I'm in A LOT of author fan groups. It's just part of the book blogger gig. And I've been noticing something in these groups that has been bugging me for a while, but I've kept my mouth shut. Well, yesterday, I was in one my favorite fan groups and someone complained that the author's new release was $1 more than the last release, and that she hoped the price would be reduced soon because that was just more than her budget could handle. While I totally understand budget constraints, this statement irked me on a few levels. Number 1: It was made in the author's own fan group, but the comment wasn't addressed directly to the author, so it was basically just a really passive-aggressive way to bitch to the author about pricing. And Number 2: I got the feeling that this reader wasn't aware of all that goes into an author's book pricing strategy before complaining about that extra dollar. So, with that in mind, here's what I think readers should know about book pricing before they pop up to try and shame an author for how much they've decided to charge for their work:
First of all, a preemptive note...
Don't get me wrong. I'm not here to tell you that writing and publishing books is hard and that you should just shut up and throw your money at authors. If you feel a book is more than you can afford or want to pay, then you should absolutely not buy it. But bitching directly to an author about the price of their book because you can't afford said book is rude. It's also not the author's problem.
Cost of living
Every year, our cost of living increases. EVERYTHING gets more expensive. So, while you might get a cost of living pay increase from your boss, indie authors work for themselves. If they want to be able to afford to feed their families, they have to increase their prices, too. That's why the cost of ebooks has gone up steadily over the past several years. It's not because authors are greedy, selfish bastards who want to steal your money. It's because they have to eat, too.
Indie authors (good ones, anyway) don't just write a book , toss it up on Amazon, and call it a day. Before a book is published, they pay (out of pocket) for:
It's also important to remember that authors--even indie authors--don't get to keep every penny of what you pay for their book. The seller (Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc) takes a cut. If the author has an agent or publisher, they also get their cut. So, on a book that you pay $4.99 for, assuming there isn't an agent or publisher involved, the author only gets $3.49 (less in select markets).
There's also the author's time to think about. Writing a book can take months, even years. Can you think of anything that you'd be willing to devote years of your life to, then practically give away? I wouldn't.
So, at the end of the day, when the author is paying so much out of pocket, is it really outlandish for them to charge less than what you'd pay for a fancy cup of coffee for something that took them months--maybe even years--to create? Something that will give you hours of entertainment? I sure don't think so.
Kindle Unlimited status matters
The terms of Kindle Unlimited aren't especially favorable to authors. Authors make considerably more selling a book outright than they make off of Kindle Unlimited page reads. (KU pays the author only fractions of a penny per page read--and Amazon is the sole decider of what constitutes a page.) Now, there are lots of reasons why an author might choose to be part of Kindle Unlimited, and I'm not here to discuss those reasons. My point in discussing KU terms is to let readers know that if an established indie author is in KU, they're doing it for their readers' sake, not their own (most likely to reach more folks). So, in cases where an author is in KU, they're already making sacrifices for the sake of their readers. Long-story-short, it's reasonable for a KU author to charge a little more for their work as a way to offset their KU losses (which aren't just monetary...there's also the fact that KU demands exclusivity...but that's another story for another time).
PS: if you're a voracious reader, take the time to do a little math before you say you can't afford Kindle Unlimited, either. For $9.99 a month, you can borrow up to 10 books at any given time. As soon as you finish one, you can download another. If you're reading that much now, chances are you're paying more than $9.99 a month. The terms of KU aren't kind to authors, but they're GREAT for readers. And lots of fantastic authors are in KU at the moment, so it's worth considering.
Traditionally published authors
Trad pubbed authors don't set their prices. The publisher does. So don't complain to trad pubbed authors about their book prices because there's nothing they can do about it.
Authors aren't all rich
Some authors sell thousands of books a day, and some don't sell any. The fact is that the majority of indie authors aren't making a living wage off their book income. (I don't have stats for trad pubbed authors, but I imagine this is true for a lot of them, too.) So, don't presume to know how much money an author has before you complain to them about being too poor to afford their book. They might be in worse shape than you are financially.
What is reasonable?
I've done a lot of research on this. And while it seems that a lot of authors price their books by word count (longer books cost more), it's also clear that quality and the author's name recognition is a factor. So, based on my research, a reader should expect to pay between $3.99 and $4.99 for a novel of around 50K words (200ish pages) from an established indie author. For an established traditionally published author, they should expect to pay more for a book of the same length. For a newbie indie author, they should expect to pay less for a book of the same length. Is this true 100% of the time? Of course not. But just because you can find 50K word books for less, doesn't mean the authors charging the average $3.99-$4.99 are being greedy. They're being perfectly reasonable by the current industry norms.
But...what if I can't afford it and REALLY want to read it?
You have options if you can't afford a book. NEVER resort to book piracy because, a) book pirates go to hell, and b) You can get nasty-but-deserved computer viruses that steal your passwords and such. So, here's what you can do instead:
Long-story-short: Before you shame an author about their book pricing strategy...don't. Authors deserve to be well-paid for their work, just like every other type of worker in the world.