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?
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.”
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.
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).
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 –
See Lara Schiffbauer’s blog at Motivation for Creation.
What are your thoughts about the whole pricing issue with e-books?