An author sits in his garret, writes a manuscript, touts it around the publishers, if lucky, finds a publisher, if lucky, the manuscript is published, if lucky, the book sells.

So far, most of the work has been done by the author, even more if the author decides to self publish, as Steph Bradley has done with Tales of Our Times.

We now though, not only have books, which have to be printed, bound, warehoused, shipped, shelved, sold, we have e-books.

With e-books, we have entered a whole new world, where the normal rules no longer apply, where even the law of economics, that of supply and demand, assumed to be writ in stone, no longer applies.

Long gone, are the days when an author writ his manuscript using a quill dipped in ink. Long gone, are the days when an author typed his manuscript on a trusty old typewriter. These days, an author creates a manuscript on a computer, one click, and via the internet, it arrives at the publisher. Robots weave their magic, hopefully with the intervention of an editor somewhere in between, and the manuscript is formatted in a suitable format for publishing as a book. With e-books, robots weave their magic, the manuscript is converted to a suitable e-book format, uploaded to a digital platform, from where readers can download a book.

The cost of the robots, the cost of the platform, has long been written off. As near as damn it, the cost of an e-book is zero. The normal law of supply and demand also no longer applies. We have an infinite supply, a store whose shelves are never empty, it does not matter whether sold one, or sold a million, can always sell one more.

When the e-book costs more than the paperback, then you know you are being ripped off big time.

One of the first to wise up to this was Brazilian writer Paul Coelho, when a couple of years ago, he offered his entire back catalogue at 99 cents a book, or as he put it, a book for the price of a song.

What Paulo Coelho realised was, people would pay to download, if the cost was loose change, not only that, if they liked, they would go out and buy a book. Thus the whole exercise would be self-financing, it would pay for itself. And so it proved to be. Within days, word of the offer having spread by word of mouth, downloads of the e-books were up by several thousand percent. It paid for itself on the downloads, let alone the extra sales of books.

The Alchemist was published in Russia, then dropped by the publisher as sales did not amount to much. And yet when a pirate edition appeared, sales were counted in millions.

In 1999, when I was first published in Russia ( with a print- run of 3,000), the country was suffering a severe paper shortage. By chance, I discovered a ‘ pirate’ edition of The Alchemist and posted it on my web page.

A year later, when the crisis was resolved, I sold 10,000 copies of the print edition. By 2002, I had sold a million copies in Russia, and I have now sold 12 million.

When I traveled across Russia by train, I met several people who told me that they had first discovered my work through the ‘ pirated’ edition I posted on my website. Nowadays, I run a ‘Pirate Coelho’ website, giving links to any books of mine that are available on file- sharing sites. And my sales continue to grow — nearly 140 million copies world wide.

With books at 99 cents a download, readers were happy, at least those in the US (not those not in the US who did not have the same offer), but not publishers, not fellow writers, not agents, all were upset at the lost opportunity to rip people off. Unknown writers, bleated they were unknown and could not afford to do this. To turn the argument around, could they afford not to, not unless they wish to remain unknown?

At the end of the day, writers wish to be read, that is why they write, musicians wish to be heard, that is why they compose.

Those who screamed foul, confused price with value.

Does a less than a dollar place a true value on an author. Neither does ten dollars. Does ten dollars value the work the author has put into a book? We are confusing price with value. The value is the pleasure I get curled up reading the book or listening to a piece of music.

Too many know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

There are open standards for e-books in the same way there are open standards for DVDs, it would be a nightmare if a DVD was restricted on what it could play, but this is exactly the nightmare we have with e-books, propriety standards, restrictions on what can be read on what.

The technical savvy can always find a workaround.

One reader in Canada helpfully posted a few hints:

For people in Canada who don’t have kindle but are using ibookstore on their igadgets this is the method I used to get the books!

1. Download the kindle app on your iphone/pad/pod.
2. Register the kindle app with your amazon account so that it is now in sync and is ready for wireless transfers.
3. Click on any of the kindle links above — it will take you to a page that has books priced at 1.04 (taxes damn)
4. Buy and then reopen your kindle app
5. It should automatically sync and you will have your ebook ready to use!

I downloaded everything haha!

I would strongly recommend, download and install Calibre, which helps you download and manage your e-books, and has a built in e-reader.

Kobo is a better e-reader than Kindle, and it uses open source e-book formats.

