Friday, July 13, 2012

Books Are Art

Okay, so this might be a touchy post for some people. It's a post I've written and deleted in various forms about five times. It's a subject I've discussed with authors over the months many times. It is not intended to hurt someone, make another author feel small, or judge their path, or anything.

It's just my opinion.

  • Opinion: I believe books to be art. 
  • Opinion: I believe people want to pay as little as possible for things, including art. 
  • Opinion: I believe when we price our art too low just to get sales, that hurts everyone trying to produce the art. 

One of my favorite movies is You've Got Mail. There's a scene where George is talking about why a book is WORTH so much, compared to the COST of it.

I believe books are WORTH more than a dollar. True, by spending a dollar (or nothing), you don't feel as bad if you don't like the book. But I'd prefer for everyone to look at the publishing industry and think, "I will get what I pay for," and "I know the $3.99 or $4.99 books will be better, so I'll buy those."

Please do not misinterpret what I'm saying. I do not think free or $0.99 books are bad. There are always exceptions to every rule. And I understand the indie model for offering the first book free, and subsequent novels at $3.99 (or another smart price point) to increase sales, expand fan base, and increase readership. 

(In fact, I'm dying to try and publish a book myself to see how it does, how I can adjust price, marketing, new covers, etc. based on data I collect. Maybe one day...)

I have friends who have done this exactly, and still represent themselves as artists and their novels as art. 

I wish to illustrate the point with my friend Christine Bryant. She is the author of BOUND and BROKEN, both of which she published independently. 

She priced BOUND at $3.99 when it was released last November. With the upcoming release of her second book in the series, BROKEN, Christine dropped the price of BOUND (to free) "as a promotional technique I wanted to try to get my book into the hands of readers and to promote BROKEN's release."

And it worked. According to Christine, over 97,000 copies of BOUND have been downloaded in the six weeks since being offered for free.

And BROKEN? How's it doing with this promotional technique of offering the first book for free? Well, it's priced at $3.99 (Amazon moved it down from Christine's price point of $4.99), and sold 5400 copies in it's inaugural month.

FIFTY-FOUR HUNDRED. (That's me dying.)

As of this moment, it's still selling in the top 200 on Amazon.

I believe Christine believes her books are art. She spends time and money on ensuring her covers are professional. Her editing clean. Her copy compelling.

And she prices her books as if they were art. In fact, you can try BOUND for free (still!) and then get BROKEN for $3.99. And be sure to follow Christine here!

I also believe that every author spends an astronomical amount of time creating and perfecting their novels. They truly are art. And art should be appreciated and cherished--and paid for.

  • Opinion: I believe ebooks should be sold for $3.99 - $5.99. (Yes, even my traditionally published ebooks should be that price. It's one of my biggest complaints about the traditional publishing industry.)
  • Opinion: I believe ebooks offered for less than that should only happen for promotional purposes. (Second book coming out, sale for a specified time, marketing strategy, etc.)
  • Opinion: If books are priced too low, we're Wal-mart-izing the publishing industry, and hurting other authors who believe--and price--their books as art. Anything to make a sale...not a good marketing strategy, IMO.

I believe books to be art. Art that should be paid for.

What do you think?

And I'm over at Skyway Avenue today too, so don't miss that either!


Karen Baldwin said...

I agree with you 100%. For me, there's the 'perceived value' effect.
If it's free or too low priced, I don't think it's as good a book as one for say, $12.99. And while I know that's not always true, it is, as I said, 'perceived.' And then again, I can't argue with 97,000 downloads.

Kyra Lennon said...

This is an excellent post. I am about to release my first novel, and have had difficulty debating a price. I feel like $0.99 is too cheap, but if I set it at $2.99, will people think, "Ha, debut novel for $2.99? Who does she think she is?"

I completely agree that books are art, and should be paid for. It's astounding how much work goes into the whole process.

Laura Pauling said...

I don't know why you fretted over this! It's awesome. I totally one hundred percent agree. Prices between 3.99-9.99 are perfect for ebooks unless it's introductory. Honestly, it's just good business to take advantage of sales and offering freebies when you have more books out. So happy for Christine and the other authors that putting their first book for free jumpstarted their sales!

Miranda Hardy said...

You hit it on the nail. What she did was perfect and I agree with you wholeheartedly. When I publish, assuming I decide self publishing, I'd do it the exact same way.

