Does a book's price hint at its quality?
March 20, 2012
I’m not talking about a collector’s item first edition.
One of the fascinating issues about the current state of publishing is how to set the price point for an ebook. If we take free books out of the equation, we see ebooks priced from $0.99 to about $9.99.
Are books on the high end of the spectrum ten times better than those on the low end? Does paying top dollar for an ebook ensure that the reader is buying the cream of the crop? Or is the high price just a ripoff? Are there cheap books that rival expensive ones in quality?
I discussed this last night in a Google Plus hangout with three fine independent writers: Christina Carson, Bert Carson and Caleb Pirtle. Christina pointed out that there is a long-standing feeling in some quarters that a rock bottom price is a sign of an inferior product.
You can’t buy a new seven series BMW for $1,500. Are ebooks any different? Shouldn’t a $9.99 price tag on an ebook denote it as a Bimmer of a book? Isn’t pricing an ebook at $0.99 a clear indication that it is a Yugo?
Other factors muddy the waters in this debate. There is a school of thought that says the way for an unknown author to break in is for her to offer her book at $0.99. Maybe this was true a year or two ago when $0.99 pricing began a trend and propelled some pioneer indie writers into fantastic sales numbers.
But if $0.99 has become the benchmark price for new indie writers, how does that price help any author to separate himself from the pack? All it does is devalue indie books and reinforce the notion that a good book comes attached to a higher price.
Prices of ebooks from big publishing houses remain much higher than prices of indie ebooks. This is so that the big houses can protect the even higher prices of their paper books. It has nothing to do with the cost of producing the ebooks.
If you price a Yugo like a seven series BMW, does that make it a BMW?
The energy of the indie movement will find its way to the middle ground. This will mean price points for many ebooks from $2.99 to $6.99 with $0.99 books relegated to the bargain bin, and $9.99 ebook pricing viewed as little more than arrogant elitism clung to by the big houses.
But we still have the unresolved question of quality. If the three-tiered structure I have outlined above comes to pass, then people will expect a $9.99 book to be a BMW. If it turns out to be a cheap imitation of the real thing, people will abandon the author and feel cheated.
In the middle tier, people will expect quality books from writers whose names haven’t made headlines yet. If they find such books, they will realize that they can buy a fine book for $3.99. When this happens, they will become fans of the author and not mind paying $3.99 or $4.99 for her next book. And they will wonder why they paid $9.99 for books that were not nearly so good.
The third tier will be ebooks priced below $2.99. Readers will bring very low expectations to these books. If the book is a piece of trash, they will stop reading it and mark the author off their list once and for all. If they stumble upon a diamond, they will look for other books by the same author. If that author begins to build her reputation on the book, she will hope to join tier two with her next release.
So, what do you think? Is the price of a book an indication of its quality and value? What should a good book be worth?
(Stephen Woodfin’s legal thriller LAST ONE CHOSEN is priced at $2.99 on the Kindle store.)