Welcome to the second chapter of Table Talk, where three creators of New Pulp Fiction chat about a variety of topics relating to New Pulp. This week, Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock examine the topic of pricing.
Question (Mike): What do you guys think about contemporary cover prices? Comics are $4-5 these days and fans complain constantly. Fancy trade and prose books are now hitting $20-50. Where do you think the line should be drawn between making a profit and exceeding what the market will bear?
Barry: There's definitely a breaking point. We've seen in the digital music industry that people are willing to pay certain amounts and not others. It's the same here - some things are great reads at $13 but aren't worth $25. Without naming names, there's recently been a high profile revival of a pulp classic... But at $24 for a paperback and nearly $40 for a hardcover! No paperback is worth that. Charge less and you sell more is what I think. The publisher's response is that the economics of Print on Demand forces those prices. Having been around POD publishers for years, I think that's a load of hooey. It's simply a case of them wanting to boost their bottom line and if the market will bear it, maybe they're in the right. But it feels like a ripoff to me.
Bobby: Like everyone, I wish books were cheaper. I would certainly pick up more books if they were a bit more affordable. On the flip side, however, I also understand why the costs rise. It’s my hope that lower price e-books will allow new readers to find work that they may not be able or willing to fork out the higher prices for a print version.
It’s hard to gauge the perfect price point, especially as I don’t handle the publishing side of things. Although it hurts my income, I do generally discount my books at conventions, which helps sell them a bit better than cover price.
Mike: I try to look at it from both sides, but I think in the end the lower prices move more product, and thus make more money. Granted, each publisher understands their own unique situation and has to make their own decisions on what's best for them and their interests, but it seems to me I'd rather make $1 off five thousand books than make $5 off 500. But, there's not necessarily any verifiable proof that cutting the price in half will move twice as many units.
When you take into account publishers need to pay the creators, the production folks, shipping, distribution and the store's cut, I can see that rapidly ballooning a per unit price to double or triple over what it costs to print. Toss in a licensor fee and things get dicey fast, I'd bet.
Still, I think keeping prices as low as possible, especially in the current economic climate, is the best way to go.
Barry: There are always going to be people who want to pay absolutely nothing – at the library I work at, we frequently sell books for 50 cents or a dollar and there are people who complain that those prices are outrageous. Even so, there’s such a thing as common sense with regards to pricing and over twenty dollars for a paperback is just inane. I feel genuinely torn when it comes to buying these things: I don’t want to encourage what I feel are unfair pricing measures but at the same time I want to support these revivals in hopes that we can get more of them… It’s a tough decision.
Mike: What I don't understand is the gap between graphic novel and prose novel pricing. It's definitely more expensive to produce and print a graphic novel, and shipping them costs more per unit due to the weight of all the additional ink per page. Yet, most graphic novels hover under $15, while many prose books of similar page counts exceed $20. I'd love to get a publishers take on that, as I'm guessing there's a reason, but it escapes my efforts to figure it out. Thankfully, there are still many prose novels that are south of the $15 mark and there are many that ride north of it that have huge page counts, giving us a bit more bang for the buck.
Bobby: That’s a good question, Mike. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. Prices are a too high on most paperback books. Maybe e-books will offer a pleasant alternative and allow readers to read the stories they want while keeping costs low. We’ll see.
Speaking of e-books, what do you think about electronic books and the pricing on them?
Mike: When I start doing my own e-books, which will be soon, I'll aim for somewhere around one-fourth of the physical cover price, or less. Since e-books don't require printing, shipping and physical distribution, I don't see the need to recoup that in the pricing. From all the research I've done, it seems like lower e-book pricing does have a direct impact on sales, so why limit your audience by only making the book available to people who can afford to (and are willing to) shell out top dollar?
From a reader's standpoint, I refuse to buy an e-book that's anywhere near the price of the actual book. It just feels like throwing away money since I don't get anything to physically hold in my hands. But, I'm an old fart who prefers real books.
Barry: I think one-third of the print price is about right. At no point should a single book be much more than $12 in my opinion and most should be less.
Bobby: Do you guys see a solution to the pricing issue?
Mike: I don't know if there's a "one-size-fits-all" solution, but I do think all the publishers involved in the New Pulp movement are striving to achieve a price point that allows them to continue putting out product that's affordable. Obviously, there's going to be misfires, but hopefully as the movement gains momentum and a greater audience, these things will sort out.
Barry: Ultimately, the market will correct itself as publishers discover the limits for what the public will pay. Until then, you'll continue to see wild fluctuations - particularly between publishers whose primary concern is maximizing profit and those whose primary concern is maximizing readership.
Bobby: And readers can always vote with their dollars.