Imagination: Why It Pays to Believe [Guest Discussion Post]

Posted 31 August, 2012 by Amanda / 10 Comments

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?

About Matt:

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.

Find Matt and his books through his Amazon page. You can also read Kelly’s reviews of Exiled and Shift.

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10 Responses to “Imagination: Why It Pays to Believe [Guest Discussion Post]”

  1. I actually don’t mind up to a $9.99 price tag on ebooks (of course this depends on whether it is first run, hardcover, paperback, MMP, or Indy Published). I think you are first and foremost paying for the content. What does bug me is when I can pay less for a print book than an eBook. I do think there is an extra value in a print book–sure the content doesn’t change but you have the availibility to pass it on to family, friends. I use my beloved Shel Silverstein hardcovers as examples. I have had them over 20 years and plan on passing them a long to future generations. I can’t do that with an eBook. There is a difference in value where the packaging is concerned that I think should be reflected in price. I am not talking if a book is 8.99 in print it should be 2.99 in ebook. I am talking about a dollar or two. However, if Target can blanket sale paperbooks for 20% off the retail price then I should not EVER have to pay above that price for the ebook. That is when ebook pricing gets to me. It just shouldn’t happen.

    *stopping here because I have been known to go on and on about this LOL*

    • That’s a very valid point. I certainly do not agree with physical books costing more than eBooks. That’s the industry’s attempt at pushing paper, and I don’t agree with it at all. But it is definitely worth noting.

      I agree that there is extra value in print books as well. I certainly don’t want to see the ‘death of the physical book,’ or bookstores for that matter.

      Great points Felicia.

      • Felicia

        I am mostly an eBook reader so the price differential has put me off in buying totally in some cases!

        I have found that most indy writers that I follow/buy know not only the consumer/fan of their books but also the current trends. They tend to know how to stradle the line between value of their time and the expectations of the market (valid or not where expectations are concerned). I very seldom have problems with their pricing points. The ones I know I have paid up to $4.99 for and would probably pay more but that is the most I have ever seen one. The ones I don’t know, I would say $2.99 is generally the most I will risk unless I had heard directly from friends that it is worth it.

        (after reading the post again I realized I never answered the direct question LOL)

  2. I do not like spending more that $7.99 for an ebook, and even that’s on the high side. (I’m more like to buy an ebook if it’s priced $3-$5.) I can tell you the TWO times that I have spent more than that: (1) Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning, which was $9.99 (because I had to have it on release day) and (2) an ebook I gifted to a friend that was $11.99 (because she’s a great friend and totally worth it).

    Now if we’re talking about a novella, I don’t like spending more than 99¢. I can’t justify spending $3 for a book that’s about 100 pages in length.

    If the ebook is more than the print edition (which, crazy enough, I have seen often), then I’m getting the print edition. I will not pay more for an ebook than a mmpb. That’s just ridiculous.

    I see ebooks similar to a software program one would purchase. You can use the program (like you would read the book) but you do not own it and you cannot share/lend/borrow/trade/sell it. Much like you cannot sell an ebook. Nor can you trade or swap an ebook. And if you can loan it out (which majority of ebooks do NOT have that feature – I’m looking at the Big 6 when I say that), you can only loan it out ONE TIME EVER. That’s primarily why I think ebooks should be less than their print counterparts. Why should I pay the same price for an ebook that I would for a print copy when I can’t do with it what I want, like I can with a print copy?

    Okay, /rant.

    Great post Matt!

    • Thanks for your thoughts Brianna!

      I guess I’m kind of on the outside circle here. I approach eBooks in a similar manner as physical books. I do expect to pay less for them, but I have no issue paying up to $9.99 for a book I want. If it’s an author I’ve never read, I’ll read the sample first, but I still prefer to pay less. If the sample does catch me though, I’ll pay.

      As far as Novella’s are concerned, I guess it’s hard for me. I’m more about content than size, so I don’t mind pay $3.99 – $4.99 for a novella, if the content is there. Of course we don’t know that until we read it. I suppose maybe size does play a factor here though…because to me, a novella is 40k – 60k in word count, which is a fair size story. But my views differ as I know some novella’s are published at half that.

      I definitely do not believe in eBooks priced higher than physical copies. That to me, is ridiculous.

      In closing, I have to agree that the lack of lending/resale capabilities does devalue the eBook. That is certainly a great point!

