Three recent 99¢ kindle books got me thinking about the fluidity of quality and the relationship between cost and worth. One of the books was really good and brought a fresh take to a long time genre. The second was a flat out great book. The third needed an edit, had some typos, and crappy formatting.
Reviewers are aware of a particular phenomenon, and have to curb it, where you are in a stretch of bad books and then read one that you like. You have to be careful not to overpraise based on the lesser quality of the books that were read before the good one. In other words that perceptions of quality are affected by what came before.
Now the first two books were really great books but I found myself forgiving the third book with dismissals of, "well, it was only 99¢". If I had spent more on the book I'm pretty damn sure I wouldn't have said that.
I'm also not too sure this is a recent thing. I used to be a member of 4MA and each month folks would check in with their monthly reads. Some of them were voracious readers who primarily frequented the library. And they never disliked a book. I think they never disliked a book because they weren't buying the books.
Privately I've told a story about a hardcover book that I bought and read a couple of years ago and I hated this book so much that I got mad at it. Because the universe works in mysterious ways I was sent the author's next book. I was still so mad at the first book I read that I banished the second book to the garage. I wouldn't even let it in the house.
Only someone who bought a bad book can feel that scorned. If I had checked it out of the library I'm sure I wouldn't have been so pissed off.
Here's something else to consider. A reviewer gets a book sent to them and they review it. If they like it they recommend it to their readers. Do reviewers ever take into consideration the disconnect between them getting sent the book but their readers having to purchase it. Should such a thing ever be considered? What if a reviewer said it was good but I should wait for the paperback. In other words, as a $26 hardback the story wasn't worth it but as a $13 paperback it is more worth your time. I would say that reviewer is providing a service. With movies we are comfortable saying I'll wait to catch it on Netflix so shouldn't we be as comfortable saying something similar about books.
As a publisher with a stable of emerging writers I have to take this into consideration. I've published some great books but if I price them too high they won't get bought. Finding that balance between what I think and what a reader is willing to do is a constant challenge.