I've spent a fortune on editors and cover designers. I've taken the time and energy to be the best I can and I don't want to cheapen myself.

Chelsey said...

I definitely agree on all fronts.

Heather Sunseri said...

Elana, this is a great post. Your opinions are 100% supported with facts and experience. And I agree, .99 is WAY too cheap. It might have worked early on in the e-book revolution when writers were just trying out the whole process and readers were turning on E-Readers for the first time. But now, with so many self-publishing writers, I simply don't trust .99.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I agree completely!

Lori said...

I think you're very right. Books are absolutely art. There is no doubt about that in my mind. And art indeed should not be free, just like it should not be exclusively for the enjoyment of the wealthy either. I would probably offer a chapter for free, though, so that people know what they're buying. I know I feel the need to browse books, not just decide based on the cover and three lines of description.

Mary said...

When I'm looking to purchase a book, I always cringe when I see the paperback and ebook cost are the same. And, because of that, I'll buy a paperback (I'm gonna buy the book...I'm a book addict. I can't help it.).

That being said, I have a hard time "buying" a free ebook or even one that's 0.99. Why? Experience. One, I've read a lot of REALLY BAD ebooks (self-pub or indies. Which makes me sad). Most of those were offered to me for review but they were also priced btw free-2.99. Two, it's *too* cheap, if that makes sense. It's like the cute skirt you buy at Walmart for $5 but never wear.

Books ARE art. E-Books should cost more than $2. GOOD e-books should cost $4 and up (though not the same price as their paperback--I still believe paperbacks are worth more than ebooks, call me old fashioned). Eep--forgive my ramble! Great post!

Liesel K. Hill said...

I agree as well! I think you and all the comments have covered it pretty well. So, ditto! :D

Kelly Hashway said...

I agree. Authors should be paid for their hard work. I have a short story ebook that was originally $.99. It's only about 7K, so I felt that was appropriate. But with my book deal announcements, I dropped the price to free. Since then, it's gotten tons of downloads and is staying on best seller lists. It's serving to get my name out there, and since it's not long at all and didn't take a lot of time to write and I did sell copies first so I did get paid, I'm okay with it being free. Having said that, I think authors should get paid before they make that step to free for promotional purposes.

Veray said...

I agree with you in all that you have said. I would like to say that I discovered Bound and Broken just this week and read them both. I love them and would have gladly paid more for them just to be able to read them. I am grateful that they were reasonably priced though and have shared my feelings about them with everyone I know that loves good books. :)

Vera Soroka said...

When I put my first novel out there I will not put it out there for free or 99 cents. I think most readers are looking for value and are willing to pay for it. I wouldn't do any sales until I had inventory out there and then maybe I would try something.
Great post!

Angela Brown said...

Admittedly, becoming a writer has had an impact on the way I view the pricing of books. Before that, I was just shopping by my wallet, only. If it's priced right and the book blurb sounds great, then I was there. Then e-books became a big deal. It took me a while to even start with e-books because I was all, "Whatever! Paperbacks! Hardcovers! Yay!" Then I started shopping with my wallet again, from a writerly perspective, and got more into e-books because I could get them fast from Amazon and read them just as quickly as if I purchased the print version from B&N...and they tended to be more economical. Because I was shopping from a writerly perspective, I was more cautious about buying extremely low-priced books given my awareness of what it really takes to get a book to publishing status. I did and will continue to buy and enjoy free books that tend to be part of promotions, but I'm usually pretty comfortable with the 2.99 to 4.99 price range for e-books. This is just my humble opinion, of course.

Jemi Fraser said...

I wondered why you were nervous about this post... Breathe. :)

I agree too. I totally get the free promotion idea and think it works really, really well. If I ever go the self pub route, I'd consider having the first book (or novella or something) free, charge for the 2nd. I know a few people who have created large readerships that way. So I MIGHT go that way. So many decisions to make. Controlling the price point is a HUGE factor in the YES to self pub column. :)

Weaver said...

I agree with you. Books ARE art. And art should be paid for. What makes me crazy is when an ebook is priced at a dollar or two less than the paper book. I won't buy the ebook that way. It's so much easier to lend a paper book. I live your price range suggestion.

But I'll be honest. It's a rare situation where I'll by $9.99 for an ebook.

