I am publishing a collection of short stories as an e-book. Continuing a series from last week, I’m trying to work through the relevant pricing issues and set a price for that content.
Coming up on the end of a second week of thinking about how to price an e-book, I feel as if I finally understand the problem. I don’t have a final number yet for my short story collection, but I genuinely feel as if I have the tools to make that decision. (I know this kind of analytical obsessing isn’t as fun to read as gossip or flippant analysis, but if you’ve been reading along I hope you’ve gained some insight into these issues as well.)
Today and tomorrow I’m going to run down two perspectives I haven’t yet talked about. After that I’ll wrestle with the fact that setting a price in one place has an inevitable domino-effect along the pricing pipeline, and why I think that’s an indicator of problems to come. After that, I’ll pick my number and get back to the (relative) sanity of regular posting.
Despite everything I’ve learned about the haphazard nature of pricing in general, and of e-book pricing in particular, I still retain a belief that there is some sort of fair value that can be applied to digital content. I know rationally that the marketplace will eventually come to define fairness as any stabilized price, but absent that stability I still find myself asking: what’s fair?
In the hard-bitten world of business this is obviously a naive view. What’s fair to most people is whatever they can get away with. If selling people into a mortgage or cell phone plan means using legalese to obscure relevant costs and fees, you do not hesitate to screw your customer. (To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, nobody ever made a hundred million dollars being a nice person — and that includes the messianic Mr. Jobs.)
Complicating things further, fairness is always a relative concept. Trying to be fair means trying to balance all factors involved, yet there’s no way to control for or even anticipate all of the variables. If I say a price is fair, who am I being fair to? A kid in Haiti who just lost his whole family? The rich, degenerate housewives on Bravo that are laughing all the way to your bank? Being fair in an absolute sense in any transaction seems a theoretical impossibility. In practice we rely on orderly (and regulated) markets to quantify fairness as a floating point between supply and demand, and that’s probably the best we can hope to do. [ Read more ]