Thursday, 24 January 2013


This is what a depressing start to the year looks like for a writer:

That's a clip from the spreadsheet where I track downloads for episodes of The Second Realm. The numbers (below the second black line) are the total downloads for each individual episode, with this one, the most recent (published on December 31st), at the bottom and boxed in red.

That string of zeros prompted me to publish this whinge, which I now need to fully and publically retract. It's not just that it's a kinda whingy post (and in my defence, it's hardly the most whingy thing I could have written in the circumstances - I was trying to analyse the problem); it's that I made a couple of discoveries on Sunday which go some way to explaining the problem, and both of them are mistakes on my part for which I owe an apology...

Firstly, the link at the top of the right-hand column of this page you're looking at now, the one which is supposed to go to the hub page for the current season of The Second Realm, was broken. I apparently failed to check it or make use of it for three whole weeks, which speaks pretty ill of me. Given that my only marketing activity is this blog, and that link is the main and most visible way for people to discover my actual writing, this can't have done me any favours. So, sorry about that.

A broken link, though, is just a dumb mistake. The more serious error is my failure to notice the 'recommended price' that Smashwords displays for books published on their pay-what-you-like (PWYL) service. I didn't know this existed, and somehow I've managed to publish two PWYL short stories, and visit their Smashwords pages several times each, without noticing.

Worse, this means that the default value was left up. The default value, regardless of publication length, is $4.95. Now, I'm aware that there are writers out there who disagree with me on this, but I think that's a pretty outrageous price for a 10,000-word short story, particularly one that's available for free elsewhere.

The 'recommended price' feature actually exists so that Smashwords can put a price on PWYL books when it ships them out to its partner distributors (Apple, Sony, Kobo etc.), because none of them have the facility to offer PWYL through their stores. You don't get the ability to change the default until after you've published the book (and the setting is hidden away in a sub-page of the main settings page), which is how I missed it during publication. There's no option 'Don't show recommended price on this book's Smashwords page'.

Given that I've blogged more than once about my enthusiasm for PWYL models, I wouldn't hold it against anyone to have viewed that default recommendation as an act of unspeakable hubris on my part (particularly if I didn't know it was a default). The whole point of PWYL is leaving the decision about price up to the reader.

PWYL is about asking the reader the question, "What do you think this is worth to you?"

Putting a recommended price on a PWYL book is basically changing that to "I think this is worth this much, what about you?", a question which is cognate with "Do you think this is worth this much?" At best, that second question is the same as non-PWYL sales have been asking since the dawn of capitalism. The best one can hope for with a recommended price is no advance in consumer psychology over ordinary capitalism.

But trying to put myself in a reader's perspective, I think I'd regard it as rather worse. I'd be very put off to see a recommended price on a PWYL book; I'd feel like the author was telling me 'I trust you to come to your own decision about this, but only if you live up to that trust by agreeing with me'. It's a weird and deeply unpleasant combination of emotional blackmail and hypocrisy.

In fact, given that the PWYL model seems to be on the rise, I'd view it as a shallow act of bandwagon-jumping, trying to keep the 'protection' of the fixed-price model while grabbing the fad of PWYL.

Therefore, I hereby reject any 'recommended price' for any of my PWYL publications. I've set the numbers on Smashwords as low as they'll go (which, unfortunately, is still $0.99), and I'm going to write to Smashwords and ask for the option to hide the recommended price on the SW page (though it's a bit adjustment to ask, so I'm not hopeful). Unless and until that option becomes available, I'd like you all to ignore the recommended price completely. Please?

No comments:

Post a Comment