But three lefts do.
And what of Orwellian triple-speak? That’s like double-speak, except you circle back around to the truth again. I’m seeing some bizarre protestations about an Orwell quote making the rounds among the anti-Amazon crowd. When Amazon sent a letter to KDP authors asking them to help talk sense into Hachette, one of the points detractors seized upon was a quote from George Orwell about paperbacks. From the letter:
The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.”
The quote was taken out of context, pundits and bloggers cried. The rest of the letter from Amazon was dismissed because of a single fact that seems to have been gotten backwards. In reality, they said, Orwell thought cheap paperbacks were great. He flat out says so. Can’t you hear the sarcasm dripping from his voice? He wasn’t really suggesting collusion.
Except he was. And he wasn’t being sarcastic at all. An intrepid researcher tracked down the origin of the quote, and Orwell was indeed suggesting, just as Amazon portrays, that he and others of his time thought cheap books would destroy the trade. Great for consumers, sure, but bad for everyone else. Here’s the link. And the quote in full:
The Penguin books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them. It is, of course, a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade. Actually it is just the other way about. If you have, for instance, five shillings to spend and the normal price of a hook is half-a-crown, you are quite likely to spend your whole five shillings on two books. But if books are sixpence each you are not going to buy ten of them. because you don’t want as many as ten: your saturation point will have been reached long before that.
Probably you will buy three sixpenny books and spend the rest of your five shillings on seats at the “movies.” Hence the cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books. This is an advantage from the reader’s point of view and doesn`t hurt trade as a whole, but for the publisher, the compositor, the author, and the bookseller it is a disaster ….
If the other publishers follow suit, the result may be a flock of cheap reprints that will cripple the lending libraries (the novelist’s foster-mother) and check the output of new novels. This would be a fine thing for literature, but it would be at very bad thing for trade, and when you have to choose between art and money – well, finish it for yourself.
Publishers today—like Orwell was in his time—are terrified of affordable literature. Amazon’s point is that they were wrong, and that cheap paperbacks helped grow the entire pie of reading and enrich everyone in the industry. It bears mentioning, I think, that one of the pundits who twisted Orwell’s wording to suit his needs also freely admits that he encourages publishers to jack ebook prices up as high as possible to protect the print trade.
Another thing lost from this debate is that $9.99 is not the ideal price point for all ebooks. In fact, most ebooks would generate more revenue at even lower prices. $9.99 is like a speed limit. Exceed it in rare emergencies, but also feel free to drive slower where appropriate. Among the 120,000 ebooks we’ve analyzed at AuthorEarnings.com, $4.99 ends up being the bestselling price point by far. Some publishers know this. John Green’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (holy shit, what a brilliant book, as is everything the dude’s ever written; go read all his stuff) spends much of its time at $4.99.
The debuting authors and the midlist authors who would most benefit from price flexibility are the ones who are crushed by the stubborn pricing habits publishers employ.
Which has me wondering if we shouldn’t borrow a tactic from the art and photography worlds. We often hear that books aren’t widgets and shouldn’t be treated as such, well then let’s treat them like art. And in most artistic mediums, artists put their own price on their works. They decide what they’re worth.
How about allowing this be part of the negotiations with publishers? Price minimums or maximums. Because a lot of the affected Hachette authors I’ve spoken to wish their ebooks were priced much lower than $9.99. They wish they had the pricing freedoms that self-published authors enjoy. And I think they are right.
Pricing everything at $14.99 or $9.99 is what you do with widgets. Maybe publishers could stop doing that and let the artists have some say.