Dude, That Van Gogh's A Piece of Garbage Because I Don't Feel Like Paying For It

April 8, 2011

As both a reader and a writer, I've been trying to figure out where I stand on the whole eBook pricing issue.

Authors and publishers are taking a lot of flack for pricing eBooks comparably to hardcovers. Self-published authors have been running experiments on the ideal price point to set for maximum sales/income.

I've come to the conclusion that I don't know what the ideal fair price for an eBook is, but I suspect it will vary quite a bit depending on the author, publisher and book itself.

What I do strongly believe is that one star reviews given to a book over a perception of unfair pricing regarding delivery format are pure bunk.

When I buy a book, I am buying the story, not the paper that story is printed on. The inherent value I pay for is the work of the writer, editor, and publishing support staff. If I wanted to simply buy paper, I'd buy a brick of it for $6.99. I'm actually a reader cheapskate: I rarely pay the premium for a hardcover, choosing instead to wait for the lower cost paperback. But as a consumer, I don't perceive that the paperback costs less because of the binding, or quality of the paper itself. It costs less because I waited for it. To me, the hardcover and even trade paperback price premium is more about being able to read the story immediately. Which is why it makes sense to me that eBook pricing is similar to hardcover pricing: it's not about the cost of materials and all about instant gratification.

The whole "an eBook is cheaper to produce" argument is a red herring. When I buy a movie, I pay for the entertainment, not the piece of plastic it comes on. When a new format comes out, whether VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray, the overall cost for owning and watching that piece of entertainment in my home has stayed pretty comparable over the years. Sure, Netflix is cheaper, but that is a subscription model and not ownership.

When I buy music from a download service, even though the format is entirely digital and I'm no longer paying for the plastic of a record or CD, I'm still paying $14.99 for a new release album. I don't see people giving digital albums one star reviews because they're P.O.'d that they cost more than $10.

Ultimately, as a reader, I do not feel it's my right or prerogative to dictate one-size-fits-all pricing of a story. These days, a high-end dark chocolate bar I buy and wolf down in less than 5 minutes costs more than what some books are selling for. The complexity of publishing business models notwithstanding, for me, because I'm also a writer, it's about the sheer work involved. Yes, I have not purchased books because the price didn't fit my budget for any given month. But who am I to tell a writer who spent 1 year, 5 years, or even 10 years writing a great story that their book sucks because of how it's priced?

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