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Books Media The Almighty Buck

Should Book Authors Pursue a Patronage Model? 342

Posted by timothy
from the tip-jar-running-low dept.
blarkon writes "With ebook prices falling and some readers even unwilling to pay more than 99 cents for an ebook, some authors are starting to consider a move back to the patronage model that was successful in providing them with a living before the widespread use of copyright. Might such a model work or are the days where a midlist author can make a living off their work a relic of the 20th century?"
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Should Book Authors Pursue a Patronage Model?

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  • No. That's dumb. (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:32PM (#37648678)

    Just write books and sell them for a buck a pop. What's wrong with that?

    I notice that many publishers still insist on charging MORE for the e-book than for the paperback, despite the fact that the e-book can't be loaned out or resold. No wonder people are angry at them.

    Get the net. Sell many copies for a low price. Accept that it is a competitive market and innovate a good means for people to search for and find books that will interest them.

    If you wind up having to work a day job too, cry me a river, build a bridge and GET OVER IT.

  • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross&yahoo,ca> on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:38PM (#37648742)

    And how many people have 1 million downloads? I would say the minority, and not the majority...

  • Competition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by danbuter (2019760) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:39PM (#37648744)
    The problem is making your book stand out from the 1,000 other books that get published each month. It's not easy, even if you only charge 99 cents. And if 100 of those other authors are also charging 99 cents, you're pretty much screwed.
  • by tmosley (996283) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:47PM (#37648804)
    Yeah, how dare people produce things that people want for pay!
  • by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @01:52PM (#37648842)

    They could, if they worked at it. Writers and other artists have to start working at creating a more personal relationship with their audience again. This is what the internet excels at: blog, tweet, create video's, provide your readers with a place to discuss your work and chime in once in a while. Neil Gaiman [neilgaiman.com] seems like one of the few authors who get this, Doctorow [craphound.com] is another. When people recognize you as a real human being, one with whom their share a bond through your creations, they will be willing to pay.

  • by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:10PM (#37648962)

    Patronage was cultural tyranny in which those with money controlled what was produced and made sure that it was to their tastes rather than the creator's vision and that the political implications lined up with their (ruling class) interests.

    Pop culture is tyranny too, one in which the lowest common denominator determines what crud is dumped onto the masses. Every system has its downside.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:10PM (#37648966)
    Nothing you said addresses the point, which is that the pie as a whole is shrinking for authors, including reporters, and what that might mean for governance and culture.
  • by poity (465672) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:22PM (#37649024)

    OP rants against the archaic and irrelevant definition of patronage, which may be why he was modded down. Today, with paypal, and a website as a platform, anyone can seek patronage from anyone else. Look at Minecraft for example, it was mostly funded by people who bought an author's promise of a future product. In this modern world where access to ideas and the means to fund them is freer than any moment in history, using cultural tyranny to describe the patronage model is rather ignorant.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @02:57PM (#37649294) Journal

    Terry Pratchett is probably well known on Slashdot and reasonably harmless, few would have an issue with him. He writes enjoyable books and makes a great deal of money with them. Is someone who can donate a million at the drop of a hat, just making a living?

    The US has something called the working poor. People with a full time job, sometimes even two, who still can't make ends meet. Somehow it is then hard to care for a brit who writes books in the evening hours after his day job of being a spokes person for a nuclear power plant. He wouldn't have gone hungry would he?

    Lets face it, most authors are only poor if they aren't any good at all and can't hold a decent day job or they insist on suffering for their art OR just plain suck at life and think that because they think they got a great book inside them, the world owes them NOT just a living but a rich living.

    I notice TFA is in response to that flood of text about the death of the creative class, which I stopped reading after the line where video store clerks are apparently creative... I thought the creative class was programmers and artists, not store clerks.

    As I am getting older I am getting more and more opposed to art and the leeching it brings with it. In Holland we give a lot of tax payers money to artists who then insist on more and more control over what they were payed to create... I have a very simple solution for all artists. Either ZERO government grants OR total control. Not both. The infighting should solve the problem, no artists left... and then what? And then NOTHING. People have ALWAYS created art, you often have to hit them quite hard to stop doing it. If art can come out of the darkest concentration camps it cannot be killed. Granted, this is NOT the art most unpopular artists approve off, a toilet nailed to a wall with an claimed price of 3 million but no actual bidders let alone buyers. That kind of art survives purely on patronage, not by art lovers but by people who want to be seen as art lovers through spending other peoples money on it.

