27 March 2014

What would you pay for a good Ebook?

Many of us think nothing of spending $10 to $15 per ticket to enjoy a movie for a couple hours. 

How about spending that amount on a book which will likely entertain you for many more hours?

As a discussion topic among authors, the pricing of ebooks is near the top of the list.

How much to sell an ebook for? After all, it has no paper, no physical materials that need to be considered in the cost. It's just text - mere words on a screen. Words don't cost anything, after all. Unless you put them into a book made of paper, such as a dictionary - or a novel. So the actual cost to a reader is only whatever time and skills were needed to put all those many words into a certain arrangement to tell a story or present other kinds of information.

So what is that time and skill set worth?

Time is, of course, worth at least "minimum wage" - currently $7.25 per hour. How many hours does it take to write, say, a 300 page novel? First rough draft? A thorough going-over of a subsequent draft? A full edit? The skill set necessary to write a book may be innate, may be pure talent from God, or it may be the result of years of training, probably at the cost of classes, tuition, and craft books read. More likely a combination. How do you put a price on that?

Some people may argue that the quality of the writing should determine the price. Or the length of the book. Both are true. Who would pay more for a book full of editing and formatting problems? (But what if the story is still compelling despite its technical issues?) It makes sense that if a 200-page book sells for $1.99 then a 400-page book should sell for $3.99 - unless the second 200 pages is not very interesting, of course. Or is that latter portion of pages simply a risk the buyer must take?

How about a children's book then? The text may be rather rudimentary, nothing demanding a high level of education, no fancy $20 words. The writing may not be very sophisticated or require any research. It may, however, include graphics - which would bring an artist into the cost/price equation. However, even a true "chapter book" (and most adult books, as well) has certain elements which must be considered in pricing, such as:

The plot. Where does a story come from? How does a writer invent such things? How does a writer arrange the telling of the story to create suspense, conflict, humor, tension, resolution, denouement? It's all imagination, right? And imagination is like ...air: it's free to everyone. So why pay someone for his or her imagination? Thanks, author, but it's not like you really did any work, no heavy lifting; you just thought for a while.

Characterization. Every story is told not by an author but by an invented person. Such characters may be based on real people or totally made-up, or be a combination. Does the real person who originated a fictional character get any share of the price? If a character is based on a real person then it's not actually invented, hence, it should be free. Right?

Action and dialog. Fist fights and car chases, the stuff of excitement, of entertainment. We can see them for free on television anyway. And in the greater scheme of writing, dialog is also considered action, just as much as a fist fight or a car chase. If the author overhears two people talking, say, at a Starbucks one afternoon, and writes that conversation as part of the story, do those speakers get a well-deserved portion of the price? What if the author changes some of that original conversation?

Setting. Sometimes it's the first, sometimes the last thing we think of in a story. Surely some stories would not exist if they were placed in a different setting, a different time and place. If the author went to such a place and looked around to get a feel for the landscape, the mood of the city, to see the way the cliffs actually crumbled down into the sea that our fictional hero must dive into - is that part of the cost? Is it the same, cost-wise, as attending a professional conference to perhaps hear what other authors have to say about writing?

Editing. Finally, we have something a bit more tangible in regard to the pricing of an ebook. Someone is actually hired to read and fix whatever problems may exist in the text, whether large such as organization or continuity, or small such as correcting typos or a grammar glitch. It's nothing against the author when something needs to be corrected - unless the author is also acting as editor. However, when a second person is employed, there is a real cost to be factored into the pricing of the book, even an ebook.

Artwork. Children's books rely on art but so do adult books, even ebooks. They all have a cover and most have cover art. It seems the cover does provide value to the story itself. People do judge a book by its cover. Many a book has been purchased, I would guess, because of the attractive cover. Therefore, authors have always been advised to pay well for competent artists to create enticing images to attract readers. More costs to factor in!

In the final analysis, we can easily see that there are actual costs for the editor and the artist which must be accounted for in what the author spends on producing the book. The author is due something, as well. The publishing venue, such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, may also have criteria the author must follow when determining the price of an ebook. But how much? In the marketing business, selling a high volume of a product will usually cause its price to be reduced. Cost savings. Simple supply and demand, right? However, in the book business, well-known authors begin with high prices. Lesser known authors begin with lower prices. And some ebook sites will actually raise the price if there is more demand for a book, completely defeating the principles I learned in Economics 101.

Questions still abound.

How much do you think an ebook should cost? Does it matter what genre it is? How about the length? Does the first few pages (usually available for preview) determine the price for the whole book? Should the use of graphics in the book (number and quality of images) affect the price?

What if the author used an expensive marketing service? Would that warrant a higher price? Would you accept a higher price if you knew the author employed an editor, artist, and a marketing service? Does the cover art matter for ebooks? for the price of ebooks?

Would you pay more for a well-known author’s ebook? Should the price of an ebook correlate to the day of the week, the month, or the holiday season in which it is launched? What is the highest price you have paid for an ebook? What is the highest price you are willing to pay for an ebook, and what conditions would be necessary for you to pay that higher price?

Authors want to know. We want to provide the best value for your dollar but we also want to feed our children. (Sure, most authors have day jobs for feeding the children but the principle still applies.) There is a fair price in there somewhere. 

Please share your thoughts.

 (C) Copyright 2010-2014 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

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