The value of books


Happy Birthday to me… All my ebooks are now free.

I turn 50 this weekend, and to celebrate, I thought I’d give away all of my books for free. Well, not quite all of them, as there are some where I can’t influence the price because they’re in anthologies, or with Kindle Worlds, or have been developed by a publisher, etc, but I think there’s roughly twenty that will be free this weekend.

I rarely do book giveaways, because all too often, books are undervalued, but this is a nice milestone for me so I thought you’d like to celebrate along with me. It got me thinking, though, about the actual cost of a novel.

Don’t underestimate the real cost of a book, as it is not found in its price, but in the investment of your most precious commodity—time.

The independent writing revolution spearheaded by the advent of eBooks and platforms like KDP (Kindle Digital Press for Amazon), Smashwords and a host of others has lead to a glut of books on the market, which has driven prices down. And yet for me, it offered the opportunity to be published long before a traditional publisher took interest in my writing, and that exposure to readers and their feedback allowed me to refine my craft.

The inevitable consequence of a glut is falling prices. It’s simple economics—supply vs demand. Over supply and prices fall as suppliers (authors) seek to satisfy demand from readers. Some authors jealously guard their marketing secrets like the alchemists of old, thinking they are pitted in a struggle for the reader’s attention against other authors. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of oversupply reaching for a limited market, we should be looking to expand the market. Nothing inspires readers like a good book. Nothing encourages someone to pick up another novel than the satisfaction of a great read.

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What is the true worth of a book? Where does its value lie?

I brought The Martian when it was an independent eBook priced at 99c, and then spent $70 taking my family to see the movie (yes, movies are horribly overpriced in Australia). All up, I’ve spent the best part of a hundred dollars on a single story, but it was money well spent.

On the other hand, I’ve spent $30 on paperbacks from big name science fiction writers, only to stop reading after a few chapters. A waste of money? Not quite, you see the value of a book lies not in its cost, but in how it enriches our lives. Money buys a seat at the table, but the real cost of a book is the time I’m prepared to invest in reading, as that time is priceless.

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Think of it this way. In New York, you can buy a burger from a corner store run by three generations of Italians, or you can get one from the Waldorf Astoria. The burger is largely the same regardless, the price is not. The creamy mustard, crisp lettuce, juicy meat patty, soft bread, and smooth ketchup that runs down your cheek defines the real value of the burger. Which is better? Honestly, there’s no way to know without tasting, but judging the burger by the money exchanged is folly regardless of whether you paid more or less.

Part of the problem is we judge book prices by other book prices, rather than the enjoyment each book brings. In reality, we should compare book prices with other commodities that bring enjoyment. I know people that will agonized over spending 99c for an ebook but will spend five bucks on a good coffee. Little do they know, the real cost of the book they just purchased is their commitment to read it.

Never underestimate the power of a good book to soothe your soul and inspire you. Reading books is like recharging batteries, giving you new life with which to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

My latest novel Retrograde is now available, and no, it’s not free. It’s not 99c. It’ll cost you more than a cup of coffee, but in the words of six time Hugo award winning author Ben Bova…

Science fiction as it should be. Retrograde combines realistic characters with depictions of Mars as our explorers will one day find it in a powerful story. A must read!

…and Hugo award winning Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer…

For lovers of Andy Weir’s The Martian, here’s a true hard science-fiction tale set on the red planet—a terrific blend of high tech and high tension, of science and suspense, of character and crisis.

Personally, I think it is well worth your most precious commodity—time.

Read on.

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17 thoughts on “The value of books

  1. Dear Peter:

    Happy birthday, and thank you for the lovely birthday present!

    To everyone else:

    Amongst the embarrassment of riches, might I suggest that you check out first:

    NOSFERATU
    STARSHIP MINE
    WELCOME TO THE OCCUPIED STATES OF AMERICA
    XENOPHOBIA

  2. Happy Birthday! Thank you for the wonderful bday gifts; I already had most of them but just hadn’t gotten the others yet. Now I have them and the savings led me to get Retrograde. A win-win all the way around thanks to your generosity. Hope your 50th was great!

  3. Are you really investing time on the principle time costs money, or are you doing what you enjoy?
    I’m 75 so by the time you reach my age I will be gone and I wish you a happy birthday and every success.

    • Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding. I think we’re saying the same thing. The real cost of a book is the time spent reading it, not the money you exchange to purchase it (you’d be amazed how many people complain about the cost of books and mine are dirt cheap). I’ve read awesome books that cost 99c (like The Martian) and spent hours engrossed by the story (spending my time). I’ve spent $35 bucks on a big name author only to give up after a few chapters because it’s not worth my time.

      • I understand where you are coming from it is the reason I tend to read books that have stood the test of time but still not everyone appeals.
        People have their own set of values some of which may seem crazy to others. I know some who spend considerable sums in having newspapers delivered , but it’s good news for the paper- boy . I wonder how many books penned today will be popular in a hundred years?
        We must also take care not to be too critical of those who prefer other activities ; each unto his own.

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