can write the most books the fastest in an effort to grab the attention of the consumers.

      Best of luck with your quest for publication.

      • Kathy Says:

        Words are so commonplace – I also blame Twitter, Facebook, and texting. People now socialize by typing in words. How important can the written words be when use such short cuts as “R U OK?” as a matter of course throughout the day. And as someone who has worked in electronic publishing since the late 70s, I noticed that I also devalue words on a digital device – I’ve been staring at words electronically for my entire adult life. And now people are writing novels by texting – words have become meaningless! Now you must thrill people beyond belief before they will pay for words and it’s becoming more and more difficult to thrill people – they’ve become so jaded.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I can understand why the totally mindless books are selling — how do you read nuance on a phone? How do you notice theme and ambiguity and allusions and all those other elements that make for great (or at least good) writing?

          Attention spans are getting shorter. How are people supposed to remember what they read at the beginning of a book and correlate it to what they read at the end if they can’t hold the entire story in their minds?

          I look at this from both sides, that of a writer, but mostly that of a reader. Books are becoming too simplistic and the stories too trivial. Or maybe I’m just jaded.

  5. mickeyhoffman Says:

    Rembrandt died poor. He’s now regarded as one of the creative geniuses of the art world. This stuff has been going on forever. In ancient times the people who carved the famous statues in Greece didn’t even put their names on their work. Creativity has never been as useful to humans or held as high a value as the ability to make money, to manipulate others, to convince the masses that one is a god, etc. The ability to write used to be admired only because for centuries most people could not even read or write their own names. And only the Bible was deemed worthy of reading. When reading no longer was such a mysterious process done only by a monk or priest and people realized it wasn’t so difficult to learn to do it for themselves, then they began to read, but still mostly religious tomes. If you look at many countries today, the kids are taught to read only for the purpose of reading the Koran. So it still happens. In the West, as the ability to read became more common, writing became more commong. Letter writing was the rage and those who could write creatively were held in high esteem. But were they actually paid well for it? Not often. Rich people had books but didn’t read them, they used them like trophies to show they were cultured. Writers still struggled to make a living and always have. Only a few have been able to support themselves that way. There have always been trashy publications and well written ones. Just more of both now.

    You could argue against public libraries too, and make an argument that the ability to read for free would devalue writing. I don’t think the availablity has much to do with it. What’s changed are two things. One is the cultural idea that’s infected education: Everyone’s a winner. No one can be told they’re not good at something for fear of damaging their self-esteem. Kids aren’t reading well-written books in elementary or high school anymore so they have no means of comparison. They don’t have to learn how to write well either unless it’s on a test. College professors are getting essays with abbreviated text messaging words in them. My brother, a professor, used to read me some of the stuff his students wrote. These things were so unintelligible I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Somehow they made it into college anyway.

    Second, television and films. Need I say more? I think we’ve all noticed that best sellers read like they’ve been written to be made into an action/thriller movie. And if they are, then they’re actually composed with different elements in mind than a writer puts into a story made for reading only.

    So how is the public to know they’re reading garbage? Just throw in a vampire or a ghost or a serial killer or a few sex scenes and that’s enough to find an audience. And the agents and publishers know this. Don’t blame Amazon or anyone else, blame US.

  6. When Life Happens…Staying Motivated to Write | Kathy Holmes, Author Says:

    […] if anybody is reading, check out Pat’s blog post today – What is the Price of Creativity? Share this:ShareFacebookTwitterEmailLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry […]

  7. When Life Happens…Staying Motivated to Write | KathyHolmes.Net Says:

    […] But if anybody is reading, check out Pat’s blog post today – What is the Price of Creativity? […]

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