Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Cheap Books Won’t Ruin the E-Publishing Industry

Lately, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about how 99 cent ebooks are going to ruin the book publishing industry. That, somehow, by introducing thousands of new self-published “authors” to the booming epublishing industry (if you hadn’t heard, Amazon recently reported esales overtaking paper sales for the first time), it’ll take down the industry as a whole. As if the appearance of a cheaper alternative is the death knell of anything! It’s not going to go away, people! It’s just going to change!
As Americans, we are well aware of the introduction of cheaper alternatives. Pick up almost any consumer item on the shelf and you’ll more than likely see “Made in [insert favorite Asian country here].” But, that doesn’t mean you (A) can’t purchase said item, or (B) find that item with a “Made in the USA” label on it (though the label itself might still be made in Japan, but I digress). The same could be said of many consumer items.

Ebook pricing seems to be a rather contentious topic for some ebook authors though. Presently, most traditional (ie, big six publisher) authors ebooks are priced in line with their tangible (paper) publications. I don’t particularly understand buying an ebook for $8.99 when it costs significantly less to produce than a paper version. For nontraditional authors, the price line seems to dip below $3.99. I’ve debated my introductory price for Multiples of Six and feel that $2.99 is a fair starting price to ask. I’ve worked hard on it and I think it’ll be entertaining. But, only those who purchase and read the book can decide whether or not the work is worthy of the price point. And, I hope they’ll take the opportunity to tell me so one way or the other.

However, what seems to be happening of late is a smear fest against authors listing their works for $0.99 (the lowest amount Amazon will accept, other than free). Without reading the work, people are automatically disparaging the authors of these works. They claim they are diluting the virtual bookshelf with 99 cent trash. Now, mind you, they may be right. I’m sure there are plenty of slapped-together, typo-filled, incoherant novels out there, luring in readers with the 99 cent price tag. Hey, who doesn’t like a bargain? But, guess what? Consumers are pretty smart. If you buy something on the cheap, then you expect a certain quality. If the product matches the price point, then who is to complain? The consumer has only shelled out a buck and the author has, essentially, made not claim that their work will be worth more than that. If there is a sense, on the part of the consumer, that they haven’t gotten their money’s worth, rest assured that the author will hear about it.

Let’s think about it in terms of frozen dinners. You’ve got your top of the shelf--ahem--Stouffer’s and Mary Callender’s, then you have your Hungry Man, then you’ve got your Banquet. The Banquet is on sale for 99 cents and the picture looks kinda like the one on the Stouffer’s. You give it a try. You know you can’t expect the Stouffer’s quality--ahem--, but you can’t really complain about spending a buck. Now, either one of two things will happen. The consumer will either realize the error of his ways and never trust another $0.99 frozen meal again or the consumer will be satisfied with what they received in exchange for their money. No, it wasn’t Stouffer’s, but it was adequate and got the job done for a bargain price. Happy customer.

So, ok, get to the point then. The 99 cent price point won’t kill publishing. The influx of crappy writing won’t kill publishing. Consumers are pretty smart cookies (mmm…cookies). Give them what they want at the price they want and they’ll keep coming back. Give them crap and they won’t. And, in the end, the cream will rise to the top as it always does. And, just think, the top will be that much higher with so much more crap underneath!