[I]f your title is getting lost in a sea of other content, you need a way to stand out. You know that online-store ratings can be rigged, and reviewers tend to focus on the blockbusters. So what do you do to get people’s attention? You lower your price.

And this is where it gets interesting. The theory is that while you might make less money on each sale, you’ll make more sales overall, and come out ahead. It makes sense… if you’re the only one following that strategy.

–Fergus McNeill on price wars.

McNeill’s piece is on one of my soapbox issues, which is the app industry as it relates to the ebook industry.

Apps, particularly smartphone apps, have already gone through their boom-bust crash cycle. They’re starting to come out the other side of it now; app stores are saturated, uncurated purveyors of garbage. Quality developers are closing down because they can’t afford to keep developing good product in a market where $1.99 is considered “too expensive”. Authors and publishers need to be paying attention to the lessons coming out of this, but too many don’t ever seem to have heard of it.

So how is the app industry coping with its brave new world, and what lessons can publishing learn from it?

Unfortunately, as McNeill points out, the main lessons apps have learnt is one that’s difficult to see applied to books, which is in-game monetisation. The game is free,1 but if you want to actually have fun playing it? Ah, well. That costs.

I admit I struggle to see how this model could be applied to novels, particularly given that, to work, in-app purchases need to be things that are either free (e.g. lives) or otherwise comparatively simple (e.g. new armour skins) for the developer to produce in comparison to their cost. Having some kind of vanity or competitiveness component helps a lot, too; you’ll look prettier to other players if you buy x dress, or defeat the boss quicker with y buff. None of that stuff seems very relevant to an author.

But there are two other take-homes from the app industry McNeill doesn’t mention.

The first–which I admit I learnt from fandom, but it’s applicable here, too–is attention economy stuff.

The unit of value in the sale of a novel is not the novel; it’s the author. The author is the one who can brings all the readers to her yard, and she does so via a combination of, yes, producing works people like to read, but also a kind of cult of personality. In the specfic space, Chuck Wendig, Kameron Hurley, and John Scalzi are examples of authors who’ve mastered this; how many of you have heard of them but never read their books? Cassandra Clare and E.L. James are two other, slightly different examples. Basically, scratch the surface of almost any blockbuster and behind a thin facade of “overnight success” you’ll find someone who’s worked very hard for a very long time on raising their own personal profile.

EtA: Oh-ka-aa-ay. So there was more to this post originally but it seems to’ve been eaten in the queue. Oops.

  1. Or sometimes not free. Guild Wars 2 uses an in-app purchases plus box price model. Incidentally, it’s awesome. Y’all should go play it. []