c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

You are absolutely right of course.

I think what adds to the problem is that reading or even reading books is no longer what it used to be, today it is just not in. Ask most teenagers what book they are reading, not for school, but for fun. You'll notice the blank stares you get or worse, answers that tell you that it's just not cool to read anything longer than, say, a Twitter post. I find that scary, I don't understand it, but I figure it goes a ways to explaining why writing is not valued as it should be.

People said that about kids when I was one, too, though. Some kids have always been readers, some not. Geeky kids read for fun--the rest don't.

On an airplane I heard this old man say that since he got his kindle, instead of playing solitaire he reads about 15 books a month now. I think that's amazing.

Heartily agree. I think the mocha analogy is quite apt. Why do people go bananas over e-book pricing when a lot of other pleasures and entertainments are so strangely priced?

I think it's a mix of the idea of a unit with assumptions about the art, born partly of how we conceive of music and how we experience different media. As Cheryl Morgan pointed out on Twitter, there's an idea that music is a special form of art, whereas anyone can write. While true, I can say as a former college writing instructor while everyone knows how to use written communication, a lot of them cannot Write. This may link to the appreciation of each form as well, although that becomes a more complicated argument.

Equating a novel with a single song is just irrational.

The Mocha Analogy is quite apt... to the detriment of the novel.

I'll buy a $6 Mocha (well, beer, but let's not get too far afield) because I know I'll like it.

If I'm buying an e-book from some unknown author, possibly based entirely off the title and a 100 word blurb about it, I've no such guarantee. The number of lousy books I've read is at least an order of magnitude higher than the number of mid-to-high priced craft beers I have actively disliked.

And at least with a physical book I can trade the bloody thing in to a used book store. As far as I'm aware, the resale value of used e-books is roughly equivalent to the resale value of used beer.

Equating a novel with a single song is just irrational.

It's got nothing to do with equating the two. It's a recognition of the "impulse purchase price point". Next time you're in the check out line at Wal-Mart, look at the impulse goods arrayed there. I'd be willing to guess that at least 90% of them are sub-$3 in price.

Now you've done it, Cat! You have set yourself up to be visited by Those Who Intone About the Future of Publishing Yet Do Not Appear To Grasp Publishing or Economics, who brandish the names of Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath before them without understanding the concept of "outliers," and see nothing wrong with the idea that people who create shouldn't expect to make money, anyway, BECAUSE THAT'S NOT WHAT ART'S ABOUT.

Good times, good times.

And both of us being outliers with our fancy contracts born from online publishing, naturally, we've never met those kids before. ;)

Lots of good things here. You know those times when someone says something so inane that your brain empties completely and you reach some sort of strange, fleeting nirvana? "It's all art" definitely did that to me. I think the entire idea of comparing different pieces of art and rank ordering them is weird and pointless. Is this song worth as much as this poem? Is this landscape painting worth as much as this brass sculpture of two people fucking? The argument presupposes that there is some objective standard which can be used to compare works of art and it's far from obvious to me that there is. Even the definition of art itself is nebulous.

To the point regarding the economics of the whole thing. If economics has taught us anything I think it's that the notion of what something "should" cost doesn't mean much in a global sense. I noted this on facebook but I'll say the same thing here...things cost what people are willing to pay for them. A writer is more than welcome to throw his e-book up on Amazon and attach a $100 price tag to it. Getting people to pay that much is a different story. I also think the link between quality of art and price is tenuous. Some of the best books ever written are priced on par with some of the worst. But I digress. Anyway, if I ever saw one of your e-books selling for 99 cents I'd probably buy it and then immediately feel the need to go shovel your driveway a few times or clean your house or something. So let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Well, if it results in you cleaning my house, let's hope it does!

THANK YOU! There is a ridiculous amount of entitlement surrounding what people "should" pay for art and it makes me want to stab people.

Oh, man. I don't think the internet is ready for my rant about American entitlement culture and the subject of art--and not just writing, either.

The 99C market and customer bases

I'm really glad you brought this up, it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I tend to agree with you, and my real interest is in seeing the way the 99c deal plays out long-term.

In a field where ebooks are the new thing, a 99c purchase is easy. It's like buying a pack of gum, you aren't thinking at that point. My question is, are authors in the 99c bracket building a fan base? Are people buying the books and reading them, or are they spending 99c on a lark and letting it sit on their ereader?

The 99c book idea is only growing; authors are connecting with one another more on twitter and social media, and the connections are perhaps building frustrations with not being published as quickly as they'd like. More people are going to publish 99c books. Are they building a career for themselves, though? I'm more inclined to believe they are making quick cash.

