Thursday’s Children 7.25.13: Inspired by the Price of a Human Soul


I just bought a book from one of my favorite authors. I paid more than $5 for it, which is more than I can say for 9/10 of the books I’ve read in the past year. And yet, unlike the other 20+ eBooks that currently sit neglected on my eShelf (which is mostly due to the fact that I’m “supposed” to be writing and revising a few of my own at the moment), this one will almost surely be devoured by the end of the week. In fact, I’ll probably crack it open (metaphorically) right after I finish posting this.


This begs a question. Why am I so motivated to read THIS book before all of the others? Is it because of the cover? (Admittedly, it’s a really cool and ominous looking cover.) Is it because it’s written by someone I recognize? Because I’m relatively certain that the writing will be spectacular? Or that the grammar and spelling will be correct?


I’m going to read this book first because of how much I paid for it.

Weird, isn’t it? No. Not really.

But WHY?

A: We value what we are TAUGHT to value. “I want/need this because…”

When I was a slave to the whims of unapologetic capitalism (i.e. when I worked as a marketing rep for the luxury tourism industry) I learned ALL about the perceived value (vs. the actual value) of products. (And don’t fool yourselves, kiddies. A story is a product.) Diamonds, handbags, collector watches, it didn’t matter what was being sold. Every pitch came down to a single question: how can we reconcile the buyer’s perception of value with the cost of this product? Or, in other words, what is it going to take to make John/Jane Jones want, even need, this product–regardless of the cost?

There’s a number of ways to do this, and I’m familiar with most of them. Appealing to unfulfilled emotional needs is one of the most popular. Building up the rarity or scarcity of an item is another. Hyped popularity. Exclusivity. And of course, there’s the extremely transparent ‘comparison to celebrity’ approach. For the sake of this post, though, I won’t go into detail about my dastardly methods here. (But I have promised to write about them, someday.)

In summary, though, I learned that there is basically ZERO difference between a diamond mined in India vs. one mined in Canada, and a $150 pair of Michael Kors pumps will last JUST as long and look just as fabulous as a pair of $600+ Christian Louboutins. The difference in cost is 100% based on PERCEPTION.

Why do medical textbooks costs hundreds of dollars while the average novel is only $6.99? Why do people buy books written by celebrities like Snooki and Kim Kardashian? Why do some authors make more money than others?

For some reason, people WANT (or, in the case of my husband’s textbooks, NEED) what’s contained in those pages. THAT’S their perceived value. Figuring out how to translate this want/need into a number is where this whole thing turns from psychology into business.

B: We inherently gravitate toward things we perceive as more VALUABLE. “If it costs more, it’s probably WORTH more.”

I really can’t explain this preconceived notion and how it pertains to the price of an eBook any better than indie author Elle Lothlorien did in this post. (If you’re an indie author or are considering self-pub, you should definitely read it.) But I’ll do my best to summarize it here, for your convenience.

When Elle published her first book, she was almost embarrassed to charge $2.99 for it. She thought it was too much, considering that she was a debut author at the time whose name nobody really knew. When she sold less than 20 books her entire first month, she figured it was because people just weren’t willing to pay that much for a product that currently (at least in her mind) didn’t have any intrinsic value.

Eventually, she realized that price WAS a factor, just not in the way she thought it was.

“The first revelation took place at the beginning of October. While skimming various Kindle reader forums, I ran across a thread on the topic of pricing. One reader wrote that she never bought a book that was $2.99 or less because it was sure to be self-published “indie crap” riddled with typos.”

Long story short, she started experimenting. She raised the price of her book by a dollar every month, and instead of seeing sales dwindle, they consistently continued to soar.

Now, if that’s not an indication of the “majority” perception that cost = value, I don’t know what is, man.

C: Value is subjective, yet absolute. Value is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Think of it this way. When you spend $2 on a cup of coffee, you might drink it right away. You might not. You might drink all of it, or you might throw it away half finished. It doesn’t really matter to you all that much. BUT, if you’re in the airport (let’s say, JFK for example) and you spend $10 on a cup of coffee, you’d BETTER BELIEVE that you’re going to enjoy that puppy to the last drop. That’s how most people rationalize their purchases. The more you spend, the more pressure there is to find value in what you just bought. Whether it’s a book, a pair of shoes, a cup of coffee or a diamond… you will WANT to find pleasure in it. You will want to feel good about your decision.

And THAT, writers, is why it pays to sell your soul, and learn a little bit about marketing.

Here are some other great articles that discuss the cost of eBooks:

Getting E-Book Readers to Dumpster Dive (It’s a Good Thing)

How Amazon and Barnes & Noble Price Changes Affected Sales of HarperCollins Ebooks

Setting an eBook Price & Understanding eBook Royalties

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12 thoughts on “Thursday’s Children 7.25.13: Inspired by the Price of a Human Soul

  1. Hahaha. This is great. Especially, the part about selling our souls. My notes have been all wrong. I’ve been coming at this like a hipster who doesn’t want to sell out. Consider my pov changed.

    On a more serious note, Seth Godin also spoke about something similar. He suggested any self-pubbed author increase their cost per number of purchases, instead of time. For example, every 10 purchases, up it 10cents sorta thing. I found this strategy interesting, as he suggested it drove buyers to hurry and buy before it kept going up. I’m wondering if one strategy is better than the other at different points in a writer’s career. I’m thinking Elle’s would probably be more suited for a newbie and Seth’s for a writer with an established fan-base. Just thinking out loud!

    1. I totally understand how you would feel that way, but at the end of the day publishing is a business. If you were writing just for you, you’d be content to just do it all longhand in a notebook and never let those words see the light of day.

      I also completely agree that there are different pricing models to suit different people. Something to think about, for sure. ESPECIALLY if you’re thinking about self-publishing.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Very interesting. As a florist, I’ve learned the cash value of negative space and style. Which is why people willingly pay more for a high style oriental arrangement made from a half dozen flowers than a big round basket packed with flowers which looks like grandma’s style. Humans are weird creatures.

    1. I know, right? I learned the craziest things about people–especially people who have TONS of money–while working on cruise ships. Things that motivate the middle class just don’t motivate the uber wealthy, I guess. Who’d have thunk?

  3. How about a pair of $25 pumps from TJMaxx? I used to write marketing copy for a kitchen/dining retailer, so I can relate. How to put an irresistible spin on the enhanced desirability of high-priced celebrity pots and pans made by lowish end manufacturers?

  4. Very interesting. I think you are right on about ebook pricing. It’s true that so many of the unpriced ebooks are assumed not to be as strong of a read.

  5. I couldn’t agree more! I used to work on a magazine where we were in the market and our ‘sales’ were slightly less than a free magazine of a similar nature. However, when surveyed, it turned out that everyone was reading the other one once, then using it to line their cat’s litter tray (or similar) and keeping and rereading ours for months to come!
    There are many things to be said for price perception.

    1. LOL, we used to say that in the undergrad journalism program. “Byline today, birdcage fodder tomorrow.”

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