Having just published my first novel, all by myself (yay me), I ran into the inevitable question of how much is should cost. There’s a few chains of thought circling round the web at the moment about the cataclysmic doom that independent book pricing is bringing upon the publishing industry, with some recommending volume is king, others that value breeds margins. Personally, I prefer to base my prices on what I think my book is worth on its own merits. I didn’t want to charge rock-bottom prices in the dream that it would spread like a sinister skin disease, and I didn’t want to charge premium prices in the hope that a few discerning readers would fund my extravagant lifestyle. I wanted to charge prices that were fair to the reader in terms of what they might get out of the book. And to do that I used a simple system that I use when pondering the value of any good, service or otherwise price-related matter. I compared it to the price of a beer.
Roughly speaking, the eBook edition of Wixon’s Day is equivalent to a pint of beer down the pub. The print edition should be under the price of two beers. But how can you compare the pleasure you obtain from reading to the pleasure you obtain from drinking a beer?
(If you’d like to draw similar comparisons and don’t drink beer, feel free to replace beer in my examples with your own favourite social lubricant, for instance a coconut mocha frappuccino or a Sazerac cocktail.)
Considering the hours of enjoyment
When I first bought my Xbox, I was unemployed and desperately needed to justify such a large expenditure. To do so, I considered the hourly rate that I was paying for the activity. It cost me something like £150, so after I’d played on it for 20 hours or so I felt that I was getting a better deal than I would have if I’d spent that time, say, bowling. After 60 hours I was practically in the realms of profit (in terms of monetary value for time spent, mind, probably less so in terms of general social malaise).
But what was the point when the amount I’d spent on my leisure activity became good value? I decided it was somewhere in the regions of £6 an hour, about the amount I’d spend on beer down the pub per hour (a conservative estimate, and certainly less than you would spend these days). As the standard measure of time enjoyed in my everyday life, £6 an hour seemed a fair cop. So after 25 hours of playing on the Xbox I felt the expenditure was better value than a pub trip would be.
How does this compare to reading a book? Well, everyone reads at a different rate, but I suspect I cover about 25-30 pages in an hour. So for a 300 page book you’re looking at about 10 hours of sustained reading pleasure. These days, with rising beer prices, it’s more like £10 an hour down the pub if you’re drinking about two pints an hour, but let’s call it £8 for slow drinking and sneaky deals. So in terms of beer-time alone, a 300 page book could be worth £80 worth of enjoyment. So in terms of beer-time, a book for the price of two-pints is really a pretty good deal.
You’re not just paying for the time you spend with it though, are you? What about measuring the level of enjoyment it brings?
Considering the level of enjoyment gained
Enjoyment is a subjective thing, both in beer and books. A fellow with a low tolerance for alcohol might take one beer and have the night of his life. Someone with a high tolerance might need four or five before even noticing any effects. Similarly, one reader might love a book and cherish every reading moment, another might loathe the experience so much that they try to use the corners of the pages to claw their own eyes out.
The important thing, though, is that it’s an activity done in the pursuit of entertainment. For me, reading a book, watching TV, talking with friends, listening to music, cycling down ditches and drinking beer all have the potential to keep me entertained. Yet drinking beer is the most considerable expense, even though an hour spent reading a good book can be more rewarding than an hour spent sipping an ale.
Considering a book price in relation to the price of a beer, one beer has the potential to make you mildly numb to the worries of life for an increasingly short period of time, but one book at the same price has the potential to entertain you for a number of hours in a variety of ways. And it could also be enjoyed again, and shared, with the wise words and hardy emotions of the story warming your my heart for the rest of your life. Even very large quantities of beer very rarely meet that potential.
Considering the cost of production
But of course in business prices shouldn’t aren’t necessarily based on enjoyment and hourly consumption, because only one thing really matters. Basic economics. Supply and demand, costs of resources. Beer costs so much, you may sob into a napkin, because there is so much tax levied on it, and certain resources are required to brew, transport, house and serve it. A book’s just a bunch of words on a screen/a pile of of paper (delete as applicable). Indeed, the only reason the print edition of my book is almost twice the price of the eBook is the cost of physical production (and in fact it gives me a lower return than the eBook).
The real reason we pay that much more for beer is the individual unit price and all that jazz, so does that muddy the comparison? Well, here’s how I justify the price of my book in beer units from that perspective. I’ve invested money in editing the book, and countless hours of labour in writing and editing it. Let me think of a rough number…I write something like 4,000 words an hour in a swing, Wixon’s Day is 110,000 words long, so that’s about 27.5 hours…if you paid me £6 an hour that’d be £165 just for writing the thing. Probably about 6 times that amount subsequently rewriting it. And that’s to say nothing of the 25 years or so of my life that laid the necessary experience to write it when I did. So there are some production costs that go with the book, just like with a beer.
The thing to take away from all this is that I’m not so much concerned with trying to trick a market into buying countless copies of my book because it’s cheap, or in trying to extract the maximum margin I can from each copy. I’m interested in taking this little piece of entertainment that I’ve produced and giving it a value as a piece of entertainment.
And for me, that value is roughly the price of a pint of beer. Hopefully it’ll provide a greater return than a single pint of beer would, and if you’re willing to take a chance on buying a drink once in a while, why not take a chance on foregoing one pint and try my book?