What's It Worth to You?

In the controversy over e-book pricing, it might be important to recall that when you buy a book, the form it takes is the least important element of the purchase.  You are buying a story, a work of art.  It takes the author a year (or sometimes much longer) to create something that will transport, entertain, enlighten or educate you.  It takes the publishing company a year to provide multiple edits, design, production, marketing, and author tours for each story.   The actual binding and shipping of the book is a small part of the overall cost.

As readers, we are not buying physical books.  We are not buying paper and binding and ink on a page.  We are buying an experience.  We want that.  We want to be moved by prose, or entertained by plot.  We want to fall in love with characters and root for them.  We want to unravel a mystery, or involve ourselves in a love story, or learn something important about the world in which we live.  This is worth something – in any format.

It’s easy to forget about the writer.  We are the quiet ones.  We are in our offices, typing away, spinning story webs – while the corporations and the government fight like titans over what our work is worth to whom, over who should be selling it, in what form and for how much.  It’s easy for someone who has never written a novel to say it should be $12.99 or $9.99 or $.99.  However, there’s nothing easy about writing a novel.  Sure, it’s a labor of love, a tremendous gift and a blessing.  But it’s also an enterprise that consumes us heart and soul.  It’s an act of pure giving – to the page, to the reader.

I read because story has always enriched my life.  Every time I open a book, I learn something.   To me, that’s priceless.  I can’t imagine a life with out books – either reading or writing them.  I’m not sure it much matters whether story lives in cyberspace or on the printed page.  But it pains me that in all this chatter about pricing, about independent booksellers vs. chains, Nook vs. Kindle, e-books vs. printed books that no one ever talks about story.  About what it means to write and to read, the value that story has in our culture and in our individual lives.  When did we forget about that?

I don’t have any strong feelings about what a book should cost.  I know that people are struggling in this economy – and in any economy, really.  When aren’t at least some people struggling?  (PS – Writers are often among those people.) And I love the fact that libraries exist so that people can read, no matter what they have or don’t have.  That’s important, because a story is nothing without a reader.

Independent bookstores, too, occupy an important place in our communities.  And it’s sad that large corporations are muscling out small businesses that really care about what they’re doing.  But unfortunately this is happening across industries.  It has little to do with publishers or vendors.  It has to do to with much bigger factors – we have less time, less money.  We’re busy addicted.  We can’t wait for Saturday to roll around, where we stroll out to get a coffee and stop in the local bookshop, see what’s new.  We press a button to get what we want.  It comes in the mail, or is delivered instantly to our devices.  We want it now.  We want it as cheaply as possible.

But it’s important to remember that not everyone can write a book.  And fewer people still can write a good one.   And that skill, if we still love story and still want it as part of our lives, is worth something.   So, the next time you buy a book in any format, from any bookseller, remember that you’re not paying for the item in your cart, you’re paying for the experience of being told a story.  Hopefully, it’s a good one that will occupy your attention and imagination for days or longer, and one which you’ll carry with you for a good long time.   Remember to ask yourself:  Why do you read?   What is that experience worth to you?

For a really smart look at the subject of e-book pricing, read this terrific article


  1. Lorrie Thomson on April 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Great post, Lisa. I cannot and would not want to imagine a world without stories. I agree. In any economy, stories serve to inform, inspire, and connect us.