eBook pricing conundrum

For the first time in a long time, Mandy wanted the new Story Bundle. I thought, “5 books for $1? No problem!” Apparently since the last time we looked at it, they’ve raised the minimum payment for their “pay what you want” scheme to $3. The extra $2 shouldn’t bug me that much, but right now it feels like “Hah! We’ve tripled the minimum price!” Plus, rather than Humble’s straightforward “pay more than the average to get these bonus titles”, Story Bundle has fixed the bonus titles at a minimum $10 buy; I think they’d done that last time I bought a Story Bundle, and I went on Amazon and saw that the extra I’d have to have paid for the extra eBooks was less than what they were priced separately—probably the higher minimum price helps cover that gap better.

I understand the idea is to make money. As an author who sometimes gets frustrated at people who have artificial maximum price points in mind when they go eBook-shopping, it’s somewhat hypocritical of me to be reacting this way. Surely, these books are worth more than $0.20/each (which was how much I was gladly willing to pay for them), even though I’ve never heard of them, or their authors, and I’m perhaps being quite awful by balking at paying a minimum of $0.60/title.

This is a big part of why we so rarely use our kindle, though. Several times a year we have access to large local book sales where we can get hardbacks for $1 and paperbacks for $0.50 (if they’re library discards), or certainly most books for $3 or less at the other sales, which we can re-sell into the used market after we’ve read them—usually for as much as (or more than) we’ve paid, in book-buying credit. Last night we made a big haul to a couple used book buyers and got ~$175 in credit for a bunch of stuff we were done with; if I could use that credit on these eBooks, maybe $3 would hurt less. If it were less of a hassle to check eBooks out of the library, maybe we’d use the kindle more. As it stands, between checking books out of the library and buying them used for cheap, eBooks feel weird and expensive and limited and especially weirdly permanent; the older I get the more it seems that books are meant to be temporary things for any given reader, there while you’re reading but back into the cycle of other readers when you’re done.

I certainly don’t want these books forever, just briefly enjoyed and then (because they’re digital, and can’t lawfully be passed on) deleted. This is a bit of a weird revelation, for me, I think. Having put my book business indefinitely on hiatus has perhaps helped me get here, to see eBooks in a different way. Yes, maybe they should be priced a bit more like sticks of gum, less like precious artifacts or collectibles. (I think I’m getting to be the same way with films and games, too. Yes, perhaps I’ll pay $17 to see your movie on the big screen with my wife, or perhaps some fraction of my Netflix subscription to watch it once at home, but I’m certainly not going to pay $30+ to own it on Blu-Ray forever. Maybe $5, if we really enjoyed it, when we see it on that Black Friday sale.) No, that isn’t sustainable for anything but the most successful titles/authors(/creators/industries, and no, there isn’t a ‘big screen’ experience equivalent for books). I wonder whether fixing digital rights to behave more like property rights would change my mind.

Anyway, we’re already over budget for the month, so we’ll probably buy the 5 books for $3 next week, when we can put it on next month’s budget. A couple of bucks seems, somehow, like a reasonable price for something so utterly temporary, so unlikely to be used more than once in a lifetime.

… Perhaps it’s the sort of thing where we only want to spend a tiny amount on something we’re unsure of, but expect to use only once, and then if we love it we become more willing to spend more. Like I collect Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher and Pixar films; I know they’re great, and I’m glad to put more money down for them. (Though still usually used/discounted; seriously, $40+ MSRPs for a blu-ray?) Or like my fans/patrons collect my books & art; almost all of them tried my work for free, first. In the future where life is more and more about content, and the availability of fresh and potentially interesting content approaches infinity, certainly the price of entry will have to trend toward zero while the value we place on that which we discover (for free) we love will rise to undreamt-of heights.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.