Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Price Elasticity of Literature

To self publish or not to self publish. That's the question more and more established and would be writers are asking themselves. There are undeniable success stories, particularly in pulp genres (thrillers, crime fiction, romance, sci-fi, supernatural-romance etc.) Often, authors first establish themselves through the traditional publishing model and them branch off and build their readership and profitability by self-publishing. As with all other product in the marketplace, brand-building is key. The model doesn't seem to work for literary fiction nearly as well though for a varity of reasons and publishers are becoming strictly marketers, divesting from literature by devoting fewer and fewer resources to editing and material support to their authors (not to mention paying smaller advances). Agents and publishing houses are increasingly expecting to receive polished publishable manuscripts. I know a few writers who are paying for professional manuscript editing services in the hope that it can lead to a deal, a risky and expensive proposition. The problems facing the publishing and marketing of literary fiction are dealt with in an interesting article by Alex Good. He makes the point that unlike literary fiction, genre fiction is well-suited for selling on the web which tends to cheapen everything by making it so readily available. A $0.99 to $2.99 price point makes everything merely discardable merchandise, akin to fast-fashion or fast-food ie. not something you cherish enough to put on your shelf. When it's in a person's mind that they should be paying so little for a book (when paying anything at all) how do you then go and ask $10 or $20 for literary fiction (read: higher quality merchandise). When $0.99 becomes the price for a book ie. what readers expect to pay, it doesn't matter whether the author is Danielle Steele, Dan Brown or Dostoevsky. The question is will literature, as we know it, pay the ultimate price?

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