I’d been planning to post today about ebook pricing because I’d be grateful if you could take a look at this poll which Neil Clarke is running on his LiveJournal. The more information we get the easier it is to provide people with what they are willing to buy.
Had it been me doing the poll I would have asked a supplementary question to the people who said they would buy from big stores but not direct from Neil or myself. It must be pretty obvious that we get more money if you buy direct, so what is the attraction of big stores? Is it the convenience of Amazon’s one-click purchase? Is it the payment method? (Taking credit cards costs money, so you need a high turnover to justify it.) Is it concerns about security or reliability? This is, I think, a major issue in the online marketplace.
While I was thinking about this, however, a light bulb went off. A week or so ago, during the debate on $0.99 ebooks, Cat Valente asked why people are prepared to pay $6 or so for a latte, but not $3 for a book (the exact amounts are probably wrong, but the idea is there). I think I might know the answer.
When you buy a latte (or a movie ticket, or a CD, or whatever) you expect to get the enjoyment out of it almost immediately. There is no major investment on your part. When you buy a book, however, you only get the enjoyment out of it if you spend the many hours necessary to read it. We all live very busy lives these days, and our time is valuable. Many people I know (including myself) already own more books than they can hope to read in the rest of their lifetime. So when you buy a book you are not asking yourself “can I afford $3?” (or however much it costs), you are asking yourself “can I afford 10 hours?” (or however long you estimate it will take you to read it). If you are going to read it, the cost is much less of an issue, and you may well be prepared to pay a lot more given the amount of time it will amuse you for.
Does this make sense to people? Because if so it suggests that the only effect of cutting the price of books is to try to encourage people to buy books that they won’t read.
[I note that the same does not apply to Clarkesworld and Salon Futura. What is happening there is that we are trying to find the price people will pay for the convenience of having an ebook edition of something they can get for free online.]