I was talking with someone I barely knew recently about how much a typical hardcover costs and the comparative price of any book’s digital version. She commented that paying $12.99 for the e-version of a hardcover novel that retails in print for $26.99 seems unfair. After all, there is no paper or ink involved. No shipping costs. No physical cost at all, was her point. What is the thirteen dollars for?
I know this person hadn’t thought this through when she asked, which is why I didn’t pounce on the obvious; that the thirteen dollars is a tiny, very tiny, part of my bi-annual paycheck. Writing books is what I do for a living. The thirteen dollars (of which I only get a percentage) is for me so that I can eat, pay my mortgage, wear clothes, and put gas in my car – all the things this same person does with the money she gets in her paycheck.
What I said instead though, is also true. The thirteen dollars you spend on any e-book of a hardcover, I told her, is for the eight hours of amazing, gripping, suspenseful, or insightful entertainment it gives you, depending on the genre of the book. Thirteen dollars buys you one movie ticket for two hours of the same kind of ride but then it’s over, I said. You walk out of the theater and own nothing but the memory of having watched it. That e-book that you buy for the same thirteen dollars provides four times the hours of pleasure and, hey, you get to keep it and read it again. Or share with a friend. That thirteen-dollar movie ticket works out to about $6.50 cents an hour for the experience. The e-book at the same price is closer to $1.62 for the joy it gives you. You read an e-book, and you’re paying only $1.62 an hour for its author to whisk you away. And again, the traditionally published author gets only a portion of that.
So when you think about it, both the print version of a book and its e-version are bargains. Bargains! Buy a $26 hardback, read it for eight hours and you’ve only paid $3.25 an hour for that experience. If you read the book again, you’ll pay only $1.13 an hour for the escape into those pages.
What else can you buy for $26 or $13 and get eight hours of delight that you can re-experience as many times as you want?
I suppose you could buy a couple Frisbees and some hula hoops or a board game, but just think about the creative effort that goes into writing a book – it takes me a year or longer to write one – compared to the effort that goes into manufacturing a toy off the assembly line that looks just like the one before it and the one after it.
Books are uniquely unique. They are written by individual people who often write instead of doing some other job.
Books are tickets and passports to other times and places where you get to experience other lives.
And for that e-book that contains no paper and ink, it’s all for the bargain price of $1.62 an hour. Pretty amazing when you stop to think about it. And everyone should, I think. Stop and think about it.