03
Feb
10

How much would you pay?

Sorry for the lack of a post earlier this month — I was, at the time, scrambling to finish a draft and send it away before the approaching deadline made my head explode.  (Funny, how internally-set deadlines are worse for me than external ones.)  But now that’s off and away, I can step away from one fictional world (and immediately start tinkering in a new one), and, having sent the manuscript off at the end of last week, I can finally relax . . .

. . . just in time for the whole Macmillan/Amazon debacle.

A lot of people have already written more cogent and informed posts on the subject, and at the moment it appears that the wrangling stage has passed.  But because some of this centered on what the two different companies wanted to charge for eBooks, it’s got me thinking about a side tangent.  (Yes, I do this a lot — grab a marginally-relevant idea and run with it, maybe knitting it back into the original problem later on.)

Specifically: what makes you willing to spend more money on a book?

For a long time I refused to buy hardcovers — not because of the price, but because I was moving a lot, and every large heavy book I bought would be one more large heavy book that I’d have to pack, carry, and unpack.  Not to mention the everpresent problem of shelf space.

Even then, though, I’d shell out money for certain hardcovers when they came out.  Usually it was for one of two reasons: I’d been craving the next in a series and didn’t have the patience to wait at the library (or beg whatever friend had bought the book and then emailed me to gloat), or I’d fallen for an author’s style and trusted this new book to be worth price and weight both.

Now that I’m a little more settled and have more discretionary income, I’m more likely to pay more for a book regardless of whether it’ll fit in another box (or even on the shelves…again).  But there’s a weird sort of mental calculus that comes into play when deciding whether to buy the hardcover/paperback/trade paperback, and I’m not entirely sure what feeds into it.

For example, I’ll buy manga even after I’ve read the entire series online, so the excuse of  “must know what happens next!” that feeds my series-buying doesn’t enter into it.  I could say that it’s a desire to give my business to this author in gratitude for her work, but somehow I doubt that sort of noble impulse is more than a later rationalization.

Some of it has to do with how familiar I am with the author’s work, how likely I am to reread this book (very likely, most of the time) and whether I’ve been wanting more in this series.  For books by an author whose work I love and whose style I know I’ll come back to repeatedly, I’ll shell out full hardcover price — and it’s possible I’d even pay more.  For books that I loan out again and again, I’ll buy more than one copy, just so when I get the urge to read it I won’t have to figure out which of my friends currently has it. (I’ll only do this with paperbacks, though.)

What about you?  What makes you wait for the paperback, purchase the hardcover, go for the deluxe foil-stamped limited edition?  Hell, what makes you more likely to wait at the library or pick it up used?  And if you’ve started at the library or used book store, what will make you buy a new copy?

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14 Responses to “How much would you pay?”


  1. February 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I hear you re: hardcovers. I think the only one I bought last year was at a signing. At the moment I’m actually *more* likely to wait for the proper paperback rather than get the trade paperback if it’s something I really, really want to read…. I get most of my serious reading in when I have to go away for work, which means compact has to be good, especially with the doorstep-sized books I read most of the time!

  2. 2 mlronald
    February 4, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Hampshireflyer, for a while I restricted my reading to what could comfortably fit in my purse. It was perhaps not the best standard, but it did make my commute easier to always have a book in case of train problems/late bus/other fun things one finds on the T. These days I’m usually lugging around a large bag, so hardcovers are less of a problem if more of a workout.

  3. 3 di
    February 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I tend to wait for the library versions of things due to lack of money. I rarely buy new books except for presents – for myself, I buy second-hand. Because of this I feel a sort of moral obligation to promote authors I love. I can’t give them cash but I can give them some notoriety within my limited circles.

    And I don’t tend to buy books unless I have read them first and loved them. That guarantees that I will reread their books and I hate the idea of not having the opportunity to reread them because they are old, no longer in the library and I no longer have access to copies.

    And the real reason that thought panics me is that when I was a small child my mother threw out all my children’s books! (Yes, mum, if you are reading this I do mean you. ;)* I date my fear of losing access to the books I love to then.

    * apart from this heinous crime, she is a really nice woman and, I should say, is now in full repentance for her earlier misdemeanour. As she should be.

