The Cost of Kindle Books – Pay Up or Shut Up

There’s an entire thread on Amazon’s discussion forum dedicated to the “high” cost of Kindle e-books. One commenter, J. Bryan, writes

I only buy books that are $3.99 or less. If the publishers and/or Amazon want to be greedy, that is their choice,but I will not pay.

J., I understand your position. $3.99 can seem like a lot of cash for a book. But, if I may…

COST PER WORD: BOOK VS. SONG

Consider the song “Sail” by Awol Nation, for example.

At $.99 for this 131-word song on Amazon.com, you’re paying approximately $.007 per word.

However:

25 of those words are “sail.”

14 of them are this: “La la la la la la oh!”

5 words, “Sail with me into the dark,” are sung three times, so they account for 15.

Which leaves 74 original words at $.012/word. (I happily paid the $.012/word for “Sail.”)

Now, consider John Grisham’s Kindle version of The Client, well above your acceptable price range at $7.99.

The Client is 496 pages.

Cost: $.0161 per page (which is just a bit over the price per word for the song “Sail”).

Average word count per page: 250

Cost of The Client per word: $.00006

(Note: Even if some of the words in The Client are repeated, for a book’s repetition to match the repetition of a song, whole paragraphs or chapters would have to repeat, so we won’t count the “and” and “the” and “a” words as “repeats.”)

And, so:

131-word song – $.012/word ($.99 for half a page)

124,000 (approx.)-word book – $.00006/word ($.0161 for a full page)

That was just for some perspective.

~ ~ ~

The fortunate writer can plop an endless stream of words onto several pages in a single day, but what are the chances any of those words will be there tomorrow? Roughly 25%, or whatever. By the time you read a completed novel, the words on the page probably took the author, in terms of total time (not counting the days between allowed for thinking and musing and obsessing), four hours per page. (This is actually difficult to average, and I believe I’m being very,very conservative.) Those hours do include the initial writing, and then the editing, revising, deleting and rewriting, and finessing.

If the average Kindle book is between 20,000 and 100,000 words, at approximately 250 words per “page,” the author is being paid, when you buy either book at your price cap of $3.99, between $.0124/hour and $.0024/hour for their work.

(It’s actually less than that, because the authors don’t receive 100% of the proceeds. Amazon takes a cut, and the book’s publisher takes a cut.)

~ ~ ~

I read things by people like J., and I want to say, I want to say, “J.? What do you do for a living? What do you do after you leave the house in the morning and in the hours before you go home for dinner? Is it something you went to school for? Is it something that requires a particular set of skills? Is it something you do better than someone else? Is it a service that involves someone on a receiving end who pays for what you give them?”

I want to say, “If I were to knock on your door, J., and if I were to say, ‘Hi, J. I found this thing you do when I was clicking my mouse over links on the internet, and I think I’d like your service. It looks like you work really hard at it. Yeah, no, I can tell I’d really like it. People have been saying great things about it, so I’d like to try it, too, like to spend the next few hours with it, just enjoying it. Oh, you do work hard at it? Really, really hard? Yeah, no, I can see that. That’s why I want it,’ what would you say?”

“The thing is, J.,” I’d say, “You’re charging too much. See, I found it on the internet, and you know how much of this stuff I can get for free on the internet? A lot of it, J. I can go on there right now and find ten, fifteen hundred of those things for free. Like yours? No, not like yours, but, they’ll basically be the same. I just want yours because I can tell it’s better, but because I can get other stuff like it for free, I was thinking maybe yours should–I mean, no, yeah, I’ll pay for it, but see, the thing is, I don’t want to pay more than four dollars.

“It took you how long to make that? A year? Well, you know, like I said, the free ones are available and I could get one of them, but I really, like I said, I want yours, and you should feel privileged that I’m choosing you. But, so, here’s four dollars, and that’s all I’m paying, because I just don’t think I should have to pay more for it than I want to.”

What if that thing is a hand-crafted bench, J.? A sculpture, a painting, a CD, an article of clothing that took someone six months to a year to create? “Would four bucks cover it, J.?” I want to say.