RaShelle Workman said...

Lovely post. No need to worry about your opinions. You're certainly entitled to them. Also, you're a sweetheart, and that always shines through.

I agree that the big publishers should lower their prices. That being said, I've paid $12.99 for an eBook. I've paid .99 cents for an ebook. And, I've paid everything in between. Enjoyed some more than others. The price didn't matter to me though because I ALWAYS "sample" a book I think I might want to read before I buy it. If the book excites me, I'll buy it... .99 cents or $12.99.

Thanks, Elana!

Oh, and yeah, Christine's books are rocking. So happy for her.

L.C. said...

Just wanted to say real quick that I don't think you need to worry about offending, Elana--you always present your ideas in a balanced and fair way, and they'd have to be a dingbat, IMO, to not tell immediately from your voice that you're a kind person. :-)

Kelly Polark said...

Compelling post, Elana. Definitely something we need to think about!!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Elana, I agree with you completely. I've heard the same thing said about Etsy -- that it undercuts the value of art, because people expect to get their art for nothing.

I admit to buying one or two ebooks for 99 cents, just on impulse, and in almost every case, I got what I paid for. Having learned that lesson, I'm more likely to press BUY for books that cost more, because I expect them to be worth more.

I don't shop at Walmart either, unless there is no other option. The things at Walmart are cheap because they are CHEAP.

Liza said...

I fully subscribe to the "you get what you pay for" theory.
If you need to read for free, go to the library. Nuff said.

Leigh Covington said...

I can see how this could be a sensitive subject to some, but I think you've approached it well and very tactfully. I completely agree too! Very good points! :)

Adam Johnson said...

I feel like I should have had a citation here. :)

Ruth Josse said...

Well said, Elana. I want my fellow authors to succeed and I don't mind paying for their art. In a way, we're buying a piece of their heart and soul and surely that is worth something.

Sara B. Larson said...

I think your opinions make a lot of sense--pretty much, I agree with them. And wow, way to go Christine!

Christine said...

This is such a great post, Elana. Thanks for including me and my story as an example. I feel the same way about our books being art and that they should be priced accordingly. I'm just glad the marketing technique I used (by offering BOUND for free for a time) has worked. It's given me great exposure and increased my fan base far beyond what I could have hoped for.

Matthew MacNish said...

I completely agree. I would actually argue that good books are worth even more than that. I do occasionally read free books, but I never buy books that are $0.99. Like you, I don't have anything against them, but there are so many amazing books out there, I just don't have time to try something out that might be less than stellar.

Magan said...

As an Indie author price is something that I struggle with daily. When people think that Indie authors can just slap a cover on and put it out there, they're wrong. I have professional covers, professional editors, and I had to learn how to operate a plan for my first book!

At 2.99 my first book sold okay, at 99 cents it actually didn't sell as well, but then you have authors like Nyrae Dawn and even Amanda Hocking that sell 300 books a day at 99 cents.

My first book is free because, well, it's a promotional thing with my second book at 2.99. As far as raising prices, I have trouble with that because I think it's ridonculous to have to pay the same price for an Ebook as I do a paperback. Sometimes I actually cringe when I pay more than 2.99 for an ebook, but I understand the strategy behind it. Authors gotta eat too.

Megg Jensen said...

I have mixed feelings about this topic.

Is a book better simply because it's priced higher?

And who decides how good it is? The author, who sets the price? Or the consumer, who pays it?

I have sold more than 20,000 ebooks. Some might say that makes my books worth more because, obviously, people are really enjoying them.

However, I can point to some reviewers who think it would be best if I cut off my hands and never typed another word.

In self-publishing, the author decides the price. So do we price our books based off the time we put into writing & editing? Or how artsy the topic is? Or regardless of how hard we work should we price simply based on how the public might value the work?

There aren't any easy answers.

I don't think it's fair for anyone to say "you get what you pay for with ebooks." I call B.S. One person's favorite book they've ever read is another person's least favorite book they wish they could forget.

Pricing, in my opinion, is simply a marketing tool. Pricing is economics. It does not give an ebook value, nor does it take away. It is a reflection of the market value of a piece of work.

There's a reason we have the term "starving artist." We write because we love it. Even if I never sold another book, I would continue to write because without it, I am dead inside.

