What’s the value of an e-book? With Lara Schiffbauer

Lara Schiffbauer

Lara Schiffbauer’s recent blog post about a fair price for an e-book struck several chords with me.

Here is Lara’s article, in full, re-posted with Lara’s permission.

By Lara Schiffbauer

Warning: Super long blog post ahead and it has qualities similar to that of a rant, so go forward with caution.

For quite a while now I’ve read the myriad discussions regarding what is a fair price for an e-book from the perspective of the writer.

Are self-pubbers the “bane?”

Many a blog post like this one by Melissa Foster on the Indie Reader question “Are Self-Pubbed Authors Killing the Publishing Industry?”  In the first sentence of the article, Ms. Foster states that self-pubbed authors devalue the written word with books priced low to gain attention. Later on in the article she gives the pronouncement that yes, self-pubbed authors are the bane of the publishing world because they “give away” their books for “less than a buck” and use other “gimmicks” to garner sales. Quite honestly, I found the whole article rather obnoxious, but didn’t really feel the need to evaluate why. I filed the article away under my “Opinions That – While Interesting – Don’t Really Seem Fair or Right” mental filing cabinet.

Are you taking the risk?

Risky business

I read a section of Writing on the Ether by Porter Anderson titled “Pivot: Jonny Geller, Enough to Go Around.”  In the section, Mr. Anderson relates several points Jonny Geller made in an article of his own regarding the state of the publishing industry, including this one, “Readers need to risk paying for books again.”

Mr. Anderson followed up the point made by Jonny Geller by saying,

“We can talk all day about the reader as a nearly holy figure in our business — seriously overlooked too long by the traditional publishers. But it’s also time for that reader to play his or her fiduciary role in the equation again, and prove the bargain basement prices of the fin-de-agency period to have been what they were, the dive for algorithmic leverage of amateurs flooding the market.”

Before I go any further, I need to say that Porter Anderson is a very intelligent, witty, and friendly guy. When I read Writing on the Ether, I often don’t understand exactly the points he makes, and I definitely am not being critical of the article. That being said, what the article did was force me to change my perspective from writer to reader and back again. Quite frankly, I thought “Whoa. Hold on there.”

Where is your price point?

Less than a buck?

First, as a soon to be self-published author, if I sell my book for something less than … Heck, I don’t even know what Melissa Foster or the other people who think a low price devalues a book think I should sell my book for. At what price do I show the world that I value my work? Can anyone tell me? Is $2.99 enough, or does it have to be higher? Should I match traditional publishing at $9.99? Do you honestly think I would sell any books if I did? And yet, if I price point my novel in order to get someone to take a risk and buy my book, I am accused of devaluing my work and undercutting authors everywhere, especially the “professionals.”  I am not sure who the professionals are, but it sounds suspiciously to me that they are those traditionally published.

The author/reader quandary

Second, as a reader, if I buy a $.99 priced novel by a self-published author, I am accused of not holding up my share of the author/reader bargain and shirking my duty of paying an author what they’re worth. What happens if I buy a $.99 priced novel by a famous author who is traditionally published and the publisher is running a sale? Am I still shirking my duty as a reader? And why is a sale (gimmick) by a traditional publisher all right, but by a self-published author it’s tacky and devaluing to the written word?

As a reader, when the price of paperbacks rose above $7.99, I quit buying so many books. Gasp, I know. I got really friendly with my neighborhood library. Then, after I became invested in some authors for FREE, I started buying their books. Let me ask you, did the fact that I read their novels for FREE mean that I devalued their work, their talent? No, it means I didn’t have a very lucrative cash flow and I still wanted to read.

How do you measure the value? 

I think part of the problem about the whole “devaluing” issue is the question of how you measure the value of your personal time and creativity. Someone I read said something like, “Writing books is art, selling books is a business.”

Throughout my twenties, I worked in the head offices of a retail chain as an assistant to the clothing buyers. I learned about mark-up. With clothing, the mark-up is basically double. You buy a t-shirt for $2.99, you sell it for $5.99. When a person self-publishes the need for mark-up is diminished. The book is going to be available digitally forever. If a person spends $1,000 for editing, cover, etc., they can afford to be patient with the first book being a lower price and baiting the hook for readers. It’s a career being built, not a get rich quick scheme.

Climbing the self-pub ladder

So, do you want to know the funny part of this post (if you’ve even made it this far).  The funny part is, I totally plan on selling Finding Meara for at least $2.99 or more, unless it’s enrolled in a special program like Kindle Select. I’d made that decision before I decided to self-publish. My reasons? When I am shopping on my Nook and I see a book listed for $.99, I don’t even really stop to look at it. I judge the book by its price point. However, the same is true for the other end of the monetary scale. Also, you can sell fewer books at a higher price point and make more money. Hard math there. Dean Wesley Smith taught me that. He’s got a great blog every self-publishing author should check out.

Does the question of a fair price for an e-book have an answer? I don’t know. I think it’s up to the person putting their book out there.

***

From Karen –

There are lots of comments on Lara’s e-book blog – pro, con, free, not free, $1.99 or $2.99?

I posted a comment on Lara’s blog. Here it is (I’ve edited the comment and added a few headers).

