Yesterday, an (understandably) frustrated gentlemen tweeted a link saying the fact that my book’s print and ebook editions were priced the same, was “greed.” While this was a bit hyperbolic to be sure (and the price being identical was in fact a mistake that has now been corrected), it sparked a discussion about book pricing and content value that gave me pause to reconsider all I had previously thought about buying a print versus an ebook.
It’s not uncommon to see ebooks priced lower, and in many cases significantly lower than their print counterparts. It makes logical sense on first pass: the cost of printing, storing and distributing physical media is higher than the cost to send an ebook to a purchaser via email. Marco Tabini points out that “when you buy a can of beans at the supermarket, it’s the beans you really want, not the can, which is simply a convenient medium for the manufacturer to sell you their goods.”
The problem is, publishers have essentially shot themselves in the foot. By offering steep discounts on ebooks, they’ve essentially convinced the public that it is the can, not the contents, that people are purchasing. It doesn’t cost 50% more to create a physical book, but publishers act like it does when they discount their ebooks 50%. If we establish a price floor for the content at 50% below the list price, that’s an impossible position to recover from. Some have tried to fix their mistake; they’re being investigated by the Department of Justice for price fixing.
For those of us who produce content and sell it (that would be anyone who has written a book, given a talk or hosted a class), it’s easy to think that we should price our content to sell. But this is a mistake: ancedotal evidence suggests otherwise. Pricing content incorrectly leaves money on the table: it makes it really hard to earn more on the content you’re presently selling, and makes it difficult to price another product higher in the future.
We need to stop buying the can, and start buying the contents. When we evaluate a pricing strategy, or a purchasing decision, we need to look at more than the medium the product is being packaged in. We need to look good and hard at the value of the content, the value it will bring to our lives and the value it holds for the person who produced it. Chances are good that for most products, it would be a steal at twice the price.
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