The Question of Value

There’s an interesting thought I’ve had bouncing around my head for over a month now, and all the more lately as a result of several other articles and blogs I’ve read that unknowingly touched on the topic in a way, but … how do we value an e-book?

I find that it’s an interesting question with a lot of variety in what I would suppose would be answers … though technically, these are supposed based on what other people online have stated and said about ebooks. But I still find it an interesting thought: what value are we placing on our ebooks?

I ask because as a whole, it appears that to most, the answer is “little.” Most commentary I’ve seen from online, or been the recipient of, is that an ebook is inherently of little value by nature of being an ebook. While a hardcover or a paperback copy of something such as The Wheel of Time is generally seen as holding an intrinsic value, the ebook of the same will often be derided as “overpriced” or “too expensive,” even though the ebook is already slightly cheaper.

Now, I’m not going to get into the whole debate of “But an ebook should be so much cheaper because it’s not physical” because that particular point has been trounced so thoroughly by authors and industry professionals much better than I that it’s no longer a dead horse, but rather a meaty, ground-up paste that was once a dead horse on the floor. There’s no point in discussing that. The majority cost of the physical aspect of a book has not been the actual tangible costs in a long time. It’s time, editing, marketing, etc. Just like a restaurant is not so much the cost of the ingredients as it is the time and preparation skill. So, if you were already planning a comment discussing that, don’t. You might as well be arguing that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.

Back to the topic at hand, considering the idea that customers aren’t holding an ebook to be of similar value, I find this a fascinating conundrum to consider: Why does the public hold this view? It’s an odd, strange view to take, in light of the rest of society’s embracing of the digital. But in ebooks, there’s this strange idea that an ebook does not have value. In fact a few weeks ago I encountered one poor, confused soul who declared that since ebooks tended to pay an author a higher royalty, the prices of an ebook should be adjusted to compensate, and then volunteered their own numbers (pulled out of a sunless place) to declare that ebooks should cost no more than 10% of the cost of a physical book because that was fair compensation.

Obviously, this is laughable. And I and a few others did have a good laugh about it later at LTUE, because that’s again one of those arguments that doesn’t understand it’s beating a dead horse. But the point remains, and this is what I haven’t stopped wondering about over the last few months … Why? Why is it that a public that seems to have the understanding of “I’m paying for content” with so many other products doesn’t get this with books at all?

Because, let’s face it, in other market areas where space is shared by digital and physical, there’s not a huge assortment of people crying for reduced prices. You don’t see articles from music sites talking about how MP3 downloads are worthless and shouldn’t cost more than ten cents. You don’t see game review sites asking how dare Steam or Origin have a digital game on launch day cost the same as its physical compatriots.

So why in the book industry is this such a problem? Why is it that a person will look at a digital MP3 download from their favorite artist and buy it without a second of remorse, but then look at a digital book from their favorite author and send them an angry message about how that ebook shouldn’t be more than a dollar?

I don’t actually have an answer to this question. All I have are theories based on what I’m reading and hearing from other people around the internet. Maybe you’ll agree with some of these, maybe you won’t. But all of these are things I’ve heard expressed in one way or another.

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