Well, I agree with Jon, but you just gave those numbers as an extreme example, right? This has a little bit to do with my attitude toward sales to libraries. A library buys one book and several hundred people read it. It's a good thing if you're a new author and hope to become known quickly, but ultimately it kills the goose that laid the golden egg.
I don't think you can really make an argument for libraries doing much damage to book sales. It would probably take years for several hundred people to take the same book out of the library and very few of them would otherwise purchase the book. I say that from my own library borrowing habits. Most people will say they discovered new authors at libraries and then bought their books - someting I've done. I've also tried authors by taking their books out of the library and been very grateful I didn't ave to pay for those books.
For example, the Toronto Public LIbrary bought 14 copies of my latest novel and they are all currently checked out and there are 65 holds (I'm surprised, but the book is set in Toronto). So, I get a buck and half for each of those 14 books that maybe a hundred peope will read. Maybe a few more people, but a year from now it'll be quite surprising if one of those 14 books is checked out. That seems a reasonable balance to me between readers and money. It's pretty far from the 1 and 1000 of the thread title.
More likely, though, JohnD was headed towards downloading books from the internet. So far it's been done most successfully by authors who've already gone through the editing process with a publishing company and have books available in stores as well. Guys like Cory Doctorow, who certainly shows no sign of giving up his publishing contract and Charles Bock who had his first novel Beautiful Children as a free download for a limited time. That was more or less a publicity stunt and his publisher, Random House, did manage to get a lot of newspaper articles out of it (by the way, Beautiful Children is a very good novel).
For less well known writers from smaller (or no) presses, getting 1000 readers would still be a real accomplishment. Crimespace member Declan Burke gave away his novel, A Gonzo Noir online and you could ask him if it generated enough interest to do it again. I'm currenly giving away a collection of flash and short stories on my website. I do see it as the same as giving away free samples - the stories are certainly in the same style as my novels.
We'd all like more people to read our books. We'd like to get paid. We don't like to chose one of those over the other. It looks to me like we're headed towards some new ways for both of those things to happen (though I think we'll keep the old ways as well). There'll be ad-sponsored websites to get the books from and that'll generate a little income, publishers may offer quite cheap "subscriptions" to their whole catalogues, there may be other kinds of sponsorship deals.
The biggest mistake that proponents of online giveaways usally make is the ascribing value to something based on its production cost, whereas the real value is determined by the desire to acquire it (value by production cost is Marxist, value by demand is free market). So, there'll have to be a way to get some money to the author who created the file is there is demand for thousands of them to be acquired - afterall, plenty of other money changes hands to make it possible to read the books; buying a computer or e-reader, paying for an internet connection and so on. It won't be perfect, and it won't make everyone happy, but it shouldn't be one extreme or the other.
Which I guess is a longwinded way of saying, "What Jon said."
Yeah, the values aren't important. What I'm asking is if you could share your work with a lot of people, would you sacrifice sales (meaning here the money you make from the sales) to get a lot of readers? Or, would you rather have more money yet fewer people reading your work? I think most people would prefer both a lot of readers and a lot of money, but that's not the question.
This can also lead to the question, which is more important, the creation or the creator?
Well, yeah, the values are important. You're question was what do we value more, the number of readers or the number of dollars, so that's what the discussion is about. And, by putting a dollar amount in the question the price is important, too, but I agree they're different things.
Now, I like a pointless theoretical discussion as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Jon Loomis, in which case I may like it more ;), but your reputation preceeds you a little, JohnD, and I have a feeling this wasn't just a pointless theoretical direction and you had a more precise goal in mind. I may be quite wrong, I often am.
As for the creation or the creator, I've got to go for creator 100% - I still value people more than I do things. I'm not ready to put a price on that :)
What I meant was $1,000 or $10,000 or $10 isn't the issue. The question is, would you rather have a lot of people reading your books, even if you didn't make any money on it, or would you rather make money even if only a few readers read your work.
I take the opposite view on the second question. I think the work is more important than the person who wrote it. I care more about reading a good story and less about who wrote it. I'm not saying I would save a book before I would save a person, and you know that.
And I'm actually not referring to downloading books from the internet. For one thing, putting your work online doesn't guarantee more readers anyway, but what I'm getting at is do you write in order to share stories with others or to make money. If you're somewhere in the middle, then fine, it's a rather open question. But if you think the discussion is pointless, then don't bother responding.
It can be pointless and still be fun - I like sports, they're pointless (and the discussions about them even more so, and, sad to say, I've been involved in my share of those in bars, maybe the beer helps).
It's really hard to say which I'd prefer more as both are so difficult to get - I don't mean both at the same time, I mean even one or the other is so tough to get. The publisher helps get more readers - even when giving away the work, as the Charles Bock and Cory Doctorow examples show, and at the same time the writer gets more money, so the two things are pretty closely linked at the moment. So far, when the few people who have given their work away reach anything nearing a "large number" of people acquiring the work, they move to traditional means of distribution which they then get paid for. I'm thinking of guys like Seth Harwood who started out giving away podcasts and now has a deal with a publisher and the guys who had the, "Stuff White People Like" website that got them a book deal because they got 500 hits a day.
But it's early days yet and this could change.
Right now, though, you really can't get one without the other, but if I had to chose, I would take a large number of readers who really appreciate my work over the amount of money I've made so far (which is quite a bit more than $1000.00, by the way, but not enough to buy a house in Toronto).
And, I love to read, but I there isn't a single book I could value more than the person. There hasn't been a single artwork that we couldn't have done without - and art is my life. In fact, there are countless works of art that we are doing without everyday. Maybe we're suffering, but not very much.
Thanks, Jon. I've been trying to think of a response for this thread all day, even started a couple, but never got the right words. You have summed up my feelings better than I; none of my efforts had the je ne sais quoi of "paint 'Sarah Palin Blows Moose Dick' on an overpass and have done with it."
I applaud you for providing not just a good answer, but an answer worthy of the question.
Umm. It's not more readers=more money. It's more buyers=more money. At least that's the way the publisher figures it, and it's the publisher who decides if there will be more books.
As I said before, there's an advantage to having your books in libraries (and by the way, John McFetridge, Canadian libraries do pay a little something for use) when you are unknown. And as a reader, I also use libraries to discover new writers and then buy their books if I'm pleased (unless they are bestselling authors, in which case they don't need the support). My books (being historical) are a natural for library orders. Not only are they on the shelves, but they get there just about the same time they get to the bookstores. (I would be happier if they could be held back for about 3 months to give the bookstore copies a chance.)And then people put holds on them for months. I rack up 100 readers before the year is out, and the books stay on into the foreseeable future.
Making a novel available electronically for free is a tempting way to get new readers. This effort is in the author's control and can be stopped when enough copies have been given away.
Yes, I do get some money from something called the Public Lending Right Commission based on how many libraries have bought my books. It's all part of piecing together a living as a writer.
The other day I was talking to another writer in Canada and we realized that it's really only in the USA where writers have any expectation of making a living solely from writing.
In another thread Christopher Valens remarked that most books sell only 5000 copies - that's a bestseller in Canada (well, depends on the week, just before Christmas it might not be enough, but most weeks it would be). So, in Canada - like most countries - writing novels will only ever make up part of a writer's income and that's all we expect it to. Though I should say that attitude is changing.
I still prefer the idea of making short stories and excerpts available electronically and not whole novels.