What is the value of a book?

No, really! Please tell me what you think it is. I’m curious to hear the different answers and reasons.

Specially I’m wondering, what price do you want to pay for a new hardcover? A new ebook? An independently published or self-published paperback? An indie or self-pubbed ebook?

I’m looking for insight because of my experiments with TWENTY-SOMEWHERE. For a while now I’ve been debating taking the plunge and offering 20SW for 99 cents. I finally did it as a May promotion, so if you’ve been curious and have $1 to spare, you can get your very own copy from Amazon, the iBooks store, or Smashwords (which offers many formats for your computer or mobile device). I’d also love some more reviews — honest ones, of course!

Now, I have very mixed feelings about the 99 cent price point. As a reader, of course it’s a great deal. But then it again, it also isn’t much of an investment. The problem with super cheap or free books is that there’s no incentive to read them. When I first decided to read ebooks on my iTouch, I loaded up on free stuff. Weeks later, overwhelmed by the clutter, I had to delete almost all of it.

I’ve heard that lots of people (who are apparently slightly less cheap than me, lol) do the same thing with ebooks that cost only $1 or $2. On the one hand, the author doesn’t care, right? Because whether you delete the book off your ereader or not, that’s money in their pocket. But on the other hand, what authors need more than money is an audience. Without fans, you can’t make a living. You can’t have a career.

Furthermore, is 99 cents really a fair trade for all the hard work an author put into a book? (Especially given that authors really only get 30 cents of that back.) What happens if readers become accustomed to that price point? What if they start thinking that’s what books — even the printed kind — are really worth?

As my business-minded boyfriend would surely tell me, at the end of the day books (like everything else) are worth whatever people are willing to pay for them. And a lot of factors go into that.

(For the record, I am willing to pay more for a good story, quality writing, and professional formatting. In printed or electronic form.)

The “digital revolution” is amazing, and I absolutely believe in it. I guess I’m just worried. Worried about books costing less than a pack of gum. Books, which teach us so much. Which take us to strange and exciting places. Which introduce us to new people. Which make us feel love and fear and hope.

Personally, I think my ebook 20SW is worth more than 99 cents. In terms of what I put into it, and what people have told me that they got out of it, I think its regular price of $2.99 is a good value. But I’m trying not to be stubborn, trying to learn all that I can about what readers want instead of what I think.

And I’m trying to remind myself that 99 cents hasn’t killed the music industry. It probably won’t kill me either.

21 responses to “A discussion of value”

  1. Les Avatar

    “…What price do you want to pay for a new hardcover?”
    – I’ll pay a lot for a hardcover. $20-30 for fiction and way more for what I condsider a reference book. Buying a hardcover means buying a book I will read over and over again, or part of an existing collection.
    “…A new ebook?”
    I don’t buy ebooks, but .99-5.99 would be fair depending on the book I think.
    “…An independently published or self-published paperback?”
    It’d have to be good… I know that sounds nasty but I tend to think indie books are self published for a reason and not usually a good one. $4.99-5.99
    “An indie or self-pubbed ebook?”
    Same as above but with ebook stipulations… so .99-2.99 or so.

  2. T. S. Bazelli Avatar

    This is a hard one, knowing how much work goes into a book. As non-writers I’ve heard my friends say that they would pay up to 5.00 for an e-book. They think it’s crazy that prices are anywhere near hardcover.

    I would pay $20-35 for a hardcover, and those I buy because I want to keep them forever and reread.

  3. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    Well, I just went to buy your book, but then discovered/remembered that I can’t buy anything at Amazon when I’m at work (I can browse the site, but the buying part is blocked). So, I’ll buy it when I get home.

    I buy very few hardcovers, but if I want one I buy it. It’s the same as buying a DVD instead of renting it. It’s because I want to add it to my collection.

    I don’t buy a lot of books these days (money is tight), but for e-books mostly I get stuff that’s out of copyright. The entire Sherlock Holmes canon for $1? I’m there. Henry James novels for $1, all 12 Philo Vance novels for $1? That’s my speed.

    The price of current e-books is really high, it seems to me, but the whole industry is in flux right now, so they may come down.

    It is true for a lot of people that they value things based on what they paid for them. So, they might value your book more if they paid more for it. That’s a tough decision to make.

    And don’t go by me, since I’m crazy and my writing is available for free on the Internet (and on BBSs before that). And for the Kindle. (The hard copy does cost money, because paper and printing and binding don’t come for free.)