The thing is, as more people publish 99c books, there will be less separating one author from another. They won't be getting sales just because they're a 99c book. Will these authors have built as large and as dedicated a fan base as a traditionally published and priced author? I'm betting on no, but time will tell.

When the market is flooded with 99c ebooks, will these pioneer writers see the same returns on future books? I don't know, I'd tend to say it will be a harder road once the gaps fill themselves in.

I am not cool with 99c becoming the standard, and I'm happy to continue paying as the prices are now, honestly. I like supporting authors whose work I enjoy.

Re: The 99C market and customer bases

My question is, are authors in the 99c bracket building a fan base? Are people buying the books and reading them, or are they spending 99c on a lark and letting it sit on their ereader?

The answers to these questions appear to be "Yes" and "Reading them." Indeed, the best way to increase sales of 99c ebook A is to release 99c ebook B and C. This is especially true for the more commercial works, and is indeed related to the popularity of series title in the print world.

The idea of "anyone can write" frankly terrifies me. Sure, anyone can put pen to paper and write words, but those words will not always be cohesive or coherent when strung together.

Writing is like any other art form, like you've said.

Yet again, another Lie My Teachers Told Me about writing.

Yeah. Writing is HARD man. Lets do math.

Or maybe I should just tell the "anyone can write" crowd that anyone can do trig. 'cos hey, *I* thought trig was easy...

Gee, I wish my boss would pay me for one hour instead of eight. It's all work, right?

What a stupid idea.

God, it's so true. I went into illustration for my BFA because the concept of being a "fine artist" (aka painter) and trying to house and feed myself on the perceived value of what I did was so terrifying. Illustration is an applied commercial version, and the training I got reflects that.
I see so many people who want to be writers or other forms of artist for a "second" or revival career, and there's nothing wrong with being a self-taught creator - many successful writers/artists ARE.
The idea, however, that "anyone can do it" is dangerous, though, in that the following thought is "...so why should I pay someone for it?"

The quantitative value of a book is NOT the value of a gourmet mocha. And while a person may get hours of replay from one $.99 song, a person also can get years of re-reading value from a book. I read "American Gods" once a year, every year. (I should probably send that guy a royalty check.)

I'm so exhausted with the constant battle I have to make with people about the value of my illustrations. I have had numerous people make the asinine argument to me of "but you LOVE making art, do you NEED to get paid for it?"


I value your art, very deeply. One day I hope to be able to pay you properly for it.

Re: F*cking WORD (Anonymous) Expand
I generally pay prices between a fancy coffee drink and an inexpensive, but good meal for e-books and generally I think that it ends up being a fair exchange. I'm generally not willing to pay hardcover prices for a digital file, especially if it is handcuffed to a particular reader (kindle/nook) but even a not very good book is still worth more than a pack of gum.

E-book pricing is tricky though because you have a lot of fixed costs to amortize over expected sales. Considering that the e-book market is still fairly small, but growing, I think that a race to the bottom will kill the market because it becomes almost impossible to profit. Personally I think the "right" price for e-books is probably 10-20% under the equivalent paper book.

This. I don't want 99-cent e-books. I do want to not pay more for the electronic version that I can only read on my Nook than I would pay for the paperback, and that does occasionally happen, where I find the paperback at Barnes & Noble's brick-and-mortar store for $7.99 on the shelf, and discover that the Nookbook is $13.99 (!).

Your gauge of a "right" price for e-books feels about where my comfort zone is, as well.

Fuckin'-A for awesome post.


To expand on what I was trying to say on Twitter (but failed due to short lengths, I'm sorry about that): people absolutely deserve to be paid for their time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears. As both a writer and a reader, I believe writers should be compensated generously, both in terms of feedback AND in terms of cold, hard cash.

For non-book media (this doesn't work for books because of my reading speed), I have a general rule that it was a good purchase if I get one hour of enjoyment per dollar I spent--particularly for video games. For books, I just spend the money. Now, I'm fortunate--I live in a DINK household and I have a decent-paying job and I can afford to indulge my hobbies (namely, video games and books) to my heart's content. The whole idea that books should only cost $1 is completely ludicrous to me. Even in an ebook, you still have production costs just to make the ebook, never mind the author's labor in making it, promoting it, et cetera.

I, personally, would not be sad to see the prices of books a little higher, to be quite honest--but that's my privilege. I can afford it, and I want to support the things I love.

Makes you wish there was almost a sliding scale.*

*Provided everyone could be fairly compensated.

Tangential brain is tangential...

