How much do you think a good story is worth? I don't mean a book necessarily since books can be collectible and that's not what I am getting at here, but how much do you think a novel length story is worth?
When deciding this you might compare the value of the read vs. other entertainments such as the cost of a movie rental? The price of a video game? The cost of a newspaper or magazine? The drop in fee for a local gym or that knitting class at the community center? For me the value varies wildly depending on how much I enjoy (or expect to enjoy) the book.
With that in mind I have been thinking about the current "race to the bottom" debate in e-publishing that has been raging on the blogosphere. For those of you who are unaware it essentially boils down (in an inelegant way) to publishers claiming that self published authors are going to ruin publishing by offering eBooks at rock bottom prices; while the self-published authors are claiming that large publishing houses are bloated profiteers.
From the publishers side: two years ago I posted a rough breakdown of what the costs of printing a book might be for a traditional publisher. Based on these figures you get closer to understanding the $9.99 price point that publishers seem to be trying to stick with for an ebook. Shave a little here and there and then knock off the additional costs associated with a physical book and you are close to that figure. Everyone takes a bit of a hit in total values but I can see where they are coming from.
On the other hand it's now very common to see self published ebooks for sale for as little as $0.99-$2.99. You may also see these self published authors explaining that they are in fact making money at this price. So why do the publishers need to charge more?
Now that authors can self publish without having to front the serious amounts of cash to physically print their books they are less likely to need a publisher to bankroll the project. Couple this with the fact that an author can now act as or hire a publicist and designer on a piece meal basis to cover most of the basic marketing needed for a book launch and you can see why some mid and backlist authors choose to self publish.
I am making the suggestion that now a publishers greatest value is not to the average author but to the reader. Publishers do help separate the wheat from the chaff. By helping readers find quality writers they can save them from that feeling of wanting those last few hours back.
I am willing to pay a bit more to know that the novel I am about to read is at least going to be well written and hopefully interesting but exactly how much more I am willing to pay for that is what publishers need to figure out. I kind of wish I could tell them.