On the Value of Books
I originally posted these thoughts on goodreads, but I thought I’d share them here as well in a slightly modified form.
So the question I’d like to consider is this: what is the value of a book (in monetary terms)? Yes, we could talk about intellectual value, emotional value, all other sorts of things, but getting down to brass tacks, what is a book really worth? How much should a reader pay for any given book?
Of course there could be as many exceptions to this as there are readers themselves, but I think in general books should be priced by length of the book. The reason for this is that, as a reader, the longer I spend in the book, the more enjoyment I will (hopefully) get from it and the longer it took to write and edit it as well.
Given that guiding principle, I think books are rather a good deal at their current price points when compared to other forms of media and entertainment. For instance, if you go to a movie you will spend at least several dollars, probably upwards of 10 and the same if you buy the movie to watch at home. Sporting events or other forms of entertainment cost 3 to 6 times that. Why should we think that a good book, which will probably take at least six or more hours to read and likely took the author a year or more to write should be had for a pittance?
A repeat customer
I’m also someone who likes to actually re-read a book and am of the mind that a story not worth reading more than once wasn’t really worth reading the first time. So then the book becomes an even a better investment for me because those same few dollars go even further when compared to the other things I mentioned (aside from home movies which can, of course, be watched multiple times).
So maybe we should cut the poor old book some slack. There are certainly worse values out there for your money.
I think perhaps, however, the reason we demand so much for so little from authors is that it is a much more personal form of communication than any of the others I mentioned. It’s like having a long, one-on-one conversation with just this one particular person. We enter into their world and I think readers develop a sort of fondness and trust for certain authors and only feel it is worth their time and money if the author is a “friend” so to speak.
Along those lines, if this is true, it makes sense that readers are less willing to try an author (at any price) unless they have some reason to believe there is the potential to develop that sort of literary friendship. Which would mean that price has only a minor influence on whether or not certain readers decide to pick up a book or not.
At the end of the day, however, I suppose the main point I am trying to make is that books are worth a great deal more than what you will ever pay for them if you are the discerning sort and especially if you enjoy reading them over and over again. And if you are this sort of person and yet lack the means to acquire the books you so desire, well, all I can say is: thank goodness for libraries.