Do we need $4.00 Books

Lith Print: Ghost Forest
Image by Matt Callow via Flickr

Mark Coker over at the Huffington Post wrote an interesting post calling for Publishers and Authors to move to a $4.00 eBook.

Here in the U.S., most consumers already think twice before shelling out $7.50, $15.00 or $30.00 for a good read. If a book at the current prices represents a big purchase for citizens of the world's most affluent economy, imagine the cost burden for the vast majority of the world's literate people (Mark Coker).

It is not hard to agree with the idea that books cost too much.  $5-$10 seems to be the sweet spot for books.  When Liquid Sky first came out, the book cost $20, and it was not easy to sell.

Imagine how hard it is to walk up to people and say, "Hi, you don't know me, but could you give me $20 to know me better?"  Try it some time and be prepared for rejection.

After we split the book up, each volume is now around $8, and they sold well.  The lower price point really helped sell the book.  I am curious about the idea of $4 books, but I think that price point is more of a macguffin than a real price.

Affordable Access = Smaller Books


By offering customers a cheaper, smaller and less expensive format, publishers expanded the available market for their books and enabled a larger number of readers to gain access to affordable reads (Mark Coker).

That is the key.  Smaller and cheaper formats.  Lower the cost of a book would require shrinking the size of the book.

The industry started looking for smaller books a little while ago.  Personally, I have focused on serializing my work so I can still tell the complex stories I love and still keep the word count down.  I am not sure there is another way to lower costs.

eBooks require readers


amazon-kindle-ebook-readerEbooks also hold the promise to expand the worldwide market for books. Hundreds of millions of new middle class and literate consumers have come online outside the US, especially in developing countries.



Since it costs the author or publisher next to nil to "print" each copy of an ebook, ebooks are extremely profitable on a per-unit basis, even at a low selling price (Mark Coker).

I agree that ebooks are cheaper to make, but the cost to the average reader is just too high for now.

Most people do not like read books on their laptop or desktop computer, so to sell to they need to get an ebook reader.  The Kindle costs between $300 and $490, while the Sony ebook reader costs $300.  For $300, you get the reader... that's it... books are extra

Books are not music

The industry needs to realize that books are not music.  We were used to spending money for a discman to listen to our cds, so when Apple introduced the iPod and iTunes, it was natural for us to buy an iPod instead of a discman.  It was easier to use, and so we bought it.

We are use to just buying books and using them.  The psychological barrier to purchasing an ebook reader is much harder to get over.

For $300 ebook reader, we could buy:

  • 40 books for $7.50
  • 20 books for $15.00
  • 10 books for $30.00

Lets just take the average of 23 books.  The reader asks themselves: "Should I buy 1 ebook reader or 23 books?"  Which would you do as a reader?

For ebooks to catch on, Amazon and Sony need to offer book credits with the purchase of their readers.  It is easier to spend $300 on an ebook reader if you get 20 free books.  The reader would be a loss leader, and they would make up the difference on the sales of books through the device.  If they implemented this solution, readers would go mainstream.

Until something like that happens, the iPhone, Courier Pad, and Android devices are the only hope for ebooks long term survival.

Range of Formats


Not all books should be priced at $4.00. Publishers should segment their markets to ensure they're delivering a range of products and formats that offer the target customer value that exceeds each price point (Mark Coker).

Agreed.  For now, the best model appears to be:


State of the industry


Some might argue book publishing isn't in trouble, as evidenced by the industry's continued growth. True, the industry has grown in recent years at 1.6 percent annually between 2002 and 2008, according the Association of American Publishers. Yet this growth is a mirage. Publishers are maintaining the illusion of growth by increasing prices. If we adjust for inflation, unit book sales have been in decline for many years (Mark Coker).

Writers, like myself, need to look to the future, and find a way to keep our industry alive.

(via Personanondata)

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