This is something I meant to write about earlier in the week and got distracted by life—which will be mentioned in the context here. What is perceived value? The easy definition: how the value of a service or product is perceived as opposed to the actual value. It’s a marketing term (don’t run away just yet!) and has importance in everyday life—whether or not we acknowledge it.
I was recently at the Mt. San Antonio College’s 5th Annual Writer’s Weekend to teach a three workshops and to attend a few while I was there. This year, the event was free. For writers this is usually a good thing. But I’ve found that writers and free don’t often mix as well as one would think. Anything free is often considered as worthless, as it is has no value. In our culture, money is used as a measure of value. The more it costs, the more valuable it is. Therefore free is not valuable at all—no one can make money on it. However, that doesn’t mean it has no value. The Writer’s Weekend is immensely valuable. There are amazing workshop instructors, publishers that will take manuscripts, literary magazines, discussions, and networking. That has real-world value. But because there was no cost, some people dismissed the value of the event.
Another problem that I have is that many writers often complain about the costs of learning their craft (myself included—recently I was admitted into an MFA program, but I literally cannot pay for it) and bemoan the prices of books and journals and reviews that will help them understand the art of writing. But will spend that money on something else that has nothing to do with writing. Perhaps I am a bit jaded by this—though by no means am I the only one.
How is this part of perceived value? Well, writers perhaps value other things more than their writing, perhaps they do not take their writing seriously and wish to improve their craft and art. I cannot answer for them. There is a point where price is too much, and that is understandable. But free doesn’t work with writers. The actual value of a class is most likely out of many writers’ reach. The writing classes that I’ve taught where I wasn’t paid were often not taken seriously. The ones that I charged a lot less than what I should have, were treated as valuable, though I had few bites. Where I’ve charged the actual value, again the bites were low because “writers are poor.” It’s a constant conundrum in the world of writing.
There is a fine line to walk with value. Too much and it’s out of reach of people who are willing to learn, free and those very same writers will scoff and/or won’t put in the effort. On the other side of this, as someone who teaches and edits, free (and cheap) is often not viable (as we have just as many bills to pay) and those who only take those options are often not the desired students or clients. When we charge the real value, no one is willing—mostly because the real value is out of reach—and because it is considered “not worth it,” even though it is.
So, where does this lead us? When looking at the value of a service (like a writing workshop) or product, take into consideration of the actual value of something, not just the perceived value (often writing workshops are undervalued). When the actual value matchs the “price of admission,” (basically a fair exchange) you know you’ll be receiving something worth it.