    (And, Les, it is a tiny bit nasty, but we’re used to it. :-) )

  4. Sonje Avatar

    Well, as someone who was recently offered a book contract with a royalty rate of 4% of retail on the first 1000 books (paperback) sold, I did the math and can tell you that would garner me approximately 60 cents per book (retail price of $14.95). By these numbers, you’re making a *killing* charging $2.99 LOL. So 30 cents per book sold… Well, it’s not great, but not many authors out there are making “great” money.

    To answer the questions you asked, I don’t like to pay more than $10 per ebook, not more than $15 for a paperback, and I cannot recall the last hardcover book I bought. Frankly, they’re too expensive.

  5. Susan Kaye Quinn Avatar

    Great post! As a reader, I recently bought a 99cent e-book as an impulse buy, but I would readily pay up to $2.99 for an indie published book, especially if I knew the author. For traditionally published ebooks, it kills me when they price the e-book higher than the paperback. Really?? Craziness.

    I only buy hardcover if I’m getting it signed by the author.

    I hopped over from K.Marie’s post! Glad I did! Good luck on your self-publishing endeavors!

  6. kat magendie Avatar

    You’ve said yourself that you think your books are worth more than 99 cents – so there you go.

    The arts – *we don’t get no respect*–(pulling on my tie)

    For me, as I said in my blog post today – the experience of reading the book on ereader and on print had much in common – so while I would not pay the same for an ebook that I would for a printed book (because of the cover/printed pages, etc), I would still pay a decent fair price for the ebook: for example, I paid $15 for a trade paperback I recently bought and $10 for an ebook I recently uploaded, and that’s actually where my books are priced – unless they are on a promo.

    As you said, so much work goes into our writing – lots of sacrifices – friends, family, food, fun, not to mention the rejection, the angst, the worry . . . etc etc etc –

    I know when we are starting out we want to gain readers, so think of maybe doing a promo for a couple of weeks or a month at a lower price.

    If we want our work to be valued, we will not undervalue it.

  7. Jon Avatar

    If Hollywood can keep raising the price of movie tickets and DVDs, why can’t book publishers, too? I think you’re WAY undervaluing your work at 99 cents!

  8. Kim Bullock Avatar

    I generally only buy a hardback if I am sure I’ll want to keep it on my shelf forever. I have no objection to paying $20-25 in those cases. As far as e-books go, if I’m familiar with the author, or if the book comes recommended by other writers/readers with similar tastes, I don’t quibble with $9.99. The way I look at it, books are the only thing I really buy for myself. Also, I know first hand how much blood, sweat and tears went into writing it.

    I think I’d have a hard time offering my book at 99 cents. I will be curious to know what it does to your sales figures, though…

  9. Darcy Fox Avatar

    It completely depends on the book.

    I’m a writer and voracious reader who does not, for the most part, buy books. I am a library queen (mainly because… I’m broke due to being a fledgling writer). For me to buy a book and pay more than $10 for a physical book and $5 for an ebook, I need to have a pretty decent guarantee that I’m going to like it, either from recommendations or a previous positive experience with the author.

    (Absolutely 100% love your blog, btw. Long time reader, first time commenter.)

  10. Juliann Wetz Avatar

    I don’t buy e-books and won’t pay to read anything online. I was actually astounded to read other responses and see that people are willing to pay up to $10 for an e-book. I am obviously not the target audience for anything digital.

    I will pay retail for a good, old-fashioned paperbound or hard-cover book. I intentionally buy books this way to send a message to publishers that this is the format I want. If I’m going to pay money for a book, I want to be able to physically hold onto it, pass it along, re-read it, or donate it someplace else. Or maybe I just want it to sit on my shelf for the rest of my life. That’s my perogative since I paid for it.

    I am selective about what I’ll pay $15 for. Some books just aren’t worth the money to me, so I get them used or from the library. Others, I am happy to pay for and am glad to pay full price for, so that the author benefits.

    Of course, I’d rather pay less than $15. If books were lower-priced, I’d buy more of them.

  11. Sarah Wedgbrow Avatar

    This is a really good discussion. I almost never buy hardcover if I have a choice (unless it’s on sale). For a paperback, I’d like to pay $12, and if I had a kindle and bought ebooks, I’d say I would pay $8. If I really loved an ebook, I’d probably go out and buy it in printed form. (so really, publishers would be making two sales on books that are worth publishing).
    How do you price art? I feel like art should be accessible to everyone so am glad there are different formats, however, that’s for the reader. What about the writer? I just don’t know. Surely, $2.99 is a bargain!

