This will be a short post, based on something really interesting I heard yesterday, something that adds to my whole #BooksAreNeverFree mindset. If you missed Part 1, you can catch that here.
Yesterday I did the school run (as usual) to pick up my girls, and had a really good conversation while waiting for them. Living in Estonia, and attending a European School, we are of course surrounded by many different nationalities. The mum I was speaking to was French, a keen reader herself (she’d actually read my debut novel, and loved it, which was good to hear). We got talking about all things (it started on BREXIT––agh, don’t get me started) and moved onto books (which I’ll come to in a second) and ended by talking about the Netflix’s production 13 Reasons Why (which I thought was brilliant, and she shared how in France there was some concern over whether it would make kids more suicidal!).
So, the book bit. With my recent posts and thoughts flying around my head, it was fascinating talking to someone from a different culture. It made me realise this––we think that free is the only way for new authors to be discovered (but it’s not just new authors doing it now), and we assume that’s the case the world over. It isn’t. It’s really just the case for English-speaking nations only!
When I told her currently I’m pricing my eBooks at €4.99, she said that was very reasonable (in other words, cheap). She went on to say she normally pays between €8-€14 for an eBook. Granted, the type of school this is, with the international mix of families, maybe it’s not average, until you hear how they do it in France (and it’s not limited to only there, as a quick search has just shown me). Then you start to understand a different way of thinking.
She didn’t think they even allowed free books in France (they do, as I’ve managed to find, but I’ll come back to this in a moment). The point is, the idea wasn’t in the forefront of her thinking. She was a reader that accredited value to books, and free doesn’t do that. She’d not been conditioned that this was the way to market books. She also shared how for print books (the law was also extended to include eBooks in 2011) there is a fixed price so that whether it’s a huge chain store, or a small independent bookshop, they can only sell the book for the same price. No exceptions. It’s called the Lang Law (named after a former Minister of Culture in France, Jack Lang, and if you want to read a little more, here you go). Prices are printed on the back on books, and the most reduction anyone is allowed to make on it is 5%. It’s a fair system that gives retailers the same opportunity, whilst also valuing books themselves.
France also doesn’t really go in for eBooks as much as most. That’s partly why I think she didn’t know that free books were even a thing in her home country. Similar laws also exist in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Notice a theme here––they aren’t English-speaking nations.
The USA and to some extent the UK––both huge book buying nations––is driving the idea that free works. It simply doesn’t, and more importantly, for the few for which it does work for now (because admittedly some do see it really working for them in the current climate) looking forward, it’ll be less and less successful, and we’d have flooded the market with millions of free books that will be all any reader ever needs. Carry on as we are, and the idea of the full-time author will be a thing of…well, history books.
Of course, those (like me) who are switching their focus now, will be building around them a great bunch of readers who get the idea of value. These are the type of readers you want to have. This French mum (who will actually read another book of mine following our chat yesterday) is exactly the type of reader you want to find––and you won’t ever find them with free. Because it’s not in their thinking. They’ll pay, because in so many countries they haven’t been conditioned, like English-speaking readers have been, that books are free.
Because #BooksAreNeverFree – and it seems, in France, they really understand this.
If you are a reader/author living in a non-English speaking country, I’d love to hear your feedback on this! What does your nation think about free? What is your reading culture like? Drop me a line, or tag me into your response on social media, and I’d love to read what you think. You can use the hashtag above to make it easy for me to spot you.