Home » Joe Konrath, Pricing » Zombie Publishing Memes #2 – Low Prices Devalue Books

Zombie Publishing Memes #2 – Low Prices Devalue Books

24 August 2015

From Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler:

Low Prices “Devalue” Books.

The premise behind this zombie meme is not only wrong; it’s also exceptionally strange. After all, if you love books, why would you focus on their monetary worth rather than their worth in society? Isn’t what makes books valuable how widely they’re read, absorbed, and discussed, rather than how much money they make? And if books cost less and more people can afford them, doesn’t it stand to reason (assuming everyday experience is valid and what they teach in Economics 101 is correct) that more people will buy more books (in fact, they are doing just that)? If books are indeed valuable for society and we don’t want to devalue them, shouldn’t we look for ways to make books less expensive and therefore more widely accessible?

But even if you think the sole value of a book lies in how much money it makes, it’s silly to believe higher prices automatically mean more revenues. As a thought experiment: it’s unlikely anyone would maximize revenues with a five-cent price point, but then why not charge a hundred dollars for a book instead? Wouldn’t that $100 price point value the book even more?

Of course not. So intuitively, we all know there’s a sweet-spot price — the price at which volume x unit price maximizes revenues, and logically, this would seem to be the price that derives the greatest (financial) value from the book. If we make more money from our books at a five-dollar price point than we do at ten (not a hypothetical for us, by the way, but empirical fact), which is the price that’s “devaluing” the book?

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

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Joe Konrath, Pricing

6 Comments to “Zombie Publishing Memes #2 – Low Prices Devalue Books”

  1. I suppose expiring copyright must also devalue books. If its price can’t be held up by the rights holder, it’s doomed to devaluation.

    Consider how Shakespeare and the bible have been devalued over the last few hundred years. You can get them for free with a few clicks. Austin, Clemens, Melville, Cervantes, Dreiser… All lost copyright, then were hit hard by deflation in value, and shucked onto the literary trash heap.

    That’s why Mickey Mouse is fighting so hard to avoid joining them.

  2. I think it would be good for anyone wanting to quote bible for their latest opus they hope to sell, do sell, whether an article or book, without thinking the copyright holders of ‘versions’ and translations of the bible wont surely come after one with pitchforks and coffers open to receive said writer’s contrib for vio of copyr. –ask and inquire first. I’m not arguing right/wrong. Just as it stands now.

    Suggest: Ask any commercial religious newspaper or book publisher about quoting directly from various version of bible, before you try it with quoting the bible thinking you are free and clear… And look to those in the know, even with a certain ax to grind, as below… Inquiring first about which one, where and how can save a lot of grief after…

    Just .02, just p[aid upwards of 32.00 for a bible with wide margins recently. It is beautiful. Anyone who has been in a bible store recently knows bibles are hardly bargain basement, esp certain ones, annotated and otherwise.

    Here is what one person says:
    One translation that was produced with the specific intention of avoiding copyright entanglements is the World English Bible. It is modernization of the American Standard Version (ASV) placed into the public domain. A paragraph from the site’s FAQ is worth quoting:

    The copyright laws of most nations and the international treaties that support them are a mixed blessing. By granting authors and translators a legal monopoly (for a limited, but very long, time) on the right of copying and “first sale” of their works, the law makers have made writing and translating very profitable for some people whose works are in great demand. This has, no doubt, been a factor in the creation of many of the good Modern English translations of the Holy Bible that we now enjoy. The problem with this system, with respect to the Holy Bible, is that it has had the effect of limiting distribution of God’s Word in modern languages. For example, I cannot legally post copies of the entire New International Version of the Holy Bible on my web site in a downloadable, searchable, and readily copyable format without the permission of the International Bible Society and Zondervan (copyright owner and publisher). Zondervan won’t grant such permission unless they get a significant royalty (they quoted me $10,000 + $10/copy distributed) and unless I convince them that my Bible search software is “good enough” for them. Needless to say, the Bible search software that I am writing with the intention of distributing as donorware will not come with the NIV.
    Further, organizations such as The Gideons International that distribute Bibles must pay copyright holders a fee if they wish to give away a modern translation (such as the New King James Version) rather than the King James with all of it’s Elizabethanisms. The restrictions can also have an impact on smaller scales. The NASB licence reads (emphasis in the original):

    The text of the New American Standard Bible® may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of one thousand (1,000) verses without express written permission of The Lockman Foundation, providing the verses do not amount to a complete book of the Bible nor do the verses quoted account for more than 50% of the total work in which they are quoted.
    These restrictions mean it’s (probably) fine to quote a passage or two in an answer on Stack Exchange or in an article or book. But it’s not possible to reprint an entire book of the Bible for the purposes of a “Manuscript Study” (AKA, “Communal Discovery Bible Study Method”). While I doubt the Lockman Foundation will have agents tracking down people who print out Mark for their devotional group to mark up, such a practice violates the intentions of the publisher who fronted the money and commissioned the translation. As Paul says:

    The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”—1st Timothy 5:17-18 (NASB)
    Finally, many translations restrict derivative works (such as the WEB effort and my idea of making a Southern American Version™). The US laws concerning derivative works is complicated, but creators who don’t want to deal with lawyers would be advised to base their work on translations free of copyright restrictions.

    But God’s Word should be free, man!

    The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts of the Bible are public domain (and a cornerstone of our cultural heritage). But it turns out that even the critical text is protected by copyright laws. For the general public, this is no great loss as there are plenty of unrestricted options and the licences for most translations allow for the most common uses of the texts. But all of this has serious implications for scholars who honor the wishes of the Bible publishers. It’s tempting to get angry with the publishers or to ignore the restrictions.

    However, we have a duty to comply with the licences of our translations so that the hard-working folks who produce them can afford to keep laboring. Most of them are reasonable people who are as interested in seeing God’s Word preached as you are. In fact I’ll let the Crossway (publishers of the ESV) blog have the final word:

    We’re not going to come after you if you don’t cite quotes from the ESV according to these guidelines. But we’d appreciate it if you did. Using the letters “ESV” also helps us track the popularity of the ESV in the blogosphere.

    • Holy things I didn’t expect to learn today, Batman!

      An interesting read, thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Al the Great and Powerful

    This is a topic I have seen debated several times among the sellers of card models… the gist of it is that cheaper models sell more copies and encourage buying rather than piracy. Conversely, high prices deter buyers and encourage piracy.

    • “…cheaper models sell more copies and encourage buying rather than piracy.”

      That’s like the Konrath Axiom: No need to worry about piracy if you make your books inexpensive and easy to purchase.


      Okay, there really isn’t a Konrath Axiom, but there should be.

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