99 Cents

The digital revolution demolished gatekeepers, democratised writing, gave the little guy a foot-up. But with the smooth comes the rough, or something, and here’s one of the most damaging things to emerge from the whole, wonderful mess: the 99¢ eBook.

(Sidenote: You may notice our eBooks at Honest are reasonably priced. Not quite 99¢, but sure as hell not expensive (in fact, they can be free if you want them to be). This is, I shall confess, us caving to market forces. Just look at the Kindle bestsellers in the U.S. (eight of the top twenty beneath a dollar) and the UK (thirteen below £2).)

Yet this is not an argument about money. I’m not here to discuss set-up costs or margins. That’s a different blog post. This is an argument about how we value art.

See, I have a theory that the 99¢ eBook isn’t just about people being skinflints. It runs deeper than that. It’s part of a wider malaise. A mass turning of public opinion that says, hey, art should be cheap, right, I mean, it doesn’t do anything on a practical level, so why splurge?

It’s an ideology fuelled and propagated by everything from severe government art cuts to the current financial crisis to the rise of supermarket literature. And it’s not just books feeling the pinch. Cheapness rules across the arts. Every sucker’s after the throwaway thrill. And who can blame them? Hell, I want to save money. I want cheap books. One day, eBooks will be all we buy, and they’ll cost a little more than a chocolate bar. That’s what books will become. A thrifty snack.

I feel that’s not right. Something is wrong. I’m convinced the 99¢ eBook is a symptom of the broader devaluation of literature in general.

We’re in this peculiar situation where everything else is costing more, just as our art is costing less. And I think that says something about us. I’m not sure it’s positive.

Chris Greenhough

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