~ ~ ~

You can buy a used paperback book for $.50 online, they argue in the thread. So why should anyone pay more than $3.99 for an e-book?

That’s a good question.

Answer: Those low-priced paperbacks have been available on Amazon for a long time. They made Amazon. You knew those cheap books were there when you spent $79 – $199 on a Kindle so you could have the convenience (and the coolness!) of ebooks.

Maybe…maybe you thought you were already spending enough on the e-reader – that it should somehow entitle you to receive free-to-cheap e-books.

Ha haha! No way. That’d be like if I thought, “WHY do tires cost $100 each? Agh, and they charge for labor? But I already spent the money on the CAR!”

Wait.

Oh…oh, no. That WAS what you thought when you bought your Kindle, wasn’t it?

Well, get over it, ya whiny little bitches.

______

Watch: “Sh*t,” Writers Say.

 

About these ads

73 thoughts on “The Cost of Kindle Books – Pay Up or Shut Up

  1. I love your position on this. I’ll pay up to $5 for an ebook because for much more that than I can go to B&N and get a beloved paperback, a medium to which I am still loyal. The only reason I got a Kindle in the first place was to get ARC copies of books from authors to write reviews.

    However as an author… owch. How depressing that my time is worth so little! D: I’m sure it will pay off eventually… (good gosh I hope so) but on a book by book basis… T.T

    Thank you for sharing.
    -Eliabeth Hawthorne

    • the reader who wont’ pay more than 3.99 for a book was never a book buyer/lover/supporter in the first place. This individual was haunting second hand bookstores and probably doesn’t even own a kindle (the software to read Kindles is free to download on PC and apples.
      So to me this argument is moot. The $3.99 kindle reader is probably downloading a copies of Moby Dick thinking he’s snagged a free erotic thriller.

      • You have such a good point there! I have a leather bound copy of Phantom of the Opera and much to my dismay, I told this to one of my coworkers who said “that’s a book?” and bounced (yes bounced) off. I have a feeling the 3.99 buyer and this coworker are in the same boat.

        Thanks for this perspective.

  2. >>>Maybe…maybe you thought you were already spending enough on the e-reader – that it should somehow entitle you to receive free-to-cheap e-books.

    Yet people don’t expect free music when they pay even $99 for an iPod Shuffle! And yeah, they can go pirate, but that’s become a real PITA these days. The ease of Napster is really gone and you’re more likely to wind up with viruses or spamware or worse chasing after “free” music.

  3. Wonderful post.

    I got in an argument online with someone who opposed the concept of copyright. He insisted that all e-books should be free, or at least free after a very short period of time. When I said that I wasn’t prepared to give up the right to profit from my work quite that quickly, he accused me of having an elevated opinion of my importance. Talk about missing the point!

  4. YES! As writers, our time is precious, and the work we do should be recompensed appropriately.

    The idea of buying a book is also a strange one. In other media, when you purchase a CD, DVD, video game, w/e, you’re purchasing a license to the copyright. You’re purchasing the right to use a piece of physical medium in order to exercise an intellectual property where you want, when you want. When I buy a book, I’m buying a chunk of wood pulp with the words of a publisher’s (because a traditional publisher has paid a writer a $20k advance against sales for the right to print that work and distribute it to a specific market) intellectual property. When I buy an indie ebook, I’m licensing a writer’s work, and at a very cheap price at that. As much as I may want to spend no more than a few dollars, if I respect the work the writer has put into it, I’ll pay more. Maybe we’ll start seeing EULA splashes when we load new ebooks. Maybe not. Hopefully not.

  5. Kristen, I gave you a push on my blog about this great post. Very well said and spot on the money.

    But you might want to go back and take out the song lyrics, since that is pure copyright theft unless you got permission. I am sure you didn’t intend that, and to make your point, you don’t need to quote the song. It would make your point stronger. (grin)

    Great post.

