How Cheap Is Too Cheap?

Yesterday, after I had already written the post about ebooks, Amazon unveiled their devilishly tempting 900 books for $3.99 or less deal through the rest of this month. Real books! Reportedly good books for $0.99! Oh hell, I thought, I heard that book is good, and it’s a buck, so what the heck? I won’t even notice. Suppose the book isn’t any good — who cares?

I mean, meh, they’re just books. My hard-earned money should be poured into other things, like new shoes, not more books, so if I can scoop a bunch up for a buck I’m winning, right? Amazon is the one who suffers from the price break — it’s just a ploy to sell more Kindles — so I don’t have to feel like I’ve deprived the authors of something. We’re Capitalists, aren’t we? So gobble ‘em up while the getting is good and Damn the Man while we’re at it. As long as we save some bucks who cares what else is happening! It’s all about the $$$.

Yikes.

When I buy a book for $0.99 — which I haven’t done, so this is hypothetical — I can’t help feeling that I have deprived the author of something. I’ve cheapened the value of the book and my experience reading said book. I’ve made it not matter whether I get a lot out of it. I’ve made reading a shrug, deprived it of even a glance back to see where we stand.

I mean, it’s $0.99! Two lukewarm lemonades from the kids on the side of the road! One gumball from the big gumball machine! Significantly less than my gelati from Rita’s that I will consume in a matter of minutes as opposed to the hours it will take me to read my book! It’s nothing! Which means, when I buy the book, I will have bought it for nothing. And the book’s worth is — nothing.

There’s a value in saying something has value, isn’t there? What does the work I do mean if the work others do means nothing?

I suppose I could just tell myself I’ll only buy the dollar books if I would have spent the 10 or more on them to begin with. But if I really wanted that book, wouldn’t I have already bought it? (None of these 900 books are new, as far as I can tell.) But that isn’t the point. The idea has been planted, for better or for worse: books should be cheap, way cheaper than they used to be. Which is possibly a good thing in the end, but I can’t help eyeing it suspiciously — since it is, after all, just a ploy to sell more Kindles.

Then again, they already got me. So who am I to talk? I’ll just keep waffling back and forth, reading print and ebooks, covering my credit card with purchases for books, books, and more books. That’s the thing to keep in mind, I guess. No matter the cost, no matter the format, they’re still books to read and love.

P.S. And please, if you disagree, feel free to tell me so! Like I said, I keep waffling. I’m less convinced of this post than I was yesterday when I wrote it, but I’m still curious if anyone else has the same thoughts. (Probably not though. I am aware of my own insane foibles.)


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4 thoughts on “How Cheap Is Too Cheap?

  1. well, Im not too fond of the digital book format in the first place, but I DO have the kindle app for when I want to read a book cheaply, if my library doesnt have it available. I only do it for books Im not particulary keen on taking up my hard shelf space. Books like the True Blood books or the Hunger Games or Cat Adam's Blood Song books. Same for classics im not too enthused about. I wont pay more than paperback prices on an ebook, though. Also, in a way, I like ebooks better than used or library because the author DOES get paid for them, even if only a pittance.

  2. I agree that commerce does horrendous thing to art. For me, I try not to worry (although I do anyway) too much about the intersection of Commerce and Art. Like you say, price is a publisher/retailer decision. Whether it's good art is all that really matters. That some (many?) will tie the cost to the perceived value of a thing is beyond our control. We write, create, and then let the wind take it, yeah? Hopefully what we've made will find its way into the right hands, but that too is beyond our control. We can only do the creating.

  3. Hm, very true. Sometimes the best answer to market anxiety is to put your head down and get back to writing. Cost and money shouldn't matter as much as content – which is actually why I found myself less irate about the pricing thing by the time I posted.And yeah, let the wind take it. All we can do is make it the best we can. Well said!

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