Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's it worth?

Nathan Bransford has a survey on his blog asking how much you think an ebook should cost. This got me thinking, not just about ebooks, but about pricing for books in general.

Because of the whole Amazon/Macmillan debacle, there’s a lot of discussion about profit models, how much it costs to produce an actual book vs an ebook, and everything a publisher has to pay for out of the small profit they make. All of this is great, and I’m all for everyone being able to make a profit. Most people in the book business (from writers, to agents, to editors, etc.) are here because they Love books. Trust me; it’s not for the money. I’ve worked as an editor on two literary magazines and had several pieces published. With the money I’ve made I might be able to buy a Starbucks Latte every day for two weeks. Maybe.

So while I’m glad there’s a lot of talk about how little profit is actually made in the industry (witness recent layoffs) I feel like there’s something missing in the discussion, and that is what you’re actually buying when you purchase a book.

We didn’t have much money when I was growing up. Okay, we were broke. Often there wasn’t enough food, and the only meal I ate was lunch at school. Our house was old and falling apart. When it rained, the holes in the ceiling were so bad that water poured down the walls. It was so cold in the winter that I spent most days curled up on top of the registers, waiting for the heat to kick on (which was infrequent because we kept our heat set at 55—except for the times my brother and I snuck over and turned it up.) This wasn’t a short-term thing. Things didn’t start getting better until I was 21, and my parents declared bankruptcy because my dad had a massive heart attack, and we didn’t have health insurance (another post for another time.)

My point in all of this is that even when we couldn’t afford anything else, my mom made sure we had books. We bought them when we couldn’t afford anything else. When I was curled up on the heat vents, I had a book. When rain was running down our walls, I found a dry spot and read. We had books because my mom understood that they were valuable. Not because of the paper or the binding or the artwork on the cover (although these are all Great Things) but because books hold Hope. Books hold Dreams. Books make you Think. They open the world to you.

Why is it that one of the first things dictators do when they come to power is burn books? Why do people ban books? Why is the Freedom of Speech the first thing listed in our Bill of Rights? Because books are more than paper and ink. They are Power. So whether it’s in traditional book form or an ebook, I know when I hand over my money I’m, getting more than paper and ink (or pixels on the screen.) I'm getting Dreams, Power, and Hope. New worlds are opening, and to me that’s priceless.


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