Hard times are coming

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Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.

Ursula K Le Guin

3 thoughts on “Hard times are coming”

  1. I participated in an exchange just this morning about audiobooks being priced by their length, and it was just wrong.

    Books are not dry goods. You don’t buy them by the yard.

    If you don’t like the audiobook, it is immaterial whether you’re going to ignore twelve or thirty hours of it.

    • Agree, Alicia.

      An audiobook is not like a dozen apples. It has not physical dimensions. Given the way that Amazon or any other ebook distributor pays for internet access, it costs no more to send a digital file for a 500-page printed book than for a 250-page printed book.

      Costs for voice actors and recording services will be higher for a longer audiobook, but if you’re worried about generating enough sales to pay for these costs, maybe producing an audiobook isn’t a good idea.

      Plus, I expect that I am not the only person who would be tempted to return an audiobook I didn’t like that cost me $35 than one that cost me $20.

      • But – and this has been a big part of my self-publishing journey – I want to learn.

        Doing a cover gave me the impetus for learning graphics and design and fonts and permissions in a way I hadn’t had a chance to do before.

        I don’t need to list the learning that goes on with writing, editing, and publishing.

        I’ll never be a voice-over actor, but there is a certain slot I can aim to learn in – ‘as read by author’ audiobooks – that will take what I have of acting and public speaking, and give me a reason to polish it (not saying I have what it takes to produce that version, but people have asked for it).

        I won’t write that many books in my lifetime – I am wringing full value out of finding how well I can do them. I have stories to tell.

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