Actually, it’s more like $4.75. I’m trying to cut back. I’m not made of money.
A lot of you probably saw the widely-circulated tweet in which an author, frustrated that a fan had e-mailed to complain about the $13 e-price of his latest book, responded “Enjoy your $4 coffee.” There are a lot of good ripostes to this, including “I don’t drink coffee” and “I’ll spend my money however I want.” More thoughtful is one from Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader, who points out the illogic of the publisher’s e-pricing for the author’s backlist.
I’m not naming the author (though Hoffelder does). He’s not alone in making this comparison, for one thing. For another, I understand his frustration: he doesn’t set the price of his books and wants fair compensation for his work. I don’t think all e-books should be 99 cents. I wish more authors I know could make a living from their writing and devote more time to it, and I’m willing to pay reasonable prices to help that happen.
I don’t think the coffee comparison is valid, though. Nor is the price of a movie ticket (hey author, you know how much a movie costs to make, don’t you? and how many people contribute to making it?). When people compare a cup of coffee disparagingly to a book, they’re usually thinking about two things: the amount of time it takes to consume the book vs. the cup of coffee, and the amount of time it took to write the book vs. to make the cup of coffee. I have problems with both of those comparisons.
- I won’t pay $4 or more for a coffee from just anywhere. My expensive lattes are reliably excellent. They are way better (to my taste) than the cheap coffee from a Certain Canadian Chain that has set up shop in my workplace, so worth paying more for–though I drink the cheap stuff too, because it’s convenient. Even new books from my favorite authors can’t offer me the same guarantee of consistent pleasure, though I willingly pay hard-cover prices if I think the chance of enjoyment is high.
- My latte is mine. I can pollute it with sugar or flavor shots if I like (usually not, though I’ve been known to succumb to the lure of vanilla on a bad day). I can share it with a friend (no way, get your own coffee!). I get the full use-value of my latte, unlike my e-book, which I may not technically own or be able to lend.
- My coffee doesn’t really take 2 minutes to make. Someone has to grow, harvest, ship and roast the beans. I prefer to patronize places with fair trade coffee; a little (no doubt too little) of my $4 is going to people whose standard of living is much lower, and whose labor is much more unpleasant, than American Author’s.
- My $4 might be helping someone through college (on occasion, one of my students has made my latte). Or helping support a recent graduate who can’t find a better job right now. I’m supporting small businesses, some of which are owned by great people who are helping revitalize struggling neighborhoods.
Just because my latte is a frivolous indulgence, a luxury, doesn’t mean the money I spend on it is “wasted” or going to an “undeserving” source. A book is technically a luxury too, though I can’t imagine life without reading, and I’d give up coffee before books if it came right down to it.
There are lots of good reasons for readers and authors to be frustrated by e-book pricing; it’s a topic that deserves the wide discussion and debate it’s getting. But please, Author, leave my latte out of it.
*If you haven’t seen the Hey, Author tumblr, check it out.