    The world is changing, once if you wanted to write you had to spend ages at it and then you had one book. Any copies took years! Then the printing press changed and made books cheap to buy BUT also far far cheaper to write. Without the printing press, without tech, many books would never have been written. Not least because many would have been unable to write or read in the first place.

    Now the internet allows people to write far more, almost anyone can publish content. Salon.com would never have the reach if it was a paper magazine. But while the content and reach has grown the market hasn't. There is only so much content I can consume and frankly most of it isn't worth it. I do not need to the read the 1000th angst filled novel with a dystopian world view.

    Maybe if nobody is willing to pay for your book it just isn't good enough. Is that such a complex concept?

    The article talks about the great novels written under the patronage system... and forgets the torrent of drivel that history rightfully forgot about. I am actually a bit of a fan of drivel, the "dollar" books series, the works of Brian Daley or even Alen Dean Foster and "worse". Commercial trash that none at Salon would defend BUT they do sell, the authors DO make a living at them.

    How am I supposed to feel sympathy for a group of people unable to make a living who sneer at a people in the same group who do make a living at the same job? It reminds me a bit of most feminists who want to fight for the right for women to be ceo's. I notice that the picket line demanding women can be garbage collectors is far far shorter.

    There are people struggling to raise their family working double jobs. Crying that you can't sell your book written at Starbucks is NOT going to pull any heart strings.

    Get a job. Write in your spare time. If you are any good, you will make it. If not, then you ain't any good. Though shit. We all got a book inside of us, and that is where it should stay.

  • by The Dawn Of Time (2115350) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @03:02PM (#37649336)

    "Rich people should pay to entertain me" is possibly the single greatest populist cause in history! Demand those circuses!

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @03:11PM (#37649388) Journal

    The average author (even through major publishers) makes only single-digit thousands of dollars per title. Most titles are lucky to sell a few thousand copies.

    One might argue that a $0.99 model might make your product more likely to be an impulse buy even if you have no intention of reading it, but that's the only way such a low price point will drive sales up, and maybe not even then. Odds are, you'll still sell only a few thousand copies, only now you'll make $0.30 each instead of a buck or two. It seems obvious that without a MUCH better division of profits between the author and the distributor, authors cannot make a living selling eBooks at $0.99. Any argument to the contrary, being an extraordinary claim, thus demands extraordinary proof.

    There's also the problem that this ignores all the psychology involved in setting prices. In the absence of some reason to buy a specific book, if the majority of folks sell eBooks at $0.99, your best bet for high sales is to sell yours at $1.29, not $0.79. By setting a higher price, you are actually more likely to get sales because people will look at it and say, "This author thinks that his/her work is better than the rest of the stuff on the market." This will tend to drive prices back up as soon as somebody tries a $0.99 pricing model, and more to the point, will seriously diminish (if not eliminate) any additional sales that an author would otherwise have gotten from pricing his or her books at a disposable $0.99 price because it will seem so much cheaper than other books on the market.

    I would actually argue that books are currently way underpriced. A new release of a movie gives you two hours of enjoyment for $20. A new release of a hardcover book gives you significantly more than two hours of enjoyment for that same $20 unless you're speed reading (and probably even then). Based on that, an eBook at $0.99 would be absurdly underpriced, which would cause anyone who looked at it to assume that it must be crap to be priced at such a deep discount. No one wants a book that the author thinks is worth only as much as a three minute music download. If you calculate the price of a book based on the amount of time it takes to write, edit, and format a book compared with the time it takes to write, record, and edit a song, a good novel should cost a couple hundred dollars. It's way, way, way more work. You can certainly use that as an argument that music is massively overpriced (and you'll get no disagreement from me), but as a seller, you have to work within the market as it exists, not as you think it should be.

    Finally, there's the rather fundamental problem that an eBook that dramatically undercuts the price of the printed page will tend to cut the knees out from under your print sales. No publisher will be willing to do this, and no author who has any intention of ever releasing a print edition will do this, either. The cost of printing makes selling a paper copy at or near the $1 mark utterly impractical. Thus, by setting an eBook price that does not take into account the cost of other media, you'd be shooting yourself in the foot.

  • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross&yahoo,ca> on Saturday October 08, 2011 @03:57PM (#37649662)

    Ok 9,990 dollars for a book as an income? That is a joke! And yes even 10,000 downloads is still quite outrageous. Take a look at Robert Scobles the long tail. He said that people would buy more and the monies would be distributed more fairly. This is called the long tail http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Tail [wikipedia.org]

    However, the long tail has been debunked:

    Also in 2008, a sales analysis of an unnamed UK digital music service by economist Will Page and high-tech entrepreneur Andrew Bud found that sales exhibited a log-normal distribution rather than a power law; they reported that 80 percent of the music tracks available sold no copies at all over a one-year period.

    I have seen it myself first hand. With Google, search engines, etc we are doing pin hole searches. Where in the past we would have a broad horizon now we google and get a pin hole view of the world. We don't get the diversity that we used to before. Thus the log tail does not exist.

  • by icebike (68054) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @04:29PM (#37649904)

    Tolkien had a day job.

    Yeah, and? Do you really think his family -- and, indeed, the reading public -- would be happier if he'd forgotten about that writing nonsense and stuck to his day job?

    A bit combative are we?

    The point us: he could AFFORD take 5 years and not be fscked. (or hungry or homeless).

    His work supported his writing and allowed him the luxury of careful craftsmanship, which is far too often missing in popular authors.

  • Re:Competition (Score:2, Insightful)

    by xstonedogx (814876) <xstonedogx@gmail.com> on Saturday October 08, 2011 @05:19PM (#37650238)

    I don't agree. Your exceptions to the rule are good at self-publishing. Certainly being a good writer makes that easier, but it's an additional skill set.

    It's a truism that a publisher will publish you if they know they can make money off you. Your exceptions are successful self-publishers. They are money machines in the eyes of the publishers.

    What about the equally excellent writers that aren't also good self-publishers? Publishers have zero incentive to pick up those writers. Not only are the writers using a business model with publishers find threatening, but the writers are showing that their work is not in demand (even though it might be with publisher's marketing behind it).

    Aspiring authors can:

    1. Take the chance at being successful on their own.
    2. Go with the big guys.

    There is no option of trying on your own, failing (or even doing moderately well), and then going with the big guys.

    And, to me at least, this seems like a no brainer:

    In the first scenario, you are betting your career on your ability to write and publish, taking all the risks, and earning less per book.
    In the second scenario, you are putting all the risks on the publisher, not risking your career (at least, as not quickly), and if you are successful you'll be earning more per book with less effort on your part.

    The only real question is whether the volume of a lower price point will outweigh the enhanced marketing of a publisher. I think your three examples answer that question.

  • by west (39918) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @05:41PM (#37650364)

    > Well, there is some party getting way too much money here.

    Is this based on anything like fact, or are you assuming that everybody in the entire publishing process should be providing their services for near free, and thus high quality books should be near free?

    Sorry, my guess is you're too young to have had any real world experience with commerce, but in the real world, almost anything involving actual people costs a lot. Very few are getting rich and there isn't a secret conspiracy of rich people lighting cigars with the money you're paying for your books and entertainment.

    To professionally publish a book, costs thousands for editors, book designers, book cover artists, accountants, inventory management, (and for paper books) warehousing, shippers, transport, more inventory management and of course the infrastructure to support this all.

    Sorry for coming down so hard, but honestly, this vague "everyone is getting rich but me" is just way too common as the rallying cry of people who find it too much work to actually learn that usually nobody in the whole supply chain is getting rich. In fact, the real fear is often that the guys at the top are *losing* money and may give up on the whole chain!

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @06:29PM (#37650660) Homepage

    "Sorting the wheat from the chaff is now impossible."

    yes if you are one of those that must have the new releases! OHHH IT"S NEW GOTTA GOTTA!!!!

    If you wait a year, suddenly the good books are obvious and the crap is in the $0.99 bin. I end up look less trendy, and less like a lemming and I end up spending less because I also end up paying for it used. But then I'm evil. Only evil people buy used books.

  • by crossmr (957846) on Saturday October 08, 2011 @07:14PM (#37650918) Journal

    I would actually argue that books are currently way underpriced. A new release of a movie gives you two hours of enjoyment for $20

    Whatever point you were trying to make was wasted by that statement. It's a pretty tired old statement that really ignores dozens of factors and really isn't remotely relevant. Why is a movie the benchmark? I could go to the country fair all day for $3. By that logic a movie is seriously over priced. Movies are overpriced though. But you'd claim the county fair is under priced.

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