Books Magazine

The Morality of Pricing

By T.v. Locicero

There’s been a lot of web chatter lately about what I’d call the morality of book pricing.

The loudest noise, with perhaps the widest ramifications, came last year when the Justice Department accused Apple and the Big Five publishers of conspiring to raise e-book prices. In its war with Amazon for consumer dollars, Apple, according to the Justice Department, had colluded with the publishers to keep the prices of their new e-books well above Amazon’s uniform pricing of $9.99.

A few of the publishers folded quickly and agreed to pay the government substantial penalties. The others and Apple decided to fight but eventually folded as well, or in Apple’s case, lost badly. The result? Ultimately, lower e-book prices for fortunate readers. But also much debate and discussion concerning the true costs of publishing digitally, what constitutes appropriate retail pricing when there’s no ink, paper and distribution involved, and what a fair share for the author should be.

At the same time there’s been a good deal of controversy over self-published books that are placed on the market for less than a buck or two, or even free. Some publishers, authors and commentators have screamed about these book bargains as if they are some kind of dire threat to the future of civilization. Others have raised questions about what low or no prices say about an author’s self-worth or the true evaluation of his/her own book.

But given the fact that low prices and giveaways are among the very few ways an unknown author can find some semblance of an audience, I think the prevailing opinion on this subject is something like, “Hey, whatever floats your boat.” And that laissez faire attitude is basically where I come down.

Look at what happened decades ago to my own True Crime classic Murder in the Synagogue. About that book, the Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Coles wrote at the time: “I was absolutely enthralled by it. It’s one of those non-fiction novels that one simply cannot put down.” But back then the publisher undermined the book, in part by raising the price by a third. And until just recently, it’s safe to say most readers had never heard of Murder. If you’d like to know the full story, check out my memoir, Squelched: The Suppression of Murder in the Synagogue. Or if you’d like a condensed version, try this blog post: We’re Not in Manhattan Anymore.

Sometimes, having choices on pricing can force you to think more carefully about what’s really important to you. Now I’ve just decided that, more than anything, I want my books in the hands of folks who might find some value in them. How to do that? Well, obviously one way is to drop the price, so that’s what I’m doing on all 13 of my books. For how long? Well, at least until I can notice whether there’s a difference in demand. So for now let’s just use the time-honored phrase, “for a limited time only.”

The two mentioned above, Murder in the Synagogue and Squelched, are now just 99 cents. The same for each of the opening novels in my two trilogies: The Obsession (The Truth Beauty Trilogy, Book 1), and The Car Bomb (The detroit Im dying Trilogy, Book 1). Both just 99 cents. The second novel in each series, The Disappearance (The Truth Beauty Trilogy, Book 2), and Admission of Guilt (The detroit Im dying Trilogy, Book 2) are each now $2.99.

As for my 7 shorts, (all stories, essays and brief memoirs), I’ve set them all free. If one sounds interesting, just pick it up at no cost.

Ahead, before the end of the year, I’ll be publishing a new novel that will be something of a departure for me from the crime thrillers I’ve been writing. And also I’ll be offering two new shorts: a lengthy interview with the great Elmore Leonard, and an in-depth analysis of the two huge best-sellers, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and John Grisham’s The Racketeer.

How much will these new ones cost? I don’t know yet, but once again, I’ll be delighted to have the choice. And if I decide later that I’ve made a wrong move, how cool to be able to try a different price all on my own. That’s just one fine feature of our Brave New World of publishing.

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