18 November 2011

Guest Post: Sonia G. Medeiros

Today is LLC Friday and I have the pleasure of hosting fellow writer, and LLC member, Sonia G. Medeiros. Sonia is all set to address a topic that many readers and authors have strong opinions about: the pricing of books. Both sides probably will agree on this: It should be a fair price. But, then again, it's all a matter of definitions.

What's It Worth to You?

Recently, I read a blog post by author Roni Loren on why a good story should be worth more than a cheeseburger. And it was just one of those posts that made me stop and think. A lot. I found myself questioning my knee-jerk response and considering not only the issue discussed in the post (the pricing of ebooks and how we value an author's work) but also how the way we value another author's work reflects on how we value our work.

Check it out, guys. These pellets are on sale. Cheap!

First of all, Roni made the point that we're willing to shell out for fast food, delivery pizza, a movie, etc without much thought but we often grind to a halt when it comes to shelling out the same amount for a book. Why should a book we'll enjoy for hours if not days be worth less than a pizza that will likely be gone in under an hour (unless you count the time the extra calories will spend stored on our butts and/or spare tires)?

My first response was something like "heck, I only have so many dollars in the budget and I just can't justify spending $10-20 bucks on a book." I don't go to the theater all that often, preferring to wait for the DVD until I just have to see it on the big screen. We also try to limit our eating out. Buuut...I'll spend $10-20 bucks on a pizza with less anxiety than buying a book at the same price.

Okay, okay...some of that reaction is because a book is generally just for me while the pizza is for my whole family. But still...am I saying the author's work is not worth a pizza? And what does that mean for how I value my work? Is that why I'm willing to shunt aside my writing for things around the house that really could be put off or at least balanced with the writing time?

And, when it comes to ebooks, especially self-pubbed, I find that grousing about price really kicks in. Suddenly, over $4.99 for fiction ($9.99 for reference/writing craft books) feels expensive.


Really? Expensive?

And obviously I'm not the only one. There seems to be a huge push for cheap or even free entertainment to the point where people are giving bad reviews for price point. Hmmm...all is not quite right with the thinking here.

If people tend to equate the price of something with its inherent value, what are we saying about a writer's work when we're only willing to pay $0.99 for a novel? A novel represents considerably more work than a dollar cheeseburger.

And, if writers accept that mindset, how will we perceive our work? Will we give our writing the respect it deserves? Treat it like an art or like a cheeseburger thrown together in a fast food joint?

I know there's other factors involved in buying a book. The VP of awesome, author Kristen Lamb explains that books are a high consideration purchase. Choosing a book tends to be emotionally driven, especially for those who do not consider themselves avid readers (that and some avid readers don't want to go bankrupt buying all the books they want to read). With ebooks, there's also the understanding that they don't incur nearly the same costs to produce as print books. And self-published books allow the author to take a much bigger cut of the profits than traditionally published books.

But if we go along with the push for cheap books are we setting the bar too low? Allowing market conditions to develop that force new writers to sell their work for bargain basement prices? Are we promoting the idea that a book is barely worth the price of a cheeseburger, no matter how excellent the story?

I'm not entirely sure where I sit on the issue. I do know that I'm thinking about it more now. What does it mean when I tell myself that $6 ebook is "too expensive" and look for the $3 one instead? What am I saying about the butt-numbing hours I spend working on my manuscript-in-progress? And asking questions is always the first step to finding the answers.

What do you think about the price of books and how it reflects on the value of the author's work? Do you find yourself looking for cheap deals or turned off by them? Do you value your work as a writer or do you consider it something of a guilty pleasure?

Sonia G Medeiros is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She's the author of more than a dozen short stories and flash fiction pieces, blogs at WordPress, and is working on her first novel, a dark fantasy. When she's not wandering along the tangled paths of her wild imagination, she wrangles home life with one fabulous husband, two amazing, homeschooled children, three dogs, one frog and two cats who battle each other for world domination. Visit Sonia's blog and follow her on twitter.


  1. Very thoughtful post, Sonia. That is the split in us between reader and writer. As readers, why not get a book for $.99? If we can get on that satisfies us, why spend more? I've had the same feelings when checking out a recommended book, "ooh, $3.99? I'll wait to see if it comes down." Never in my life have I scimped on books til I could get them for a buck.
    But I think that doesn't say we don't value the writing, just that we want a bargain since the Big 6 have been pricing books high. Now we don't have to pay $32 for a good author's book.
    The awesome thing about the $.99 books is that people can now afford so many of them! Which means we all have a shot at making sales.
    I'm still thinking about this.

  2. @Marcia: That's a good point too. The big publisher's have been charging more and more for books and that gets frustrating. It's probably not all that feasible to charge $5 for a paperback anymore but $10 does feel kinda stiff. And it's true that $0.99 does make it much easier for even folks who don't consider themselves readers to buy a book. Maybe more people will try them than would otherwise. Thanks!

  3. I read that post too. But on the other end of it one could argue that the indie author pricing their work at 2.99 receives a much higher profit per book compared to a trad.pubbed author with a higher priced book. So who is the one with their work being devalued?

    I'd say not the indie author.

    Just something to think about.

  4. wow, this is tough subject. I've never thought of it that way. It kind of discourages me to think about how I want books to be cheaper, but I don't want my own work de-valued. It's like we have to eat so a pizza feels like a necessity while a book feels frivolous. I'm really going to have to mull this one over!