Whether or not people want to spend their hard-earned money on my product is not a direct reflection of the blood, sweat, and tears I shed during creation.

Books are art. I believe this is a true statement. But I think since artwork is so subjective, the artist will almost always value it more than the consumer.

Seriously. No one thinks, "Well, golly, my book isn't as good as So-and-So's book, so I have to price it less than theirs." Low prices are a marketing tactic to find readers. If they like your book, they'll buy the subsequent novels - no matter the (reasonable) price.

If you want to discuss traditional pricing versus self-pub, then that's another blog post. Self-pubs are making 70% from Amazon. My profit on a $3.99 ebook is far higher than a traditionally published author's profit on $3.99. So since my income is more, does that mean my art is better than theirs? Of course not. That's just silly.

Create art. Love your art. Mold it into something pleasing to you. Then remember - publishing is not art. Publishing is a business that gives consumers access to a product. Price is simply that gateway.

(I apologize for any auto-correct typos - I'm on vacation & on my iPad & the print is super-tiny - lol)

Great discussion, everyone!!!


Riv Re said...

I agree that books are art--I've been saying that for a long time, but I don't entirely agree. Just because books are art, that doesn't mean they need to be paid for. Why can't art be free? I think making art worth less makes it worth more. There are tons of artists who paint for free (for example, graffiti or chalk artists), just for the sake of scratching that creative itch, and giving people something beautiful. Like you said, cheaper books aren't worse than regular-priced ones, but you can't put a general price on art.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Pricing, in my opinion, is simply a marketing tool.

I agree 100% with Megg. I believe our work is art, but that's completely disconnected from price. A struggling artist may give away postcards of his work for free; he may sell them at art fairs for a ridiculously low price; and when he is famous and can command a higher price, he will happily accept $10k for the same work. But the art was there all along, and he did not diminish other artists by offering his work for the price the market would bear for it.

The new thing with indie publishing is that authors are finally (!) directly involved in the pricing of their work - they are intimately involved in both the art side and the business side. This is a not a bad thing, and is bringing some of the shifting attitudes (and resistance) you are seeing (and probably feeling yourself).

BTW I think it's awesome that you want to experiment with indie someday!

Addison Moore said...

Well done Elana! I think pricing is still a personal consideration for each individual but I also think the landscape of e-books has changed a little from even a year ago as far as the .99 price point goes. I do think its a great promotional price but generally books are selling fine between 3.99-4.99 as well. And I love C.K! Thank you for featuring her!

Sarra Cannon said...

This is definitely a touchy subject in the Indie world. It's also one that doesn't have a definitive right or wrong answer. Yes, books are art. But books are also a business for most of us. I want to produce great books that readers will love and connect with, but I also want to be able to keep writing full time as a career.

I agree with Megg that pricing is a marketing strategy. Pricing is always about promotion. I don't slap a 99 cent price tag on my books because I don't think they are worth more than that. I thoughtfully price a book in the range that I feel will draw the most readers to my series. It's not "anything to make a sale". It's "how can I best build a readership and a fanbase"?

I also don't think it's fair to say that by pricing my books at free or 99 cents, I'm hurting other writers or devaluing the art of publishing. I pour my heart into writing my books. Do I think they are worth a lot of money? Of course. If I charged what I think they are worth to me in terms of time and energy invested, however, they would be priced so high no reader would ever set eyes on them. By pricing my books with the intention of building a larger readership, I am actually increasing the worth of my books. The more people who read them, the more fans I gain (hopefully) and the more money I make.

Like I said, I don't think there's a right or wrong answer. I think it's mainly a matter of personal opinion. I think it's good that you started the conversation on this topic and were brave enough to share your opinion. I just tend to have a different one :).

Jenn Cooksey said...

