Lots of people in publishing get upset when readers object to the price of some ebooks, and often times you hear a retort about a cup of coffee. Brent Weeks made just that remark earlier this week, and his tweet set a minor record for insider retweets. But have you ever considered whether the comparison of ebook prices and the cost of a cup of coffee was a valid one?
I hadn't, but lucky for me earlier this week one reader sent me a link to a blog post by Josh Lehman. Josh takes a look at the differences in markets for Starbucks coffee and apps, and while an app is not an ebook a lot of his points do transfer over.
Fact: Starbucks Coffee is a Trustable Experience
This is coming from a non-coffee drinker, but people buy Starbucks because they know what it's going to be like. It will meet their expectations, and while it's an experience that won't change their lives it will be the same every time. People know that each cup of coffee will be exactly like the last. And if it's not, Starbucks will remake it until the customer is satisfied. Would you make that same guarantee with your ebook?
Fact: Your eBook is a Total Gamble
I don't know what your ebook will be like until I start reading it. Unlike Starbucks coffee, ebooks can vary by quality, genre, and even style - and that's just for a single author, not the ebook market. The problem grows when you factor in situations where readers find an author for the first time. The experience of reading your ebook is not trustable. I have dozens of ebooks sitting unread on my computer right now; why should I shell out $13 for yours? Why should I even shell out $8 to get one of the ebooks on your backlist? Frankly the risk is too high for a potential gain of nothing.
Fact: Starbucks Has No Free Alternative
We cannot get a free cup of coffee, and even the cheap alternatives to Starbucks aren't as good. But I can find alternatives to paid ebooks virtually everywhere - legal ones, too, and sometimes even from the same publisher as the one you want us to buy.
Fact: Free eBooks Are Often A Great Alternative
There are far more good free ebooks available right now than I could read in a lifetime, and I'm not just talking about the dregs of self-publishing. Baen Books, Google Books, and Project Gutenberg stand as 3 examples of quality free ebooks. And then there are the many authors like Cory Doctorow who have released some or all of their work for free, whether as a limited time offer or under a CC license.
Fact: Cheap Paper Books Are Often A Great Alternative
Here's a point which Lehman couldn't make, but definitely affects the price and value of ebooks. The used book market hasn't gone away with the rise of ebooks; instead it has grown with the rise of Amazon and other sites. Publishers not only have to t compete with paid and free ebooks from other sources, but they also have to compete with their own cast off and used titles.
Fact: My Existing Library Is A Great Alternative to Your eBook
I can also read the many ebooks I've bought over the years instead of buying yours. While they are not your ebook, they do stand as a viable alternative for the few hours of diversion I'd get for the $13 I'd spend on your ebook.
Is There Hope for the Paid eBook?
Yes there is. You just have to give readers a good reason to buy.
Speaking as someone who balks at paying more than $6 for a fiction ebook, I myself bought a $15 ebook from Bane Books this week. It was an advance reader copy of the next Bujold novel (which won't be published until November). The sample, which I read online, ended at a cliffhanger. That ebook was an experience I was willing to risk my money on because the free sample was a worthwhile read and the itch to finish reading the ebook was so great that I didn't mind paying a high price.