  5. Sonia, It takes a tremendous amount of creative effort, writing and editing to prepare a decent book. And sometimes, the prices (and compensation to the author) may not reflect all the work that went into it. You've certainly got me thinking about a few things and given me some ideas for an article.

    The size of the author's market is a factor that affects compensation. If an author can sell 200,000 versus 1,000 copies of a book, that is certainly a consideration. The problem for new authors is that they may be tempted to use low pricing as a form of easy marketing.

    Consumers (that includes everybody) make decisions out of habit and custom. We will readily pay $4 for coffee or a soft-drink (20 minute experience) and think long and hard before paying 99 cents for a book that may take a few days to read. I never think long and hard before buying a MickyD's 99 cent cheeseburger!

  6. @Laura: Great point to. An indie author makes a much larger cut of the profit. So they are receiving more for their work.

    @Jennie: It's true, a book does feel like a luxury. It can feel kinda selfish. It's interesting how that works out when we're balancing our feelings about buying something. I think Kristen Lamb is right in calling books a high consideration purchase...even if that book only costs the same as a tube of toothpaste.

    @Gary: Thanks! I had to laugh a little about the deliberating over a cheeseburger thing. I've caught myself downloading a sample of a $0.99 book to make sure I really want to buy it. I don't put that much thought into buying the $0.99 cheeseburger though. And I think a low price to bring readers in can definitely be a good marketing strategy. A reader who enjoys an author's work for $0.99 will probably buy his or her other books at $2.99 and above.

  7. hat a great topic - I have such mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I want books, including hopefully my own one day, to be affordable to everyone who seeks out the joy of reading. On the other hand, thinking that as authors we sell works we've poured our souls into for the price of a cheeseburger IS disturbing ...

  8. You know I've given this issue thought to after I attended a conference last April where they said most authors only receive about $3/hardcover and $1/paperback sold. I had all kinds of questions, first I was outraged that they were getting so little and like you said, the public hems and haws over whether to spend X amount of dollars on a book. But then I also thought, yikes, how much of that money is going to the publishing firms then? That doesn't seem right. While a good editor and publisher can do wonders, are they making more than the author???

    I don't know if there's a right or wrong solution, ebook over traditional publishing. I'm both interested and just plain intrigued by what lies ahead for all of us writers.

  9. I too have been thinking about this since Roni's post. Musician's went through this with iTunes and we are going through this with Amazon.

    Here's the kick though: If it's a short story, I think a buck is great. If it's a whole book, I'd like to see it be more in the $3-5 range. That being said, if I can snare a new reader with a $2.99 book on Amazon (of which I get $2, instead of the $1 a publisher might have given me) I say why not? That makes it a win/win for everyone.

  10. @Pam: That's true. Books should be affordable. We can't forget that.

    @Jess: It does seem appalling that authors should receive so little of the cut. Unless there's a huge advance involved. Then again, I've heard that publishers are in trouble in part because of large advances and even well known authors not earning out. And probably new authors are still getting the same small cut without a big advance. Hmmm....

    @Jenny: Good point. We've gotten to expect songs for $0.99 too. Although that usually makes an album in the $12 range, I think. Which seems reasonable. I agree that $0.99 is a good price for a short story and $3-5 is probably the reasonable range for a novel.

    I'm so glad that this has generated so much discussion. All this can only help us to figure things out better. :D

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  12. An excellent post Sonia. I've a few thoughts on the matter...

    First, the percent that goes to the author is a *totally* different question. The question is, as consumers, how much are we willing to pay for a book? That is, how much do we value (in monetary terms) reading a book over the course of several days?

    I think about it this way. The price of movies has gone up and up. We may complain, but a lot of people still pay up and go to the movies - the theater is always crowded when I go. This for two hours of entertainment. Now, if you go to the early show, you pay five bucks for the show (3D at night is close to $10) and if you get some popcorn, you're easily at $10. For two hours.

    It blows me away when some turn up their noses and complain about $10 books (even ebooks). Books that could give us a week of reading pleasure, and if it's good, a story that we might reread several times over the years. Frankly, I find this demand for .99 cent books outrageous.

    One final comment. I'm writing a novel myself, and if and when it's ever ready to be published, I'll probably go the self-publishing route. I plan on posting the first few pages on my website for free (I almost always read the first page or two of a book in the bookstore before I buy it), and charge at least $5 (maybe more). If readers don't think it's worth it and don't buy it, then oh well. I have a day job to pay the bills.

    A book is simply worth more than .99 cents.

  13. This was a thought-provoking post for sure. I have never compared in my mind the price of books to the price of fast food, but it does make you think about the value we place on things.

  14. @Tim: Such great points. And maybe we're putting too many issues into one thing. The difference between inde and trad royalties, ebooks and print, the value of entertainment. Etc. Very thought provoking.

    @Elizabeth: It definitely made me do a double take when I read Roni's post. I hadn't really thought about it that way before. And, even if we end up concluding that $3-5 is a fair price for ebooks or whatever, I'm glad to have gotten the chance to really think about something I took for granted.

  15. I'm probably a bit biased on this one because I live in Australia, and our books are absolutely ridiculously priced here. I mentioned in a recent blog post that a really small-format book I was reading was on sale at the publisher's site for $27.95. RIDICULOUS.

  16. I read Roni's post and had the same reaction. It's just something to stop and think about, especially when you're doing your own pricing. On the other side of it, we shouldn't be so stingy about buying books. She's right, we get more enjoyment out of books then we do with a pizza or even a movie.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)


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