Eight Things That Cost More Than A Book (Or, The Economics of Book Selling)

The American Car – You Get What You Ask For

A couple of days ago, I was having a conversation with one of my author friends. We were discussing (lamenting) the fact that 99 cent books fly off virtual bookshelves and anything more than that takes tremendous effort to sell nowadays (blog tours! paid promotions! non-stop social media!). I know, I know, it all comes down to economics – book supply is skyrocketing and demand is leveling off. This creates a glut where readers can selectively pay the lowest price for the things they want. This applies to jars of pickled onions and books, perhaps not in equal measure, but in some measure. Ceteris paribus, the decreasing price of books will eventually drive many writers and small presses out of business (it’s already happening) until supply begins to dwindle again. Only then will prices collectively swing the other way. Some authors will soldier on, supported by alternate incomes, and others will continue to make a living, but ALL will be affected. Conceivably, this market correction could take years. (This concludes the Econ 101 portion of my post.)

I don’t know about you, but a) this sounds kind of depressing and b) “ain’t nobody got time for that.” So where does that leave us?

While consumers–on the whole–don’t care, individuals can be persuaded. Who are these individuals you ask? Why, you are one of them, dear reader! And if you give me a moment, I’d like to convince you that $2.99 is not too much to pay for a good book. (“Free” is too much to pay for a bad book in terms of your time, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

On average, it takes 3 to 6 months for an author to fully bring a book to market, including all the pre-writing, the writing, the editing, the cover, the promotions, etc. (It takes some authors up to a year.) Again, we’re not talking about hobbyists who “bang out” a book in two weeks and upload their typo-laden tome with a hand-drawn cover. We’re talking about authors with well-considered works. On average, many of these books are priced in the $2.99 range (some slightly more).

The next time you’re browsing Amazon, see a book you like, and balk at its “exorbitant” $2.99 price tag, consider the following list of items that cost more and are consumed/experienced in less time:

  1. The $3 farting dog app you bought to keep your kid quiet (what a mistake that was)
  2. The $4 latte it took your barista five minutes to make (in between texts)
  3. The $5 tip you gave your waitress for thirty minutes of service (even though she spilled your water)
  4. The $6 bucket of movie popcorn you ate (before the previews ended)
  5. The $7 magazine you flipped through for an hour (that gave you whopping insecurities about the color teal)
  6. The $8 pair of earrings you wore only once (because they were teal)
  7. The $9 box of dog treats you tossed in an afternoon (because Fido refused to eat anything that tastes like kale)
  8. The $10 musical greeting card you bought Grandma (that Grandma thew away when you left) – oh, don’t get me started on greeting cards

I know some people will read this and think, “Readers don’t care about how long it took an author to make a good book, they just care about finding a good book.” I COMPLETELY agree with this. But consumers teach the market, and once the market is “taught,” consumers are sometimes surprised at the results. If people say “We will only buy American cars because we want to keep jobs in America,” this teaches American car manufacturers that they can produce an inferior product for a superior price. Why? Because consumers have shown them that their products will sell no matter the quality.  If people say, “I will only buy the cheapest milk,” this teaches dairy farmers that the only way to survive is to pump their cows full of rbGH to increase milk production. Why? Because it costs more to let cows produce “the old fashioned way” and now our children drink chemicals on a daily basis. I could go on, but you get the idea…

Indie publishing comes with its own lessons, too – many of them positive. But in the next few years, I think we’re going to see a big shake-up in suppliers (i.e., your favorite authors and small presses) if readers begin to approach book buying with the same indifference as selecting a jar of pickled onions. “That will NEVER happen!” you say. Give it time, I say. There are already 3,000 Amish Romances available on Amazon today, a good number of them priced at 99 cents. What happens when there are 6,000? 9,000? This: Meh, I found seven Amish romances set in Kentucky where three brothers were vying for one girl – so I downloaded the one that was free. (Or worse, they’ll be overcome by selection paralysis and not buy anything, but that’s a different post for a different day.)

There are MANY impassioned readers out there who care about quality and creativity and don’t mind paying for it. If you’re one of them (and I hope you are), it’s up to you to evangelize good books and continue buying and supporting your favorite authors. Now, I usually end with an appeal that you buy one of my books. But today, I don’t care. Just go and buy a book–any book–as long as you feel it’s got a fair price (not the cheapest price) for the work offered.Together, we can teach the market a thing or two.

Wow! If you read to the end of this long-winded post, you deserve applause. Can you hear me clapping?


How about you dear reader? I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing and the economics of book selling.


2 thoughts on “Eight Things That Cost More Than A Book (Or, The Economics of Book Selling)

  1. You had me right up to the part where you said, “… I found seven Amish romances set in Kentucky where three brothers were vying for one girl – so I downloaded the one that was free.”

    Why, Monica, why? The humanity!

    The latte thing kind of annoys me. People will pay a large chunk of cash for a coffee, but balk at buying an ebook for $6? The coffee lasts maybe 10 minutes, and the book is going to be there for twelve hours of delectable readingness.

  2. Yeah, the latte thing is probably the best example of an outrageously priced consumable that people routinely spend money on (and think nothing about). Why? Because we’ve been trained that “good” coffee costs nearly $4 a cup. Does it really cost $4 a cup? No. But customer perception is everything. That’s why I worry about the “99 cent ghetto.” Even I have books priced that low. It’s hard to compete without them. But I truly worry that this short term strategy will cause long term problems – hence my article. (Oh, and thanks for the laugh – the humanity!)

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