Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Cost of Books

A few years ago, a bunch of fat-cat media folks got together, chomping on their cigars and all that, and decided that books, DVDs, and music albums ought to cost about fifteen bucks.

Now, I’m no economist and so I can't explain how they landed on this $15 amount. Nor can I be bothered to back up this declaration with any kind of legitimate research, so let’s just accept it as fact.

Fifteen bucks is about what people think is a fair price for most of these forms of entertainment because that’s mostly what things cost.

My logic, though circular, is perfect.

Being an avid reader of book reviews, I see a looooot of belly-aching about the cost of books. Because people see books reviews as the appropriate place to grouse about pricing. Recently I saw this one review that criticized the cost of an e-book, and it was a sentiment echoed many, many times over by other reviewers who were all handing out 1-star reviews to protest (a practice that should be eliminated, by the way­—the author has zero control over the price of the book so why punish them for it). Anyway, this reviewer and many others wrote:  “Outrageous. $17 for an electronic pulse?”

This is like saying Van Gogh couldn’t have used more than, I dunno, five francs in oil paints to paint “Starry Night.” How much can it really be worth?

This is not to say that I'm not unsympathetic. I mean, you look at a Faberge egg, for example, and you think, wow, that’s a pretty awesome fancy egg thing. You understand the workmanship that went into it, and you can add up the cost of the materials used to make it: gold, jewels, whatever that enamel stuff is (enamel, I guess). But words are just words and anyone can use ‘em. And now that a lot of people are buying words that are displayed on a screen and not printed on pages tipped in gold foil, people feel a little short-changed. 

It’s hard to sell the idea that you’re selling an idea. An imaginary rendering of life. If you've paid money for something, you want to hold that something in your hands (like a big, heavy jeweled egg), and if you can’t, you feel like you’ve just bought a paper bag full of air.   

I do think this will change in time. I mean, I hope it will. I hope it like a dog hopes you'll accidentally drop your dinner plate on the kitchen floor on meatloaf night. 

I hope that the cheaper books become and the more of them there are, the value of the good ones will become more apparent, and people will gladly pay more for a finely-crafted electronic pulse.

I know, I know. This is probably an absurd hope, but there it is. I’m absurdly hopeful or else I wouldn’t be a writer.

Keeping in mind that we’re not exactly an unbiased group here, how much do you think e-books should cost?


I think they should cost around fifteen bucks.