Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Price of Entertainment...

As self-publishing in ebook format becomes more and more popular, publishing professionals are beginning to wonder about their status in the ever changing market place.
Before the ebook craze, there was a rather tight filter in place that distinguished what got published and what didn’t:

 Author writes book.  Agent likes book.  Editor likes book.  Publisher publishes book.

But with the ebook craze, this filter has been replaced with another: 

Author publishes book.  Author promotes book.  People read book and decide if they like it and want to promote it.  Author makes a profit.

Now, instead of a privileged few deciding if a book is worth reproducing in mass, an entire population of readers are the ones who make the call and decide who rises and who sinks. Like in the older publishing system- few authors actually make it past a few hundred books sold.  But the filter and the financial investment required to make a best seller has completely changed.

When I woke up this morning I was led to two different posts talking about the current revolution.  One is An Open Letter to Agents by Courtney Milan.  The other is Rachel Gardner’s ‘How Do You Become A Literary Agent’.  Both explore the current changes and how they are affecting an agent’s roll. 

And after reading and thinking it all over, I must admit I’m feeling…tired.

I’m glad that the world is changing- that authors who might have never had a chance in the old system are perhaps thriving in the new.  But I’m also sad for everyone in the publishing industry whom this might negatively effect. 

I’m also a little conflicted.  Stories are a form of entertainment used since the beginning of time.  Like music and theater-  they are all just ways of taking a break from our mundane lives and experiencing something off the grid.  And in a society where work has been simplified and regulated and free time is much more abundant than it was a hundred years ago- keeping ourselves entertained has gone up in worth and esteem. Why else would we pay so much to see a movie? Buy a video game? Go to a concert? Or a sporting match?

Are we perhaps paying too much and giving too much importance to things which are, in general, created to pass the time?  Couldn’t this money be going towards a more worthy cause like saving lives or creating a better world?

Yeah probably. 

However, even if imagination and talent might be free, I think the work put into creating should be compensated.  A fair compensation isn’t an easy thing to agree on.  What it really depends on is what people are willing to pay.  But this whole revolution brought on by the internet and the ease with which it is now possible obtain free music/movies/books has made everyone take a step back and rethink the price of modern day entertainment.

What do you think is fair compensation for someone who creates or helps create entertainment for the masses, whether it be an athlete- an author- an actor and all the little guys in between?  


Laura Pauling said...

I think what a consumer pays should be in scale with the amount of effort it required to produce it. Sometimes it's fair and sometimes it's not. I realize 99cents or 2.99 doesn't sound like a lot but those writers are receiving more profit than a trad. pubbed ebook. I think it depends on the situation. And it's a choice each person has to make.

Stina said...

Oh boy! You're making me think before 6 am. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Nope don't have an answer yet. I'm still annoyed at the price I about to pay to see the Smurfs today for me and three kids.

It's really hard to say. It depends on how I view the value of the product. If I pay for a hardcover book that turns out to be lame, then I'm going to be less than thrilled. But if I buy a book that I was amazed at, and can't stop thinking about, then I'm not going to give the price a second thought.

Sarah said...

This is a question that gets answered by the market. If artists/writers don't get paid at all (whether directly by consumers or through advertising or whatever), they won't be able to create as much, and the quantity (and possibly quality) of the entertainment will drop. There's a certain amount of give there, however, and a lot of creativity about finding ways to get compensated for that art, fortunately. It's so interesting to be both observing and participating in all this change, but it's anxiety-provoking for sure, what with all the uncertainty!

Gina Ciocca said...

I was just thinking about this the other day, when the radio dj was talking about Justin Bieber spending $30,000 to fill Selena Gomez's hotel room with flowers. Some people don't make that it a year, and he can blow it on FLOWERS just because he sang a few songs and happens to be cute? Something's not right.

I also think the price of books is a bit out of hand, considering authors don't make much. 16 or 17 dollars for a hardcover is just ridiculous, considering you only get one real use out of it. Where does all that money go?

Old Kitty said...

I think people who create art should be paid for their effort, I really do. I've got enough arty friends to know how much effort they put into creating something and are near enough in penury for their art! But more importantly the real profit should be given to the artist rather than all the companies that make money out of them! :-)

Take care

Shain Brown said...

