Lots of tweets/articles on the internets lately regarding the ever-popular topic of ebook pricing. We’ve all likely seen the strange incidents of ebooks being more expensive that the paper versions of a book. This is particularly odd when it’s a hardback. There are reasons for this beyond the false notion that publishers are just trying to stick it to the readers. It generally involves vendors and discounts for one format compared to another and such. For me, it comes down to the relative value of content. What is a story worth, relative to other sources of entertainment? I’ll just consider fiction here, because non-fiction is a different game. We want to compare apples to apples after all.
Fiction comes in three basic categories: shorts, novellas, and full length stories. What other forms of entertainment are relative to this comparison? Well, I think that any kind of venue that tells us a story would make for a relative comparison. We have, music, film, and games. Film, comes in a variety of viewing formats, the theatre, dvd/blue-ray, and streaming formats like netflix, amazon, and such. A ticket to see a movie is anywhere from $8-12. It’s a one-shot experience. A dvd you own, anywhere from $5-20 depending on how new a release it is. Streaming formats can be anywhere from a buck to a few bucks. Subscription is another format, via cable or other services but that’s a different game too. We could also consider video on demand via cable as well, which is about $2-5 depending on the movie. Music is generally a buck for a song or several for a whole album. With games, it’s $10-50 or you can subscribe through services like gamefly, where you pay a montly fee to rent the game until you are done with it. Games may not make for the best comparison of entertainment because they have the greater ability to provide unique entertainment experiences every time you play. So, we have a range of $1-50 depending on the format, and if we discount games, we’re looking at $1-20.
Ebooks? We generally see everything from $1-15. So, across the board, if we’re looking at formats that provide you with a few hours of storytelling entertainment, the price range is comparable. In my opinion, the lowest level (in time commitment) of stories is the short, which should thus be at the bottom of the range, $1. A novella, which can be anywhere from barely longer than a short to nearly novel length, is going to be worth more, which I’d say $2-4 is reasonable. Novels then, should fall somewhere above this line, $5-10. Are some books worth the price of a movie ticket? Does a good movie provide you with the same value as a good book? Some might say a book is worth more, others might argue the experiences are different, given that movies offer a more intense, condensed, story-telling experience. Regardless, I don’t think one can argue too strongly against a book being worth $5-10.
There are of course, economic reasons for lower book prices. Authors have proven that money can be made selling novels for a buck. But really, this is almost beside the point. The debate on pricing through the lens of economics is another discussion. You aren’t talking about the value of content necessary then, but at what point profits are made. I think many people confuse this debate between economics and value of content. And sadly, it seems to me that content is losing out to economics.