are we selling ourselves short?

I’ve been thinking on this as I gear up into the New Year. Instead of going on about my goals and plans in some sort of #motivation (hashtag said with an ironic eye roll because I think I’m better than other people and to mask a myriad of insecurities), I want to talk to all us writers and artistic types that seem to be competing to be Walmart.

The initial spark for this was reading a review that an anthology of short stories was overpriced. That got the wheels turning in my head, wondering about how we decide to price our work as writers. There’s this tendency now to believe that a novel should cost, when in digital form, somewhere in the realm of a dollar or two. I’ve read the dandelion theory about us spreading our work far and wide, but there’s something else going on here.

There’s this widespread push for writing to be devalued – HuffPo and a metric ton of other places still refuse to pay their writers, there’s a tendency to talk about having to earn your brand by writing for free and giving it away, and so on.

The truth is that when your audience isn’t paying for anything, they aren’t valuing it the same. You’ve given the signal that you don’t think your work is worth them paying for, and you send out a variety of signals that send behavioural economists into a tizzy of trying to figure out decision making. Humans aren’t inherently rational beings, we’re starting to find, so you’re establishing a variety of points that you might have to fight against in the future.

Advertising your work at a certain price point creates a level of presumption among you customers – this is how much it is worth, this is how much I value my work. As you continue to develop and establish yourself, you have to fight against those expectations when you try to raise the price of your work. It is doable, but there’s something to consider there.

On the other hand, there’s also the comparison to what the bigger names in the industry are doing. Indie folks are scrambling to undercut each other, fighting for their readers while bigger companies are keeping their prices higher. They have to, there are more people that each dollar has to be spread out across. But that doesn’t mean that your own work should be priced at bargain basement prices.

So that’s the question I’ve been grappling with – trying to determine if we’re changing the marketplace and our customers in a way that we aren’t intending. Are we teaching some of our audience that our work isn’t worth as much as others, or is this an instance of me being chicken little?

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