Are Cheap eBooks Ruining Literature?

Are Cheap eBooks Ruining Literature?


Is this your brain on cheap eBooks?


Okay, I’ll bite.

Chad Post at Publishing Perspective posted an interesting bit of link bait in a post claiming that cheap eBooks are destroying people’s minds.

While the post doesn’t actually live up to its premise, it does provide some food for thought, essentially saying that cheap books are destroying traditional publishing.

It doesn’t help that the author (a publisher, himself) takes an elitist shot at popular self-publisher John Locke.

At BEA, Keith Gessen introduced me to the works of John Locke (probably not the one you’re thinking of), a best-selling Kindle author whose books are all sold for $0.99. He made over a hundred thousand of dollars in royalties last year — far exceeding the wildest dreams of most every mid-list (if John Locke is even midlist) author in the country. Having read the opening of one of his “Donovan Creed” novels, I can assure you that he’s not selling all these books due to his talent. No offense intended, but let’s be real about this — it leads to a much more interesting conundrum.

Two of my longstanding issues with e-books are: a) how your brain processes texts read on a screen, and b) e-books make books feel like disposable entertainment. I’m going to leave the first for a separate article and/or book, but I think the second objection is valuable here.

Which brings us, of course, to what I suspect is the root of why this post is proving so popular – it’s the whole battle of traditionally published versus self-published.

Self-publishing has a stigma associated with it. Those who had to resort to “vanity” publishing were treated as lepers, deemed as not good enough to get a “real publisher” to buy their work. In many cases, that assessment is accurate.

I’ll be the first to say it, there’s A LOT of self published shit out there.

But here’s the thing – if you can sell thousands of copies of your book, you ARE A SUCCESSFUL WRITER!

You’re entitled to your opinions of what makes a book good, but to knock others who have PROVEN that they can tell and sell a story, strikes me as not only elitist, but also . . .

steeped in jealousy that you haven’t figured out what these “lesser authors” or self-publishers have mastered.

I responded in the comments at the site, but I’ll also post my thoughts below:

I disagree that eBooks cheapen the value of books. Either you like to read or you don’t. We all know people who buy books all the time yet never finish them. Books, for many people, have always been impulse buys. People who enjoy reading will read regardless if they bought a physical book or an eBook. I still avidly read both.

In most cases, I suspect that cheap eBooks likely lead to sales which never would have occurred in the first place, rather than subtract from physical book sales. I’m more likely to check someone out at .99 or $2.99 than I would at $9.99. But I’m still going to buy from the big authors I’ve come to know and love no matter the price.

To your last point, no, not all publishers can thrive in this new market. Nor should they.

You either adapt and provide value or you find enough people to support your business model in some other way. Holding prices artificially high for the sake of propping up a failing business model will never work because the truth is, authors no longer need publishers.

Let me rephrase that – authors are now becoming publishers.

Writers finally have the opportunity to go directly to their audience and build their own fan base/readership. They are no longer held up by production schedules or the interests of the publisher. They don’t have to take a pittance in digital sales royalties or take a back seat to another writer in the stable. In short, writers can now write their own rules (pun intended).

So the question publishers need to be asking themselves isn’t how can we force our will onto others, but rather, how can I provide value to my customers? How can I make the book buying/reading experience more valuable so people will feel compelled to support our efforts?

Not an easy question, I know, but I’m sure the most creative types will find ways to thrive. Or more indie author/publishers will rise. In any event, “literature” is no worse for the wear and the readers win.

Read the whole post over at Publishing Perspective.


  1. Publishers have no clue what to do. Just like the newspaper and music industry, they refuse to roll with the changes and see technology as a threat, not an opportunity. Industries like that DESERVE to fall.

    And while I consider my tastes pretty decent, I don’t go around pissing all over writers who I don’t happen to appreciate. You’re right, it does come off as petty and jealous.

  2. I don’t think Ebooks are actually ruining the value of a book. As you can see, any type of industry are now conforming to changes as well as to the trends in technology. Ebooks are merely another way for a reader to catch up to his or her reading in a more convenient way. Avid readers would always appreciate the worth of a physical book.

  3. SUCH a great point about books being impulse buys anyway. MOST people I know never finish the books they buy. When I finish one (cover to cover) I hold a freakin parade for myself in my apartment.

    “Either you like to read or you don’t. ”

    Perfectly said.

  4. This arguement is quite ridiculous. . What about all the gutenberg great reads of yesterday which still sell like hotcakes today They sell in paperback format and ebook format so there is a choice there to satisfy every reader. You have your mystery and suspense, classic novels, romance, childrens ebooks, many many educational ebooks and the list is endless and all selling at various different prices. The public are editing these gutenberg ebooks and even if they sell them for just 0.50c the buyers are on a roll because they are buying quality books at a cheap price. And of-course, if the editor does not mind the graft of editing the ebook then they can sell them on and make money at the same time, and everyone benefits. Cheap ebooks or expensive ebooks makes no difference whatsoever,it realy is down to the seller what price they wish to charge for their books. At the end of the day it is the story that counts, and just because you have paid cheaply for a book does not indicate in any way at all that the story is cheap. I have to disagree that cheap ebooks are destroying peoples minds. If anything it is encouraging more people to read and that can only be a good thing. I also have to agree that it probably has destroyed traditional publishing, but at the end of the day we are living in the 21st century and the times keep changing, so rather than be resentful to change we must try to embrace it and move with the times.


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