This is a fabulous post... I agonized over what to price my debut novel, Shark Bait, at for what seemed like forever. I didn't want to devalue my work with a ridiculously low or free price point, but I didn't want to price myself out of readership either. Also, I'm a fairly quick writer, typically taking between 2 and 3 months to write a 130,000+ word novel (pre-editing), but I'm NOT Amanda Hocking who can crack stories out in 2 freaking weeks, allowing her to share her abundant imagination with the world with rapid fire releases. If I had that ability, I wouldn't bat an eye at pricing myself at $0.99 The way I look at it is, if I were lucky enough to have the following she does, I wouldn't want to single handedly bankrupt my readers because they were spending all their money downloading all my books instead of paying their bills. LOL

In the end, I ended up going with $2.99 and I did so for a few of reasons, but ultimately I can boil the decision down to this: My target audience is teens and "New Adults." Most teens don't have a lot of money (not that many adults I know do either right now, but still...). I figured a price for a YA/NA novel written by a no-name author that was less than a Starbucks would be more likely to be downloaded with less debate than one priced higher. Additionally, Shark Bait is the first in a series, so once Book 2 comes out, the readership will hopefully be fairly well in place and I can price accordingly for that and subsequent novels in the series as well as future projects.

Many of my friends and beta-readers felt I could price Shark Bait at $4.99 or even $5.99, but considering the economics of my target audience—generally speaking of course—I truly feel like my choice to price a smidge lower was a wise one. I'm not devaluing my work, and I'm still able to get my story into the hands of readers who have to think before they spend their hard-earned money on pursuits of pleasure. ;-)

Unknown said...

I think your opinions are spot on. Bravo for speaking your own mind on your own blog1 :)

And Kudos to Christine for showing how it can be done.

Marsha Sigman said...

This is not a simple discussion, is it?

I totally agreed with you and then I read Megg's post and she had some good points as well.

But ultimately I have to go with my gut and when I see a book priced at .99 then my initial reaction is that it must not be worth more than that. That's what you're up against when you price your art too low. Just my opinion though!

Cathy Keaton said...

I think ebooks should be priced what people are willing to pay for them because that's how you run a retail business.... ;)

Sarah Allen said...

Fabulous post! And great discussion. I absolutely agree with you, Elana. I think when the difference is so marginal, three or four dollar's we're talking, the little differences are actually big differences. I think though, having a variety is good. Your marketing tactics idea is a very good one. I would also love to try having short stories or novelettes in the .99 cent range as a sort of appetizer.

Anyway, great thoughts here!

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Elana Johnson said...

Lots and lots of great opinions! Thank you to everyone for sharing.

Elana Johnson said...

I agree. I strongly dislike with everything inside me that my paperback is the same price as my eBook. I've asked repeatedly for the ebook price to be lowered, but I have zero control over that, and S&S won't lower the price. So yeah. I'm with you!

Elana Johnson said...

Good strategy!

Elana Johnson said...

Yes! I avoid Walmart if at all possible. Interesting about Etsy, because I spend A LOT of money there! Ha!

Elana Johnson said...

Love the word "ridonculous." :)

For me, it's not about that authors have to eat too. It's about recognizing the WORTH of something, and then paying for it because it's WORTH that much. You know?

Elana Johnson said...

I completely agree that price doesn't translate to quality. In reality. But in THEORY, in our heads, we believe that when we pay MORE for something, it'll be higher quality. At least I do, and that's where the saying "You get what you pay for." comes from.

So it's not REALITY, but it's perception.

Of course the artist is going to think their art is good, and will value it more than the consumer. But if consumers have a choice to make because they can't buy everything, the lower priced items are those that seem to (in my observations) sell better. Why would someone buy one of my books at $9.99 when they can buy 10 99-cent books?

They wouldn't. They don't. And I wish self-publishers would raise the prices of their books a little bit to remind consumers that books are art, and should be paid for. And I wish traditional publishers would lower the prices of their ebooks to compete with the self-publishing prices.

Elana Johnson said...

Hmmm, I don't think art should be free. Those people who create art to satisfy an urge or itch clearly aren't concerned with making a living as artists. Those of us who are can't give everything away for free.

This is part of a broad discussion I've had with several people in the creative world, including photographers--a lot of whom feel like everyone wants to get their pictures taken for free. People don't value that what a professional photographer does is art, and should be paid for.

I believe in providing things for free if it has promotional value, as I said in the post. But I do not think all art should be all free forever, and if everyone would increase the prices, the consumers would realize that they have to pay $2.99 for a book instead of 99-cents. It would become standard. Normal. You know?

Elana Johnson said...

You know I love you, but I disagree with this line: "he did not diminish other artists by offering his work for the price the market would bear for it."

I believe that people who publish their books for 99-cents are diminishing other authors. Because I believe the market would sustain books at $2.99 instead of 99-cents, and if more and more people would price their books as such, $2.99 would become the new $0.99, and we'd all be getting paid more.

