My recent post on zombie industries (in which I argued that the pissing and moaning coming from authors and some publishers recently is a sign of an industry that is currently in serious trouble) leads inevitably to the obvious question:
If, appearances to the contrary, the customer actually sets the price in a marketplace, and all this hullabaloo is about ebooks, then what is the proper price for an ebook?
Nobody knows. The market is still shaking itself out, and pricing models require some fairly complex calculus about tradeoffs (some of which Moses Siregar III covers here). J. A. Konrath is firmly advocating for the $2.99 price point, and his number seem to back up his decision. A number of newcomers are pricing their books at the rock bottom end of the market, on the very sensible assumption that, since they have no established name, they need to be an impulse buy if they’re going to sell at all. Others are pricing above the current median range of $2.99-4.50 (where over 70% of the top sellers sit, according to my research over the last few months) on the assumption that looking expensive will attract the buyer looking for material that rises above the slush, and attract that buyer well enough that any sales hit they take from the higher price will be more than made up for in the higher income that the higher prices generate.
It’s a calculated bet, and at the moment there are precious few people conducting any experiments with pricing. This leaves the field to the experimenters–and in any open marketplace, experimentation provides that most precious of commodities: information.
However, one thing all these people have in common with savvier established authors and publishers: they understand what business we’re in.
No matter how pretty or profound or affecting our prose, we’re in the entertainment business. There is art to what we do, and passion, and often a deeply held hope that what we write will connect with people and make a difference in their lives, but none of that gets past the most basic, essential piece of advice any writer ever gave to another about the business:
“Let’s not kid ourselves: We’re fighting for their beer money.” -Robert A. Heinlein