Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
I keep tripping over this question about the price of e-books. I stumble over it in blog posts, it sneaks up behind me and shouts BOO during podcasts, and I’m pretty sure it stole my popcorn at the movie theater last night.
It is an important question, both for traditional publishers and the indie crowd as well as for readers. I read 2-3 books per week, and at certain price points ($9.99/book) it would exceed what I spend on lunch during the work week ($25.00). Recently, I have become more conscious of my buying behavior and have a few thoughts on the below.
In the last 30 days, I saw three books I really wanted to buy. Two were traditionally published, one was indie published. However, all the books were priced at $9.99. I didn’t buy them. This made me realize that I have a limit on what I am willing to spend, even on a coveted title. I explore further below:
If everything was equal, would I buy a $0.99 book over a more expensively priced product? Yes.
What if there was a book by an author I liked that was slightly more, maybe $2.99 or less, would I be willing to buy that book instead? Yes.
What if it was by an author I didn’t know? Maybe.
What would be the most that I would be willing to spend to take a risk? Probably $2.99, but maybe $4.99 if someone I trusted gave it a great review.
What is the most I would ever spend on a fiction e-book? $7.99. I can’t imagine spending more than what a paperback cost me in the 1990s.
What is the most I would spend for a non-fiction book (with minimal pictures)? $12.99
A heavily-pictured book I would prefer to have hardcopy. Everything else, e-books.
How do I decide on a book? Cover, title, blurb, reviews. I trust the author or publisher to sell the book to me. I don’t lean too heavily on Amazon or Goodreads rankings and reviews. I know the tricks of the trade. Working the system doesn’t mean that I’ll like your book, only that I was more likely to discover it.
I haven’t done a survey, but I suppose that readers like me, and especially the super readers that average a book per day, are cost-conscious about our e-book buying habits. A casual reader who reads less than five books per year does not have the same financial considerations. I could probably have a drug habit that cost less than my book habit if I didn’t keep a handle on it. If I could read three pretty-darn-good books at $2.99 or one amazing book at $9.99, which one would I choose. I want more bang for my buck, so I will choose the low-cost, high-volume option.
Do people work ungodly hard in order to tell the best story possible? Yes, they do, and they create amazing new gateways to experiences I could never dream of on my own. I am so happy that the internet allows us to share our creations with more people than ever before. It is immediate and shareable, as well as becoming more global every day.
Does a low e-book price devalue the quality of my work? No, it doesn’t. Price is a consideration of the market, not a judgment of the quality of the work. A low price does not guarantee a poor quality product any more than a high price guarantees me a satisfying experience. If price could be correlated with quality, I would charge a million dollars for my books and they would therefore be the highest quality possible.
The act of creation should not be undervalued, and a wonderful story is equally as moving as a beautiful song or engaging work of art. Writing is a form of art, but that doesn’t mean that art is expensive, or that it isn’t everywhere in our lives. By comparison, fashion is a form of art, all the way from your gold-toed socks to red-soled high heels. How many pairs of socks are sold compared to the number of couture shoes? Because the socks are cheap, are they less artful than the shoes? What about if I compare these items to $5-for-$25 panties that come in an array of colors and styles, from bikini to briefs, from tiger print to tighty whities, and some with bows or naughty bits of lace? Those are certainly creative and artful, but still much cheaper than the designer heels. I would not devalue the creativity in a pair of underwear just because it is $5.00, and my spouse certainly appreciates the artwork.
I truly hope the industry changes to allow more hardworking authors to opportunity to earn a living from work they love. However, the world does not owe anyone a living. Businesses are out there to make a profit. Employees are out there to earn a wage. The indie crowd is juggling both sides. The sad truth is that everyone has to sink or swim through hard work, talent, and luck.
Can we put a price on our literature, our heritage, our lifeline to posterity? Um, yeah. Storytelling has existed since the beginning of civilization. It will continue long after I’m dust and bones. Is it likely that the form will change over time? It has already gone from oral to handwritten to print to digital. I’m sure that something else that I can’t imagine will come after this.
Culture changes, literature changes. Trying to protect it will alter it just as surely as leaving it out in the rain. Make sure you wipe it down before it tracks in muddy footprints.
I like books, a lot. I think that libraries are important and that literacy should be guaranteed by our educational system. We are lucky to live in a time where information is accessible and communication is affordable. However, treating books, digital or otherwise, as something more than entertainment or educational product purchased with disposable income is inaccurate and potentially dangerous, especially if you are staking your livelihood on it.
Writers create entertainment products. They are marketed as commodities. Price points appeal to different types of customers. Writing is an act of creation, but selling books is a matter of business marketing.
What are your thoughts on the prices of books, and specifically e-books sold on Amazon?