Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

What Is “Worth” 99 Cents?

I just got my first Amazon review for THE REIVER where the purchaser felt that 99 cents was too much to spend for such a short story. I do feel a little bad about her experience, because it seems she relied on the file size to indicate how long the book was, and apparently the last version I uploaded has a very high resolution/uncompressed version of the cover art because the file really is gigantic! (Obviously something I have to fix.)

That said, my product information clearly says the story is about 35 pages long and all of the reviews also mention that it is a short story. On the one hand, I’m sorry the file size misled her, but on the other hand, I feel I’ve done everything I can to give readers a fair sense of what they are getting for their 99 cents.

Be that as it may, I find it interesting that a short story that takes half an hour to read is not perceived by some people to be “worth” 99 cents. Because there are many things we pay a LOT more for that take a half an hour or less the consume. I mean, how much does a cup of coffee cost? 99 cents would be CHEAP! How long does it take you to consume a cup of coffee? Unless it’s really hot, I’m done in 10-15 minutes, tops.

Now, believe me, I do understand that when there is a physical THING involved, an actual consumable, we are all aware that there are costs associated with the production of the item that must be recouped. The time an author spends writing a story isn’t perceived, IMO, as a cost of production to most readers. The costs of production for a book, as far as many people are concerned, are the costs of paper, ink, printing, shipping, etc. The author’s time and effort doesn’t factor into that equation, in part, I think, because the author’s time and effort is a one-time expenditure–that is, an author writes the book ONCE and then can sell it over and over and over again without any more “work”. This differs from our cup of coffee, which must be replaced by making ANOTHER cup of coffee. You can’t keep selling the same one over and over again.

On the other hand, your cup of coffee can only be consumed once. If you buy a story or a song for 99 cents and you really like it, you can listen to/read it over and over again. Doesn’t that increase its value, possibly making it worth the 99 cents?

I don’t have a good answer to my own question here. I have paid 99 cents for quite a few books. In some cases, I felt I got my money’s worth. In others, I felt I was ripped off. And in still others, I felt like I got a steal. But I don’t think ANY of my perceptions of value were based solely on the “length” of the book–I would much rather pay 99 cents for a GOOD short story that I really enjoyed reading than to pay 99 cents for a full-length novel that I couldn’t get past the first ten pages of (and I’ve run into plenty of those at many different price points).

I do appreciate that some people feel 99 cents for a short story is a rip-off, no matter how good the story. And yet, I wonder how many would balk at paying 99 cents for Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, which comes in just shy of 11,000 words. I think a lot of people would say that story is worth far MORE than a mere 99 cents.

To me, 99 cents seems like very little to pay for even a very short story, provided it is well-written and well-edited. Free is too expensive for a 100,000 word novel that is neither well-written nor well-edited. The hard thing is figuring which books are which!

1 Comment

  • Julia Broadbooks June 6, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    For anything longer than a novella, unless the book is the lead in to a series or a promotional price, a 99 cent price tag would make me look carefully at the quality. As a reader, I know what other books cost and even three dollars is cheap for a novel.


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