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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.

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.

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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.

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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.)