  12. Julia Avatar

    If you are talking about valuing books, definitely more than 99 cents. I would pay upward of $10 to download the new work of an author I know and love. I would risk $4 or $5 dollars on an e-book by an unknown author if it was recommended by someone I trust. Here’s the thing though, I’m less likely to buy an unkonwn author at 99 cents than I am at $3.99, or $4.99. Because, fair or not, I assume that a 99 cent book isn’t any good. Because if the author doesn’t value her work, why should I read it. Because 99 cents is cheap and I have expensive taste.

    As a marketing strategy, I think selling your book for 99 cents is a terrible idea. And you’re right, as a reader, I have no investment in a 99 cent work. (Yes, I bought your book at 99 cents and yes, I am definitely reading it. But I already know you and think you’re fabulous.) In terms of marketing, you would be better off donating it to some virtual libraries.

  13. Amanda Kendle Avatar

    Kristan, as promised I’ve finally got around to leaving a proper comment here. So, two things. Here in Australia, physical books are horrendously expensive. A new paperback (fiction) can easily cost $30 (your dollar or mine – all the same at the moment) or more. Don’t even ask me about hardbacks. That’s probably part of the reason that I think even $2.99 is way to cheap for your book (I would have paid double at least!)
    Second, in the travel blogging world where I spend a lot of (virtual) time, I regularly see ebooks going for $15 or $20 and they *sell*!! You might often see opening specials for $9.99 but people will pay more. Not sure if this is a non-fiction/fiction differential though.
    Just my two cents! (or should I pay a bit more?!)

  14. Meghan Ward Avatar

    Are you selling chapters for .99 or the whole book? I think that’s fine for a chapter, but too cheap for the whole book. I think $2.99 is fine – $1.99 should be your rock bottom price. What do I WANT to pay for books? $15-$17 for a hardcover; $9.99 for an e-book that I really want to read. $.99 for a poem maybe. You read the link to Joe Konrath’s post about depression. He asked people to buy Kiana Davenport’s book of short stories for $1.99 and I was really hesitant. I thought, “if I have no interest in reading this book, what’s the point? To give her $1.40? I think it’s way more important that people READ the book and tell other people about it than that they buy the book. Sure, money’s nice, but a) you’ll get more money if people read it and tell other people about it and b) you’ll make more money if you develop a reputation based on a book people like. Stephen Elliott (author of The Adderall Diaries) did something ingenious. He created a lending library of 400 books. He mailed 400 of his books to people who wanted to read it FOR FREE and then each had to mail it on to someone else after two weeks. I’m sure it was a logistical nightmare, but it worked (the book is going to be made into a movie written, directed, and starred in by James Franco.) What was important to him wasn’t that people BOUGHT the book but that people READ the book.

    In response to other comments – I agree that this is a great discussion! In response to Juliann – anyone who has an e-reader is likely willing to pay regular book price for an e-book (why not? It’s the same book.) I do buy hard covers at $27 but only when I go to an author’s reading at an indie bookstore and feel obligated to pay that price. I’m used to Amazon’s $17 hardcovers, so that’s what I like to pay. In response to Sonje – that’s why self-publishing is so attractive! You get MORE by charging much less. But there’s so much work involved to market it. You heard what Nathan Bransford said in our interview – he couldn’t have done that cover on his own.

  15. Kristan Avatar

    Wow, lots of hardcover lovers here still. I guess Sonje, Anthony and I are in the minority then… (For me it’s about price and size. I hate hauling hardcovers places.)

    Seriously, thank ALL OF YOU for your responses. It’s been fascinating. I always give myself a day or two before responding to comments, but it’s been especially helpful on this post as I digest the info and let it work on my previously held beliefs/opinions.

    I don’t know if I’d call it “nasty” — I think it used to be true: self-pubbed was self-pubbed for a reason. Now, not so much. Now it’s a mix. The question becomes, how do we tell the difference between self-pubbed by choice and self-pubbed b/c there was no other choice?

    Thanks for the support! And you’re not crazy, haha. Free has been a proven model as well. Really, there are just too many factors besides price. I think that’s what I’m learning most from this 99¢ experiment.

    I’m pretty much with you there on pricing. I have those same ceilings, and no floors really.

    Thank you! And yes, I think I have slightly different price levels for indie vs. established authors. It’s brand security, you know?