Kindle spies on what readers are reading, at any time Amazon can arbitrarily delete all the books from your Kindle.

Kobo Touch, is currently on special offer at WHSmith at £29.99.

I am a loss why WHSmith sell Kobo, or Waterstone’s Amazon Kindle, as it is simply redirecting business to rivals.

Manuscript Found in Accra, is currently on offer at 99p from iTunes, apparently on offer from Amazon too, but not Kobo. In the Kobo store a ludicrous £6.99.

Were I to wish to buy from iTunes (I actually do not), I would have to download and install software from Apple (which I have no desire to do), which would no doubt spy on what I am doing.

Kobo offers the option of signing in with facebook. Many are tempted, as a single click, saves having to type in User ID and password. Resist the temptation as it simply hands yet more personal information to facebook. And shame on Kobo for offering this option.

Authors would do everyone, including themselves, a huge big favour, if they retained the digital rights and then made their books available for download on leanpub.

On leanpub the author retains 90% of the sale price, less 50 cents, not only that, the reader can set the price they pay, with a minimum price set by the author. Multi-download e-book formats are available, and the reader (if enabled by the author), can download for a free, a few sample chapters.

I would though go further. On bandcamp, if I buy an album, I automatically get a free digital download of the music on the album (and it is high quality audio).

I also can listen as often as I wish to music on bandcamp, entire albums, not lofi, few second samples.

Why therefore not a similar system if I buy a book? A code in the a book that entitles me to a free e-book? I have already paid for the book, the right to read the book, all we are quibbling about is the format in which I choose to read the book, and the format I am arguing should then be made available free, has zero associated costs.

If authors retained the audio book rights, they could release on bandcamp and get a much better deal, as would their readers.

Last month we had the fiasco of Manuscript Found in Accra on offer at WHSmith. It was Offer of the Week at half price and on offer at Buy One, Get One Half Price, ie buy first one half price, get second one at half price of the half price. The only problem was, find a store where it was prominently displayed, where the staff were aware of the offer, where they had adequate stocks, and to cap it all, they were sending the books back before the offer was over.

The only problem with heavily discounting of books, is that it is killing the indie bookshops.

Looking back a couple of years, within a space of five years we lost a quarter of our indie bookshops. How many more have we lost in the last two years?

Wonderful display of Paulo Coelho books in window of Libreria Palazzo Roberti
Mio browsing her favourite writer Paulo Coelho in Vicola Gamba
Libreria Palazzo Roberti

In Bassano del Grappa, several indie bookshops all coexisting.

Authors would do everyone a favour, readers, publishers, bookshops and themselves, if, they insisted, heavy discounting is fine, but it has to be offered to the indie bookshops too. The only condition, the books are on prominent display.

You cannot like a piece of music unless you have heard it. You cannot like a book until you have read it. Likewise dislike.

How do we share e-books? With difficulty.

One of the principal arguments against e-books is the lack of the ability to share. One of the principal arguments in favour, the ability to load thousands of books onto the e-reader. Can I read thousands of books?

The weight argument does not convince either. If I go away, I try to take only those books which I will then give away. That way I bring pleasure to others, and I know I have spare weight, spare capacity, should I wish to bring something back.

And what if I lose that e-reader with its thousands of books, leave on a train or someone steals it? If I mislay a book, it is annoying, but at the end of the day, a minor inconvenience. If I lose an e-reader containing thousands of books, it is a bloody disaster.

One advantage I can see. Often, as I am reading one book, I want to refer to another book, which is not to hand. With an e-book, I have to hand, or if wifi connected, I can easily access. Which brings me back to being able to access the e-books for free.

I encountered this over Christmas and New Year. I wished to refer to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Luckily, synchronicity came to the rescue, when I needed, a copy came to hand.

Steph Bradley in Following Dreams refers to and recommends Sacred Economics. Yes, I could buy in a bookshop, if I could find, but so far no joy. But I have an alternative other than buying off Amazon, I can order direct from the author, I can download an e-book from the author. If I choose the latter, I have a further choice, I can pay the author (where I set the price) or I can download for free. I chose download for free, not out of meanness, but because I am no great fan of e-books, if I like, then I know it is worth buying the book.

Light on a Dark Mountain

The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto

    Keith Parkins

    Written by

    Writer, thinker, deep ecologist, social commentator, activist, enjoys music, literature and good food.

    Light on a Dark Mountain

    The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade