If You're Good At Something, Never Do It For Free - October 2017
By Nigel Cooper
If you've ever seen the Batman movie The Dark Knight, you'll recognise the title of this blog, as it is a quote from the movie. The Joker (played by Heath Ledger) said the following while negotiating money with the mob, "If you're good at something, never do it for free." I'm inclined to agree with him.
So what does this quote have to do with authors, self-publishers and digital eBooks found on the likes of Amazon's Kindle store and Apple's iBook store? Well, too many of them are given away for free, and this is what I have an issue with.
The way I see it is that if you're good at something, never do it for free. In other words, if you are a good author and have written a good book, why give it away for free? Sure, there are two sides to this coin. One side says, give one book away for free in a series, and people will buy the others. Well, pardon the pun, but I don't buy it, I never have and probably never will. The other side of the coin says, you have written a really crap book that is not worthy of a cover price and it should be given away free of charge, or thrown in the trash. It says you don't take yourself seriously as an author and you are not a professional. Why would any self-respecting author spend months researching and plotting a novel, and months more writing up 90,000 words only to give it away at the end?
In fact, the majority of free digital eBook downloads don't even get read - ever. Most people will download anything if it is free, then six months later when they are clearing out their download folder, or iBooks library, or Kindle library, they will trash your free downloaded book without even reading it. Chances are, your free eBook download will simply sit dormant on somebodies Kindle, iPad etc for several months, before eventually being trashed.
I learned a very important lesson when I was just fourteen years old at school. Back then I wanted to be a chef, so I took cookery classes (called home economics in those days). A few weeks into the classes I made Baked Alaska (ice cream and meringue desert). The pupils had to pay a small contribution towards anything they cooked and took home from the class. When I enquired with the teacher why we had to pay a small fee for the cooked items, she answered, "It's not because we need the money; it's so that you will have respect for money and appreciate what you have cooked. If on your way home you drop the Baked Alaska, you won't really care. If on the other hand you had to make a small payment for it, you will care."
The moral of the story above is this, anyone downloading a free digital eBook won't really give monkey's left bollock about it, and the chances are they won't even bother reading it. If however, they pay a small amount for it, even if it's just 99p, they will care about your book, and read it - isn't that what we all want as authors? Better still, if the reader has to pay £1.99 (the very minimum price I personally recommend for self-published authors), they will almost certainly read the books blurb on the site before downloading it. Why would you care about that, you might ask? well, if your eBook is priced at just 99p, there is a good chance the reader will take a punt - without reading the blurb. Then there is a chance that the reader will leave you a bad review, simply because they did not read the blurb, because the eBook only cost 99p. If the reader judges the book by its cover and title, they might not get the full picture as to what the book is about. Now, if you price your eBook at £1.99, the reader will almost certainly read the blurb, because £1.99 requires a closer look before clicking that 'buy' button.
The fact of the matter is that if you don't put a value on your work, how can you expect anybody else to - especially potential readers? This is especially true in the self-publishing world, and, let's face it, the self-publishing world and POD (print on demand) is only a slight notch up from vanity publishing according to the big boys over in the professional publishing arena.
If self-published authors want to be taken seriously and not be a laughing stock to the big boys running big publishing houses then they must stop giving away their work away for free as Kindle or iBook downloads. This simply dumbs down the self-publishing industry and makes it look like a joke, which doesn't help one little bit as the self-publishing world of POD and electronic downloads needs all the help it can get if it is to stand any chance of being taken seriously.
From another angle, every time somebody downloads a book, free or otherwise, the energy required to go through all those computers, servers, power lines, phone lines etc., to deliver the book to any given computer on the planet requires about the same amount of power that it takes to boil a kettle full of water. Millions of people download free eBooks every day, because they are free, but they don't really care about the content, or the energy and strain on the planet to get that content to their computer. If that book had a price tag and was being downloaded only by people who intend to read it, the amount of downloads would be cut by a massive percentage. So, if you are a green person, and care about the planet, put a price on your eBook and, who knows, you might actually start making some money.
Finally, £1.99 is cheaper than a small Starbucks cappuccino (£2.25 in my town). And I can almost certainly guarantee that even a mediocre novel will have more substance than a questionable 'frothy coffee' form Starbucks; and it will last considerably longer too!
Nobody is helping anybody by giving books away for free - literature is worth way more than that!
We owe it to ourselves to be professional, so charge a well-deserved fee for all that hard work.