  4. February 4, 2010 at 10:52 am

    I’ve never bought hardcovers, unless from the B&N bargain book section. Just can’t see spending > $20 on a book, especially when I know I can just wait a little bit and it will come down in price. Now that I have a Kindle I’m 100% eBooks as long as the eBook is priced lower or about the same as the paperback. Basically, I go for the cheaper option. ;-) There’s such a glut of books coming out all the time that I have no problem waiting for current releases to become not-so-current releases. Right now, I’m reading a Jack Vance book that came out 40 years ago and another by Tim Pratt that came out a few years ago. I guess my point being that there are always books out there that I haven’t read, so I don’t make great efforts (or spent a lot of money) on getting the next great thing.

  5. February 4, 2010 at 10:56 am

    There is only one author whose books I consistantly purchase in hardcover, and frankly, their run might be at an end because I was fairly disappointed in the last two outings. Books are so expensive these days that it is sad to pay for hard cover and then have them turn out to be a waste of paper.

    I buy hard cover books as gifts, though. I buy hard cover books occasionally if the cover art and blurb are just so inviting that I can not pass it up.

    For authors/series who started out in paperback and then got popular and were “promoted” to hardcover, well, those are the hardest. For a while, I was getting the hard cover from the library and then purchasing the paperback when it came out. I have a “thing” about having the entire series match when sitting on the shelf. But, OH, the temptation when I am wandering the rows of the bookstores and I see the next book, standing on the shelf, taunting me… Occasionally I do “slip up” and end up with one of those in my basket, but it is rare.

    One last thought: I have to purge bookshelves regularly in my house (sob sob sob). For some reason, I find it easier to purge paperbacks than hardcovers, even if the hardcover in question was less than spectacular and even though they take up more space in the shelves. Very strange. I’m sure there is psychology there…

    But I’m sure that my library appreciates the donations.

  6. February 4, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I very rarely buy hard covers for two reasons: (1) They’re large and unwieldy — I just find them difficult to hold, and (2) They’re too darned expensive. The exception is when buying a hard covers involves standing in line waiting for the author to autograph it. Mostly though, I have such a huge TBR pile with so many books I can’t wait to read that I don’t need to rush out and buy the hard cover of something the very first minute it’s available. There are a few authors whose new books get auto-booted to the top of the pile…when the paperback comes out.

    This whole ebook situation has made me more definitively consider what I’m willing to buy as a reader and what my hopes are as a writer. In the comments at agent Nathan Bransford’s blog for a post titled “What Should An Ebook Cost?” someone compared the release of books to the movie industry and this clicked something for me:

    I’d be willing to pay a hard cover price for an ebook if it contained extra material, like the video book trailer, a video featurette on the creation of the cover, annotations by the author, the ability to use social media to talk about it with my friends, character “interviews” and other general extras. There is a company now making video games to with Romances so some kind of tie-in would be a great ebook extra too.

    Publishers are afraid ebook sales will cut into hard cover sales, but I don’t think that will happen especially if the two formats are selling very different experiences. Like your manga example, there are readers who will shell out money for both formats if the worth is evident. I think ebooks might actually make hard covers even more of a collectible. This means that publishers in the end will be able to charge more for hard covers than they do now and, depending on the experience, more than the current hard cover price for dynamic ebooks as well.

    In the movie metaphor, I see the hard cover and this potential dynamic ebook format as a movie premiere; trade paperback as the local theater release; mass market paperback and a basic eBook without all the extras as DVD sales/video rental or on demand — and priced accordingly.

  7. February 4, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I don’t buy hard-covers because of money issues. As much as it tortures me to walk by a beautifully presented book that I’ve been waiting for forever, I just don’t have the financial resources. I also don’t go to the library. I like to own the books I read. Both these factors lead to paperbacks as my first choice. If I’m really desperate and the books has a trade paperback edition, I might buy that. But I like the uniform size of 100 MMPBs on a shelf, and it makes them easier to box up when I run out of shelf space.