  6. I will never discount the cost of an author’s work, ever.

    I will, however, discount the cost of the medium on which that work is delivered. Paper has a VERY tangible cost – and that cost adds up over time when you factor in how much it costs to produce. This cost goes up with each book produced. In the world of electronic media, the cost of that media is finite. Once you pay for the storage, that’s it; there’s no more cost involved in producing said storage.

    You’re then limited only to the amount of data you can store in that device.

    I have no problem paying for Kindle books. In fact, I’ve got a Kindle library with over 80 books – over half of which were purchased at full price. (The rest were in the public domain, released via the Gutenberg Project.) Of the 40 full-priced books I’ve purchased, at least 15 I own either in Hardcover, Paperback, or both. I’ve gladly paid the extra for these works because I enjoy reading them on my kindle.

    I do, however, think that charging the same price for an e-book — an intangible purchase that has FAR less final production and delivery costs — as a hardcover or paperback book. (And even though I do it, I feel the same way about purchasing music via iTunes at the same cost as buying a CD in my local record store.) The cost of the materials on which the book is delivered has changed now, and the old viewpoint of “books are getting more expensive because it costs more to make the paper” just doesn’t hold up like it used to.

    After all, I’ve already paid for the ebook reader. Why should I have to pay the premium price for paper when paper is no longer involved?

    I *do* gladly pay for these works of art and my e-library reflects that.

    Just my two cents worth.

      • The best I can do (it wasn’t me who said it, but the publisher) is direct you to one of the links provided in this string of comments – they explain it well. (I’m not a publisher, and I won’t pretend to know what those who have been in the business know far more intimately than I do.)

    • I think these two posts from Futurismic might add something to the discussion:

      http://futurismic.com/2009/02/20/the-costing-of-ebooks/

      http://futurismic.com/2009/10/02/ebooks-cost-a-lot-of-money-to-make-will-no-one-explain-why-that-has-to-be-so/

      A couple years old, but given the speed at which Big Publishing moves, probably still more relevant than they should be.

      I think an analogy of novel to album, rather than song, might be more apt. But I think cost per word is an irrelevant metric, as if all people were paying for was the number of words. The analogy with painting is much more interesting.

      Prints of the Mona Lisa cost a lot less than the Mona Lisa because the effort in creating a print is negligible compared to what went into the original. The same with books, right? A book itself is worth a lot more than 3.99 or 7.99 or 14.99. That’s just what your copy costs, same as if I buy a Mona Lisa poster for 9.99. (The difference with books being that your personal copy can be an exact facsimile.) The more amazing/significant/popular the original, the more the creator can ask, and the more people will be willing to pay, for copies.

      As far as who decides what an individual copy of a specific work is worth, it’s going to involve some give and take between publishers (or authors, in the case of indies) and readers.

  7. Someone should point out to J that there’s this place where fabulous books and (ebooks) are free. It’s called a library. The downside is that you often have to wait and you have to return them and they just might not have the book you want. Life is rough!

    Thanks for the wonderful post. Made me laugh.

  8. Interesting perspective. I tend to look at what I am making as a cumulative total of what all readers pay for my books rather than one, but it is a logical answer to the argument.

  9. This is an excellent and funny post that puts things into perspective! Sometimes a reader forgets all the labor that goes into a book, sometimes a year a more. If a writer was paid by the hour, wow….

    Jodi

  10. I think this post misses the point — somewhat — on two levels.
    1) What many Kindle owners are upset about is that we are seeing backlists of many prominent writers, whose works we would like on our e-readers, being overpriced. We are being charged 11.95 or so for works that have been out of print for years.

    2) Your analysis of the pay by the word is silly and ignores the economics of publishing and of the music business. Sure, a writer may be paid by the word by a magazine, but writers of novels are not paid by the word, nor should they be. Novelists and song writers are paid by the sale which is a fair system.

  11. Loved this post. I literally LOLed.

    I tend to limit my purchases to under $5. That’s mostly because I have a very small book budget right now and I don’t want to blow it all on one book. A side benefit of that is that most books under $5 tend to be indie books. Indies are able to price their books so low because they make a greater profit at a lower cost. But if I really want a certain book, I will spend more on it. I used to use the argument of “Why would I spend so much to get the Kindle book when I could have a paperback for the same price”, but now that I find DTBs clunky, the cost of the Kindle book is *almost* worth it. I think, in time, big publishers will come around and be more competitive. It’s easy to forget that they have quite a bit more overhead than someone like me.

