Why old books should cost as much as new books
What should determine how much you pay for an e-book?
Some people start out with thinking that an e-book should cost less than the p-book (paperbook) equivalent, since the publisher doesn’t have the same expense in materials, nobody has to pay to ship it around, there’s no storage, and no issue with returns.
However, most of that doesn’t have much to do with the production cost. I remember seeing something years ago that analyzed it (I don’t have the resource offhand…if I find it again, I’ll add it), and they thought it was about 12%.
That might seem strange, but most of the cost comes in labor, legalities, and risk.
Authors get paid. Cover artists get paid. Editors get paid. Proofreaders get paid. Publicists get paid. Lawyers get paid. Agents get paid.
Obviously, I’m talking about tradpubs (traditional publishers) here.
All those labor costs are for the specific book.
Other costs are longitudinal.
Very successful books pay for the publisher to take a loss on risky books, prestige books, and micromarket books.
The publisher has a building. The building has rent, mortgage, or property taxes.
The building has custodial staff, maintenance costs, maybe a security staff…
There are a lot of costs that are going to be the same whether or not some dead trees are involved.
That doesn’t mean that perhaps you shouldn’t pay a bit more for p-books…but I’m comfortable saying it’s not twice as much, just based on paper related costs (including moving it and storing it).
Another thing that seems weird to me that I see in the Amazon Kindle forums…”How can they charge ten bucks for that book…it’s like twenty years old?”
I’ve never understood that.
I do get two things about age of the work affecting price.
A “frontlist” title, which is new, is going to cost more usually. There are additional costs happening right then, including marketing costs (although how much is spend on that certainly varies…you’ll get some authors telling you that their publishers didn’t spend much). For A-list authors, for example, the publisher may be paying for them to go on a publicity tour…or even buying ads in traditional or new media.
There is also a higher demand when the book is first released. That’s basic economics: if people want it more, you can charge more for it.
Many people perceive a value in reading a book first. My favorite thing in a fictional work (book, movie, TV show) is to be surprised…and it’s not easy to surprise me.
For that reason, I really avoid spoilers…which may mean I try to get to something when it first comes out, to lessen the chances. Google, by the way, is apparently working on something that will block spoilers for you. In some way, it’s going to know where you are in the book or movie, and automatically screen, say, tweets for you to hide the information you haven’t reached yet (I assume you could choose to see it if you wanted…some things just can’t be spoiled, because it doesn’t have to do with what happens, but how it happens).
I also get why public domain books (books not under copyright protection) are cheaper…often free. I mentioned that one of the labor costs is royalties for the author…those don’t need to be paid for a public domain title. The book has already been edited and proofread.
What I don’t understand is why people think that a book which is still a desirable read after a couple of decades should cost less than one which is perhaps a year old (and now on the “backlist”).
Oh, I’ve had somebody argue that the publisher and author have already been paid for it by then.
That’s not the way we do it with a lot of other things which you “experience”, though.
Should the game Monopoly have become increasingly cheaper over the years, and once Parker Brothers had made a “reasonable profit” (whatever that is), it should be free?
They’d made the production and marketing budgets back on The Lego Movie within weeks of its release…should the ticket prices have gotten cheaper?
Does Fahrenheit 451 have any less value for a reader today than it did when it was first released?
That one is a good example…the price for it right now is $9.99 in the USA Kindle store.
That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me…and it’s ranked #3,579 of the paid in the Kindle store right now…close to the top 1%. That suggests that people don’t see it as outrageously overpriced.
If you take a look at the
the prices for the top ten are
for about $7.34 average.
If we look at the general science fiction bestsellers in the USA Kindle store, they are:
which is $6.66 average.
So, the “classic books” actually cost higher on average than the general group.
That does make sense to me…there is more likely to be cost competition on new books. I someone as likely to want to comparison shop 1984 as they are Ready Player One? My guess would be no.
Also, new books can be used as “loss leaders”. Again, as a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I think customers are looking for bargains on the hot, popular books…they may be looking for those as gifts. If they find a good price on one of those books, they may be more likely to buy other (not as discounted) books from the same retail channel.
I do realize that I suggested that newer books might be more expensive, and yet the bestseller list was cheaper than the classics.
That’s in part because the bestsellers aren’t necessarily the newest ones, which are in the hardback equivalent stage.
I decided to do one more check: Science Fiction New Releases:
Average? $7.99…yep, the most expensive of the three (although still in the range of the classics).
Looks like at least the bestselling “older” books aren’t significantly cheaper than the newest books…and that seems reasonable to me.
How about you? Do you think a book which is decades old (but still under copyright and which still has a significant market) should be cheaper than a new release? Do you think part of what makes people think this is what they paid for the book originally (the price of p-books has risen considerably over the years)? What do you think should determine the consumer price of an e-book? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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