My aunt, who is a lovely woman, equates retail price to quality and will bypass a modestly priced something-or-other in favor of the most expensive because she places her value on quality. She has no clue what the item cost to produce, and she doesn’t care. She knows that a particular brand or particular shop sells quality stuff. And what they hey, she can well afford it.
I agree with her philosophy to some degree – even if we do run in different economic groups – because I want the biggest bang for my buck. Reminds me of the time when the beagle bought cheap tequila to mix up a batch of margaritas, and we spent horrified hours watching little pink cheese graters float above a box of worm-infested Twinkies. Consequently, we stick to the good stuff.
“You get what you pay for” holds grains of truth. So when Amazon became the Great Yoda of establishing e-book pricing, they set an artificially-generated worth to e-books of $9.99. Since they were the first, they had the advantage to make the call – even if that 9.99 was a loss leader for them. Publishers were forced into this retail price, kicking and screaming, until Amazon got into a slugfest with Macmillan, who wanted to set the retail price for their e-books.
Agency pricing turned the whole e-book pricing issue on its head. Readers howled at the higher prices, while smaller e-book publishers and DIY’ers – good capitalists that they are – dropped their e-book prices to .99 in an effort to gain traction for their books. In the real world of tight wallets (quite unlike my aunt), buyers gravitate to the best deal. This gave way to the insistence that consumers “deserved” lower priced e-books, and any publisher who charged near-bound book prices was a heretic.
The justification for this demand has been varied, but the prevailing consensus is based on the fact that publishers costs are lower. Eh? Whazzat? True, there are no warehousing fees and print run costs – but those are minimal when you consider the production costs, distribution, marketing, and promotion. And let’s not forget the author’s advance…
Given that logic, why should I have to pay huge bucks to buy the Photoshop program? If you consider the R&D costs that went into product design and implementation, Adobe has made money hand over fist – yet no one barks about how Adobe should drop the price to $15.95. Instead, we pay the retail price because we attach worth to the product.
So what about e-books? What are they worth, and who sets the gold standard? E-books are still in the evolutionary stage, so the gold standard hasn’t been established, especially since Amazon’s initial attempts got blown to bits. It’s a tug-o-war between the publisher and the marketplace. Since it’s still the Wild West, publisher’s have to individually decide what they feel their authors’ books are worth.
Deciding what we’re worth comes down to perspective. I’m of the opinion that e-books can’t be quantified strictly by production cost because it doesn’t allow for the actual product – the story. I would LOVE to pay $3.99 for a John Lescroart or Joan Didion book, but that ain’t gonna happen. Evah.Their publishers have placed more worth on their books, and charge accordingly.
Does that mean I should cry foul? What would it get me if I did? Nada, that’s what. My options are to:
- Buy their physical books, which are priced about a dollar or two higher than the e-book
- Buy the e-book
- Go without
John and Joan are worth it, in my opinion, so I pay for the e-books because it’s my preferred reading option. It doesn’t matter that they have no print run costs or warehousing fees. It’s about the fact that authors and the production team, which consists of the editor, art dept., sales, marketing, promotion peeps, work just as hard regardless of how the book is published.
Of late, I’ve seen a lot of “You get what you pay for” remarks from readers, who feel those .99 e-books lack the same kind of attention to editing, story organization, plot structure, and writing ability – so the very marketing tool that was used to attract readers is now repelling them. I would agree. I’m a huge e-book reader, and I’ve bought a number of .99 e-books that turned out to reflect the price I paid for them.
Absent from this group are authors who jumped ship from their commercial publishers and are now DIY’ing their books, or those few lucky duck authors who made a boatload of money – this group is the minority. I’m talking about the huge majority of DIY’ers who have, for whatever reason, decided to strike out on their own.
Just scrolling through the .99 bin at Amazon is dizzying because there’s no way to determine the diamond among the coal. The thought processes are, “Ah well, it’s only .99, so if it sucks, I haven’t lost much money.” I don’t look at as the money aspect, but of the time suck. I’ve read some .99 and thought, “Well, there’s a few hours I’ll never get back.”
I consider the entertainment factor. Dinner and a movie costs a whole lot more that a John Lescroart book. Heck a movie costs just about as much if you include the popcorn and Sweet Tarts (and why bother going to a movie if you can’t have the popcorn and Sweet Tarts?). The $15.95 I spend on an e-book gives me far more pleasure for far longer. I may carry around a book’s impact for weeks or years. I can’t say the same for movies.
I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Readers complain that don’t own the e-book and, therefore, it shouldn’t be as expensive. Well, movie goers don’t own the Hollywood movie, either, yet they’ll shell out $20 for two-hour’s worth of pleasure and a sweet-tooth fix. And do we even want to talk about the price to go to Disneyland?
No one really knows how the Great E-book Pricing War will shake out, but the adage of “You can’t get something for nothing,” holds true. If you want something of quality, you’re gonna have to pay for it.