Reading Rage: Authors, Stop Comparing Your Books to the Price of a Cup of Coffee
A’ight, authors. It’s been awhile since we’ve been in a huddle over here, but I’m gonna need everyone to huddle for this.
Are you huddling yet? Yes, that means you, too. Get in this huddle.
I’ve seen a lot of stuff being shared around about how people will pay $5 for a cup of coffee but won’t pay $4.99 for a book. This is always shared with some incredulity, like “I can’t believe you guys would COMPLAIN about $4.99 for a BOOK when you will pay FIVE DOLLARS for a cup of COFFEE. I worked on my book for MONTHS/A YEAR/YEARS and you will drink coffee in like TWENTY MINUTES so it’s definitely reasonable to ask for $4.99 for a copy of my book.”
I’m not going to say that it’s unreasonable to ask for $4.99 for your book, but I do feel like I want to point out that this is not, in any way, how economics works and also that I find it so annoying that I might not ever buy one of your books if you share that on your Facebook page/Twitter/blog/anywhere.
First, I dunno about you, but it’s pretty damn rare that I pay $5 for a cup of coffee. Let’s get that out of the way right meow. My husband and I can both get out of Starbucks for less than $5 total, ninety percent of the time. A $5 coffee is a rare treat for me, so don’t go after my gat-damb coffee.
Next, I need to be frank with you: complaining about your potential customers’ spending habits is not a good look. I know, you’re not trying to complain, you’re trying to point out the ill logic that someone will spend $5 on a cup of coffee but not on your book. Thing is, that’s not illogical at all, so it just comes off whiny.
Why is it not illogical? It seems illogical, I suppose, if you think about it in a very narrow way. A cup of coffee might give me an hour’s pleasure, max, while a book will give me MULTIPLE hours’ pleasure so, clearly, your book is worth at least as much as that coffee. Maybe. See, there’s this whole thing where I don’t even know if I am going to like your book. I may already have a book I want to read and want a damn cup of coffee to go with it. Maybe I already have ten books waiting for me to read. Maybe I’m all full up on books right now and I have zero desire to buy more books.
When it comes to how much you can charge for a product, desire is the name of the game (also called “demand”). See, y’all are acting like we’re looking at your book like this:
In reality, readers often feel more like this with authors trying to get our attention:
But either way?
If you’re not selling sufficient copies of your ebook at $4.99, that indicates a lack of desire on the part of the potential audience to obtain your book at that price. It has nothing to do with coffee or what people are willing to pay for it. Some authors try to act like it stems from reader entitlement or a lack of “appreciation” of how hard it is to write a book, but readers can and do already pay upwards of $12.99 for ebooks and a whopping $25 sometimes for hardcover books because they don’t even want to wait for the cheaper paperback to come out. That’s a direct result of desire, not “appreciation”.
You can’t manufacture desire by comparing books and coffee to demonstrate that I should be willing to pay you more. That’s dangerously close to a guilt trip and, as a persuasion technique, guilt doesn’t win many friends or loyal customers. It’s dangerously close to “If you loved me, you’d be willing to XYZ”. “If you valued my work, you’d be willing to pay $4.99 for an ebook.”
Thing is, that’s actually almost true. If I desired your work, I would be willing to pay that. So your job is not enlightening me about the hours you put into writing or what else I could buy with $5, it’s making me want what you wrote. Make me want that book more than a flat white and I’m gonna buy that book and drink my shitty home coffee. Sex that book up and make me want it real bad. (You may not have to literally add sex.) Make me look at your book and do this:
And I promise you, I will gladly pay as much for your book–if not more–as I would a cup of coffee. It’s pretty simple logic: if my desire for your book is greater than my desire to keep the money or spend it elsewhere, the book will be bought. Otherwise? Probably going to hang onto that cash. Or hit up Starbucks. No matter how long it took you to write your book.
I don’t mean to be a bitch about it. I really don’t. I’m just so. Damned. Tired. Of seeing this comparison. It’s not a nice way to get a customer to buy your book. It’s not a fair comparison. I know most of you mean well and want to support each other as writers–I totally get that. But when it comes to sales, you have to think of the person who is going to be handing over his or her money to buy your book. Think about where the money came from–a late shift at work, maybe, that led to a little bit of extra spending cash. A gift from a loved one. That money might be as precious to your audience as your book is to you, and you’re going to suggest to us what it should be worth?
Like I said–not a good look.
What do you think? Am I just being a mega-bitch? Does this type of persuasion work for you? Drop it in the comments. Let me know.