Change never takes a time out.

So with the growth of epub vs trad publishing we are seeing that both have a place, and both offer certain benefits.

stu said...

Actually, I'm seriously worried that the relentless march of ebooks is going to do to novels what internet zines seem to have done to poetry and short stories: creating an expectation that they should be free.

Hart Johnson said...

I guess I think books are still and will remain one of the most democratically reimbursed forms of entertainment, as the reimbursement is on a per unit basis... the more people who love it, the more we get paid. I mean I GUESS movie stars theoretically get paid more because they draw more people to the movie, but they get paid that even if the movie flops... though I guess a successful author gets a big advance, so maybe it is the same... But like... a concert... there is a finite number of seats, so instead of more people, it is more per unit for somebody really popular... it becomes a rich people thing... Can you imagine them saying ... ah yes... this Stephen King is likely to be in high demand but we can only print 10,000, so we are setting the price at $3000.

I have the same mixed feelings as you about the changes in industry... I LIKE the democratization of it, but as in other democracies that shall go nameless at the mo... it is still really hard to sort the good and worthy from the crap. The ability of the author to self promote has at best a dubious correlation with said author's writing talent and the meticulousness with which she has revised and edited. I'd like some quality control built in BESIDES readers, as I think even more great books will get missed NOW than before because some talented people just don't have the umph to get those early readers and reviews going.

Matthew MacNish said...

It's really hard to nail down an answer for this. For example, I would probably be willing to pay like $100 for a leather bound collector's edition of Lord of the Rings, but for a self pubbed e-book from an author I've never heard of? I'm not willing to pay much until I know it's good.

These are interesting but also terrifying times to be trying to become an author in.

mooderino said...

I can't say I have any sympathy for those in the industry who have been price fixing, using their personal tatse and prejudices, and generally forcing the rest of us to eat what we're given and if we don't like it starve. Same with the music industry.

A fair price is whatever people will pay. Even a penny is fine if you sell a billion copies. Revenue generated as whole, especially in today's global, digital market, does not follow the same rules and requirements in terms of marketing and distribution as it used to.

People might say my work and effort is worht more than a penny, but that's blinkered thinking. Is all the effort you put in only worth $10? it's total revenue that counts not individual price.


Anonymous said...

As an actor, if definitely irks me that my conversation with an agent yesterday included the statement, "We don't book theatre because that's not where the money is. The theatre actors who come through here work in print and TV and film to make the money during the day so that they can do theatre on the side. It's not about the art anymore for me, I've been in the business too long--now it's about the bottom line, all about the amount of money you make at the end of the year."

It makes me feel green and naive that, apparently, I just should have known and then accepted that television and film are King and that doing the meaningful, social-issues based ART that I love so much on stage is... well, just not valuable. I find 6 weeks of rehearsal and shows with other people who care about storytelling and creating something meaningful WAY more valuable than doing that random product commercial, but monetarily it's just not 'worth' as much. It's this kind of hierarchy in the entertainment industry that makes actors like me doubtful and wonder that, if we want to be able to afford to eat, we should be jumping on the shiny commercialized bandwagon and leaving significant artistic creation on the live stage behind. The actors working on Broadway are definitely making more than I am on the other end of the country, but even Broadway is 'disneyfied' and shows only run as long as they are profitable. And the amount of work and preparation it takes to even get to that stage is ginormous.

I sometimes worry that my need for food and shelter is going to outweigh the benefits of working in theatre, and I'm afraid of doing work I don't believe in just because it pays the bills. I agree that some of the money spent on entertainment could certainly be used for other things, but as someone who is passionate about the performance/art/writing communities, I do believe that actors/artists/writers should be compensated fairly for the work they produce. And if I were to tally up for you the amount of hours I have put into producing shows versus the amount of money I made doing them, the hourly rate would astonish you--and make me cry just a little.

I don't like paying upwards of ten dollars to see a movie any more than the next person--but I do think the 'worth' or 'cost' of work created by human hands should be comparable to the hours and effort put into the project. How that is defined these days is, I think, beyond me.

Jolene Perry said...