    “If we want our work to be valued, we will not undervalue it.”

    Yup. That’s why this experiment is killing me, lol. But I needed to do it, just to see.

    LOL well the price of a movie ticket is a whole different debate. Actually, maybe you can piggyback off me and talk about pricing in Hollywood. I think I need to be educated. Because paying $15 to see a movie kind of upsets me. (I still do it, though.)

    “The way I look at it, books are the only thing I really buy for myself. Also, I know first hand how much blood, sweat and tears went into writing it.”

    Ditto! Really, books are my only splurge.

    You know what’s sad? I’m basically too lazy to go to my local library. {hangs head in shame} But once my Kindle can access its ebooks, I will be all over that like white on rice!

    Also, in my defense, I LOVE libraries. And I used to go all the time. Mostly I’m just lazy now and don’t leave the house except to walk my dog or meet up with friends. But when Andy and I buy a house, I plan to focus on ones within walking distance of a library, b/c then I would totally go again.

    (Thank you so much!!)

    Well, I don’t pay to read things online, only on my Kindle. With a Kindle, you can hold it/take it, and now you can lend (with limitations). It’s definitely not the same as a physical book, though. (I just wanted to clarify that it’s not the same as reading online either.)

    “I intentionally buy books this way to send a message to publishers…”

    Yes! Purchasing power. I think we’re going to see consumers wielding that more in the days to come.

    “How do you price art?”

    Exactly! It’s subjective, so you can’t exactly create a rubric to score it. That’s dilemma artists face, I think. And that’s why publishing is such a tough business to make succeed. They are selling something with indeterminate value.

    Yep, lots of people feel the same way: If an author is pricing their work at 99 cents, they’re telling me it’s not good enough to cost more. And that, of course, is NOT the message I want to send. So I’m pretty sure this will be a May-only experiment. But after only 4 days, that’s premature of me to say. :P

    LOL you are too funny.

    I do think there’s a non-fiction/fiction differential, but WOW. Had no idea it was that big, lol.

    Whole book. I tried selling it as a serial to start (since that’s how I wrote it) and it did o-kay, but after I bundled it into one offering, sales x-tupled. (X because I haven’t really calculated, but it’s more than 3, less than 10.)

    Completely agree that real readers > money. Mostly because readers –> money, but money doesn’t –> readers. (Well I suppose you could pay people to read your book…)

  16. M.E. Anders Avatar

    Kristan – I think $2.99 is a steal-of-a-deal for an ebook, especially by an author I have not read. I try not to purchase print books anymore, unless it’s a cookbook or a non-fiction read.

  17. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    “(For me it’s about price and size. I hate hauling hardcovers places.)”

    Me, too. I’m something of a Thomas Pynchon fanatic (I have a whole separate blog devoted to Inherent Vice). The only novel of his which I’ve never read is Against the Day, because it’s over 1,000 freakin’ pages long! I can’t carry that with me every day. I did carry Mason & Dixon (600+), but I guess my limit must be 750 pages or so. And I’m not as young as I used to be.

    But if Pynchon would ever allow his stuff to be available for the Kindle, I’d buy AtD and start reading it immediately.

  18. Kristan Avatar

    Thanks for the info!

    YES, lol, I LOVE that I can lug around 400+ page books — a whole library — and they weigh less than a pound altogether!

  19. Riverston Avatar

    It’s a difficult one. I don’t buy hard covers or e-books. I usually go for paper backs and I‘m willing to pay whatever they worth. Price is not my sole buying factor but the content. As I know that there are tears and sweats of writers behind all those beautiful books, I don’t’ like to bargain them.

  20. Sherrie Petersen Avatar

    I usually wait for the paperbacks unless it’s book 3 in a trilogy and I’m dying to know how everything ends up :) But other books, I borrow from a friend and like them so much I need to have my own copy (I like to re-read). I won’t buy a hard cover from an author whose work I haven’t read before unless it’s in the bargain bin. As for e-books, I’ve spent anywhere from 0 to $7.99. Most ebooks I’ve bought because I heard about the author through blogging (like you!) and I want to support them. But if a book is available in print, that’s always my first choice.

    And BTW, 20SW is totally worth the price at 99 cents or $2.99. You already know I enjoyed reading it :)

  21. Kristan Avatar

    I think paperbacks are still my main purchase too, although I fully expect a slow shift to ebooks now that I have my Kindle.

    Aww, thank you!