The Great American (Unbought) Novel
I watched something incredible happen the other day. I was having dinner at a friend’s house (thank you science and vaccination, for that meal) and he wanted to put on a movie for our two children to watch. Except that he did not have or own the movie that he had in mind for them. So he bought it. For twenty dollars on Amazon.
“You just bought them a film for twenty bucks?” I asked incredulously, gripping my IPA with angry fingers.
My friend looked at me, confused. “Yeah?”
“Did you want me to Venmo you, or something?”
He laughed. “I figure it’s worth that to keep them entertained, right?”
This friend is an artist like me, and like most artists, he watches what he spends money on carefully. And yet, when it came to purchasing visual entertainment for our kiddos, he’d spent twenty dollars in the time it takes to blink. As a novelist married to a filmmaker, I have watched this decision point be reached with the same dizzying speed by other people all the time. Ask an intellectual American to spend forty dollars to see a classical music concert or thirty dollars for a play, it isn’t going to happen, but drop eighteen dollars on a single movie ticket? Sure! Do you know what happens when you try to get the same consumer to spend a similar amount on a new novel? TOTAL STICKER SHOCK.
In America today, hardcover books are usually around $27 with tax, and $17 if they’re available in paperback, and these prices represent what you’d be paying full price in a bookstore, which many people don’t, because they buy their books used through second and third parties, which us writers understand, but really wish ya’ll wouldn’t do because it eradicates the chances of us ever earning royalties. Many times, readers also get their books through libraries, where they don’t pay at all for them, a fact I mention not because I resent people who secure books from a library, but rather because I’m trying to underscore how rarely — and with what pains — American adults buy books. (Unless those books are childrens’ books, at which point the sky becomes the spending limit, because if the American higher education system proves anything, it’s that people will spend a…