Book Value

The annual conference of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts is going on right now in Orlando.  Alas, I couldn’t make it this year.  Looking over the program and panelists, I see a lot of names and faces I recognize.  My favorite topic pun:  “Machen a Mess:  Deliquescent Monsters in Fiction by Stephen King, Arthur Machen and Peter Straub.”

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There’s a lot of discussion these days about e-book prices.  Writers worry about digital piracy and ever-cheaper e-books glutting the market.  The piracy issue is of less concern to me because authors cannot control it.  The best way (likely the only way) to combat piracy is to set reasonable prices people are willing to pay.  While piracy is out of our hands, how much we sell our work for is not.  You can put your book on sale for $.99, $9.99, $99.99 or any price in between.

To decide which price is best, you must consider the value of your work.  Books give readers the best bang for their buck, the most entertainment for the least amount of financial investment.

Let’s say you have eight dollars in disposable income.  You could choose to see a two-hour movie, which means your hourly entertainment cost is four bucks.

You could also opt to spend that same amount on dinner (no doubt a form of entertainment for some).  Get a Triple Bacon Bypass Burger with fries and a Coke then scarf it down in fifteen minutes.  Hourly entertainment cost?  Closer to thirty-two dollars.

Now, for example, I decide to purchase the latest paperback from my favorite writer.  At an average length of 300 pages, it’ll take me about five hours to read the whole book.  I might read the entire novel cover to cover during a rainy afternoon, or I could read an hour before bed throughout the course of a workweek.  That means the hourly value placed on it is about $1.60.  Even a $15 trade paperback has a value of three dollars per hour of enjoyment, still less than that movie.

My novels, priced between $2.99 and $3.99, provide a value of $.80 per hour.  That’s a steal of a deal compared to other forms of entertainment.  (I’ll later address authors who devalue their work by selling it too cheaply or simply give it away for free.)

See, books are already affordable, overpriced hardcovers notwithstanding.  Consumers recognize if a publisher’s selling a mass market paperback for eight bucks, the e-book should be less than that.  They know there’s no good reason for Stephen King’s new e-book to be priced at $14.99.  Do you know how much it costs Amazon or B&N to download that story onto your e-reader?  Realistically, a nickel.  King’s books tend to be hernia-inducing doorstops, so maybe a dime for his.

There’s no excuse why an e-book should cost more than five dollars.  Exceptions include those that are graphics heavy:  color textbooks or comics, for instance. 

I believe the MMPB will go away in the future.  I think hardcovers too will be abandoned — living on in specialty and secondhand markets — for all but the top bestsellers.  Most novels will transition to a trade paperback format, dependent on whether e-book sales warrant such a print release.

During the next couple of weeks I’ll go over the three tenets of 21st century publishing.  If writers follow just three guiding principles, they will be able to compete with the largest media conglomerates in the world.

So what are they?  Tune in next week to find out.

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