  3. Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m cheap. I shop around for my books and have been known to pick up a few freebies here and there *cough* Like Briana, I don’t like spending much more than a dollar or two on a novella – especially extra short ones. And like Felicia, I have no problem investing more money in a known indy author versus an unknown. If an ebook is $7.99 and the PB version is the same price, I have no problem paying that price. I don’t, however purchase many hardcover new releases… once again … I’m cheap. I will bend for authors who are continuing a series that I am chomping at the bit to follow, but even then I have to think long and hard about it. Having said all that, I have to admit that I do look for ebooks priced low before I purchase. It has nothing to do with the value of the book though. Which is in a way rather sad. I honestly don’t look at whether or not it is an ebook, indy book PB or hard cover. If it’s a book that I really want to read, I just pick the price that is the best value, period. There are indy books that I would pay for regardless and I have. I’ve actually purchased PB versions of indy books just to have them. Whether or not they were physical books or ebooks didn’t enter into the equation because I read them both.
    So I guess the long and short of this little rambling comment is that it depends. When I decide to purchase a book, most of the time I don’t even look to see whether the author is self published or not. Of course, I have my favorite indy authors who I follow and harass on a regular basis. Among those authors I have paid for at least 1 if not all of the books that I now own by them. I don’t consider that aspect when shopping for a book. The long and short of it is, if it’s an author that I know and trust, I’ll spend whatever the most valued price is. If it’s a novella or an unknown author, I’m going to wait until it’s really cheap or free to take a chance. The up side is, if they hook me with the first book, odds are I’ll pay a fair price for subsequent books that they write. If that means waiting until the hardcover comes out in paperback, hey… I’m nothing if not a very patient reader ;)
    Great post Matt. Thanks for making us think a little about a subject that most of us take for granted. ;)

    • There’s nothing wrong with waiting for a deal. I think we all like that. Maybe another way to look at it is we like to read, so not everyone can afford to pay $10 for a book every other day. Avid readers consume a lot of words, and that isn’t a cheap habit. There are certainly worse habits to have, but the price still takes a toll.

      I don’t exactly believe in Free eBooks (I know, that probably sounds silly, but I’ll have a post on my blog about that coming up soon), so I don’t venture into that territory very often.

      • I guess since I’ve read over 150 books this year already I could possibly be classified as an ‘avid reader’ LOL! So you’re right, there is no possible way I could sustain my reading ‘habit’ by paying $10+ per book. Therefore I’ve become a value shopper. I don’t always purchase books from Amazon and I try to buy at least one book a month or so from my local Indy book store. I don’t want to see them disappear. Even so, I’ll buy books from department stores and I’ll stack my cart at Amazon with enough books so I can take advantage of the 4 for 3 deals.
        And yes, even though I partake of a huge amount of freebies, I understand the controversy about them. I am picky about the books I pick up. I don’t just arbitrarily pick up every free book I can get my hands on. I stick to genres that I know I will enjoy and I check out ratings, especially from bloggers and readers that I know and trust.
        I’ll be watching for that post about freebies because I’m sure your stance and reasoning isn’t silly at all. I will say that there are a lot of authors, especially self published authors, that I wouldn’t have taken a chance on if I hadn’t been introduced to them first by a freebie. That may not be fair, but it’s honest. More often than not, if they grab me with the first installment, I will gladly purchase subsequent books from them.
        Yet, none of this is because I’m putting a price on creativity. It’s kinda like me giving away my graphics and bookmarks, etc. in contests and giveaways. There’s usually a payback there somewhere. It costs me a little bit (sometimes more than a little) and there’s a risk involved. Yet, more often than not I pick up business as a result because people get a glimpse of what I can do and it’s enough for them to take a chance on me.
        I’ll leave it at that because I have rambled way more than I originally intended. And FYI – I’d gladly pay for your next book. Is it ready yet? ;) LOL!

  4. Great discussion!

    While lately I’ve been trying to NOT buy books unless I completely love them and need to add them to my collection, in the past I’ve been known to buy a TON of books.

    I’m a physical book girl all the way. I love the weight of them, the smell, the turning of the pages. It takes a LOT to get me to buy an eBook. Mostly, it’s the price. There was one book, in particular, that I saw available as paperback and as an eBook, with only a $0.70 difference between the two. In that case, YES, I will buy the paperback. BUT, if an eBook I’ve been eyeing goes on sale for $2.99, I’m more likely to buy the eBook.

    Personally, I LIKE the tangible and being able to SEE a book on my shelf. My eReader is usually in my purse, or in my night table, so I can’t even see it half the time. When it comes to picking out a new book to read, I always go to my shelves and have a look. The only time I think to look at my eReader is when it’s the only thing I have — usually on a vacation or car trip.

    When it comes to buying indie authors’ work in eFormat, I rely mostly on word of mouth. I’m with Kobo and there aren’t a ton of freebies available, but I see TONS of freebies through Kindle. Just because an eBook is free doesn’t mean I’m going to download it. I’m going to go to Goodreads, or my friends’ blogs to see what they thought. If they speak highly of it, I’ll download it. I’m even more picky when it’s an indie author and the book is more than $1.99 — it’ll take a LOT of research to get me to buy that novel!

    But, in the end, I’ve realized that even buying books in hardcopy doesn’t mean they’ll be good, so I’ve decided to test drive more books from the library before buying, hopefully saving myself some money. I’m not sure what I’ll do for indie authors, but we’ll see. There are lots of works out there that get around by word of mouth, so maybe I can find something that’ll suit me. It would be nice if authors offered up chapter samples or previews for their books — for some people, even $2.99 is a big investment. I mean, they add up after a while! Readers want QUALITY with their purchase!

    Anyway, great post! Sorry for the novel I wrote! :)