Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday Talk Time - We Need a Swifty

Donna Alward's back for a Thursday Talk Time at the Pink Heart Society where she chats about Taylor Swift, Apple, and the value of content in today's market. 

I’m writing this long in advance of my posting date, and for two reasons. One, I’m in New York right now, at the Romance Writers of America conference. It’s Thursday, so my itinerary for the day includes listening to a keynote speaker, attending workshops, and then a few cocktail parties. Each conference I have a “goal”. This year, it’s LEARNING. 

The second reason I’m writing this early is because I’m inspired to.

Recently, and I’m sure most of you already know about this, Taylor Swift took on Apple in an open letter criticizing the company’s plan to offer a three month trial period to their new music streaming platform – a period during which royalties would not be paid to the artists.

Her arguments were clear, concise, non-aggressive, and reasonable. Perhaps stronger than words was the fact that she also pulled her album 1989 from the service. 

Shortly after, I read an article in the Huffington Post about how the publishing industry needed a Taylor Swift. I was hopeful as I began that article. Unfortunately, the ending made me sigh as it seemed to become more of an “indie vs traditional” argument rather than the consistent devaluing of product.

In that article, Loretta Devon Wilke writes her own mandate at the end, but the problem I see with it is that it’s about indie competing with traditionally published authors and the perception of “free”. The problem with this? The indie author sets his or her own price. Taylor takes on the delivery system, but Wilke takes on the consumer. 

I’m not interested in an “indie vs. trad” argument – I’m published both ways and I don’t understand the “us vs. them” mentality. And I was with Wilke right up to the point where she wrote her own bully-pulpit bit. So let’s focus on the parts I really did greet with an Amen sistah:

“What's with the perception that art has little or no value? That artists are somehow obligated to give their work away simply because it's on the Internet and there's that strange, persistent, unsupported "cultural think" that if it's on the Internet it should be free? NO, IT SHOULDN'T!”
WORD. Just. This. Look, I’ve got indie books and I’ve got traditionally published books. One of the downsides of trad is that you can’t do “sales” or promotions; your publisher has control of that distribution. Indie authors can play with price point and find a sweet spot. Know what? The sweet spot of “free” and 99 cents isn’t as effective as it used to be and I say HALLELUJAH. The trouble with the low pricing is that for a while people were making a lot of money with it. And then it became an expectation. But lately I’ve seen more and more indie books priced at 2.99, 3.99, and 4.99.  

My work has value. Even a “short” 50,000 word novel takes me a couple of months to write, revise, get copy edits, and all the other work that goes into finalizing a book for production. Say that book retails for 2.99. That doesn’t even get me a frappucino at Starbucks. Something that takes under 5 minutes to make costs more than something that took me two months to create.

However I choose to publish that book – self-pub or through my publisher – is irrelevant. 

It’s the expectation of free that Wilke has a problem with, and it’s encouraged by those in the delivery business. As she says, 
“All of these tactics, and others, are designed to benefit the purveyors of that content and the readers of that content, with little consideration for the creators of that content. Which is wrong. And pretty much the exact argument Swift was making to Apple.”
Here’s the thing. I saw a tweet the day after Taylor Swift’s letter saying that it was fantastic that a woman with so much agency in her industry took a stand…let’s face it, if most of us sent someone a nasty gram saying that we were pulling our material, no retailer would bat an eyelid. We would be a blip. It worked for her because someone with clout took a stand. And I don’t see an equivalent of Taylor Swift standing up and pulling books from distributors. 

All in all it might seem rather bleak. But I’m hopeful, and for a few reasons. One, I feel like there’s a shift happening where the glut of “free” isn’t working anymore. People want quality and they want to know that what they’re getting is something they’ll enjoy. It’s slow going, turning a boat that size around, but I do get a sense that it’s happening. Instead of “free! Free! Free!” I think there’s a new mood of being more selective.

Two, the music industry tends to lead the way. Changes in the market, delivery systems, etc. really knocked the industry on its ass, but if change starts happening for them, I have hope that it’ll happen for us, too.

Most of all, though, I think as artists we need to collectively stand up and say we’re worth it. What we create has value. Yes, we need to be strategic. But we need to make a living. And I think the last few years have shown that with a few exceptions, writers are making less money than before. And we have families to support. 

We’re constantly telling our kids that how we view ourselves dictates how others view us. We need to value ourselves in order for others to value us. The same goes for our work. Until we value it as important and relevant, no one else will either. 

The tricky part is holding to that while trying to come up with a sales strategy. I never said it was going to be easy. 

Donna's latest release is Nothing Like a Cowboy, part of the trilogy. If you're at RWA this week, you can catch her tomorrow at the Harlequin and St. Martin's book signings.

1 comment:

  1. I will throw in my hearty "amen!" I had a writer friend express interest in my self-published non-fiction book and bought it. I had a moment of anxiety over the price for a few seconds, as I often do when anyone asks me the price. Then I actually thought about the product I was offering. I know the book is worth that price. I priced similar books and such. I've done all this already. But sometimes I feel pressured to slash the price to nearly nothing because that's been the trend for so long. I have to remember my art has value.

    I'm excited/interested/anxious to see how things change in publishing going forward. Hope you are having a blast at RWA! Bring us back some news and knowledge.