Is There a Book Bubble?: Discussing a Novel’s Market Value

max picBy Max Everhart

A general observation:  the number of people reading novels is dwindling, while the number of people publishing novels is increasing.  I could be wrong, but it seems to me we have a serious supply and demand problem.  Between all the publishing platforms, we are creating a seemingly endless supply (books) for a demand (readers) that doesn’t really exist. Does anyone else find this to be true?  Surely, I can’t be the only one.  I actually saw a FB post the other day that read: “Everybody writes, nobody reads.” How true.  True-ish, anyway.  Is it possible that I’m making a false assumption about the ratio of books to willing readers?  Perhaps.  After all, a good deal of my FB friends are writers, so, naturally, my feed is clogged with stuff about their work, which makes me think that literally everyone is not only writing (#amwriting), but publishing (#HappyPubDay). And, generally speaking, that is a good thing. Writers have lots of publishing options, and the more options the better, right?

barkleyRight-ish.

Sure, I’m glad that all writers have an opportunity to put their work out there. The Internet, an egalitarian forum if ever there was one, allows people everywhere to make their books (and blogs!) available to any and all who care to read them. But when it comes to publishing platforms, with the dog come the fleas. The more books available for purchase, the less valuable each book is. The product itself (a novel) is devalued because there is a surplus of inventory.  Compare books to the US dollar. Every time the government decides to print more cash and put it into circulation the dollars already in circulation become a little less valuable. Similarly, every time a new book comes on the market, the other available books are devalued, which, in turn, creates intense competition and drives the cost way down. Too, from my perspective as an avid reader, I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices. I liken shopping on Amazon for Kindle books to entering a store that has items overflowing the shelves and spilling onto the floor and every other available surface. It’s maddening.

What I’m trying to say is this: we’re about to experience another “bubble”. . .a BOOK BUBBLE. The market is truly saturated.

books expensive

I saw the above on twitter the other day, and it got me thinking about what we value these days. Of course, I understand the intent behind this tweet, and, in spirit, I agree. I’d love it if people valued books more than coffee as I love reading and writing books, and, because of a minor heart problem, I no longer drink coffee, which is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions in my view.  But I’m also a cynic/realist: many people, for better or worse, value coffee more than they value books. Fine, I accept that. I’m not in the habit of trying to change the way people think or feel or shop. In addition to being a realist, I’m also cheap; $4.99 is a lot of money, so I sympathize with those casual, budget-conscious readers who don’t want to spend a whole lot on books. I don’t think there is anything wrong with bargain hunting, even when it comes to books.

starbucks

Coffee and books: let’s deconstruct those two items for a moment, try to better understand their true market value. Indulge me a quick evaluation.  Coffee is quick, its effects immediate. You buy a latte, take a sip, feel satisfaction. It’s a chemical and physical response that is super-quick.  People–a lot of people–are willing to pay five dollars and up for a cup of coffee.  So that is coffee’s market value.  Books, at least the ebooks alluded to in the above tweet, don’t command as high a price.  A book’s effects aren’t as immediate as coffee’s; with a book, the payoff is delayed, and, for the most part, less physical in nature (caffeine is a drug, after all). Drinking coffee requires no discipline, but reading an entire book does.  Whether the book starts off with a bang or a whimper, reading to the end of the book is the primary goal (think: payoff), and that, according to Kindle, can take upwards of four hours. Imagine that! Four whole hours reading! Many people don’t have the time or the inclination to stick with anything that long. Delving a bit deeper, the intrinsic value of a book is unique to each potential reader and cannot be measured in monetary terms. Ah, but the extrinsic value of a book is most definitely quantifiable. Hence, many people feel that an ebook priced at $4.99 or higher is too expensive. That’s an ebook’s market value. Put another way, like a car or a house or a grape, a book is worth precisely what a reader is willing to pay for it, and many readers these days don’t want to pay $4.99. And while that makes me sad (or sad-ish), it’s the way the market works.

my point

To a larger point: just because an author spends years writing a book doesn’t automatically mean that book has more value than a cup of coffee. It might. It could. But a book, despite the author’s hard work, is not innately worth more than a coffee. Or a sock. Or a walnut. Sorry, it just isn’t. Art’s monetary value was, has, and always will be completely subjective. Example: I wouldn’t pay ten bucks for those silly Campbell’s soup cans by Warhol.  I love books. I read them everyday. I pay for books. I review books.  I write books. But I’m not so solipsistic to think that because I love them everybody else should, too, and they should pay a certain amount for them. I don’t think my books are worth $4.99. Or $1.99. I think my books are worth whatever someone is willing to pay (or not pay). Period.

Back to something I’d written in a previous MMO post: If you want to be a successful writer, you need to manage your expectations. You need to find joy in the process, and not worry too much about sales. Easy advice to give, tough advice to follow. At this point in my career, I’m trying to seek fulfillment in the process of writing. (Or not writing; lately, I’ve been watching the UEFA 2016 Championships on ESPN in lieu of working on my novel. Being a slacker isn’t so bad.) I accept the fact that by writing more novels and publishing them I’m creating more supply where there is, essentially, no demand, and I have mixed feelings about that. As an obscure novelist, I often feel like a well-made VCR in the digital streaming age. My only hope is that some people out there have dusty VHS copies of Mermaid and need a VCR. If so, I’m around. So are my books.

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Discussion Questions

  1. Are we on the verge of a book bubble? What do you think will happen if the bubble bursts?
  2. How do you feel about ebook prices? Are they too expensive? What’s the most you’d be willing to spend on one?
  3. Do you feel like the book market is saturated?

Max enjoys hearing from fans (or critics), so find him on FB or his website.

 

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20 thoughts on “Is There a Book Bubble?: Discussing a Novel’s Market Value

  1. Wow, Max–a smorgasbord for thought. Yes, the “market” is saturated, mainly because of the “I’m a Author!” syndrome, which I’ve covered in a previous MMO post. And that’s a real shame. On the one hand you have deserving, talented writers who are denied publication because the BIG 4 or 5 (which is it this week?) are publishing crap either ghost-written or supposedly written by celebrities of the day or the latest sensational, headline-grabbing subject/object. I’m being serious when I state that Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Steinbeck, et al, would be hard-pressed to be published in today’s market if they were unknowns in the literary world.

    Yes, the market is flooded. So much crapola is being published that good works of fiction are draining down the shit shoot that is clogged with good works that rarely see the light of day. Self-publishing is both a blessing and a curse. Many talented and deserving writers will never see their work receiving the accolades they deserve, while cheaply self-pubbed crap will continue to garner hundreds of Amazon reader reviews and sell like hotcakes despite being written like middle school students. Other self-published books which are deserving of lucrative contracts from the “Big Guys” will never see the promotional opportunities they well deserve because of the garbage those biggie houses are now intent on dumping into the modern “readership’s” lap. Such is life.

    Ebook prices? My first published book, still in print (Simon & Schuster/Pocket) since 1990, sells for $8.99 paperback, $7.99 ebook. Go figure.

    Yes, the book market is saturated. Think Jamestown, PA flood of 1899. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

    And yes, the bubble will burst. In my most honest opinion, the reading public of today is so dumbed down by education of the (government) public school system, that most “readers” can’t distinguish between well-written books and the pap/crap stuff that’s flooding the market today. I’m sure I’ll catch flack for my stated opinions, but I stand by them. This nation is so dumbed-down by the government-run public school system that the few who do read wouldn’t know a quality piece of literature if it slapped them in the face. I AM NOT including everyone in this assessment, just the majority. Sad but true.

    I now await the flak that is sure to follow.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thanks for the comments, Mike. I will pay up to $6.99 for an ebook, but only after I’ve already read and really liked that author’s previous work. To pay up to that amount for an unknown or debut author, I must get a recommendation from a trusted reader, and I have very few of those. I just reject the idea that because I like and value books, then everyone should like and value books just as much if not more than me. As much time as I spent working on my novels, I’m still not of the opinion that they’re worth a set amount just because I worked so hard on them. There seems to be this idea in America these days that because I want something and I worked for it, I deserve success. That’s silly. Furthermore, I reject the idea–the frankly Holier Than Thou idea–that books are somehow more noble, more important, more fill-in-the-blank than everything else. Books–and art–are important to me, and to a lot of others, but not everyone feels that way. So be it. I say advocate for books whenever and however you can, but don’t try to shame non-readers, or budget-conscious readers who don’t want to spend a lot for entertainment. That’s their choice.

    Let me give a quick example. I recently purchased Kait Carson’s Death By Blue Water for .99cents. I like it. I’m enjoying it, especially since I only paid a buck for it. However, now that I’ve almost finished it and I know I dig her work, I would be willing to pay more for the next one. My point is, I might not have bought the book in the first place if the price wasn’t .99cents (Cozies, in general, aren’t my thing.)

