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Ebooks: Overpriced or Underrated?
Maybe you buy ebooks. Maybe you sell them. Maybe your Twitter stream and RSS reader have been full of launch after launch.
I’d bet that, at some point (perhaps years ago, when you first bought an ebook), you’ve asked yourself how can a pdf cost this much?
It’s a valid question. In a world where information is free and bountiful, why pay $49 or $65 or $97 for a few thousand words of text?
Let’s come back to that. First, here’s some thoughts on other areas where we find ourselves thinking “how can it be worth THAT?”
One Man’s Trash
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
There are a lot of products and services which you’d never pay for. You filter these options out almost without thinking. Let’s say you hate sport: tickets to the soccer World Cup finals aren’t going to be worth anything to you. Conversely, maybe you’re the biggest Jonas Brothers fan ever … you’d pay thousands to have dinner with them.
But it’s just a meal with a couple of people.
Forget about price for a minute, and think about what you value. What would you pay $500 for?
A piece of unique artwork?
An amazing set of computer speakers?
A three course meal at a fancy restaurant?
A snazzy mobile phone?
A dinner service?
A cookery masterclass?
Some of these, you’d rule out straight away. Others, you’d take up happily.
When it comes to ebooks, similar logic applies. You’re not just paying for a pdf. (When you buy a book, are you paying for the ink and paper – or the words in it?) You’re buying information, advice or help on some particular topic. Whether it’s worth $0 or $1000 or something in between depends on how valuable those words are going to be to you.
Ebooks verses Books
One of the big objections to the price of an ebook is the fact that a regular book – nicely printed, longer, vetted by publishers – costs around $10 - $30 whereas it’s common to find ebooks priced $50+.
Are they really comparable, though?
Printed books from a publisher (rather than self-published ones) have a certain cachet. They may turn out to be nonsense on stilts – like fad diet books, for instance – but you can generally expect a certain quality. Authors also tend to have real expertise or experience in the field which they’re writing about – whereas anyone can write an ebook.
There are several areas where ebooks shine, though.
Fast moving fields. I rarely buy a physical book about blogging, the internet or software, as these areas change so quickly. The lifecycle of a published book is typically a couple of years – an ebook can be written and published within weeks.
Specialist information. Publishers need to sell several hundred or thousand copies of a book to get a return on their investment. Ebook authors may only need to sell five or ten. This means that ebooks can cover all sorts of tiny, niche topics – giving you an in-depth look instead of a populist overview.
Multimedia content. You can get lots of digital products which aren’t simply ebooks: videos, audio material, images, even software can all be included. Although some physical books come with a CD, this is far from the norm.
(Note – while I’m using “ebook” in this post to keep things simple, you can apply all of what follows to any information-based product – including physical books, teleconferences, videos, and so on.)
Is It Worth It?
Ultimately, the price – low, high, medium – isn’t so significant. After all, you’d rather pay $20 for something great which did the job, than $5 for complete garbage.
So how do you figure out if an ebook is worth it?
If you’re buying it for business purposes, it’s pretty straightforward. Take into account:
How much the ebook costs (say, $50)
How much time you’ll spend reading and implementing advice from it (say, 4 hours) and your hourly rate (say, $60) = 4 x $60 = $240
Are the results you get likely to exceed the cost of the ebook itself and your time? If so, then buying it should be a no-brainer. ;-)
Problems arise, of course, because:
You’re not sure how good your results will be
You aren’t making a straightforward money in < money out equation.
Firstly, look for reviews. Find people who’ve bought and used this ebook, and see what they say. Pay particular attention to specific results and figures, or case studies – rather than blanket “I loved this ebook” recommendations.
If you’re not buying an ebook for a straightforward business-related purpose, you’ll want to figure out what results you are expecting, and whether the price of the ebook is worth it.
For instance, you might be buying an ebook because you’re hoping you’ll free up more time (in which case, you can make rough estimates using your hourly rate, or using a figure which you’d be willing to “spend” for an extra hour in the day.)
Ultimately, if your reaction to an ebook’s price is an outraged “it can’t be worth that!” then, for you, it isn’t. But if you think “that seems high – but this is exactly what I need right now” – then why not go for it?