Tuesday, December 21, 2010

About eBook Prices - Part 2

I see from the little IP tracks in the snow that I've had a visit from The Penguin Group on Part 1 of this series. (Perhaps they have a Google Alert set up to "Penguin" "ebook prices" "these people are insane"?)

I suppose I should pause to point out that the big publishers are only crazy like a fox. Yeah, it's easy to bash what looks like an hysterical reaction to the surge in ebook popularity. The fact is, they can price ebooks however they want, and I'm not saying this because I believe in freedom, or because I think they are too big and powerful to deny.

I'm saying this because books are not a commodity.

One thing I hear a lot on the forums and writer boards is fear: the "efficiency of the market" is naturally going to force all prices down to pennies above cost. After all that's the way commodities work. And of course, the people most worried about this think that the cost of an ebook is virtually nothing, and so books will be free and nobody will make a living!

Except that the cost is NOT nothing - as I mentioned yesterday - and more importantly books are not like pork bellies or bushels of barley or a barrels of oil. The Saudis can't decide to flood the market to bring down prices or withhold product to keep the price up. If that were true, then the Gutenberg Project would have cornered the market on ebooks a long time ago, by giving great classics away for free.

They've been giving away free books for nearly 40 years. That's four decades. They've been giving them away in unlimited quantities, without DRM, in the most open formats they can find. And golly the price of ebooks has not dropped to zero yet. Penguin can still sell ebooks at $14.99.

There is room in this market for the $30 hardback novella and the 99 cent saga by an indie, and the free classic. And while competition may cause some downward pressure on prices in general, there will always be a broad spectrum in price.


Because it isn't really money that makes a reader hesitate to buy your book.

What the reader really wants to know is whether your book is worth their time.

Time, or more importantly, attention, is worth more than money these days. It's very scarce. Back in June I mentioned that we're all a part of one big slush pile now - indie writers, major New York publishers and yes, YouTube videos of cats riding roombas - all competing for attention.

The audience cares a lot less about their money than about their limited attention. They don't just want ta book. They want a good book that fits their mood, or at least a bad book with lots of cool stuff in it. (Mittens and His Roving Vacuum is very entertaining, and he doesn't make many demands.) So....

There will never be a set market price because no two books are equal in regards to whether they suit that particular reader at that moment. Which is why Penguin can charge $14.99 for now. They'll sell to all the people who really feel their books are worth that price. Then they'll drop the price later to sell to the next tier of the audience.

Variable pricing, of course, is a good strategy in a market like this, but right now I'm talking about how to fix on a price, not how to play with it. Next time I will FINALLY get to the more moderate pricing models, and the issue of the 99 cent short story.

(I may do that tonight. I don't know. It depends on how bad this cold remains. Cough, cough, cough...)

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Dead to Writes, a mystery for Kindle, by Cathy Wiley
"Is Baltimore's newest author also Baltimore's newest murderer?"

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