    @Ron: I don’t know anything about the song writing industry, so I can’t speak to that, but I do know that novelists who go through traditional publishers are getting screwed over. They’re not being paid what they’re worth, and because it’s such a competitive industry, their only other choice is to do it themselves. Some people can’t, or don’t want to. The average new writer makes 10% from each sale (or an advance of about $5000). To even survive, they would need to write and sell 5 books a year. If people refuse to pay more than $4 for a book, that advance would drop drastically. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake down over the next few years.

  12. Love this. The price of books is all screwed up now in the digital/amazon age in that there is simply ZERO consistency. I save tons of money with my Kindle not only because prices are lower in general but because there are so many sales. Sure I could probably keep searching and find prices even lower than 5 or 6 bucks but who the hell do I think I am? I respect authors, want to support them and I’m not trying to be greedy; I’m just trying to read a book.

  13. “If the average Kindle book is between 20,000 and 100,000 words, at approximately 250 words per “page,” the author is being paid, when you buy either book at your price cap of $3.99, between $.0124/hour and $.0024/hour for their work.”
    If I read this correctly, you calculate this per book sold which is – sorry – bs. You do not sell one book per copy produced (and if you do, you’ve got a serious problem concerning your sales). The thing is that for – say – 100 books sold you still only write once. Yes, you are still at an abysmal pay per hour when only selling 100 copies of a given book, but that’s because 100 books sold (not per month, but in the book’s whole lifetime) is abysmal sales as well.

    On that note compare to what you get paid when publishing a traditional book via a traditional publisher: To make what you get from a 3.99 Kindle book you’d have to sell your book at $ 20-30 in print (depending on your contract and wether it’s fiction or non-fiction).

    • I think you’re putting a little too much weight on what was meant to be a fun comparison for the sake of perspective. (You’re right, of course, that “you do not sell one book per copy produced,” but that comparison was about what the reader is paying for, not what the author is being paid.)

  14. Ummm, I can enjoy a song many times (say 50 in first year of publicaton).
    I’ve read maybe two books a second time in my whole life — one for school !
    Re-do your arithmetic.

    • No. :)

      The tone of the post is meant to be fun/light, but I’m starting to see many are taking the song/book comparison a little too literally. It was done in fun, and – as I wrote – for some light perspective.

  15. how sad, that one would only re-read one or two books in a lifetime. For me, books are an escape, a friend, a comfortable place to spend a few hours getting away from the everyday, or a place to learn something or someone new. I’ll pay the same for a print book or a Kindle. It’s not the WAY I get the words, it’s the words themselves! I’m paying to read. I’m paying to escape, find a friend etc. I’m paying to learn. I love my Kindle, because if I go on a week’s vacation, I don’t have to load my suitcase with books and pay to ship them; I always have a book in my bag – and if I’m bored with this one, I can flip to That One… without breaking my shoulder by carrying them all. As for old books, and why pay for them. Jane Austen, The Brontes, Yeats, ….. Old Books or classics?

    • I re-read books occasionally (two or three a year) but I am 41 now and for the past 25 years I have continuously owned / purchased more books than I could possibly read in a life-time. My ‘signed by the author’ bookcase has over 300 titles alone. So re-reading a book takes away an opportunity to discover something new

  16. This is unfortunately not new and it’s the same for many artists and craftspersons: we don’t get paid for the hours we spend working, we get paid in relation to what the buyer thinks our work is worth _to them_. And not just your work: that particular copy of it. Because that’s what it is: a not-so-precious, digital copy of a work that can be reproduced ad infinitum.

    Besides, people expect e-books to be cheaper, because they don’t believe that an e-book is as costly to produce as one made of paper. And well, they are right: any bored guy at home can spout an e-book (I’m not talking content, I’m talking format here). Many softwares can format them. (Scrivener does, for instance.) It takes a few hours to a non-professional guy with a computer.