I completely agree that authors should be involved with pricing--as I said, one of my biggest issues with traditional publishing.


Elana Johnson said...

I'm not sure it's personal opinion or not, which is where I struggle. I think what I'm looking for is more of a standard, but I'm not sure one will be found. Though it has been founding traditional publishing, where most pubs are pricing ebooks at $9.99 or $10.99, so perhaps it is possible for self-pubbers to find a more standard price point.

And I want that price point to be higher. If there were no books available at 99-cents, and the lowest price was $2.99, then that would be the standard. And I believe it would elevate consumer perception of novels as art.

And you can read my comment on Susan Kaye Quinn's comment about devaluing other authors when books are priced too low. :)

Elana Johnson said...

Absolutely true. But if everyone priced them at $2.99, that's what people would pay. It would become the new 99-cent book.

I don't get to decide how much milk costs. I pay what the store tells me to, AND it doesn't seem to matter which store I shop at. Gallons of milk are about the same price (within pennies) at each place. I want publishing to be more like that. And the consumer would come along, especially if the price point isn't too much higher than what it is now.

Heather said...

I completely agree. *high-five*

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I disagree with this line: "he did not diminish other artists by offering his work for the price the market would bear for it."

Do you really, truly, believe this to be true? Do you think the street artisan, selling inexpensive copies of his sketches, is diminishing the value of Van Gogh? Why? And more importantly ... how?

I think your theory is: "Consumers are conditioned to low prices for X and expect everyone to charge low prices for X and therefore are unwilling to pay higher prices for X."

This is demonstrably untrue in almost every market, including art. Just because I can get free art from the street vendor will not keep me from paying top dollar for a beautiful landscape of Colorado (#realexamples), or keep someone else who loves the arts from paying crazy amounts of money for that Van Gogh.

A free market is free because it allows both - the street vendor and the Van Gogh. You could just as easily argue that no one should be allowed to price artwork that HIGH because then us common folks are priced out of owning it. Price fixing is outlawed for a reason - it interferes with the proper function of the market (please see the DOJ on their opinions about collusion in ebook pricing).

And just because I love indie books (and buy them) doesn't keep me from buying books above the 2.99 price point. Authors that can command higher prices, should charge those prices. Again, what the market will bear.

I understand the frustration of having a book priced too high for the market, that would do much better at a lower price point - that is precisely the situation with my small-press book. It's their perogative, because I signed away my rights to them. They have no obligation to listen to me on pricing (even when I freely offer my unsolicited opinion), and they are free to price in a way that they think brings them maximum revenue. I personally think they would have higher total revenue if they priced lower, but it's their decision, not mine.

But for my indie books, I am the publisher, so I get to set pricing. I take the risk and reap the reward (or not), and I'm free to do that in a free market.

I don't think you really want a market where price collusion occurs. :) And when you indie publish, I think you will have a much different view on pricing (although I could be wrong about that).

Carrie Butler said...

This post deserves a freeze-frame high five, Elana! :)

Megg Jensen said...

One of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instrument ebooks is 99 cents right now. Does that mean her work has been devalued? How about Macmillan's new Sweet Valley High series at $1.99? All crap?

Look, no matter yr price, if people like your books, they will buy them. $9.99 isn't such an stretch. Don't blame people who are running promotional prices for your lower sales. I've bought ebooks from free to $12.99. Why? Because I want to read them.

I have to say that this grates on me a bit. Self-pubs have had it slammed in their faces for the last two years that we are inferior losers. I've been called 'traitor' and 'cheater.' Why should I suddenly encourage my friends to raise their prices just to make the playing field level? (I already price my ebooks at $3.99 and $4.99, so this isn't even about me.)

We chose to self-publish. You chose to traditionally publish. There are certain things that come along with that choice. We can control our prices. If we want to give out work away to attract more readers, then we can. You chose to pursue a different model, one that frequently prices ebooks high. It is not a self-pub responsibility to raise our prices so you don't feel bad about the prices your publisher sets for you. That was yr choice nth is is ours. If you want to have more control, then choose self-pub.

Traditional publishers must have higher pricing for their books. They have many, many people to pay to get a book published. Many of those people take a cut forever on each book. As self-pubs we usually pay a flat fee for the services we require. This lowers our prices. The difference between the two of us in the manufacturing (creation) of the book. That difference is reflected in the price. It has nothing to do with us Walmartizing anything (which, frankly is insulting in many levels.