  8. February 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    @ Lisa – I wish they’d sell ebooks as part of the package with the hardback. Hardback that won’t fit into my bag = not attractive. Ebook that I can’t feel the pages on = not attractive. Hardback that will look pretty on my bookshelf and ebook so that I can actually keep reading it out and about = now we might be talking….

  9. February 4, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    @hampshireflyer — Great idea! There are all sorts of options and it saddens me that the publishing industry can’t seem to see beyond a specific scenario. It doesn’t seem like good sense for publishing to bet the bank on one format selling well to the exclusion of others. If hard cover sales are the important to the bottom line and that fragile, then the people at the helm of these companies need to diversify not narrow their vision even further. Ebooks might indeed mean lower hard cover sales in the end, but I think the price of those hard covers will turn out to be higher than they are now and truly collectibles. That plus a diversified product line might be enough to keep companies going. With publishing run by such large conglomerates now, I’m not sure we can expect that kind of agility.

  10. 10 mlronald
    February 5, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Aaaa! Everyone comments when I’m off for the day!

    di, she threw them out? Good grief! That’s the sort of thing that’d scar me for life. (I think I can say this now that my parents have gotten rid of most of my old books with my permission.) I can see why you’d take care in buying after that. I know I’ve bought a couple of books specifically so I could have good durable copies on hand.

    Scott, that’s a good point, and probably a much smarter buying strategy than mine. Also a good reminder that there’s more than what just came out; discovering older books is an experience all its own (and maybe worth a post later on, hmmm…).

    Cathy, I hear you on the book purge — both the difficulty in general and the willingness to ditch paperbacks over hardcovers. I’ve since kicked myself for getting rid of some paperbacks and hanging on to hardcovers.

    Lisa, that’s an interesting idea, but I’m a little fuzzy on how it’d work out — say, how much the costs of adding those extras would offset the rest. I suspect that while physical books won’t be going anywhere for a while, this is just the first sign of how ebooks are going to affect the market. (Although I do like the idea of the Special Deluxe Edition of the ebook — sort of like the limited editions that one gets from Subterranean or other small presses.)

    (One reason that the manga experience is different online is just sheer tedium: click, wait for the page, read, click, wait, read, click, swear at the internet connection that of course chooses now to give out, etc. versus turning pages. But that may be a side effect of how quickly I read.)

    atsiko, I hadn’t considered wanting to own what you read as a factor in deciding, but now that you bring it up, it does make a lot of sense. What do you do for books that won’t be out in paperback — say, certain nonfiction works, etc.?

    Hampshireflyer, I like that idea. Would you buy the book online, immediately get the ebook, and then receive the hardcover in the mail? Or, if in a brick-and-mortar store, would you get the hardcover plus some kind of code to download the ebook? Hmm.

  11. February 5, 2010 at 10:33 am

    @mlronald– Certainly all those details would have to be worked out so that a profit is made, but the Special Deluxe Edition is the type of thing I was thinking of. The point is diversifying hard covers vs. eBooks so that they aren’t necessarily competing with each other.

  12. February 5, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    @ mlronald – I’m not sure it even matters where you’d buy it, you’d just end up receiving the two halves in a different order… you’d go to the online store or the bricks-and-mortar one, pay the price for the package and go straight away with whichever version they’re geared up to sell you there and then – but you’d also be entitled to the other half of the package when it got delivered / when you got back to your internet connection or mobile doohickey in order to download it. You’d be buying the hardback with the extra right not to have to drag it everywhere…

  13. 13 Jeanine C
    February 13, 2010 at 6:58 am

    I buy hardbacks by about 25 authors I adore, and another 10 or so that my 2 kids really like — anything to keep them reading. For the rest, I’ll buy trade paperback or paperback; I have bought and will continue to buy e-arcs from Baen from cerain favorite authors. Hardbacks for me are for books that I think I’ll read and re-read. No good library where I live, so borrowing books is not an option. Until this thing with McMillan hit, I could never see the point of buying an ebook reader because Amazaon priced all ebooks at 9.99 even when the paperback was 7.99 and a 4 for 3 besides. Maybe now that e-books that are also in paperbook are priced at less than 9.99 I’ll buy an ebook reader. I’m mad enough at Amazon that I’ll probably wait and see what the Ipad looks like.


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