Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
My brothers-in-law recently started a T-shirt sales website. Grizz Riley.com sells comfy, cool T-shirts for $25. I fully support their entrepreneurial launch. But I couldn’t help thinking about it in comparison to publishers, selling ebooks for a just couple of bucks. It struck me as odd that our society values ebooks at a fraction of the price of a T-shirt.
The company I work for, Booktrope, sells most of its ebooks for $2.99. We’ve just distributed our 2 millionth title, so we have a lot of data to go by, and we’ve found $2.99 to be the sweet spot for ebook pricing. Why so low?
The price of an ebook—or any product really—settles out at whatever amount the market can bear. It’s the old law of supply and demand, right? But with that logic, ebooks would be more than five times more plentiful than T-shirts. Neither ebooks nor T-shirts are in short supply. Certainly there are plenty of both. So that doesn’t explain why T-shirts cost so much more than ebooks.
Maybe it’s brand cache? A car from, say Bugatti, is much more expensive than a car from Hyundai. And certainly, big brand publishers can—and do—charge more for ebooks than indie publishers and authors who self-publish. But no matter how fine their reputation, there aren’t many publishers who can get away with selling an ebook for $25, the price of a single T-shirt.
When comparing T-shirts to ebooks, let’s not even look at the price-per-hour scale. How many hours go into the production of an ebook? The writing, the editing, the proofing, the cover design, the production…a book can take years to finish. But a T-shirt? Well, designing the graphic on the T-shirt might take a few hours, but I’d argue that at most, it takes as long as designing a book cover. So the relative value of ebooks-to-T-shirts can’t be attributed to the work involved in making them. Ebooks take much more time.
Let’s look at the price of an ebook versus a T-shirt in terms of its overall value in your life. Right now, you can get HarperCollins’ Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup for 99 cents. Nintey-nine cents! Reading that book, with its profound insights and gripping descriptions, could possibly change your perspective on humanity. But its going rate is less than a buck! Will a T-shirt stay with you for the rest of your life—at any price?
I settle into the uncomfortable conclusion that our society simply values things like clothes higher than books. Why else would we shell out $25 for a T-shirt but balk at buying a mystery for that price?
But what can we do, right? Wait a minute, maybe we can do something. Why doesn’t the publishing industry add T-shirts to our lists! Sell one shirt for $25 and throw in an ebook for free! I bet if we run the numbers, we’d come out ahead.