Money for Nothing, Part II (Clarifications, Ramblings, and Links)

4 02 2010

First off, I want to clarify something so that there is no misunderstanding. I want publishers to succeed. I want authors to get paid fair wages for the work they put into their writing. I want editors and marketing staffs and agents and everyone else involved in this industry to succeed. I find it distasteful that Amazon pulled titles and punished (often struggling) authors while bickering with a large publisher about something the authors themselves have absolutely zero control over.  

The title of these posts has to do with a very common and growing perception among younger users of digital media (and comes from a certain Dire Straits song I had stuck in my head, of course). It does not sum up my individual view, but a common perception that must be realized to really understand the ebook pricing problem.  I do understand that the cost for the publisher is much the same for ebook vs. print books (I’ve read several studies saying the different in production costs is only around $2 on average). However, the cost of production has nothing to do with the perception of value to the consumer. The consumer of a loaf of bread doesn’t think about shipping, electricity costs for the bakery, the cost for manufacture and packaging. In the end, the price is determined by how much the consumer values that loaf of bread. Market prices are driven by consumer demand and how much consumers are willing to pay for a particular product.

Ebook technology as it is now does not have that same value to all readers. For me, the cost for an ereader is far too high. For me, I can’t justify spending $9 on a product that has an embedded license that basically means my file is rented and not my own. There are strict limitations on what I can do with that file. I can’t let friends borrow it and read it the same way most readers pass around books among friends and family.

As I replied to a fellow writer who was surpised by my post yesterday:

It all boils down to personal finances. I am a high volume reader (avg. 1-2 books a week). I buy a lot of books. I have limited disposable income, therefore I must be careful how much I pay for those books.

When it comes to ebooks – from this consumer’s perspective – the end product is different than other electronic media. Overall, I still prefer a physical product (CD, Book, DVD, etc). Where music and movies as electronic products differ from ebooks is that once you download, you can create a physical product by burning a CD or DVD from the file you now own (most laptops come with CD burners built in these days). Unless your printer is a lot nicer than mine, you can’t exactly print out a quality bound book from an ebook file. That’s a big difference.

But then again, I’ve read a lot of other posts on the subject and I really do understand the publishers’ plight when it comes to cost. It’s a tough issue and there are a lot of sides to it. I just wanted to present mine as a reader with a limited budget.

And I firmly believe in supporting electronic markets you enjoy.

Most of my published stories have been online. I can link to those stories and interested parties can read my stuff for free and get a feel for the various writing styles I play around with. 

As a reader, I support many of the onlline zines I read (either directly through donations or through purchasing books from a parent company) simply because I feel this is the right thing to do. If you use a service, you should be willing to pay for it. I don’t pay as much for electronic media as I pay for a print product, but if I like something I read, I’m happy to toss a few bucks into a virtual tip jar. Having run an ezine myself, I honestly appreciate the cost and time involved (and mine was on a relatively small scale compared to Fantasy, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, etc.). Trust me. I understand. Really.

I also have been having some ideas on ways that publishers could potentially cash in on the new media. Perhaps publishers could put out special editions of certain paperbacks at a higher cost with a free electronic version of that book? This kind of packaging would add the perception of value the way that free electronic versions of movies supplement some special edition DVD’s. This might be a good way to entice readers to embrace using this new media so they can try out an ebook and start their own ebook collections. I don’t know…just something to thow out there. I know there have to be creative solutions and writers are creative folks — let’s work together on this, alright?

Anyway, here’s a collection of links I found interesting concerning the recent Amazon vs. Macmillan fiasco:

Because readers, writers, and publishers may be too close to the issue to see it clearly, here’s a great article summarizing everything from a different point of view: http://www.hollywood.com/feature/Counterpoint_with_Cargill_The_Digital_Media_Rights_Standoff/6645657

John Scalzi and Hal Duncan both offered humorous takes on the state of publishing today that are well worh reading: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/03/why-in-fact-publishing-will-not-go-away-anytime-soon-a-deeply-slanted-play-in-three-acts/ &  http://www.bscreview.com/2010/02/notes-from-new-sodom-the-kerspindle-kerfuffle/

And BONUS to the most honest post of the day: http://jimhines.livejournal.com/489889.html

And, yes, I admit in the end that “I don’t know.” All I can tell you are my personal spending habits and my perception of the current market. That’s it. Food for thought and nothing more.

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