The Worth of Books

on September 8, 2014 in Misc

bargain

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.

14 Responses to “The Worth of Books”

  1. It’s still about perceived value. And does it devalue to sell it for next to nothing or give it away? Each situation is different, but I think giving away a book when you don’t have any others or only one is a mistake.

  2. Helena says:

    Alex – Yes, a free sampling of a writer’s work is fine, but after that charge at least a dollar or two. That’s seems a good approach.

  3. Mmm. I don’t think that books have gotten too cheap. Rather, I kind of think there’s a glut in supply. I know, I know, I shouldn’t say things like that. But there are times when I think there are too many people writing and not enough reading.

  4. Alex is right. Giving away the first book in a series if you have five books is like priming the pump. Yet, human nature values little what costs them little. But we must tease readers to gamble on an unknown.

    $2.99 is my top price. 99 cents my lowest. I charged 99 cents for my first children’s novel since it was only 45 pages. But I left a link at the end of it for the $1.99 book of Hibbs when he is an adult.

    It is a tough question. I have 32 books out and few sales. I have resigned myself to be an obscure, little-read author — the Emily Dickinson of fantasy, urban and historical!

    Perhaps lightning will strike? Cross your fingers. :-)

  5. Helena says:

    Mike – I came across a statistic the other day (can’t remember it exactly), and basically it said that people are indeed reading fewer books. They’re also reading far fewer newspapers and news magazines and aren’t as well informed as people used to be. You’d think that with the Internet and e-books and so on we’d all be smarter. But that’s not the case.

  6. Helena says:

    Mike – I came across a statistic the other day (can’t remember it exactly), and basically it said that people are indeed reading fewer books. They’re also reading far fewer newspapers and news magazines and aren’t as well informed as people used to be. You’d think that with the Internet and e-books and so on we’d all be smarter. But that’s not the case.

  7. Helena says:

    Roland – I wish scads of lightning strikes for you! But please bear in mind that writing stories is one thing, marketing them is another. Personally, I think I’m a good writer but I suck like a sponge at marketing. Maybe you and I should concentrate on promotion/marketing for a while.

  8. Helena says:

    Roland – I wish scads of lightning strikes for you! But please bear in mind that writing stories is one thing, marketing them is another. Personally, I think I’m a good writer but I suck like a sponge at marketing. Maybe you and I should concentrate on promotion/marketing for a while.

  9. When I first got my Kindle, I downloaded scads of free ebooks and a lot of 99 cent ones. Guess what? Most of those got deleted after reading only a few paragraphs or pages. I don’t do that anymore unless it’s a sale or special promotion.

  10. Helena, part of the problem is that in a first world country, we are spoilt for choice. There is such a thing as having too many options.

  11. Helena says:

    Carol – I haven’t deleted anything yet, so my reading backlog is pretty hefty. But it will certainly be easy to delete the cheapest books I might not care for.

  12. Helena says:

    Mike – Sometimes I get to the point, like at the grocery store, where I don’t want lots of choices. I just want to get what I need and have done with it! There’s something to be said about simplifying life.

  13. Excellent points, Helena. For those of us starting out, it’s all about visibility. I sub to dozens of publications and release reprints with free promotions because I’m trying to get my name recognized. Slowly but surely, it’s happening; and I plan to make $0.99 the new “free” for my reprints on Amazon.

  14. Helena says:

    Milo – That’s a great in-the-trenches reply, Milo, especially since you’ve had so much success with your stories. Personally, I don’t even blink about spending $0.99 for a story, so let’s hope a minimum base rate of pay for writers becomes the norm, at least after we’ve done enough free promotions.