The publishing business appears to be evolving at light-speed. But some things NEVER change.
I’ve been grousing on Facebook about readers who willingly shell out $3 for a single cup of coffee but refuse to pay more than a buck for a novel. Case study: Darcie Chan has sold more than 400,000 copies of THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE, her first novel, after self-publishing it as an e-book. But because she has priced it at 99 cents, she has netted “only” about $130,000.
To stimulate sales, “cutting the retail price to 99 cents from an initial $2.99 was critical,” reported THE WEEK magazine of December 23, 2011.
Three dollars was an entirely reasonable price to charge for a 300-page novel. A bargain, in fact. But sales didn’t really take off until Darcie lowered the price to a buck—practically giving it away.
Another writer who found market forces arrayed against him was Lewis Carroll. In his Preface to the 1896 Edition of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Carroll wrote:
“I take this opportunity of announcing that the Nursery ‘Alice,’ hitherto priced at four shillings, net, is now to be had on the same terms as the ordinary shilling picture-books—although I feel sure that it is, in every quality (except the text itself, in which I am not qualified to pronounce), greatly superior to them. Four shillings was a perfectly reasonable price to charge, considering the very heavy initial outlay I had incurred; still, as the Public have practically said, ‘We will not give more than a shilling for a picture-book, however artistically got-up,’ I am content to reckon my outlay on the book as so much dead loss, and, rather than let the little ones, for whom it was written, go without it, I am selling it at a price which is, to me, much the same thing as giving it away.”—Lewis Carroll, Christmas 1896
In this regard, at least, NOTHING has changed in the book business. Writers and “the Public” can't seem to agree on the true value of our work.
I’m standing my ground for now, keeping the price of my WATERSPELL e-books at $2.99 each — which is a perfectly reasonable price to charge, considering my heavy investment of time and energy, and the cash I've laid out to get to this point. But as Darcie Chan said in an interview: “I did that [cut the price of her book] to encourage people to give it a chance. I saw it as an investment in my future as a writer.”
Is this what the future holds? Dollar books?
THE MUSIC BUSINESS DID THIS
If publishing is meant to use the music business as a model, then we need to be comparing apples with apples, not with oranges. A single tune can be bought for $1. The fan who wants the whole “album” or CD will thus pay $10 to download 10 songs.
The analogous approach for books, therefore, would be 99 cents per chapter. That would set the price of my 22-chapter, 400-page novels at about $21.75 — a list price that was once considered perfectly reasonable for long, complex, literary novels.
Of course I wouldn’t dream of charging that much for an e-book. But is $2.99 also too much, in the eyes of today’s bargain-hunting reader?
I shouldn’t think so. A novel, after all, lasts a lot longer than a three-minute song … or a $3 cup of coffee.