I’ve sat down several times to write today’s post and each time I find my fingers poised above the keyboard and I know what I want to write. Then it disappears and I find myself once again wondering at a comment I saw in a private group this morning. It was one of those messages that make you stop, reread, do a little research and still scratch your head and wonder what the heck happened to common sense during the night while you were sleeping.
The price of e-books is not a new topic here at MGC, or just about anywhere else where authors talk about the value of their work. Some of us have a higher threshold for what we are willing to pay than others. The one thing we have all agreed upon is that an e-book should not cost more than a paperback and most certainly shouldn’t cost almost as much as the hardcover. That’s not only common sense but basic accounting. It simply doesn’t cost as much to produce an e-book as it does the print version.
But this morning, the comment that had me wondering if I had fallen down some sort of warp hole into an alternate reality came from someone who was looking for recommendations for e-books to read. From the comments made by this person, it sounded as if they were like many of us. They had budgeted a certain amount for books and did not want to go above that amount. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many of us, myself included, do that.
So far, so good.
But where the person lost me was with their explanation for why they weren’t buying a certain book. The book, Conquistador (by S. M. Stirling) was first published in 2003 by Penguin. The Kindle version currently sells for $7.99. That seems a bit high to me for a book that has been out more than 10 years but it is pretty much in line with what traditional publishing charges for e-books. Oh, you will find some that sell for a bit less but that isn’t what the OP was complaining about.
It seems the OP looked at how much the other versions of the book were selling for. The mass market paperback version, apparently still in print, sells for $7.99. Okay, I have a problem with that. E-book and print versions should not be selling for the same amount. It is a slap in my face as a reader because it assumes I can’t figure out that it costs a publisher more to print, store, and ship the print version than it does to convert and transmit the digital version. But even that wasn’t what the OP was complaining about.
No, the OP’s reason for not buying the e-book came down to this: the hardcover version sells for as little as $0.40. Yes, this is for a used version of the book. Yes, tax and shipping and handling have to be added. The lowest price, after all that is done, would be approximately $4.40. But not even the fact that the total price would be less than the mmpb or e-book wasn’t what the OP objected to.
What was, you ask. Simple. The OP felt that if people valued the book so little that they were willing to sell it for $0.40 for the hardcover, then it most definitely couldn’t be worth the $7.99 they would be spending for the digital version.
Apparently it didn’t matter to the OP that there are 129 reviews of the book posted on Amazon and that the book has an average rating of 3.9 out of 5. Nope, they glommed onto the fact that approximately 8 folks were reselling a book that is more than 10 years old for approximately $0.40. They apparently didn’t look through all 9 pages of resell listings to see that the price for the book went into the $50.00 range. Nope, all the OP saw was the first page of listings for $0.40 and above.
So what does that mean to the rest of us as authors? I’m not sure, other than it is yet another instance showing that we need to educate ourselves and our readers on the economics of publishing. I would rather someone resell one of my print books than trash it, even though I will get no royalty from that second sale. Why would I prefer it? Because that person buying the used book might like what they read and then buy new versions of my other work for themselves. Even if they don’t wind up buying new copies, they might recommend my work to someone else and that can translate into sales.
That is all very good.
But we also have to take this as a cautionary tale. Readers are looking for the best bang for their buck. Not all of them will look through all the used book listings to see if that really low price is the norm or an abnormality, nor will they think to add in shipping and tax to see what the final version is. So, if our e-books are priced at or near what the mmpb cost is (for new), then we very well may be doing ourselves a disservice. (Or our publisher is.)
Just a little food for thought.
So, here’s a question for you. Do you look at the price of used print versions of a book before you decide whether you will buy the e-book version? If so, at what point do you choose the used book over the e-book?