Wow. You did get all philosophical today :D

I don't know.

I hate how much basketball players are paid, for example. Someone who plays ball for a living should not be making millions of dollars, but yeah - where does that stop?

20 million to act in a movie? Seriously??

The average author makes about a dollar a book - that's changing with ebooks - but for a long time that's how it generally came out.

The problem is that no matter how your book went through the process - agent, editor, publisher, bookstores or from you - ebook.

In the end the people who read it are still going to decide the fate of the book.

Good post :D

Mel Chesley said...

Well, I'm going to put in my two cents.
First of all, the eBook industry seemed to be squashed some time back and not allowed to run rampant like it is now. Because of this, you have everyone who fancies themselves a writer self-publishing because they don't have something traditional publishers want. Or, they feel they should just skip the middle man altogether to keep the majority of their profit. Yes, the public decides their fate. This will force these kinds of authors to either A) quit writing because no one buys their books or B) elevate them as a bestseller or even just a mediocre alternate income writer.
This needs to happen. Because we have such a huge boom of eBooks and self publishers, the public needs to be the one to make the choice of who is going to fail and who is going to succeed. This will be detrimental to the craft, simply because really good authors will be overlooked! The public is inundated and bombarded with so many choices, but sooner or later, these will all be filtered out. This filtering process might take awhile, but again, it has to happen.
Granted, everyone has a story to tell and the right to tell it. But we, as the public, have the right to say, "Your story sucks. I don't want it." or "Awesome! I want more!"
I can imagine you feel tired after reading those two posts. I browse through title after title of eBook out there and I'm exhausted. I may have to resort to just judging a story by its review. But I don't really want to do that either.
Some day, this will all calm down and become a better process. Or it will continue to flood the world wide web as we know it and those of us who continue to go the route of traditional publishing will just be dinosaurs.
I don't want a comet to hit.

Bkloss said...

I hear ya...I'm so tired from it all. I'm also glad for the opportunities we have now we might not have had before.

But in line with compensation - my hubby and I were at a coffee shop the other day (I like to change up scenery while writing) and I turn around, and lo! Some crazy painting of who knows what that someone is trying to sell for $600!! Okay, I'm not discounting art, but sheesh. Methinks "Hmm, I'm sure I spent more time on my story than said artist spent on that painting. And i'm suppose to charge $2.99!!"

Geoff Maritz said...

My brother, like myself, is in the film and entertainment business and has been for more than 25 tears. An artist we both know very well once asked him what he thought a particular piece of art was worth. His reply, which I found very wise, was what ever you get for it. If you only get R100.00 then that is what it is worth. If you get a million then that is what it's worth." Now isn't that true?
God bless, Geoff.

Kathryn Rose said...

I'm not sure what fair compensation should be for artists across the board, but one article I read last week stuck with me, where a former Borders employee said: "when [insert reality star here] publishes another book, they'll take your book off the shelf to make room for his/hers."

(Paraphrasing, and probably an overstatement to some degree, but as a statement to show where many publishers' loyalties lie - not all, mind you.)

So maybe we're not selling out or giving up by self-publishing; maybe we're looking for readers that want to read what we write instead of what some publishers deem is worth reading. Maybe the traditional industry's the one that's selling out? There might not be any room for all the great books writers have on their computers waiting to be read when it comes to physical bookstores, but that's where Amazon, etc. could really become a place to go where you DO want a serious book, and not a ghostwritten autobiography, as paradoxical as that may be, priced at $29.99.

Just a thought. :) Interesting topic!

Jessica Bell said...

Gosh, I don't know if I can answer that. I'd hope I'd be compensated for the hours I put in, but it just doesn't work like that :o(

LTM said...

personally, I'm diggin the 99-cent, ebook millionaires. I mean, if you sell your stuff for a dollar and still end up rich, you must be doing something right, yes?

As for pro athletes, and actors... well, I do think they should get a cut of the action their talent helps create, but I'm balking at the price of movie tix these days.

It's a conundrum. Wrapped in a jelly doughnut.

And you ARE tired--get some rest~ ((hugs))

Anonymous said...

A very honest post. I think you've captured my very thoughts here.


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