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One Art, Please. I Have 99 cents.
So haikujaguar  posted Novelr's post about 99 cent ebooks. She's in favor. I'm not, but that's going to get obvious. I'll just continue the dialogue here because it's too much to go into on Twitter.

Novelr gathers links about the inevitability of 99-cent e-books. I think they're right on this one. Songs are 99 cents. Why are novels $15? (Please don't tell me that songs don't take as long as novels to write. Some novels are written in a week; some songs take years. It's all art.)

Whoa. Let's back that truck up.

Here's the thing--the argument here is not that novels are somehow higher art than music--no one makes that argument. And a 3 minute song with pro mastering and recording probably takes a lot longer than people think, likely as long as it takes fast writers to create a novel. Not the point--the hours that go into something are not printed on the label.

The point is that the unit value of "song" is not the same as the unit value of "novel." The comparison is more song ==> short story or song ==> chapter, and album ==> novel.

Go on iTunes. Most albums? Are still about $10-$15.

A song is a part of a whole. A novel is a whole. They do not equate. Sure, there are singles, but most people still put out albums, not 14 singles all in a row. It takes three minutes on average to listen to a song. It takes hours, and often days or weeks, to read and enjoy a novel. The entertainment output is enormous. It takes longer to read a novel than to play some video games--and if you want to talk about price gouging, let's break out my XBox, shall we? Now, of course, one listens to songs more than once, and so you might end up with several hours worth of pleasure out of a single song. Many people also read novels more than once, and you can never tell when you click the buy button if this book/song will be one you love forever and read/listen to over and over, or one you get bored with and forget about after a week.

Ultimately, I'm a little tired of people telling me my work isn't worth very much. That we should accept Apple--APPLE--price points without hesitation or consideration, that all units are the same units, all art is the same art. Obviously, sculpture, paintings, murals, and jewelry should also all cost 99 cents each. Actors should only get paid 99 cents per performance. Dancers should only get 99 cents per dance. Architects should get 99 cents per building. Concerts should also charge 99 cents admission. It's all art--the units are all interchangeable, and should all be tied to iTunes pricing.

This is madness, to me.

Because of the 99 cents model on iTunes (and piracy), most musicians who are not the Black Eyed Peas or some such have moved to a donations model to support themselves and continue to make albums. Writers do this too--we all have tip jars, but far fewer people throw in because writing in general gets a bit shat upon as an art form. (And the fact that it takes longer to consume means many people just download a file and never look at it again. Don't think your piracy figures equate to actual readers.) Anyone can do it, obviously. They're all greedy hacks. That's why Amazon users figure ebooks should be free. You're not doing anything special, how dare you ask for money for it? That's like begging.

Do I think ebooks are priced too high? Probably. I think the price should be more like a mass market paperback--which is not 99 cents, you'll notice.

You pay 5.99 for a mocha, dude. Why would you not pay it for a book?

Moreover, why would anyone insist that everyone charge the same for their books, that the "market" settle out to conform to Apple's idea of pricing circa 2001? What that's actually saying is: no one should make more than a little bit of money from writing. It's a hobby, not a job anyone needs to be compensated for. You need that skilled barista to make your fancy mocha, but a writer? Unless the idea is that publishers would still pay advances as they do now, but only charge 99 cents for the ebooks. Which does not compute. Or that publishers should vanish altogether, which point we have already discussed ad nauseam. Of course even at 99 cents, some people will be successful, but that number will be even smaller than it is now.

No one benefits from a field that is bled dry of talent and especially risk-taking talent so that downloads can be brought down to 99 cents. I am not cool with this, and you shouldn't be either. I will happily overpay for every ebook if it means writers get to eat and feed their families. I overpay for shit all the time without making righteous judgments about what it "should" cost in some impossibly ideal world where everyone has insurance and no one is hungry and everything in the entire universe costs 99 cents.

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Thanks for your correction.

