Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's not about the content

One thing that the recent events surrounding the release of the iPad and the subsequent rebellion of top publishers against Amazon's pricing model has made abundantly clear is that no matter what we want to believe, the worth of a book has little to do with the content of the book. That may sound harsh, and I am not suggesting that my little noir mystery that has sold a grand total of Garrison Kiellor's projected 14 copies is equally as valuable as Lee Child's 61 Hours (this week at #1 on the NYT Best Sellers list). But it is reflected in the fact that Child's book is available at Barnes & Noble for $13.49 as an eBook, $16.38 in hardcover, $20.16 in large print paperback, and $8.99 in mass market paper.

The difference in the price is based on the medium, not on the content.

To some extent, I can see that there could be a difference based on cost of production. But the truth of the matter is that readers do not recognize equal value between a hardcover and an eBook--even though the content is the same.

It seems to me that the best and fairest way of pricing a book in any medium is a single consistent margin above cost of goods. (The direct costs of creating a book have to be figured in "x" since the publisher will put different amounts of effort into the creation of different content.) When we arrive at a price then for a book that costs $3.50 to get from manufacturing, including shipping, we could easily say that the book sells for $13.50, cost plus $10. The eBook would sell on-line for $10. The audio book on 10 CDs would probably not cost any more than the hardcover as the cost of goods would remain the same.

What is more important to me as an author and as a publisher, is that there is a consistent value placed on the content of the book on which the royalty and publishing costs are paid. Inventing an 8% of retail price when the book is priced at $22.95 and sells for 16.38 yields the same result as a 50% split of the net on the $13.50 book in my example. And the author always gets the same amount, whether on a paperback, hardcover, or eBook. That would truly show the consistent value of the content and separate it from the value of the molecules used to produce it.

This method is flawed. You begin to see the flaws when you start dealing with the retail channel and discounts, but that is not the only place. However, the concept of consistent value for content regardless of medium is one that I believe has potential for resolving both the perception of readers and the self-worth of authors. It is worth considering.

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