I heard about a product a little over a year ago: The Hemingwrite. I wrote a little piece about it then, in which I waffled between two opinions. namely that it would probably help some writers to a) write more and b) feel better about their writing, but ultimately I came down on the side of feeling that the thing was decidedly silly for the price. It was still in development, though, and everything was fair game for change.
Well, the wait is over, and the discussion is no longer hypothetical: the device is here. You’ve rebranded it the FreeWrite, which is maybe less catchy than the obvious play on Hemingway’s name. I like it, though. The new name taps into the inspiring soul of the idea: they’re branding it as “your distraction-free writing tool.” It conjures up images of writing wherever, whenever you feel like. A lonely beach at sunrise! A breezy mountaintop with the whispering wind swirling about you! The cozy confines of your murder cabin! Er, writing cabin. I meant writing cabin. Take it anywhere, write anywhere. Distraction free!
And I stand by most of what I wrote in my original review. I would love to test-drive one. It’s still adorable. And I can totally see the draw it will have. We writers are a strange lot — what looks odd and useless to the general public can be a source of endless inspiration for us. Having a tool “just for writing,” especially a tool in which one makes a serious financial investment, is almost certain to do two things: remind the author that he has made a commitment to his craft, and remind him that he really should be writing.
Of course, we have Benedict Cumberbatch for that.
But I see one problem towering above all the rest with the FreeWrite.
When I first wrote about it, I (crazily, apparently) mused that I might be willing to spend $100, maybe $150 on something like the FreeWrite. I also realized at the time that that figure was probably laughably low, and I was right; I checked their website and the price, to my memory at the time, was projected to be in the $200-250 range. That’s frankly too rich for my blood. I’m a guy who agonized for a month over shelling out $40 for a copy of Scrivener. (Which I love, it turns out, although they seriously need to implement a Track Changes feature for the Windows version.)
So what does $250 get us? A typewriter simulator with an e-ink screen and a wi-fi switch for automated cloud backups and a couple of weeks of battery at full charge (which is pretty cool). No internet connectivity for anything other than your backups (which is, obviously, sort of a core tenet of the idea — no distractions). A million pages of internal storage (which is, in the scheme of computer storage, not actually all that much, but since this is all the thing does, it’s more than adequate). Feels a little overpriced to me, but I guess I would have been willing to shell out extra for the kitsch factor.
Except — surprise! — the price on the current iteration of the FreeWrite is $499.
Four hundred ninety-nine dollars. (Which is a specially discounted, limited-time offer over the apparent original price of $549.)
Look. FreeWrite creators.
I wanted to like the product. I really did. In fact, I still do. I think, conceptually, it’s absolutely got a place among burgeoning, youngish writers like myself. (Sorry, I just had a coughing fit over calling myself a youngish writer. Whoops, it happened again.) I can even envision how I would use it:
“I’m going out to write!” I announce to nobody in particular, as I throw a scarf around my neck and don my tweed jacket with suede elbow patches and spontaneously sprout a beard. I put on spectacles for no apparent reason (they’re just empty frames and YES I CALL THEM SPECTACLES), scoop up my FreeWrite by its collapsible handle and bicycle off on my 19th-century huge-front-wheeled bicycle (because modern bicycles are so mindlessly corporate, and yes, I use “bicycle” as a verb AND a noun in the same sentence; I’m a writer, whee). Along the way, I stop and pick some coffee beans from the living trees and brew them with my own urine, then I perch in the crook of a mighty elm in the heart of the wood, sipping my coffee and typing away on the next American masterpiece while the fauna of the forest swirl lazily around me.
Seriously, the site features pictures of a bearded dude writing on this thing. So tranquil! So creative! So hip! This is what you’re’re selling to the throngs of would-be writers out there. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great vision. People would buy that! I would buy that!
But — five hundred dollars? That’s almost a mortgage payment. Rent for a month. That’s two months worth of car payments. A university course. Four weeks’ worth of groceries for my family of four. 2500 packets of Ramen Noodles, enough to subsist on for over ten years!
So who are you really selling this to? I have to imagine that any “established” writer is already going to have their routines and favorite tools well-ensconced; they won’t have any need for this thing. Poorish college types will balk at dropping that kind of cash on this thing when they can easily get a laptop — and a damn good one at $500 — to do everything this machine does and more. And middle-of-the-road types like me (my wife and I are comfortable, but by no means flush with extra money) are never going to be able to justify dropping that kind of coin on a unitasker like this.
In short, I feel you’ve priced yourself out of the very market you hope to attract. The only people I can see spending $500 on this device are the very rich who have run out of useful things to spend their money and time on (which may be a bigger segment of the population than I give credit for) or those who believe that the tools seriously make the writer (which I sincerely hope is a minuscule portion of the writing population).
For the same $499, I can buy myself a laptop and a copy of Scrivener (which not only offers a distraction-free writing mode, but will also package and format my book for submission to agents or even self-publishing) or any other free programs that do what the FreeWrite does (q10 and WriteMonkey, just off the top of my head, are two free programs that are excellent for drafting), and still have $200 to throw at the tsunami of credit card debt rising outside my door because of all the frivolous, needless things that I buy.(I’m an American, after all).
I would have loved for the FreeWrite to be one of those things. I love its design and I love its concept.
But I can’t, in any type of conscience, let alone with a straight face, consider paying $500 for $100 worth of hardware and $400 worth of kitsch.
Bleh. Back to doing this thing I love using the tools I already possess — which are more than adequate and don’t make me feel like a stinky hipster in hiding.