I'm not sure equating a novel to an album is true anymore. Whatever happened to real albums? You know, the ones where the songs were carefully picked for theme and where the order in which they were on the album mattered, where the idea was that at least for the first listening, you'd listen to the album from start to finish?

I miss those albums. (There are still folks doing this, to be sure, but far less than there used to be, I think)

Yeah, they still exist--most songs are part of albums, still, not just random singles.

Brava! As a reader, I've been beating my head against that particular wall for some time.

My decision for how much I'm willing to pay for a book depends on the author (I have a soft spot in my wallet for those that I've met), the format (mass market, trade, hardcover), the length vs. braininess (for a calculation of dollars per hour in how expensive the entertainment is), and the publisher (again, soft spot for publishers I've met).

I happily paid, what, $30? for Ventriloquism, because it was written by you, beautifully designed and well-constructed, chock full of your intelligent-as-fuck prose that goes down more like hot bittersweet chocolate than water, and from a small publisher. It was the first hardback I've ever bought, and worth every penny.

(I have a similar set of calculations for yarn/fiber/spindles.)

This, oh yes this.

The price point of 99 cents is great for songs, or short fiction. It's not great for an entire book. It doesn't make sense for an entire book.

(Of course, through Tor.com, I've had complaints that a short story costs 99 cents. Even though the story itself is free to read on the website, free to print, free to save to your computer - the formatted ebook versions cost 99 whole cents. That's just too much. Every format all the time forever should be given to them for free.)

What you said. I've written the $1.29 ebook (ok, not 99c, but close) and it was never over 5000 words.

I like being able to buy single songs or single short stories for a buck or two or three. Saves me buying a whole album or a whole anthology just to get what I really want. (Of course, in my spending $15 to get Robert Bloch, I also got introduced to Karl Edward Wagner's work)

But a whole novel for 99c? Not outside of a yard sale.
And I don't see making it up in volume, or maybe that's just me.
37c off each book. I average 400 copies sold. That means I make $148/book. Fine pay for a short, suckworthy for a novel.

Yes. Yes. I have been trying for the longest time to figure out how to say this that wouldn't come off as "I'm poor! Give me more money!", so, yes.

I don't think the people talking about Amanda Hocking and how you can sell 99-cent ebooks and make it up in volume have the right end of the stick, because the limit for how much most people are going to read is... rather low. There's room in my budget to buy two or three books a month at $10 each, and I'll get the rest from the library or public domain. At 99 cents, I might buy five or six books a month, but I certainly wouldn't buy twenty or thirty -- I'd run out of time to read them. And most people read less than I do.

If you pay for writing as a commodity, you will get commodity writing. I'm not willing to accept that.

"I think the price should be more like a mass-market paperback"

For art that comes in a physical delivery vehicle, an after-market exists that can (for owners who keep their original purchases in good condition) act as a subsidy for later purchase.

I think you're spot on that $0.99 feels like the wrong price point for a longer narrative work, just as it feels like the wrong price point for a longer musical or filmed work.

But for me the loss of an after-market subsidy isn't quite made up for by the bonus of "convenience" (i.e. recovered shelf-space, having all ten books in my book bag at once, and so on).

Whether the used market is a good thing for authors, or not, is a relevant discussion but not a factor that can be ignored, I think. If an eBook costs about 75 to 80% of a mass-market copy, I as a reader can then start to think that I'm not losing out. And because we have such funny behaviours around perception of value, I suspect that the price point actually has to be less than that before we start getting convinced we're not losing out.

The real question, i suppose, is how much less. The right price is (I would guess) the one that keeps things sustainable: keeps artists fed enough to keep writing, keeps readers wealthy enough to keep reading, keeps publishers and distributors and retailers having a healthy enough chunk of the pie to keep acting as a pipeline between them.

One factor that occurs to me is the cost of uncertainty. A paper, printed book is a reliable and certain delivery vehicle. It is a standard form with a relatively standard cost, and a standard care model after the fact, and a (relatively) standard shelf life.

eBooks come with so much uncertainty: not the least of which is the bewildering array of formats, closed and open, the shelf-life of the readers and storage mechanisms, and so on. I suspect that the uncertainty around digital media acts as a "value depressant".

When I ordered my hardcover editions of "Deathless" and "The Girl Who Circumnavigated..." I did so knowing that they'd have a long-lasting value: to the point, in fact, where I could think of them as having bequeathal value after I'm gone.

eMedia don't come with this kind of feeling: can I honestly feel that I will be able to pass my Kindle editions of a book on to my children? I can't even feel comfortable that they'll be around for me to read in five years. Look at all those people who purchased HD-DVD versions of things and then realized they'd invested in Beta tapes...

