Archive for September 8th, 2014

The Worth of Books

on September 8, 2014 in Misc 14 Comments »


So here’s the thing: I think a lot of books have gotten too cheap.

Sure, I’m biased ’cause I’m a writer.  And arguably the massive number of new books now available, thanks to indie publishing and e-books technology, will drive down sticker prices.

On the bright side:  Readers have more literary choices than ever at almost no cost, and writers have more opportunities to get their stories in front of readers.

On the dark side:  We writers will soon starve to death.

Seriously, the really dark side of super cheap and even free e-books is that many readers seem to be devaluing our work.  They have come to expect a fantastic bargain.  After all, why buy a $4.99 e-book by an unknown writer when a 99 cent one sounds pretty good? For that matter, why spend 99 cents when there are so many free books? Marketplace forces are grinding away.

dirt cheap

But is a cheap price always the right tactic for a writer to take?

Here’s an old marketing example.  In the Depression, Curtis nail polish cost 30 cents.  Then Max Factor came along with its spanking new nail polish and charged a dollar.  Business experts warned that Max Factor would fail.  Instead, Max’s polish sold like crazy because women assumed that at more than three times the cost their product was superior to Curtis’s.  The cosmetics and fashion industry took note and has used the more-expensive-is-better ploy ever since.

Yet those same women customers would baulk at spending $5 on an ebook by the likes of us.  Never mind that our books only exist because of months and even years of our work, creativity, passion, intelligence, and other good stuff.

In book publishing, the equivalent of designer fashion prices is a limited edition book.

beatles book

Currently, Amazon doesn’t even carry Harry Benson’s The Beatles (Art Edition).  One of its independent sellers offers the lone copy for $14,100.  The book’s publisher Taschen has on its website a mere 20 signed editions available at $1,000 each, and no doubt they’ll eventually sell out.  Meanwhile, much cheaper editions of Benson’s photo books of the Beatles are much more available.

Sure, it’s a fantasy that any of us pleb writers will one day produce an in-demand costly limited edition book.  But is it too much to ask for a mere couple bucks a book?  Aren’t our stories worth even that much?

In the end, I have no solutions or even suggestions, but I’d love to hear yours.