While we could go around for hours about the costs of an ebook version of a book versus others, there’s another part of the general consumption of ebooks that should be discussed. Perceived value is just as important as actual cost.
Books, in general, take lots of steps before they become published. There’s the acquisitions process, usually multiple rounds of editing, marketing and social media planning and execution, and, of course, the design of the book’s interior and exterior. There’s also everything that comes after the book: royalty costs, employee paychecks, rent, etc. Most of the blogs I read talked about these costs as a part of the profit a publisher makes. Similarly, most of the articles talked about the fact that because digital books don’t cost money to store and ship, they’re able to cost less. And I get it, I really do. But I’ll argue that that’s just one small piece of the much bigger puzzle.
If you do a quick google search of “paperback vs. ebook pricing,” you’ll undoubtedly find a plethora of articles, blogs, and opinions on the pricing of ebooks. But I don’t think that’s the question that needs to be asked. There seems to be a clear difference between the consumer’s perceived value of a physical book and that of the digital version of that same book, but it seems to be more of a matter of how ebooks, now that we’re fully into the digital age, fit in the market that’s already incredibly saturated. Even though consumers and authors alike subscribe to the belief that ebooks should be cheaper than other versions, like fantasy author Scott Marlowe, perceived value doesn’t seem to be about the work that goes into creating the title. Cost is important to think about since it’s the consumer that’s purchasing or abstaining from titles, and price can really affect their decision, but perceived value is also affected by many other instances that go into the decision to purchase a book.
As Brooke Warner writes for Huffington Post, it’s important to look at books, even the ebook version, for the story and not the format. After all, when we read, though our experiences may change some based on where and how we’re reading, it’s really the actual story that we’re invested in. While cost can affect a consumer’s decision to purchase a particular title, as Warner says, it’s often not the book we’re paying for, but the experience we receive while we read. The value of the ebook is in more than just the format, it’s in the ease of being able to purchase the next book in the series at 2 a.m. when you need to know if your favorite character does the thing or whether the love interest you stan is going to make it. Or it’s filling what empty spaces you have left on your shelves with the colorful covers of all the books you swear you’re going to read.
There’s extreme value in any format of a book because it’s usually not the physical book that you’re invested in. Rather, it’s the stories’ struggles, triumphs, laughs, and frustrated tears that keep readers coming back again and again.