Monday, January 28, 2013

Is quality relative to price?

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.


Dana King said...

The best advice I ever got as a reviewer was when someone told me to write my reviews based on whether the book passed the $25 test: how would you feel if you'd paid $25 for this book?

That has served me well, but you rise a good point. I still tend to evaluate books on the $25, absolute model: they're good or they aren't. There are too many good books available on Kindle for five dollars to imply any of them aren't as good as a full price hardcover, just because I lowered the bar for other inexpensive books.

I will, however, make reference of it sometime, especially for a new writer, and will mention to people if they're looking for something new they might well want to drop $2.99 ($3.99, 99 cents) on a book.

Dan_Luft said...

I've never understood the mentality of saying a movie was good enough to rent but not go see. I figure if a movie is worth watching then watch it somewhere.

Also I've never demanded a correlation between price and quality. Once a book is purchased it's all between the writer and the reader. The book has to be interesting for its own sake.

You pay nothing to take a book out of the library does that mean they should fill up with poorly printed crap?

Steve Weddle said...

The star system has never seemed terribly helpful.

One star means "don't read." OK.
Five stars means "read."
What do two stars mean?

"This book is worth spending $11 and seven hours on" seems more helpful.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I recently got a two star review, and since it was the lowest review for that particular book, I mentioned it to Brian. Brian read it and said, "It basically should have been a three star review." Then I looked. The book was 'fine' but just didn't have that 'wow' factor for them. Taste is subjective - I'm not offended.

But it prompted a discussion between us about reviews, and also pricing. Amazon lowered the price of What Burns Within this past month and promoted it as one of the 100 hot reads under $3. The sales have been through the roof, and have carried over to my other books as well. However, they've had more of an effect on Frailty than Lullaby. That could be because Frailty is the second book in the series, and Lullaby is the third. It could also be partly because halfway through the month Amazon lowered the price on Frailty and left Lullaby over $5.

Who knows? I've had people refer to my books as a great deal especially considering the price.

In the end, I prefer keeping the prices a little lower. I may earn more money at $2.99 and higher, but at $1.99 (for the ones I control) I earn more readers.

The two big things I'm looking at when considering an e-book purchase are cover/presentation, and the book information on the page. If it doesn't look professional, then I'm less likely to buy, and I don't mean it has to be put out by a publisher. But there are books you can tell were thrown out by someone who doesn't know what they're doing, and that always worries me.