Dec 06 2011

Running the numbers, prices then and now.

Published by at 11:54 pm under Writing

I posted some of the below in a comment to Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, in turn commenting on one at Joe Konrath’s site. If you’re here for the science and fiction, and don’t care much about publishing or the logic and numbers behind pricing, feel free to skip this post.

Still here? There’s been a bit of buzz over the last year or so about best pricing for indie-published ebooks. (Ebooks from traditional publishers too, but we writers have less (read “no”) control over that, and the general opinion seems to be that their prices are way too high.) One school of thought is that lower is better and you’ll make it up in volume, another is that discount prices devalue the work and no, you won’t make it up in volume. I won’t go into the arguments here (go through Dean’s and Joe’s archives for much of that). I do believe in fair value for money, in both directions. I haven’t put up any of my previously-published flash fiction yet, one reason being that Amazon won’t let me put anything up for Kindle at a price less than $0.99, and I’m not going to offer a 1000-word story at the same price I’m selling one four or five times that long. (I’ll probably put a collection together soon, though — and maybe a couple as free samples here.)

But on the reader side — and I was a reader long before I was a writer — I also have a sense of what a fair price is. When I was a young teenager I used to devour paperback novels (mostly science fiction, oddly enough) at the rate of several a week — sometimes several a weekend. True, they tended to be shorter in those days (late 60s/early 70s), but I could afford that many on my modest allowance. They cost $0.60 trending up to $0.95 by the end of that period, hitting one to two dollars toward the end of the 70s. I considered that a fair price — I could afford buy as many as I had time to read — and I’d probably (no, I remember doing it, I would have) turned up my nose at something offered for a mere $0.35 or $0.40 as perhaps suspect.

With that in mind, when the discussion came up again I decided to see what that worked out to in modern currency. (Well, 2010 — I couldn’t get 2011 figures.) I can’t help it, sometimes I’m a numbers geek.

I pulled a half-dozen old paperback novels (including an Ace Double) off my shelves, with publication date ranging from 1969 to 1991 and price from $0.60 to $4.95 then ran the dates and prices through an online CPI inflation calculator.

In 2010 dollars those prices range from $3.53 to $7.82, with the Ace Double (two 50k-word stories) at the low end, and a 134k-word novel at the high end. The two 65k-word novels average $4.88 each. The top three (ranging from 83k to 250k) average $6.97 each at an averaged wordcount of 155k.

This is all stuff (especially the 1969 and early 70s novels) that I had no qualms about buying out of my meager allowance as a high school student — and I went through several such a week (sometimes propped up behind a textbook in class, grin).

So yeah, adjusting for inflation (and ignoring the media difference between mass market paper and ebook) the prices suggested — $4.99, $5.99 — are spot on.

2 comments so far

2 Responses to “Running the numbers, prices then and now.”

  1. allynhon 09 Dec 2011 at 11:23 am

    You mentioned putting together collections of your flash fiction.

    Fill a volume, publish it, preview a big chunk of the book. Don’t worry about offering free stories on your site. When people preview the collection, they will be able to read all the stories in the front for free. That way you give people a good sample without running into problems with Amazon seeing a “free” copy somewhere and dropping the price of your book on Kindle.

    It’s the best of both worlds. HA!

  2. Alastairon 10 Dec 2011 at 12:29 am

    Heh, that’s not a bad idea. Thanks for the suggestion!