Thursday, February 08, 2007

What Does Price Say To You?

A discussion about e-books and promotion over at Mrs. Giggles blog got me thinking. (Yes, I am aware that this can be a dangerous thing to do during the work day. I mean, what if I actually accomplished something intelligent? They might *gasp* expect me to do it again tomorrow!)

At one point a comment is made to the effect that $3.00 for a 30 page read is on the pricey side. Admittedly, I bristled for a second because the comment seemed to cast a small shadow in the direction of my publisher and I am nothing if not loyal. But now I want other opinions.

Artistically Inclined is just over 13,000 words. At $3.00, that works out to 4,333 words to the dollar. Most New York publishing house novels run in the range of 80,000 words, I'm told. So we're talking $6.99 or $7.99...call it $7.50 and 80K? That is 10,666 words to the dollar. Double the value if you are relying on straight stats.

But any sports geek, and especially any baseball geek like me, knows what lies can be perpetuated by statistics. Mark Twain's line rings true here.

So the question comes down to the value in the words. A very subjective area at best. Personally, I think I give pretty good return on investment with my words. Certainly I don't feel as though I fit the profile of someone churning out stories to cash a check. Nor is there a lack of investment on my side. The new story in Artifactual (the Bruce & Mandy anthology to be released by Phaze in April) is about 30,000 words and took the better part of 10 weeks to write. True, I have a "real job" and have to write in my "spare time". But even so, there is a lot of "sweat equity" in my published work.

Do any of you have beliefs about the perceived value of an e-book based solely on it's price? Would you pass up a book because the $2.00 sale price tells you it must not be that good?

1 comment:

Sherri said...

Tricky question. When buying a book at a store, I'm paying not only for the intellectual property and creative effort therein, but also for the everything included in publication: the printing, the paper, the binding, the shipping and handling, the stocking in the store, the advertising, and for the store to remainder and return the book if it does not sell. I'm also paying for the store's rent, employee pay, and all overhead expenses (one reason book stores have such a tough time). Once all that is subtracted and the actual payments to the publisher and author are totaled in, the actual "price per word" is pretty small.

With an electronic book, there are many fewer expenses. The overhead and suppy issues are not nearly the same -- there is no paper, no shipping, no store. I would EXPECT the price per word to be higher, but at the same time, I would expect a discount because so many expenses are NOT involved -- maintaining even an intensive website is much less expensive than maintaining a brick-and-morter location, for instance, and electrons are generally cheaper than paper.

None of this has any reflection on -- or really anything to do with -- the value of the writing contained therein. First, that sort of value is both subjective and variable. Second, it is extremely difficult to quantify. Does a book that has gone through a professional editing process, been bought and published automatically gain greater value than another book that has only been shared among friends? Do sales really measure the quality of a book? (I'd venture that sales and value are apples and oranges -- popularity can mean mediocrity, at least on a statistical level).

So, how much of a book's selling price is actually paying for that "sweat equity" of the author and publisher, and how much cheaper should an electronic book be if it is not required to pay the rent? I have no problem paying for the work of a creative person, but electronic books have one strike against them in the marketplace -- the buyer doesn't actually HAVE anything in hand. There's a sensory aspect to buying and selling. I'm an early adopter of electronic books and even I have found the difficulties of the medium impossible to overcome on many occasions (I rarely want to read where I have my laptop handy, as it happens, and so far few e-book readers have met my needs -- I'm saving for that Sony!)

I think the lack of physical form will always count against the e-book in pricing, far more than size, length or quality of writing, because it is the one quantifiable quality of a book.