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Shelf Life -- Writer's Poke #208

Creative folks work so hard, but it’s depressing. Most creative works have limited commercial value. In other words, the book you spend a year (or more) of your life writing might have the shelf life of a loaf of bread.

A novel, for example, might retail for $24.95, but a few months later, that same book will probably find its way to the bargain bin for six bucks. How can something initially priced at $25 lose 75% of its value in less than a year?

It’s not just books. The same thing happens to movies. Opening night, you’ll pay good money to see the latest blockbuster. When it’s released on DVD, you’ll still pay a price to own the privilege of owning the film; but a year down the road, you’ll be able to watch the movie for free on TV, or to rent it at the local gas station for a buck.

Maybe it’s wrong to attach a commercial value to “art,” but let’s face it: movies, books, and other creative pursuits are turned into products. And the next product is always hitting the market place the following Tuesday.

Pick an important idea, concept, or philosophy, and explain its value in terms of its shelf life.

“The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yogurt.” – John Mortimer


  1. Actually, the novel or whatever does not lose "value" in such a short time. It merely drops in cost and that is more related to "perceived value" than to anything that could be called real value. Of course the book or other thing created will have a different value to its creator than it is likely to have to others. Indeed its real value may not be the same to any two people..

    What is the value of a breath of air? How much do you ordinarily pay for a breath of air? How much do you think you might pay if you were suddenly without a breath? How much if someone you loved very much was without breath?

    What is the value of a a liver with end stage liver disease? How does one really determine value anyway?


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