Amazon’s math of “you will sell 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99″ is also suspect, because it appears to come with the ground assumption that books are interchangable units of entertainment, each equally as salable as the next, and that pricing is the only thing consumers react to. They’re not, and it’s not. Someone who wants the latest John Ringo novel on the day of release will not likely find the latest Jodi Picoult book a satisfactory replacement, or vice versa; likewise, someone who wants a eBook now may be perfectly happy to pay $14.99 to get itnow, in which case the publisher and author should be able to charge what the market will bear, and adjust the prices down (or up! But most likely down) as demand moves about.

(This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.)

–A John Scalzi book is a John Scalzi book.

I think Scalzi is mostly right here although he is only focused on one use case; unsurprisingly, as an established author, it’s the use case that benefits established authors.1 It’s true that if I’m going into the bookstore (or digital equivalent) to buy the latest from a particular author, I’m not going to be satisfied with something by someone else. (Well, I mean. I might still buy the second book, but I’ll still come back later for the first.)

But that’s not the only reason people walk into bookstores. Sometimes books are interchangeable units, at least within certain constraints. So maybe I’m going in looking for “an urban fantasy” or “a political non-fiction” or “something to read on the plane”, and, in those cases, maybe one book is as good as another. For debut authors, this is the use case I’d say most of us are interested in, because we’re in a position where we can’t just rely on either existing fans buying our stuff because it’s our stuff, or people hunting specifically for us because they keep reading our articles on the interblargs and finally got curious. We need to be an interchangeable product, and that’s arguably when price sensitivity comes into play.2

(There’s also a pride thing in here; authors don’t like to think of their beautiful baby books as being interchangeable in the eyes of consumers, but I guess that’s neither here nor there.)

Either way, definitely A+ to Scalzi’s last paragraph on cost of production. Because, shock horror! Market economics doesn’t actually inherently mean constant downwards pressure on prices. Think about Apple, for example, who are rumoured to make something like 80% profit on the sale price of their devices, who are the most expensive player in their market, and yet who do continuous healthy business. (And yes, for those who don’t follow the tech press; there are constantly articles about how Apple “has” to release lower-cost products to survive against cheap Windows/Android alternatives. Shockingly, Apple remains profitable despite not doing this.)

Of course, Apple is also, a) extremely good at branding and marketing, and b) in control of most of its distribution channels. So… yeah. Go figure.

  1. Scalzi does this a lot, in my experience. He’s a great advocate if you’ve been in the biz for a decade or so, not so great if you’re just starting out. Which is not something I suspect he’d be enthused to hear… []
  2. This is also why indie authors have traditionally been so obsessed over price; for a long time, it was their discoverability. []