Anyway, my point is that if you think you can maximize your total profit by selling your ebook for 99¢, do that; if you think you can maximize it by selling it for $2.99, do that; heck, if you think you can maximize your profits by selling it for $50.00, do that. (I suppose one of the advantages of this whole self-published ebook trend is that if you take this route, you can experiment with different price points and get some very rapid feedback on what is more effective.) People who think you’re overpricing your work don’t have to buy it.

Look at Apple: people have been accusing them of pushing overpriced stuff since the days of the first Mac, if not since the days of the Apple ][, and now Apple is worth about 50% more than Microsoft.

I don’t believe in the maxim “greed is good”, but I do believe in “don’t leave money on the table”.

I think people who go out and buy a ton of 99 cent ebooks aren't reading all of them; they're hoarding them. I know I do. I haven't read half of my 99c purchases.

Every book I buy over $3? I read, because it's not an impulse purchase, it's a considered purchase. I bought it because I really wanted to read it, right then.

Also, I don't see any reason why every author should consider the entire reading public to be the target audience. If I can make a decent living selling to people who want to read MY work at a fair price and I don't have to surround myself with bad cover art and poorly edited books as my neighbors on Amazon, why the heck would I want to try and sustain 6 times the amount of sales at 99c?

Finally, I fundamentally object to the 'value' of a book to me as a writer being tied solely to the money. I'm familiar with J. A. Konrath's recent and older pricing experiments. He makes more money off his 2.99 books than his .99 cent ones usually. Loss leaders are okay, but what happens when there are 5 million books priced at 99 cents? There's nowhere to discount from there.

We're in a period of massive ebook adoption, and it may last for a while yet. But I'm not going to price a year of my sweat and blood cheaper than a Frosty to gain readers who don't think books are worth more than fast food. As Zoe Winters said, it's invariably the people who are willing to pay the least who complain the most.

Those aren't the readers I want. It's precisely because I believe art is important and hard to put a monetary value on that it should be valued enough for artists to make a living wage.

I realize that sounds strange, but I am much more willing to give my art away to people who can't afford to pay than I am to discount new work to bargain bin prices. If I can't make a living at 4.99, 5.99, or 6.99 books once I'm well established, then I will find a new freelancing job and write part-time, if my health will allow me to do so. Right now I'm averaging six hours a day of productive time. That's my daily allotment of spoons.

Right now, we don't live in utopian societies that allow us to barter and give at will. I can't opt out of capitalism and expect for someone to pay my health care tab or my rent or to put food on my table.

It's a lot safer, in my mind, to rely on a niche demographic who reads the kind of stories I write who are willing to pay a reasonable sum for them than it is to rely on droves of bargain bin shoppers and early adopters to snatch up cheap books in handfuls month after month, year after year.

Just to clarify: Are you concerned that selling your work cheaply will hurt you financially in the long run even if there is a short-term advatnage, or are you concerned that seeking a mass audience will interfere with your artistic development, or do you just not want to be cheap, period?

Hubby got a new Kindle for Christmas and has been experimenting with it. He's in a phase right now where he's looking at ebooks and reading samples and deciding what to buy and for how much.

He stumbled onto an author whose name I really will not repeat here but who is an aggressive marketer. SOmewhere int his preambles and advertisements etc it says that one of his books is downloaded somewhere every ten seconds (or something like that). He quotes SHITLOADS of five-star reviews for those books. He has at least a dozen of them up, many of them at 99c.

Well, he downloaded a sample of one of the 99c books just to get a sense of the style and substance of this writer.

His reaction? "I wouldn't read this if he GAVE it away. Those five-star reviews must have been written by his mother."

In other words, it isn't the amount, it's the VALUE. Really. Some books are just worth $2 or $3 in ebook format. Some - well - I don't know if he's telling porkies and he really IS selling these things by the metric ton but I don't know that I want the kind of reader who would buy a book which got THAT reaction from my husband (and who would then GO BACK AFTER THAT EXPERIENCE to buy a second book from that same author). Surely at some point what kicks in is the fact that yes, you might have paid less 99c for a novel - but it is A BAD NOVEL. Are there no readers out there who have any discernment at all any more or do we all just write drivel, price it at less than a dollar, and watch the money rolling in?

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