From Amanda: Today I am happy to have self-published author M.R. Merrick here on the blog. With this post, Matt hopes to make you think about what you’re paying for when you purchase a book and to encourage discussion about the topic. It is not a defense of high ebook prices. And, with that, I turn my blog over to Matt.
I think it’s fair to describe imagination as both the simplest, and most complex of things. It allows us to create and it steal us away to distant lands with figments of our imagination. It can fill an afternoon, a weekend, or an entire month with adventure, love, and despair. With enough books, it fills a lifetime. Imagination, to me, is the simplest form of magic.
So how do you put a price on imagination?
Is it the $14 you pay for a two hour movie, the $25 hardcover book, the $15 paperback, or the $2.99 eBook? The industry puts the price on imagination for us, but we’ve always had a choice: are we going to pay for the movie, or wait to rent it for a substantial savings? If you can’t justify the cost of the hardcover, you can wait for the paperbacks. Now with eBooks, we have an entirely different set of decisions, ones that I feel devalues what you’re paying for.
Are you paying to hold something, or to disappear into a world that doesn’t yet exist in your own mind?
I think we’re we paying for the experience.
I’m not here to defend eBooks that cost $14.99, but I want to offer a perspective on eBook pricing, even if it’s not worth anything.
Paper is cheap; roughly $2-5 for printing, shipping etc. That book you were prepared to pay $15-$25 for physically, theoretically, should still be $10-$20 in eBook form. That is, if you’re assuming we discount the cost right off the top.
The problem most people have with this is that an eBook is intangible, so that automatically devalues it. An eBook is vacant of the smell of untouched pages. It’s missing the image of unbent spines. There is no glossy cover to admire and it takes up no space on your bookshelf. On the flip side however, the pages never tear, the book is not destroyed if you spill coffee on it (eReaders of course don’t like this, but that’s a different argument all together), and there are no bent pages.
So there are some key advantages to eBooks, but once again, they’re devalued because we cannot see them on our shelves. We can’t brush our fingertips against the pages. But the reality is you’re not paying for that, are you?
Is there any less work put into an eBook? Has an author not invested the same love, care, and attention as a physical one? Have they not put a small piece of their soul inside, so that it can breathe life into the pages?
Let’s be honest here, when push comes to shove, you’re not buying it so you can touch the glossy cover and the smell of pages. That may be something you love about books, but that’s not why you buy them.
You purchase books to lose yourself in someone else’s imagination; to visit new worlds, with new characters that you will both love and hate. You can experience everything in a unique perspective, and your heart can be both broken and mended in a matter of hours, based on an experience that can only be described as magical. So why is it okay to pay $25 for a hardcover book, but not to pay $10 for an eBook? We can’t truly be inclined to believe the cover, paper, and printing, makes up for 66% of a books price. Can we? Isn’t the value in the words, yet another incorporeal item? Words, although unfelt, carry power. I think we all can agree on that much.
I know not everybody fits into this camp; some have no problems paying $10 for an eBook. On the flip side, some independent works are written in a month, a friend proofreads it, then it’s published. So many readers have been slighted by work that was not ready for public consumption, and they’re not prepared to pay more than a few dollars. But with that comes some indie authors who hire professional artists and editors – in my case, I use two. So there are outside factors as well. The factor that doesn’t change however, is that you’re paying for imagination.
Whether that’s a physical book or not, imagination is not a tangible item, much like eBooks are not. But the content within is worth so much more than what you can hold. The first experience you have with a book you love can never be replicated. You’ll love other books in different ways, and you may always enjoy reading certain stories time and time again, but that exact, first experience with a new book, is the only first experience you’ll ever have with it.
So I ask you, dear readers, what is your limit? What is the most you’re willing to pay for an escape? If the price is different than what you’d pay or a physical book, why? And do you think $0.99-$2.99 eBooks devalue the perception of what is otherwise the living force of someone else’s soul? Yes, we can all agree some eBooks are only worth pennies. We’ve all had that terrible experience, but when in the end, is the most important part of a book a shiny piece of cardboard and a dead tree? Or is it the journey and emotions that can live inside you long after that last page has been turned?
M.R. Merrick is a Canadian writer, and author of Exiled & Shift, the first two installments in The Protector Series. Having never travelled, he adventures to far off lands through his imagination and in between cups of coffee. As a music lover and proud breakfast enthusiast, he’s usually found at the computer between a pair of headphones and in front of a large bowl of cereal.