    An e-book has to cost less, because frankly, it is worth less (but far from worthless, mind you).

    • Agreed, Melhael. My e-pub is priced low because I understand that’s how it (the market) works. I don’t really take issue with the pricing – I just happened to see a post by a reader calling indie authors/publishers “greedy” for charging more than $3.99 and felt like responding as an indie author/publisher, because I hardly think I – or most of the others – are greedy. They, like anyone else, (usually) work hard at what they do, and they’re trying to balance market prices with, frankly, trying to get paid for what they do.

  17. Ok, an author could spend 1 year writing a book, does that means each copy of the ebook should cost ~US$60,000? Stupid reasoning. Once the author has spent a year writing the book, he could sell as many ebooks as people are willing to buy; if it is expensive, he will sell few copies, if it is cheap it will sell more. Simple. There are two advantages of having low prices on ebooks:

    1. Personally, if I want a book and find it at $5 or less, I do not even think about buying it, I automatically click on the “buy now” button and start reading it. If it is more than $5 I start to think about how much I need the book, check the reviews, etc and in a high number of events, I do not get it in that moment (decide for other one, save it for later, etc.)

    2. The book is read. Books are made to be read (if I’d write a book, that would be my goal) by as many people as possible. Pricing them high, authors (more often publishers) are going against the goal of books.

    • Of course each copy shouldn’t cost $60,000, or pay a year’s salary. Where did I say that? The point was to put into perspective how (relatively) little people are paying for e-books.

      • You compared the ebook pricing with the price of sculptures and paintings: “A sculpture, a painting, a CD, an article of clothing that took someone six months to a year to create? Would four bucks cover it, J.?”. An sculpture is unique and its prices could not be compared to an easily, and almost costless, reproducible item like an ebook. If you want to put ebook pricing in perspective, you should use numbers like “an author writes a book a year, his books have sold an average of 20,000 copies, his ebooks are priced at $9.90, that means his ebook does $198,000 per year, If he got 30% of it, he did $59,400 per year. Not bad.”

  18. This is all too funny. I prefer to read all my books from the library. They are FREE. The books you buy and have read already are now either taking up space on you precious kindle, in a closet collecting dust or borrowed to a friend that will never return it. Let’s recap, Library FREE. Anything else is a waste of money.

    • I love the library as much as the next girl, but a waste of money? I don’t know about that. Is it just books you think should be free, or anything that takes up space (knickknacks, side tables, throw rugs)?

  19. Amen! While I certainly hesitate to buy pricier books, since I have a limited budget but an unlimited thirst for reading, it also makes no sense to tell a writer to set her prices lower because you won’t pay any more than $3.99 for their book. That’s capitalism: you’ll pay the price the market has set. Now, if all writers set their prices obscenely low, they’re only doing themselves a disservice, because it sets their value that low as well. But if they express the fact that their book is WORTH $9.99 by setting the price as such, then readers will get over their weird hang-ups about paying “too much” for books. Pay up or shut up is exactly it. Don’t like paying more? Try the library.

  20. This clearly displays the frustration on the part of authors who are not making a heck of a lot of money. The problem is exacerbated, of course, BY AUTHORS. Every time an author gives away her work, another author feels pressured to do the same in order to compete. Authors have been giving away their work forever. Anyone tried to place a story in a literary magazine lately?

    I think authors should never — and I mean NEVER — work for free. Do plumbers work for free? Do teachers work for free? A lost-leader promotion to drive traffic to other products is one thing, but simply giving it away is nuts.

    However, eBooks should cost significantly less than a paperback; the economics of production are a guiding factor in the pricing of any product. As an author, I can make more on my $4.99 eBook than I could make on my $27.99 hardcover through a traditional publisher. And I can “produce” it with far less up-front investment, in far less time.

    Ultimately, the market will decide (and yes, that means the buyers) what a product is worth. Authors can help themselves by not giving away their work and establishing those expectations, but they must respond to market conditions. As for me, I’ll be selling my eBook for $4.99, because I think that’s a fair price all around. That means J. won’t be buying my book, but I can live with that.