***

I’m might be free but only with a coupon!

Regarding my books (collections, if they ever get published) – I don’t want to give them away nor do I want to whore them out at 99 cents a copy. I don’t even want to go $1.99 or $2.99.

What it takes

I know what it takes to write one poem or one short story. I hired a great editor (Shawn MacKenzie). I work hard learning how to tell a story, how to mix the right adjectives, how to write scenes and dialog. I read about writing – blogs, articles, books. I read grammar and style manuals.

I’m an e-book John

But buying books? I’m a back-street John when it comes to acquiring new e-books. Since I got my Kindle last November, I consistently seek the free section. Pre-Kindle, I used to spend a couple hundred dollars every month on books; over the last year, about ten bucks a month. I’ll buy an e-book if Stephen King publishes something or if a friend publishes a new book (like Kathryn Magendie or Shawn MacKenzie).

Free book

Most e-books make me snore.

I’ll say it – most free books sort of suck. Out of a hundred free books I download to my Kindle, I delete about 70-80% after the first few pages because they are awful. The e-book explosion has enabled poor writers to publish a lot of garbage.

Make the decision

Don’t just decide to write – decide to write well and then learn how to write well.

***

Friends who write extremely well –

Kathryn Magendie

Shawn MacKenzie

See Lara Schiffbauer’s blog at Motivation for Creation.

What are your thoughts about the whole pricing issue with e-books?

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12 Comments

Filed under E-books & E-publishing, Guest Writers & Bloggers

12 responses to “What’s the value of an e-book? With Lara Schiffbauer

  1. We are entering uncharted waters…There are some stories I will give away and others I hold dearly. Though I think the difference lies more in my intent than how I value the work. Haven’t gone the e-book route yet….next challenge for sure….

    • What amuses me is that the whole reason I decided to self-publish is because I basically want to get my work out before an audience. It isn’t because I think it can’t cut it in the traditional publishing world. I’m just reluctant to spend many years waiting for someone in traditional publishing to take a risk. Then there are people out there saying I don’t value my work if I charge a certain price for it, when the whole reason I’m self-publishing is because I do value my work.

      • Can’t win for losing, Lara. 😐 So much of the traditional route is dictated by trends and the whims of the marketplace, it can be terribly discouraging. Luck and timing seem almost more important than the quality of one’s work. The number of times I heard, “Well written, but not what we’re looking for at this time…” Oy, it makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it.
        Good luck, Lara!

  2. Agree, Shawn. I have given away stuff, in the blog, and have shared with friends. But a collection (all that writing, all that editing, all that re-writing), I’m inclined to think I’m worth a few bucks! 🙂

  3. Stacy S. Jensen

    Glad you are continuing this discussion. The value questions makes me look at the issue as both a writer and a buyer. It’s important to look at our own buying habits as we think of this. I have purchased ebooks from 99-cents to $19.95 from self-published authors. I’ve asked for a refund over a 99-cent book before too. I’ve found with childrens book (and think about the work put into illustrations) that I don’t like paying more than 99 cents, because the self-published quality seems to be hit or miss.

    • I do value good books. I just don’t have the extra scratch that I used to. You asked for a refund? Good for you!

    • I haven’t bought any self-published children’s books yet. Well, I haven’t bought an children’s e-books, and I think it’s because I do like the pictures and sitting sandwiched between my boys on the couch with a paper product. Plus, again, with sales and Walmart and Scholastic, you can get books for a reasonable price. I don’t buy the books that are over $7.00 often.

  4. Wow…with every step of the writing process there is more to think about. Hopefully you all will revamp the e-book publishing world before I need to worry about it 😉

  5. I love paper books with a passion and dream of owning a house where I can have my own personal library. However, long before eBooks came into our world, I gave up buying books and went to the library. I wasn’t (and still am not) rich, but I was already tired of buying something that I didn’t like, so I use the library. If I like the book, then I buy it.

    With my Kindle, I too spend hours searching the free section. Honestly, I’ve had it for four months and haven’t bought a book. I read the free books and …wait for it… the library. When I find one I can’t live without, I’ll buy it.

    As a self-published author, I love the fact that we can play with the pricing and adjust it to where we want to put it. However, I’m tired of people assuming that if it’s $9.99, it’s quality. I’ve read a lot of badly written books at the price. I’ve read a lot of bad books from self-publishing authors and traditionally published authors.

    Sorry for the long post. Let me finish by saying this: Judge people’s advice by their success. If they’re not making a profit, figure out why and do the opposite. Hey, writing is art, but we do need to eat!

    • I agree it’s annoying when people automatically assume a high price point equals good value. The choice of what price point someone sells something at is totally a business decision. I have read comments by several famous traditionally published authors who dislike the high price the publisher sells their books for.

  6. Thanks so much, Karen, for sharing this post and doing such a lovely reblog! The value we assign to things is so subjective and I think I get most rankled that people are trying to make the writing/reading world follow their value systems.

  7. The nice thing about the whole self-pub e-book thing – everybody can do what is right for them. I think we should all follow our own value system – what works for one, might not work for me. What works for me, might not work for the next guy. And I too have paid big money for a book and then said, “Really, I just paid $25.00 for this?”

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