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One Art, Please. I Have 99 cents.
no
catvalente
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.

Actually, in the 2 1/2 months since I wrote that comment, I've had excellent success with a $0.99 ebook. However, it was nonfiction (about Ubuntu Linux) rather than fiction. So I suspect the dynamic may be different.