If you want to compete with self-pubs in price, then choose a different process to get your art out there. Join us, Elana. Come to the dark side. But please don't tell us we need to raise our prices so your $9.99 ebook can compete with 99 cent books.

It costs me nothing more to write my book, to create my art, than it does you. The difference comes in your choice of book production. You chose a path that requires many, many people to have a part in the product creatinine. Your books have to be priced so everyone makes money - including your publisher. I have less people to pay, so my product in costs are less, so I can charge less.

Here's the funny part. I have NOTHING against the way you publish. I think traditional can be a wonderful path to reaching readers. However, it is a path you chose. Don't crap in self-pubs for the path we took. When I price my books, I don't think, "Now how can I screw those writers who are traditional published?" No hand wringing and chortling at your high prices. Nope. I think about how other ebooks like mine have done. I think about current market conditions. I don't consider my feelings. It's a business decision.

Megg Jensen said...

...and again, still on vacation, typing this in my iPad. The print is teeny-tiny and it's hard to see the typos until it publishes in a larger print....

Megg Jensen said...

One of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Ionstruments ebooks is 99 cents. Guess that means her work is now crap?

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

The price of milk is regulated by the government. Even worse than price-collusion between indie authors would be price-regulation by the government. Also, milk is a commodity, and I don't think you really want books to be treated like commodities, do you? When they are really art?

I agree with Cathy - let's let the market (i.e. the people) determine what the price should be.

Annalise Green said...

Great post on a tricky subject.

I think that the prices you offer here are totally reasonable.

Like many people, I have mixed feelings about this subject. As a writer, I know the back-breaking work that goes into any book - so it's painful to see books sold for .99, and my knee-jerk (and undoubtedly unfair) reaction is to assume that not a lot of time was put into these books, if the writers are emotionally able to sell them for so cheap.

BUT I know that the majority of the time this is not correct and that they're sold at these prices in order to build an audience, which is simply smart marketing.

I also think there's a flip-side, where many of the books being sold in bookstores are too expensive. I'm a writer but I'm also a consumer, so I know that it's a gamble to buy a book. I can't tell you how many times I spent twenty plus dollars on a book that I was sure I would like based on word of mouth and sample pages and back cover, only to find that it was not my cup of tea and that it was difficult for me to break twenty pages on this twenty dollar book. And I might as well have flushed that money down the toilet.

So yes. Tricky subject indeed and I think there are bad extremes on both ends.

Sarra Cannon said...

I agree with a lot of what you say here Annalise. As a reader, I too am sometimes hesitant to pay $10 or more for a book that I might not like. As a writer, it was difficult to price my first book originally at 99 cents, but like you said, it was in the interest of building an audience. It was a marketing move. And it worked for me. With lower pricing, I was able to build an audience for my series and charge more for subsequent books. Over 86,000 sales later, I feel the 99 cent price point increased the overall value of my series by increasing the readership. It wasn't about emotions. It was about business.

Plus, at 99 cents, I figured my book would become an impulse buy and people could decide whether they liked me and my writing without taking a big risk. If they like the story, they keep reading the series and pay more for the books. If not, they are only out 99 cents. I see it as a win-win situation.

Sarra Cannon said...

I totally agree with you, Megg. The business models behind trad. pub and self-pub are two very different models and that has to be taken into consideration in this discussion.

ali cross said...

I think I get what you're saying. When I was starting out as a photographer, I did a lot of stuff for free or dirt cheap. Hardly anyone was happy with their pictures (even when they were stunning). My sister is a marketing guru and she told me I really needed to be CHARGING. Like, a LOT. Because people value what they think is worth it. Even though they want cheap, they NEED to pay for what they thinks has value in order to appreciate it. I was super nervous to try because, what if no one ever hired me again?? But I did try it, and I got so busy I eventually ended up quitting the business because I was way too stressed. What had started out as a hobby/way to make a few bucks while I was home with my kids, had turned into a booming business with me booked almost every night of the week and working hours and hours on photo editing and such.

So I think I get what you're saying.

