To $.99 or not, That is The Question!

Sharon S. (whom you may recognize as one of the fantastic reviewers from I Smell Sheep) posted a link to an article from the Huffington post – Are E-Books Too Cheap? The article discusses the pros and cons of pricing your ebooks cheap and asks whether low prices devalue the authors work.

Ho hum hem ha.

The problem is that authors talk about two different value systems interchangeably and with no distinction. One, the value of the finished product; the story itself. Two, the value of the time and effort spent to create the product. In many cases, those two values have little to do with one another. A great book might only have taken a month to do, meanwhile a horrible book might have taken three years. It’s the same for all of the arts.

For example, music. I’ve never written/composed/recorded music, but I know it’s a long, arduous, agonizing process to achieve quality. However, I’m not buying that song or album because of the process (time, effort, etc) I’m buying that song for the product.  It’s the value of the song itself that I, as a consumer, care about, not the value of their time.

The same goes for a painting, a movie, a cartoon, a drawing, etc. etc. Consumers pay for the end result – the product – or the name signed in the corner – still part of the product. They don’t care if it took you six months or six years to complete it. They aren’t reimbursing your time.

This leads me to a conversation I had a few days ago on the Self Published Author’s Lounge. I commented that I’ve been told before (and I have) that I’m not a “serious” writer because making money is not my first concern. Another author commented that there should be a distinction between being serious about writing and being serious about making money.  Yes! I agree completely. There’s a reason that the “starving artist” stereotype exists. They are the ones who are serious about their “art”, not about the money, while the business minded tend to churn out what the market wants and what will sell because their goal is to make money. Personally, I chose indy publishing to avoid that mindset.

I price my books cheap. Why? Because my goal is to have readers, not make a fortune. Sure, I’d like to make money, but mainly I want to entertain people. Does that make me a vanity author? Is there any other type? Only someone vain enough to think their words have meaning would attempt to be an author or expect someone to pay for their work. YES! We’re all vain! Just like the painters are vain, and musicians are vain and photographers are vain! We want to show people the word through our eyes because we think that our version of it is spectacular! And despite what some people lip service, there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. If you don’t have that ego, then you’re not pushing your work out there in the first place.

This is where determining the value comes in. We’re pretty much all vain, selfish people (I can admit it!). We poured hours of our soul, spirit, tears and sweat into this work of art; we put a part of ourselves into it, and we deserve compensation! The problem is, that your soul, tears and sweat can’t really BE compensated. I have greedy moments where I start to think “I’m worth more than this!”.  Then I stop, sit back, and think about when JK Rowling sued the Harry Potter Lexicon – whom she’d previously supported – because *she* was going to put out an encyclopedia and theirs would infringe on hers. The funny thing is, as a Harry Potter fan, I’d have bought both. After that, I now refuse to buy any more of her books.  I’m not stupid enough to think my one or two sales are going to matter to her, but they matter to me.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be paid, because we should. There is a product to be paid for. The problem is how much do we “deserve”? How do we determine the value of the finished product? By the hours we spent on it? (in that case each of my books is worth less than the one before because I’m getting better and need less hours of editing) By the monetary investment you put into it? (That makes my entire series worth 55$) Or is it by the enjoyment people get out of reading the story? Call me idealistic and childish, but that’s how I like to think people value my book. Not as something that took me six months to do, but as a good story that they enjoyed and want to read again.

And so long as they think that, I really couldn’t care less how much they paid for it.

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  1. Very serious philosophical discussion here.

    The thing that came to mind is the case of James Patterson, “author”. He apparently writes “good” stories (I haven’t read one in years) However, and remember he comes from an advertising background, he does not write his books. He publishes several – can’t remember the number, a year. He has a “team” who writes the books, thereby allowing him to put out many books. When I learned this I (and the group where we learned this) groaned at his tactics.

    So, is he a serous author – he’s in it for the $$$$

    If someone writes just for the money and does not love the writing, how good can their books be??

    • Whoa Sue! I had NO idea that James Patterson had a team of ghost writers. I’ve only read one or two of his books myself. I know there are others out there who do this. Look at VC Andrews. She’s been dead for how long, and they’re still churning out books with her name on them! It’s rediculous! 🙂

      • Yes! Like the first three or something like that are the only ones that are hers and all the rest are someone else… who is not as good as she was, either.