    In fact, that $4.99 price point is the amount above which I’ll likely balk at buying an eBook. I might pay more, but man, it would have to be something special. We all have our limits.

    And to the publishers who price their eBooks at the level of their paperbacks, thereby asking eBook buyers to SUBSIDIZE their paperback business, I say, “No thank you very much.”

  21. I basically agree that writers are worth paying, that good writers (and we may define ‘good’ differently) deserve to be handsomely rewarded. And people who only look at price are extremely short-sighted and not looking at value. I don’t mind at all paying more for a book that I know I’ll really enjoy, perhaps love.

    I did take exception, however, to comparing an e-book to music, especially strictly on a per-word basis. The whole point of music is that it’s not just words (duh) and, in fact, in lots and lots of popular songs it is probably the case that the real value – what prompts us to listen again and again – is the music, not the words, which are often unremarkable.

    Which brings me to another point – I can and will listen to music again and again for the experience. I probably won’t read most mysteries/thrillers/romances again and again. So, trying to compare based on how many cents per word I would be paying is just a wrong-headed comparison. It has nothing to do with how I experience the product and how value is produced.

    So, while I think I agree with Kristen’s basic point that writers work hard and deserve to be paid for the value they bring to others’ lives, I don’t think this is a well thought-out argument.

  22. Supply and demand. When supply exceeds demand, price is the primary feature. Successful (i.e. Grisham, Paterson, George, etc) writers are already making money so the margins on eBook versions are academic. Indies are out there in the thousands. They charge more, usually, in the hopes of recovering their investment.

  23. I buy lots of ebooks. Started buying Baen books in html in the late 90′s.

    I bought one for $15.00 today. ( wont be out in paperback for months)
    I am paying extra to get it early. Most of time I wait until release date and buy at $6.00

    Bought 4 at 2.99 ea today(on special part of multi book series)

    Skipped some 9.99 and 11.99 books. (New paper backs versions under $7.00)

    The last set irks me. No way am I going to pay more for an ebook than the new paperback price

  24. Hi there, just wanted to say, I enjoyed this blog post. It was funny. Keep on posting!|
    Hi there, I just wanted to say, I disagree. Your point doesn’t make any sense.|
    Hi there, how’s it going? Just shared this post with a colleague, we had a good laugh.|
    Incredible points. Great arguments. Keep up the good effort.|
    This information is invaluable. Where can I find out more?|
    Highly descriptive post, I loved that a lot. Will there be a part 2?|
    Outstanding quest there. What occurred after? Good luck!|
    I’d like to find out more? I’d like to find out some additional information.|
    Great article, just what I was looking for.||

    [Etc.]
    Note to spammer: I think you’re supposed to select one at at time to leave at the end of a blog post, not copy and paste the entire “possible replies” script. – Kris

  25. I love your view! I haven’t actually bought many of the “higher” priced books yet myself, but only because I have so many that I HAVE to get read, so I only buy them when I can’t resist the deal. That being said, I can’t believe people are complaining about the price! Most of the time, they’re still cheaper than the print versions, plus no going to the store or shipping to pay, not to mention the space they take up in your home! I say leave them alone! I will gladly pay the prices I’ve seen for most of the books available!

  26. As an author who spends many hours writing or contemplating writing I can see both sides of this argument. Indie writers who are producing small inconsequential yet entertaining tomes are not necessarily expecting large paydays. They want their work read, and pay to publish it with graphics in order to get their fifteen minutes.

    An author who writes 5-50 pages is still entertaining certain members of the public. An author who puts out 200+ pages in a single tome would like to be compensated. A work of this length can take months or years to produce. I am moving downhill on my second novel, this one is certain to either make me famous or dead, maybe both. I have not decided whether to publish in e-book form or not, but it does seem like an easy avenue for a rookie without an agent like myself. I have been hounded by self-publishing firms since I copywrited and presented my first book, but I have not decided what avenue to take with it either.

    Best wishes to all writers out there. Jeff

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s