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.