The right price is (I would guess) the one that keeps things sustainable: keeps artists fed enough to keep writing

The current system already fails in this first regard. A great plurality of authors, especially in the US where health insurance or healthcare are not a right of residency, subsidize their writing with other jobs—especially teaching—or other household income.

I have to say you have totally misunderstood the economics of publishing and epublishing both here, Cat.

The value—or even price of your work—is not the price paid by an individual purchaser, but the price you are paid by a publisher, or the royalties received in total. Most of the emotional response follows from this error, so we'll just put that aside.

Can people make as much money from 99c (or, charitable 2.99 ebooks) than they can from "traditional" publishing? Of course. Even leaving aside outliers like Konrath and Hocking, it's easy enough for me to name a dozen or more authors—some very minor midlisters with a bit of an online platform, some utter unknowns—who are making living wages from ebooks these days. These include folks such as Lee Goldberg, who was until this year a great opponent of self-publishing, ebooks, fanfic, and the usual raft of "non-traditional" stuff.

Publishers don't want very inexpensive ebooks because they would have to change the way they do business. Many people make the error of confusing the momentary interests of the Big Six with the interests of publishing in general. During the paperback revolution, there were dozens upon dozens of publishers in New York—decades of conglomeratization destroyed most of them. Now indeed, overhead and the like are very high in New York, so they are loathe to cannibalize their paper sales for ebook sales, but that's not a problem with ebooks, that's a problem with the Big Six. The same forces that once made conglomeratization a rational move—why have twenty publishers doing the same thing at the same time in near identical offices for the exact same audience when you can have two?—now makes conglom publishing increasing irrational. Why have an office in Manhattan when you really only need a cubicle in Jersey City? Why spend $3000 on cover art when $10 will do as well—and plenty of commercial publishers do have $10 covers. Here's one I did.

The 99cent ebook pays a 35c royalty. The 7.99 paperback pays anywhere from 31c to 56c royalty, depending on the contract. (Yes, there are mass market paperback publishers out there offering 4% royalties to authors, and they're suffering from problems on the margin even then.) Is it easier to release books more quickly via ebook than print? Yes. Is it possible to sell more books via ebook than print? Yes, especially these days when in the last three months about 400 bookstores either closed or announced their closure. So for authors in the mass market sector, the ebook actually does make economic sense at those prices. The people who want 99cent ebooks aren't deranged, or callous, or evil—they're just buying a book with no physical nature to it. No surprise that the ebook finally found it's "true" price—the price of a used book at a secondhand shop, where the physical shape of the book is often the last concern.

Edited at 2011-03-20 06:20 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure how any of this means the price of novels should be tied to the price of songs. Nor is it quite fair to mix case studies of authors with no publishers vs. authors with publishers. My quibble is not that ebooks shouldn't be cheaper, but that there is no reason on earth that 99 cents should be the holy price point.

You pay cheap-crap prices per book, you get cheap-crap books, and I wish I could say that nobody wants cheap-crap books. It's a model that supports only middle-of-the-road potboiler authors, and I'm not convinced that the core audience for middle-of-the-road potboiler authors is keen enough on ebooks for this to work sustainably. You, on the other hand, are not going to be happy churning out formula or franchise product, and we would not be happy reading only that.

Personally, I figure that I'll happily pay the same price for a good physical book as for a good lunch, £5-£8 or so. The reduced utility of ebooks means I'll pay about half that, with a bit of a premium for getting it quickly. I can't afford to do it often, but I'd rather buy one Good Book a month than six or eight bits of once-through fluff in any case.

I am, admittedly, floored at the idea that people routinely pay $5.99 for a coffee product at all, though.

Dedicated ebook readers with their own walled markets were always going to try and turn literature from an artisan good into as close an approximation of a fungible commodity as they could, and I'm not at all sure that "one book" has much commercial meaning. I mean, who buys just one book? We keep coming back, and they never buy books anyway.

A venti mocha at Starbucks is about 5.00, add in an extra shot, flavor, or special milk and you can easily get over $6.

I look at it on a time to consume basis. Yes, a song is $0.99 on i-tunes. It takes 3-5 minutes to consume. I can read a short story in 5-1o minutes, ergo a SHORT story I can see $0.99 as a fair value, if we are biased towards the worth of music.

Now, a novel typically takes between 4 and 48 hours of reading time to complete. That is 240 to 2880 minutes, or at $0.99 / 5 minutes, $47.52 to $570.24. If you look at it in this sense, novels and writing are UNDERVALUED.

The argument that a song is worth more because you can listen to it over and over is a red herring, as there are many novels I read over and over again to enjoy the richness of the story, characters, or prose.

