What Am I Worth?

I went to check my Kindle sales yesterday at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. The numbers nearly took my breath away: 134 copies, 157, 142. Then I took a closer look and realized these were not sales, these were copies lent via Kindle’s lending program. This is where authors can allow those who purchase copies of their eBooks to lend them to others for free. Compare that with actual sales for those same days: 3, 2, and 2. Well, how would you feel if you were me?

The selling point for authors to join this program is that it lets others become familiar with your work in hopes that they might choose to buy it. But even after all those copies were borrowed, sales never went up. Sales remained consistent at 0 to 3 copies sold per day. So how am I, as an author, benefiting from this? I’m not.

I had a similar experience last summer. I was contacted by a major magazine publisher who publishes several popular homesteading related magazines plus maintains a blog on their website. They wanted me to become a regular contributor to their blog, with the caveat that they could only offer exposure, not pay. As most hungry artists will tell you, exposure carries with it the hope of being “discovered” and hence finally “making it,” i.e. being able to make a living at it. I’m not immune to this thinking, even though 5 Acres & A Dream The Book has been very successful for an indie publication. One successful book, however, does not a successful author make.

Initially I was responsive to their offer. The red flag went up when they wanted me to sign a contract. If I’m working for free, then why would I need a contract? Since I was busy with Critter Tales at the time, I was told I’d only need to contribute one or two blog posts per week to start. To start? That didn’t sit well with me so I checked out their website. I found lots of articles by a few well-known authors, but what caught my attention was that none of these blog articles had any comments. That begged the question, was anyone reading them?

So who really benefits from things like this? Amazon and the magazines, of course. They build a reputation and following for offering extensive free resources, but at no cost to themselves. They invest neither money nor time into those resources, yet they profit from them.

But why should I be surprised? This is the work ethic of our time – to make money off of other peoples’ labors, not one’s own. Doesn’t it seem ironic that those who do the actual labor in this world get paid the least, while those who do the least work get paid the most? That’s true no matter what the business.

In “2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment,” Smashword’s Mark Coker points out that a consequence of Amazon’s lending program and free books for Amazon Prime subscribers is that these are training consumers to expect eBooks for free, to the point where they complain about having to pay even a small fee for them. It’s true that there are no print costs for eBooks, but an eBook requires just as much of an author’s time to research and write as a print book. Why doesn’t that count for something? I daresay that the complainers would never dream of working for free, and likely consider themselves underpaid no matter how they earn their living.

I have no illusions that my own complaints will change a thing. If anything, the trend will not only continue, but get worse. I can only decide what to do for myself and my own work. Even if no one else thinks so, my time is valuable to me. My free work is on my blog, where I willingly share the ups, downs, lessons and how-tos of homesteading. For my books, well, if I ever hope to be a professional writer, then I’d better start acting like one now. If that aspiration fails, then at least I will have not cheapened myself and my work. I will have given it my best shot.