Can Affordable Literature Ever Compete with “Palatable Plonk?”

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Choosing a book to read and picking a wine to drink have a lot in common.

By Edward Nawotka

one cent penny

The book business and the wine business have a lot in common. Good books and good wine both take time, expertise and a carefully managed environment to produce consistently.

Yet, in recent years, both the book business and the wine business have been inundated with quickly produced, inexpensive product — palatable plonk, if you will — that satisfies a desire.

As discussed in today’s feature story, you can now buy any number of e-books for 99 cents or less on Amazon. Few would mistake what’s being sold so cheaply as high literature, but one has to acknowledge that it takes skill to craft something that a large audience of people will enjoy.

In wine business, the fact that you can now buy drinkable box wine in your local gas station/supermarket has indeed expanded the audience for wine. The hope is that drinkers, as their palette becomes sophisticated, will move up the price scale to sample more challenging fare.

In some instances, this is likely to happen. It is more reasonable to think that drinkers will pick wines based on their moods and circumstances. For a hot summer weekend you might choose something that you won’t mind tossing an ice cube into (à la the ladies on Mob Wives); running through Duty Free at an airport you’re likely to grab something you recognize and have sampled before; when buying a Christmas gift for your boss, you’ll opt for something you hope will impress.

Can the same be said for the book business? Certainly just think of fiction as red wine, and non-fiction as white, each goes with a mood, setting, circumstance.

Ultimately, the question is not whether inexpensively priced literature entice new readers and serve as a gateway for readers to discover new writers, but can it ever compete, at lower prices, with the John Locke’s and Amanda Hocking’s of the world? And, at the end of the day, does it matter so long as everyone’s needs get met?

In my opinion, the answer is no,  not when — to go back to the wine analogy — the cheap stuff can get you just as drunk. Of course, you also have to remember that with the cheap stuff, once the buzz wears off the hangover is often much worse — and you’ll have an even harder time facing yourself in the harsh light of day.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.