        • It’s easy to tell which is hers and which isn’t. Hers had a great voice that carried you away and made you forget about everything around you. I remember reading her books over and over when I was 12 and 13. Then I tried to read the ones by the ghostwriters, and the voice is not there so it’s lacking that special something. It’s hard to explain, but I was sorry she didn’t write more. Which is why it’s great we have the indie option. Who knows how many books she would have written if she’d gone indie?

          • YES!!! Exactly! When I was a kid I couldn’t understand what people went when they talked about books “whisking you away” and then I picked up Flowers in the Attic and totally understood. It was the first book I ever read that actually did that. My Sweet Audrina is one of my favorite books to this day. And you’re right, the other guy (for guy he is, LOL!) just doesn’t have the stuff. I noticed it in the Heaven series and in the Dawn series especially when it was the same scenes (almost word for word) I’d read in some of the others, and that’s when I flipped to the front and noticed the “not written by her” disclaimer. I quit reading them after that.

    • Hm. You know I’m sure I’ve read something of his, but I couldn’t tell you what. I had heard before that he has Ghost Writers. At that point you’re not even writing the book anymore. You’re just putting your name on it to sell more copies.

      I agree, how is that a serious writer? A serious businessman, sure, but writers need to write…

    • You mean he hasn’t written any of those books? I haven’t read him, but if I had, I’d feel ripped off. I like knowing the person actually wrote the book.

  2. I agree with the vanity part . Even bloggers are vain. We put our opinions out there because we want people to read them and tell us how fantastic we are 😉 price is a supply and demand thing too. The more something is wanted the more the artist/author can charge. I can’t justify paying the same price for an ebook and a paper copy.

    • Exactly! 😉

      Same here. Paperbacks have the paper, the ink, etc etc that are all overhead costs, so the book price has to cover those. ebooks don’t.

  3. Wow! This is a really great post. I think you’re right. I got back into writing because I enjoy it. I write for my own entertainment. If I can bring joy to someone else…well that’s just gravy.

    I’d love to see you be able to make a living doing what you enjoy, Jo. I see nothing wrong with that. You’re multi-faceted in the talent department and incredibly generous when it comes to sharing that talent! Your tutorials alone are amazing! The problem is, I don’t think it’s possible to sell any created work at it’s “true” value. Let’s just say, for easy math’s sake, you could write a book in say…60 hrs. At even $5 an hour, not including editing time, that would make this hypothetical book worth at least $300 a copy. I don’t see this EVER happening. 🙂 I’m not saying it’s not worth that amount, but the only people who could own it at that price have picketers having around them. LOL

    There’s a lot of factors involved in putting a price tag on your time. It really is a personal choice plus what the price the market is selling similiar titles at. I get upset when read about “real writers” versis what? Pretend writers? Imaginary writers? Gesh! Sometimes it feels junior high school, twenty-four hours a day! Bah! This type of stuff goes on everywhere though, no matter what your job is. It happens to me all the time at my “job that pays the bills.” Why does this person get paid this much and that person get paid that much? I hate the sour grapes nonsense. I hate having to be Pollyanna with an attitude, but why can’t we all just get along? I’m not talking about constructive criticism. I’m incredibly grateful for advice that will help me to reach my goals, but why do people have to put each other down in order to build themselves up?

    It’s like the Harry Potter thing. I’m with you. If I was going to buy the one, I’d have bought the other one too. I don’t buy one book, and that’s supposed to last me for the entire year! I read a book or two a week. There’s plenty of room in this world for all kinds of books and all sorts of writers. I reread books that I enjoy. There’s no reason for all the catty behavior.

    Yikes! I’m ranting again. Sorry, Jo! I guess it’s been that kind of week! Hugs to you and your family, both imaginary and otherwise and Happy Holidays!

    • @Juli – excellent comments – yep that makes Jo an imaginary writer – and yes the sour grapes game is played in every profession. thanks for speaking your mind.

    • rant away!

      Exactly. If I want to be compensated for every hour of my work, then I need an hourly paying day job. Different businesses have different kind of pay.

