Apparent Value: What’s the Right Price for an E-Book?
One of the things that’s come up in conversation a lot in the past week is the price point of e-books. So before I say anything else, there’s a poll to the right that I’d like you to answer just off the top of your head right now:
What’s the right price to pay for an e-book?
Go ahead. Answer that. I’ll wait here.
Okay, that’s kind of a trick question because you’d pay more for an author you love or a story you’ve been waiting for than you’d pay for a new author or an impulse buy. My cut-off point is usually around $9.99, but I’d pay full hardcover price for a new e-Pratchett or to get my favorite Allinghams that are falling into dust restored on my iPad. All books are not created equal. But if you’re talking about trying new authors, or just looking for something new to read on the spur of the moment, I’m thinking that price point drops even lower, to $6.99, $7.99, mass market prices (which I’m still appalled by for mass market). The thing that makes me hit the “Buy” button after I’ve read the free sample is the need to read more, but the price point can make me decide I don’t need to read more THAT much. The price point can’t make me buy, but it can stop me from buying.
On the other hand, I’m deeply suspicious of $.99 books. Why are they so cheap? Do the authors not value the stories? Are they slashing prices in a desperate everything-must-go effort to get readers? Are they hobbyists, writers who just threw something up there to see if it sticks? I told Mollie it was like going to the store and seeing a new can of cola next to the Coke. If it’s in a badly designed can and it’s half the price, I’m not buying it because it’s going to taste bad. If it’s in a fabulously designed can and it’s a dollar more, I might try it, just because it catches my eye and it seems valuable. The ugly can might hold much better cola, but the good design and the respectable price tag is still going to pull me to the other one. But the one I’m really most likely to buy? Coke. I like Diet Coke. I’ve consumed a lot of Diet Coke. Diet Coke does not let me down. In the same way, if there’s a Pratchett in iBooks for $7.99, another fantasy book I’ve never heard of with an amateur cover for $.99, and another one I’ve never heard of with a stunning cover for $8.99, I’m going to read the sample of the $8.99 one because of its apparent value. But I bet you anything, I’ll be buying the Pratchett.
Granted most readers are probably more adventurous than I am, but I still think price point has a huge impact, especially since the only letters I’ve ever gotten on pricing from fans have been the ones complaining that e-books are priced too high. Some readers are upset because it costs almost nothing to put the books up on the net (in their argument) so the books should be much cheaper. In this they’re missing a couple of key points–publishers have overhead no matter what format you buy, and you’re not buying paper when you buy a book, you’re buying story–but it doesn’t matter because public perception of worth becomes reality. What should be a question of “How much is this story by Jennifer Crusie worth?” becomes, “Well, I’ll pay $14.99 for Welcome to Temptation in trade paperback because that’s worth it, but I won’t pay that $9.99 for the same story in e-format because they’re ripping me off.” One’s wine in a bottle and the other is wine in a box. Same wine, but the perception of the value of that wine is different.
All of which makes pricing difficult. Lower priced books sell better, but do they devalue the reader’s perception of your work’s worth? Higher-priced books don’t harm the perception of value, but they can annoy readers who think you’re gouging them to pay for your yacht. So the key is to find a price that most readers will think is fair that still holds the apparent value of the work at an appropriate level.
Which brings us back to you. Since the Argh Nation is made of some of the smartest readers I know, what do you think?