I had one idea for a blog that became two, that are somewhat related (Indies trying to succeed in a cruel, isolated world and the pricing challenge faced by all). So I mashed them together here. I hope it turns out better than that potato recipe I tried last year. Bad. So very, very bad.
The other day I read a comment from one writer to another (where else? on a blog) that stated the person was sick and tired of the “coffee versus books” comparison as far as pricing goes. The gist being that coffee is not cheap to produce, yadda, yadda, yadda. I have never—nor was the blogger who received the comment—written about “coffee”. I buy my own beans, grind them, brew my coffee, and pay about 1/7th the money on my fix than when I used to hit the ‘Bucks everyday (anyone ever catch that little nuance before?). I use Starbucks venti latte with extra foam-type extravagance for my comparisons. But for anyone who is still confused on why this makes such a perfect jumping off point for the price of books, a quick summation:
1) The aforementioned latte is around $5.
2) There is quite literally a Starbucks on every corner in most cities, and I rarely see one (any time of day, as long as they are open) without a gaggle of customers both in the store and at the drive-thru.
3) Like books, Starbucks “coffee” is not a necessity, it is a discretionary purchase.
4) The price point in the market really seems to be settling, for now, in the “cost of a latte” range.
Finally the (mini) argument: that a latte gives a reader perhaps ten minutes of pleasure before it goes cold, and you need another at the very latest, the next morning. It takes the barista perhaps three minutes to make your drink. A book, on the other hand, takes a writer anywhere from months to years to write, incurring other costs such as a cover that makes the reader want to buy the product, editing, proofreading, advertising (no Indie I know has the budget of even one Starbucks franchise for that). The book also gives, depending on your reading speed, days and days of pleasure. In fact, if (like me) you savor it, reading a chapter or two a night, it can last. Throw in the lending programs now (would love to see Starbucks implement that one), and I think readers are getting a heck of a deal.
Oh, and as to the traditional follow-up “yes, but it could be crap; I don’t know that author yet.” My answer is, fair enough, but you can read a fairly generous sample in most cases (something Starbucks cannot match other than perhaps one new flavor once in a while). And if you end up not liking the book, it wasn’t all that much money. Pretend it was like the last cup of Mocha Cappucino that slipped from your hand and splattered all over the pavement. You know, the one you went right out and either replaced or bought again the very next morning.
So I still submit the Starbucks-eBook comparison is one of the best we have right now as far as the market is concerned. All I’m trying to point out to readers is that authors put a lot of work into creating a book especially for you and that there needs to be a cultural market change that reflects that (i.e. that paying $3.99 or $4.99 for a novel is a steal). I’ve said it before yet it bears repetition: not too long ago, your only option for reading (other than the library) was to pay premium brick and mortar prices ($12.99 – $19.99 per book. Smelly used paperbacks at garage sales sell for a buck or two apiece. A fresh, brand new book from an author you’ve sampled and think you’ll like is a very low risk purchase. And again: a deal and a half.
Next for your reading pleasure, a ham-handed segue into the next topic: social networking as a vendor marketplace to sell your wares (books). I’m going to use Twitter, because I still believe Indie writers (including me) treat it as the Holy Grail of “getting the word out”.
I want you to imagine a prison cell, but a fairly large one. I’m talking holding tank. This puppy can hold anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 inmates, no problemo. Now imagine most of the prisoners are writers, each allowed to bring copies of their own book(s) in with them. Or imagine every last one of them are pure readers. Yes, writers are readers, too, but let’s make this a best case scenario (other than the prison part).
So here you are, the only writer amongst an entrapped (even bored) group of readers. At first, you do all right. But then, even under the best circumstances, everyone has read your book by day three or four. Ah, but you already had a second one lined up. Well, setting aside the percentage that didn’t like your style, ability, genre, etc. (or are too busy banging on the bars shouting “I’m innocent, get me out of here”, your second book is gobbled up in the next three or four days.
Now you need to sit in the corner and write another. How long does it take you? Let’s go with six months. And let’s say that a few of your fellow inmates leave in that time span and a few new ones come in, but you’re a fairly seasoned prisoner so more or less, the same crowd remains. And the truth is, we’ve constructed a fairy tale. In truth, your Twitter prison cell is crammed full of mostly other writers, who yes, are readers, but most of them not all that motivated to buy but rather to sell.
Do you see where this is going. I know writers with a hundred thousand followers who are doing exactly the same thing I am with my 13K (and the same thing Writer C is doing with her 8K and Writer D is doing with his 2K and so on and so on, ad infinitum. Facebook? Wow, I have to say (my opinion only) but Facebook has never been even as good as a prison cell for peddling your wares. Most people log onto Facebook to post pictures of their cat, or the latest humorous cartoon. (Yes, I am exaggerating, but I am a “fan” on a lot of famous artists’ pages (writers, bands, etc.). I don’t even see them getting much hoopla. Some. But they are famous. And I’d still bet you their marketing person, people, whatever spend way less on Facebook time (and even Twitter) than you’d think. Famous people use Twitter and Facebook mostly for the purpose they were originally created: socially.
“Watched Saw VII last night…hated it!”
“Who’s watching Idol? Can you believe that last performance by Adam Lambert? Brilliant.”
I’m not trying to be discouraging. Really. But I think if you’re shrewd, innovative, and motivated to sell, you should start thinking more outside the box. Er, prison cell.
I’m the type of person that wants someone to show up with not only the problem but an idea to fix it. So here’s mine for you:
Get back to basics. 75% of the readers I talk to (and I worked in an extremely technical industry with very tech-savvy folk) DO NOT have an eReader (and hate the idea of reading a book on their computer—which is at least 80% of the reason they don’t own the eReader in the first place). BOOKS. Work on moving your books. Yes, we each need a strong digital presence, because those numbers (whatever they truly are) will shift. They are shifting, but at a much slower pace I think than most of us thought after the deluge of sales to John Locke and followers.
I know people who still go into brick and mortars and spend over ten bucks on a real I-can-hold-it-in-my-hand-and-smell-the-wood-pulp BOOK. Book are legitimate, somehow, where people balk and paying a few bucks for a bunch of ones and zeros. That’s my take on it. Many of us are focusing our voices on deaf ears. Or no ears at all. Or worse, each other’s ears only.
Just listen. That’s the echo you’re hearing. It’s the sound of all that tweeting bouncing off the cold, concrete prison walls. I can’t be the only one feeling this way. I tweet for myself, other authors, other bloggers, my blog.
I’m not suggesting we slit our wrists, or even stop tweeting. Heck no. When you hear the pounding of the “think outside the box” drums, however, you might want to alter that phrase and “think outside the prison cell”. Which leads me to my next thought. Come closer. Just you who feel the same way I do. We don’t need any halfhearted lifers who’ve been institutionalized or any of you damn trustees with your head up the warden’s patootie. Come on, you serious ones. Listen up.
We need a jailbreak.
The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.
Author known to use spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.)