However, as an indie author, I feel very grateful that I have the ability to price my books low because I don't have any other as-good marketing tools to put to work for me. I am a nobody in a sea of books to buy--if I can entice a reader to "try" me by offering my first book(s) for uber cheap or even free, then I'm totally going to do it. You allowed for that--pricing low as a marketing technique, so I appreciated that.

But in the end, for me it's all about being read. If that means I price low for a while, maybe even always, I don't know, and more people will read my book because of it, then I'm grateful I have that opportunity.

However if there ever comes a day when my ART is no longer appreciated because it is cheap, like my photography did way back when, I can definitely see the psychological benefit to raising its price.

Really neat perspective and discussion, Elana.

Elana Johnson said...

Simon & Schuster has her books set at 99 cents as a promotional piece, which I think we've all agreed is a wise thing to do.

Elana Johnson said...

Ouch. Sorry you think I don't support self-publishers. I do. I think I'm a big supporter of them, actually, but I could very well be wrong about that.

You can read how I feel about the paths we've all taken here.

Megg Jensen said...

I think every author who prices at free or 99 cents does it for promotional reasons. No one does it because they like it. ;) lol

DL Hammons said...

This is a very interesting discussion about a complex, multi-layered, multi-dimensional topic that has sparked some great debate, even within my own home. There is no easy answer, nor will there ever be, but I really enjoy listening to the conversation! :)

Leslie S. Rose said...

Well said. Fascinating conversation. Books are the result of a creative process, therefore they unequivocally qualify as art.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Something I haven't figured out is why sometimes the ebook is as much as the paper version of the book. I carry my nook with me to B & N and if the ebook is the same as the paper one I buy the paper one. I for sure think they should be less expensive.

I do think some of the indie marketing plans are really good and I appreciate you sharing the numbers on Bound and Broken.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Good for you elana :)

Christine rocks and is a good example of turning around her marketing strategy to attract customers to read her book.

I think price is purely around "Perceived value" and marketing.'

I dont believe price justifies if something is art or not. Just b/c something is 1000 dollars doesnt mean it is more artistic than something that is 10$.
When versace was a starting designer - he didnt charge 50000 a dress.

I have a pair of cheap target denison jeans I love and they have lasted longer and fit better than my 200$ cookie jeans.

So to me - price a one for the 4 pieces to marketing.

Unknown said...

I recently read an article by a well known photographer who said that the first thing you should do when opening a professional studio is to evaluate what the fair market is in your area. Interesting. I wonder why he would say that? I think it's more than just about that individual photographer.

The question is whether you feel like you're part of a community with a responsibility to each other or not. Low prices don't devalue anyone's individual work at all, at least in my opinion. But it's hard to argue that it doesn't change the market or public perception of that market. I'm saddened at the loss of specialty stores where I can ask a salesperson a question who really knows their product. Has our US market changed since the invent of Walmart and the vertically integrated "get everything" store? Has shipping our customer support and production over seas had an impact on our communities? Of course! Now, you can debate whether you think it's okay or not, or how much of an impact it's had. But to argue that it doesn't have an impact would be wrong.

It's not a personal attack. It's a fair debate and a reasonable one. If you disagree then disagree. But accusing Elana of jealousy, hatred, and the like, seems sort of ridiculous. Elana wants everyone to succeed both professionally and financially. I've watched her spend countless hours reading books from pretty much anyone who has asked her to so she about their books. She supports them even when she has little time to do so. I'm constantly asking her to say no. But she can't. She loves the fellow writers in her community. She does it out of a legitimate desire to see everyone succeed. She's never said, oh I'm not reading that one, or supporting that one cause it's self published. She doesn't do that. She's happy for the success of others in whatever form. Anyone who knows her also knows that. However, she also has concern for the market as a whole and her topic was about that.

Elana sparks a legitimate debate that everyone in the publishing community should have a vested interest in whether you agree or disagree. Her post was not personal. At least not in her mind. Who would want to be in a community of people that can't have an honest debate about what is best for that community without getting personal attacks in your email box? Kind of sad. I guess that's kind of the nature of things these days. Oh well...

LTM said...

I could not agree more with this post if I tried! In fact, I was having this convo w/some writer friends a few months ago, and we decided books should be priced like songs on iTunes: 99 cents a chapter. If it's a really hot book, a buck twenty-nine.

Then it's a STEAL at $9.99! ;p

Also, being an author, I like to eat.

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