      Yeah, it’s the same old, same old. Like real Christians or real artists or real… you name it. People have to make up some set of standards to measure themselves against everyone else, which I don’t get. Why do we have to compare, and be compared, to other people? No two people are alike, so why are we setting all these parameters for everyone? Mainly I think it’s used to prove superiority over others…. which is sad.

      now about that 300$ a book 😉


      christmassy hugs and pipe cleaner tree wishes 😉

  4. Well my imaginary friends are my characters – you guys are for real

    Don’t forget the Bond books and sherlock Holmes books (by the way the second film is phenomenal in my mind anyway)

    that was scary – I mentioned James Patterson here and he popped up on FB………. great little hackers is FB

    @Jo – Patterson gives credit to his team – they’re not ghosts per se though another writer did use a ghost for a while then the ghost – Michael Gruber – started to write on his own – I just read one of his “kid” books the boy and the witch – fabulous read!

    @Jo – yep is oneupmanship – I’m better than you – nah nah – bullshit – that’s the main thing I love about most of the writers I’ve met on line – supportive no games and everyone is equal (well mostly)

    • Great post and excellent points. I think we ultimately write and publish to share our work with those who will enjoy it. I have no trouble offering free and low prices. I do, however, get tired of people who try to make me feel guilty for not making my books a higher price. it used to be that $2.99 was the “sweet spot” and now it’s $4.99. My books would never sell at $4.99. I do good to sell at $2.99. So I get the comments that I’m devaluing my work and making it harder for other authors to sell their books. I’d love to see how what I’m doing really impacts another author. To me, this is ridiculous.

      Authors who can come together in the spirit of helping each other are golden. I think writers who are serious are those who help others because serious writers love books and value the time it took to create them. It’s all about the love of writing.

      The whole “real” writer thing never made sense to me. If you write, you are a real writer since that’s what a writer does. Seems basic to me. Putting a dollar amount on the legitimacy of a writer is pointless. It’s really all about the writer’s passion for their story and the reader who reads that book again and again. That’s our immortality. 😀 Because of us, that book exists.

      • Yep all about the love – the world is too crazy which is why I write – to escape – thank you

      • Exactly! Maybe it’s because I don’t pursue a fine art career, but I haven;t heard anyone say “Your’e not a real artist if…” or “You’re not a real musician if…” etc. etc. I don;t understand why writing is such a different beast.

        Yeah, I’ve noticed that sweet spot keeps going up – and it bugs me because I know it;s just greed. The royalty % has not gotten less on ebooks, the price to publish the ebook has not gone up, so the only reason is that the author wants more money. If that’s how they want to do it, then okay, but for the most part there are only a small handful of authors I’m willing to pay 5$ to read in ebook format.

        heh-heh, they’re just upset because you’re not selling at the same price they are, so it’s “unfair competition” 😉

    • well at least he’s crediting them. I had an offer asking me to ghost write a book once and turned it down because I don;’t have time for my own, let alone someone else’s 😉 Plus, it goes back to that vanity thing….

      Yes! I’ll tell you what, stay away from a lot of the author’s groups, though. Several of the ones I was sort of in (though not all, mind you) were full of that, too, as though it would somehow help them sell more books by tearing down someone else. I just don’t have time for that crap.

      • guess I’ve been lucky – the two writing groups if can call them that that I am involved in are just supportive with no games. Well some of them may play games but them I can ignore and the supportive ones are like having my own private tutor My only “complaint” is that most writers I know are just too busy: day job often, writing their own works, contests etc and their own blogs. some of them blow me away with all they can accomplish but still they will always answer an e mail 😀

        • It’s the “author” groups that tend to turn into catty, horrible places. I think there’s an ego difference once they get a book “published” – no matter what method they use. not to say all author groups are that way, I have found one on FB that is great. 🙂

  5. It doesn’t matter the cost of the book; it’s the content. I’ve read some free books that have wowed me. If someone’s goal is to earn money, they have chosen – wrongly. You have made an excellent choice at 99 cents, and you are building followers which is key to success.

    • yep! the art fields are infamous for not making money. As with everything there are a handful of success stories and then people take that as the norm, when it isn’t.

      I agree. I am much more likely to pick up an ebook for $.99 than I am for a higher price. I’ve left my first book at $.99 – originally it was for a sale last christmas and then I just decided to leave it – and I don;t intend to raise the price on it unless someone forces me to 😉


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