In this case, why are copies of films on physical media so expensive? Time to experience is only one factor. I can look at the Mona Lisa and feel relatively satisfied that I've "experienced enough" in probably about the same amount of time it would take me to read a short story, or in fact, much less. Why is the value of that painting then worth so much? Rarity?

The art economy is a complex system, and the value of art seems pegged to so many factors: time to experience is only one of them, and I don't think a very reliable one at that.

I don't know why e-books get compared to music so often. Especially if you're going with the Apple thing, their movies would be a much more accurate comparison, and those all cost around $10. I also think a similar cheap "rental" option would be a good idea for e-books. Most people will only read the books once anyway, this will give publishers greater profit than the library options which they're so keen on restricting, and I think a lot of people would be more willing to pay say $4.99 for a limited-time (say, 2-week) rental of a book they haven't read than $9.99 or $12.99. But, since there isn't anything comparable in the world of print books, no one seems to be exploring this idea. I'd also love a "Netboox" type thing (which would totally need a new name, because that one's awful), where you pay a monthly rate and can read one e-book at a time, and some plans would only give you 3 books a month while more expensive plans would give you unlimited numbers.

Seriously, books need to be seen more as a parallel to movies than to music. Also, the music industry kind of collapsed under the influence of the Internet - why on Earth would publishing want to emulate them in any way?

I've been wondering why there's no e-book rental option for a while. It seems to me that Amazon would be all over it if they could. However, they probably can't figure out how to regulate it without taking away the option to turn wireless off.

The 99 cent/Apple benchmark is humorous to me because everyone FREAKED OUT about Amazon attempting to set $9.99 pricepoints. How is Apple different again? Oh yeah, they make trendy devices and won't let you play their items on other devices. WAIT...

I know you were generalizing and upset, but for the record I am an Amazon user, and I do NOT think ebooks should be 99 cents.

In fact, I will NOT buy a 99 cent Amazon book based on the principle that publishers and authors should all value their work more highly than that and if they don't it's most likely not worth my brainspace. I am highly resentful of the fact that there is no way to effectively filter Amazon's ebook selections so I don't inadvertently end up buying some piece of self-published crap rather than an actual, legitimate, well-edited book. (Which is not to say that there aren't self-published specimens of awesomeness or large press produced pieces of crap...just that I would like to easily up my odds of not reading the synopsis and reviews and still getting a book about a born shapeshifter whose background is never well explained but then gets turned into a vampire and targeted by mages because she created an illegal were-beast, and then her old boyfriend from her shapeshifter days shows up and throughout the whole mess the protagonist does nothing but whine, learns nothing and does not grow one tiny little bit.) At least with a hardbound book I have the opportunity to flip to a page 3/4 of the way through and read a little bit to figure out how stupid it may have gotten.

I do not, however, think that an ebook, which in many cases has not been typeset, and in most cases, has not been plated, physically proofed, printed with ink on dead trees (both of which have been independently manufactured and shipped to the press), cut, collated, bound, boxed, shipped, stored, and shelved should cost anywhere near as much as a book that has.

I love hardbound books. I still buy them, when they're good enough to want to keep in my library and especially if I can get them signed by the author. Hardbound books are superior to ebooks in several ways - they're easier to lend and help spread knowledge of a talented author, they're safer to leave by your chair at the hotel pool, there's something comfortable about them in a tactile sense that a flat little piece of plastic and circuitry can't reproduce. But, they're less portable, more fragile, take up far more space, are harder to pack and move, and are less immediately accessible should I be away from home (I am often without my Kindle, but never without my phone.)

I don't want the authors to be shortchanged should I buy an ebook rather than a hardbound book. I want the publishers to continue making both formats, and I will continue to buy both formats. I do have several ebooks that I also own in hardcopy. What I do want, is some kind of equity in the price related to the FAR smaller cost of an ebook due to it's lack of physical properties. The price of a hardback, which I can get for 30% off at my local bookstore with a membership on the day it's released, is FAR too high a price for a handful of electrons. $10 is too much when the paperback is available for only $7 - I remember when paperbacks were around $5, and I never complained about their prices going up a bit. More to the author, or at least insurance that the author was still getting their due. In the end, while I'm willing to pay paperback prices for ebooks or slightly more if it's still out in hardback, I refuse to pay more for "convenience" when the truth is that it costs significantly more to produce, ship and store a hardback than an ebook.

Generalizing yes--but there are vast forums on Amazon where authors are trashed for "pricing" their books too high, and concerted campaigns to give one star reviews to any ebook priced over 9.99. I'm an amazon user too, but the Kindle vocal userbase can be really unpleasant.


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