"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!" -Oliver

99 Cents.

Earlier this week, Boing Boing posted an excerpt from Kevin Kelly’s Technium that stated:

I am having trouble convincing myself why digital books will not cost 99 cents within 5 years. All books, on average. Just as the price of music does not in general change on the length or quality.

Kelly then cites an example in which one specific author (Joe Konrath) recently changed the price of his latest e-book from $2.99 to 99 cents. As a result, Konrath says he increased his daily sales from 40 electronic copies a day to 620 copies. Doing the math, 40 copies a day Konrath would be $120, while 620 copies at 99 cents per copy is $614. Note that these numbers reflect sales, not author payout rates. Amazon pays out different percentage levels for works that cost less than $1.99 (authors receive %35 of the sale price for books costing less than $1.99, and 70% for books that sell for $1.99 and more). Given those rates, the author still nets more by selling more copies for less ($215 vs. $84), but the difference is not quite as shocking.

Kelly notes at the end of his post: “I am not saying this is good news for authors. 99 cents is not. It is good news for READERS”

Upon initially reading Kelly’s post I felt frustrated and upset and discouraged and a little insulted, although after digesting it for a day I feel somewhat differently.

The process of writing Commodork, which was released in 2006, began sometime in 2004. Although the original goal wasn’t to publish a book, that’s when the writing process began. Writing continued throughout 2005 and 2006. That’s not to say it took two years of solid work to write Commodork, because it didn’t, but that’s how long it took me to get from initial concept to final product. To think that the physical culmination of all that work is worth less than what the average person tips for pizza delivery is, to be honest, a little disappointing.

But one thing I have to remind myself is that the new world of self-publishing is difficult to compare to the old world of traditional publishing. With traditional publishing, authors often only receive a dollar or so for each book sold. I guess in the long run it doesn’t matter what the selling price of a book is, as long as the author’s cut is the same. A large chunk of every $20 spent on a book at a brick and mortar bookstore goes to pay for advertising, rent, utilities, salaries, and printing costs. The electronic delivery of books eliminates most of those expenses. A $2 selling price doesn’t deliver substantially less money to authors — it just delivers less to the middle men. I can deal with that.

I don’t know why I never compared the two before, but book publishing is similar to music industry, where artists typically make 10 cents for each song sold. For that matter, Toy Story 3 cost $200 million to make. We rented it for a buck from Redbox.

The more I think about it, the more I’m okay with low-price books. It’s definitely something I’ll consider later this year, when book number 3 becomes available.

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