I'm only paying for this small piece.

I’m only paying for this small piece.

Consider the following scenarios:

1) I walk into a restaurant and order a steak, fries, coca cola, and dessert. I only take one bite of the steak and don’t touch anything else. I tell the waiter, “I’m only paying for the bite I’ve eaten.”

2) I buy a movie ticket for this summer’s best blockbuster. After a few minutes, I leave the theater, deciding that the movie is not to my liking. I visit the ticket desk and demand that they refund me for the unwatched part of the film.

3) I’m watching my favorite cable TV show in the evening. After 15 minutes, I fall asleep. I call up my cable company and demand that I get reimbursed for the 45 minutes of the show I didn’t watch.

All of these sound like absurd scenarios to me. And yet this is exactly the model that Amazon is proposing to roll out soon for people who self-publish through their market. And let’s be clear about this. This is a nasty, sinister model that devalues authors. Forget for a moment the arguments about the potential change this might bring about in creative works when authors feel they absolutely must hold the readers’ attention. This turns the author into nothing more than a battery.

Amazon wants to maximize readers turning pages, which is laudable. But when we tie an author’s profit to eyeballs per page we are saying that the book itself is a frangible object, a divisible entity, that it is not complete only as a whole, but can be broken down like an electrical supply or gasoline into salable units. Amazon is essentially saying that a book like Stephen King’s The Stand is not a complete object, but exists a series of pages that can be sold to you individually. 

No, it most certainly is not. And here is why:

Authors tell stories, not pages.

You pay for the labor of the author creating the entire work, even if you happen not to like some or even all of it, in the same way that you must fully pay for the steak dinner or the full movie price or the full cable TV bill because some person worked hard to make the entire creative object, and not just the small piece you enjoyed. And as such you need to pay that person for her time and effort, even if you only sample a little bit. That’s the deal. Anything else is quite simply theft.