    Anyway. . .just my two cents. Probably not worth that much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Max, don’t get me wrong. I was never trying to “shame” readers. My main point is that with the ease of self-publishing these days, thousands (yes, I said it) of “wannabe” authors are flooding the market with subpar crapola. And many of these books have garnered hundreds of reviews at Amazon, Goodreads, etc. How can that be? My honest opinion is, the majority of today’s “reading public” are products of the governmental school system, which frankly, sucks. My viewpoint is that most of these current “educated” readers can’t tell the difference in a well-written book from a book that is in dire need of editing, both copy editing and content. It’s a sad state of affairs.

      I also believe the vast majority of “Big Publisher’s” ebook prices are WAY higher than they should be. I believe they are trying to hold on until the wave of “self-publishing” fades away. Then, they can retain their stranglehold on both print and ebook markets. Enough said.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Is the market saturated? Absolutely, but I don’t think that means there’s a bubble that’s about to burst. Books have been around for centuries. They’re not going anywhere. Ebooks, however, may run their course eventually. Oddly enough, most “young people” I know, wouldn’t be caught dead reading an ebook because, as they say, “It hurts their eyes.” But they can spend countless hours on their iPhone or iPad and on social media just fine. Go figure.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks, Sue. I wasn’t implying that books would go away. I was trying to say that eventually, possibly, some of the self-publishing platforms might fall by the wayside. Who knows? I guess I was just focused on the ratio of new books to new readers; that ratio, it seems to me, is staggeringly disproportionate.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Max.
    I’m not sure if there’s a book bubble. I know a lot of readers who aren’t writers. On price? I’m not sure. People are willing to spend $12 on a movie ticket for a 2 – 3 hour movie. But not 2.99 on a book they’ll get double the entertainment hours from. Seems off to me. I do understand it takes a lot less effort to sit in a dark theater and watch moving pictures than to read a book, so there’s that.
    The book market may be saturated. But that just means sooner or later some authors will give up and leave, looking for more economically fulfilling prospects. That’s sad, but true. I plan to stick it out. Not sure I could stop writing if I wanted to.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I think having standards for literature is important and I believe literature has intrinsic value in how it widens and deepens a person’s experience. After having read some junky dumbed down books I decided to read what I wanted to and not try to collect reviews from people who don’t understand my work. The point was made that a writer has to enjoy the process of writing to keep doing it. That’s true. Personally, I don’t like eBooks because I want to hold the book in my hand away from a computer or whatever and enjoy reading it. I’m willing to pay for that. I hate the deluge of crap engulfing us. Having been a college tutor for years I have seen the essays that the educational system wants to receive passing grades and walked out of one huge grading session after telling those running it that the work was either right or wrong and their directions for grading were impossible for me to understand. I believe a student needs to be able to write Standard English before they start experimenting with unusual points of view that can have merit and do have merit in many books. It’s true that lots of people don’t care about reading and don’t do it. That is their choice.
    I will keep marketing my work and keep doing what I have been doing all my life read, read, read, write, write, write. Writing is hard work and often not lucrative, but the experience of life involves work and for me, experiencing things deeply is important. I need it. It is payment in itself.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. MJ, don’t even get me started on grading college essays; I’m drowning in them as we speak! But I appreciate that you, too, understand and feel the same way about books and reading and writing as I do. I think there are a lot of us out there, but alas, we are a dying breed. Truthfully, I get bummed out whenever I teach literature courses sometimes because so many of the students balk at reading, well, anything.

    I admire and respect your attitude regarding marketing. I appreciate your work ethic, too. Keep at it!

    Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. If I read this two weeks ago, I would have been nodding enthusiastically. No one reads, the book is dying, The next generation doesn’t want to be bothered making the time commitment. Yes, I said, or thought, all of those things. Then I spent last Saturday at the Barnes & Noble in Sarasota, Florida at an author event. What impressed me the most were the numbers of parents coming in the door with excited kids. Kids who were begging to be able to buy more than the one book their adults were willing to spring for. A kid who had saved enough for a special second book from her allowance (kids still GET allowance?) and the little boy who raced to the children’s display table with his little sister, picked up a book, and told her it was his favorite and now she was old enough to read it too.

    Until last Saturday, I didn’t get it. Kids today love books just as much as kids in my age group did. Impressive!

