Strange thing, prices.
Seems J.K. Rowling’s got a new book out, The Casual Vacancy. Seems the e-book version is priced at $18, which is a fair bit higher than your usual e-book price. And now there is a great hue and cry. Charges of gouging, people with their knickers all in a knot.
This after the great hue and cry a while back over the proliferation of free or 99 cent e-books and how they were devaluing the written word.
Here’s what I’m wondering. Why is it that the prices of entertainment (or art if you will), traditionally, have been so standardized? Back before MP3s, if you went to a record store (OK, I’m old, we used to have records) all the LPs were the same price. Now, you go to a bookstore, and all the new hardcovers are pretty much the same price, all the paperbacks pretty much the same price, except for whatever is on the clearance table, but even there, all the clearance books are usually the same price. You go to the movies and all the films at the multiplex – from the current blockbuster to whatever Keanu Reeves is tanking in – are the same price.
Suppose that theater is in a mall. Suppose you walk out of the mall and go to buy a shirt. Say a dress shirt, say white, say 100 percent cotton. You walk into Macy’s, that shirt might be $75 bucks, hell, might be $100. You walk into Kohl’s, you can probably find one for $30, probably less if they have a sale. Why? They are both made out of cotton, and pretty much the same amount of cotton. Now, the fashionistas would be quick to point out that the Hugo Boss shirt is cut differently, styled differently, has a better “hand.” Nobody argues. You want Hugo Boss, you pay for Hugo Boss. You just want something to wrap your tie around, you go to Kohl’s. It’s not just shirts. For everything else in the mall – pants, pots, patio furniture – you’ll find price points all over the place.
Except for books.They’re all pretty much the same price.
So why is it that all books have to be priced the same? Because they take roughly the same amount of paper, ink and binding material? Or, in the case of an e-book, the same amount of bandwidth? You aren’t buying the bandwidth, you’re buying the words and the art with which they are arranged – you are buying the author’s inspiration and talent and work. And there is a far greater difference between one book and the next than there ever could be between two shirts.
I’d argue there are Hugo Boss books and there are Kohl’s books. There are books that are going to change your life (or at least your weekend) and then there are books you read just to pass the time.
I’m not making an editorial judgment on The Casual Vacancy – I haven’t read it. But I’ll tell you this right now. Give me a choice between, say, James Lee Burke at $18 and, say, Vince Flynn for 99 cents, and I’ll take the one James Lee Burke novel over eighteen (or twenty or a hundred) Vince Flynn novels every time.
Strange things, prices.