    About supply and demand. Maybe. I’m not sure there are actually more books and less readers as there are more avenues to become exposed to books on a mass scale. As for pricing. I tend to draw the line at about $5 for an e-book. I’m noticing a lot of the bigger publishers selling e-books and paperbacks for the same price on Amazon. That strikes me as strange. And I’ve seen a lot of e-books at the $12 price point. Too rich for my blood. When you buy an e-book, you don’t buy the book, you are buying a licence that allows you to download and read the book. Just as in the beginning of self-publishing the market expanded and then corrected, I think astronomically high e-book prices will do the same thing. I just hope the correction doesn’t come at the expense of the author.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kait, I’m happy your event was so successful. I think that is encouraging, and congratulations. Just some food for thought, though? According to a Pew Research poll conducted in 2015, 27% of U.S. adults didn’t read a single book within the last year (from Smithsonian magazine). I also read an article that claimed the average novel published these days sold less than 250 copies within a year, and less than 3,000 over the course of the book’s life. Why this happens, I think, is pretty obvious. There are just so many more books out there.

      Again, I’m just trying to deal with the harsh reality of publishing. I’m going to keep writing regardless. As a secondary issue, I just think more writers–myself included–need to be honest with themselves. The ones with real talent and real determination will last, and the reason will be because they enjoy writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. True, and if you don’t enjoy writing, this is too tough a business (and it is a business) to keep on keeping on. I think right now a good part of the glut is writers who would have populated the vanity press in years gone by. They will shake out eventually. Writing is hard work, and yes, a business.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kait, interesting viewpoint, but I must disagree, at least partially. Back in the days when the vanity presses ruled with those writers who just “had” to become published authors, the payment was pretty steep, and the return on their (the sucked-in wannabe authors) investment was nil to nothing (although I’m sure there were a few exceptions). Now, instead of paying a couple-few thousand dollars for a few books with zero marketing/promotion, today’s wannabe authors can be published with very little investment, and sometimes free of charge via e-publishing. So I ask, what’s to stop the current flood of “writers” becoming bona fide “authors?” And I’ll restate my premise that perhaps the majority of today’s readers–products of our dumbed-down-government educational system–can’t distinguish between a quality-written book or a book that is full of typos, poor dialogue, and otherwise in need of a thorough edit. That’s my two-cents worth, and I stand by it. I hope my opinion on the subject doesn’t make me appear haughty or pompously superior, although I can understand if some people perceive my views that way.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Nope, not haughty or pompously superior. I think the former vanity press folks who now show up on the e-book lists really wanted to see their name in print. Yes, I believe they harbor hopes of being the next Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Patricia Cornwell, Tom Clancy, etc. and believe that the world will suddenly discover them and they will become a) rich; b) famous. But, when that doesn’t happen by the second book, my experience has been they lose interest, the book languishes, and eventually falls off the Amazon radar, the authors drop off the book sites and develop another hobby.

    Although I am grateful for the education I received-even for the scars on my knuckles-I can remember students in my class, ahead of me and behind me who simply could not read. They had no interest. Not that they were illiterate, they had the education and ability, but their reading levels were stuck at 3rd grade because they didn’t do anything to move beyond. A reader will continue to develop and grow no matter what the education (assuming they have been taught to read-not talking osmosis here) because reading has their interest and it creates a fire to continue to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, you nailed it. “A reader will continue to develop and grow no matter what the education…”
      I’ve long held the opinion and have said many times, that a person who has a love of reading can and will educate themselves on many subjects. I also believe that every good writer is first a good reader. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 🙂

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      1. Just for the record, let me state that I AM NOT against self-publishing IF it’s done professionally (and that doesn’t mean you have to hire expensive editing/cover artists, etc.), and the writing is good. I have, and might in the future, consider self-pubbing myself. Good writers are perceptive readers. They take note of proper punctuation usage, especially as used for dialogue. I find it difficult to believe that a good writer is not first a good reader. It almost seems like a prerequisite, although there are probably a few exceptions.
        I’m concerned about inferior books clogging the market. I’ve seen many of these, some which have received literally hundreds of reviews at Amazon, etc., and mostly positive reviews. How does that happen? Do they somehow “buy” those reviews, or have legions of friends posting them. I don’t know.
        I’m also irked by the BIG publishers charging almost the same for an ebook as they do for the paperback of said book. Why? My guess is they are content in waiting for the ebook market bubble to burst, and then they’ll be there to pick up the pieces and dominate that market also. I don’t believe that’s going to happen.
        I hope small, midsize, and competent self-publishers will continue to produce quality products and force the BIG guys to climb down from their pedestal and play fair.
        I hope the “hobbyist” writer/authors will tire of the book business and turn to something else.

        I don’t know where all of this is heading. It’s confusing and frustrating. I’ll keep writing also, because I believe my stuff is pretty good. I’m going to try and put my frustrations behind me and simply concentrate on writing. I have to cut back on marketing/promotion. I’m a writer first and foremost. I simply must begin to act like one again.

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