why e-books are like handbags

photo borrowed shamelessly from Fossil.comThere’s been a lot of talk these past couple weeks about the 99 cent e-book, and the devaluing of digital fiction (most notably here by Zoe Winters, and here by Chuck Wendig.) So I thought I’d throw my two cents onto the pile.

I think e-books are kind of like handbags.

You don’t hear Fossil trying to explain why their bags cost almost $150, when you can go to Target and get a similar-looking bag for $15.99. Or why their wallets cost $65 (dude, $65 for a wallet!), when you can get a lovely wallet at Target for $9.99. They don’t explain. They don’t care if you think $150 is extravagant for a handbag – in fact, they’re even counting on that a little. It’s hype.

If I was going to buy a Fossil bag (and oh, how I want one!), I would go in there, open it up, see how big it is inside. I’d carry it around the shop with me, looking in all the mirrors, wondering, does this one suit me? Is it going to make me feel glowy inside?

If I was going to buy a Target bag, I would just buy it. So what if it ended up falling apart, it was only $15.99. In fact, if it fell apart, I probably couldn’t even be bothered to take it back. I’d just tell all my friends, “God, why do I always buy these damn Target bags? They look supercute, but they always fall apart!”

Because you know, a Target bag might look like a Fossil bag. It might be supercute. And you buy it because there was that one time you bought a Target bag, and you got it home, and it didn’t fall apart. Maybe it even lasted a couple years. Maybe you lucked out. Maybe you usually luck out with Target bags. OR, maybe you’re the type of buyer who needs so many new handbags that Target bags are fine! They hardly even get enough wear to fall apart!

But in the end, a Target bag is *usually* not a Fossil bag. And also, because you didn’t stand there for 30 minutes looking in the mirror with it, probability will dictate that your chances of not loving it are higher just because of that alone.

Target bags are impulse buys. You don’t think about it, you just buy them.

Fossil bags are thoughtful purchases. You think about it, you consider it, you pick the one that’s just right for you, the one that will make you feel glowy inside, and then you spend your 150 glorious dollars on it. And you carry it around with pride.

Fossil couldn’t even afford to sell their bags for $15.99 – they don’t produce them fast enough to have the volume for it. They spend more time crafting the bag, stitching it carefully. They spend more money on the materials.

I’m not saying all bags need to be Fossil bags – what kind of market would that be? Some people will spend even more money on a Coach bag! (Not my style, but you know, I see the appeal.) Walmart does bags too, or Old Navy. And you can get bags at JCPenny or Kohls too.

Target bags are beautiful bags. Believe me, I own a few dozen. Some of them have even lasted me a couple years. And I keep buying them. It’s so easy. It’s cute, it’s $15.99, and you think, why the hell not? But in the end, a Target bag is still not a Fossil bag. And that’s okay.

No store has to explain why they sell the kinds of bags they do, and at what price point. They just sell them. People buy them or they don’t. People carry them around and feel glowy inside, or they don’t.

That’s all.

5 thoughts on “why e-books are like handbags

  1. Isn’t market economy just glorious?

    Many plain good things are considered externalities by economists, which include fresh air, a full time mother’s work at home, honest opinions, sunshine in the park etc., etc.

    A good writer’s honest work really is closer to public goods by nature, no one wants to pay, yet in many ways everyone would benefits. Just how many quotes by Hemingway and Rilke are floating around in the internet, after they are no longer around even to collect their dues.

  2. Oh pooh, sorry Laura, I wrote a nice long comment and it seems to have disappeared! If it doesn’t show itself in the next 24 hours I’ll try to remember what I said and post it again.

  3. Nope, apparently it disappeared into the ether. But I wrote something very similar on Nina’s blog.

    Yes, I’m more inclined to by a $0.99 book without as much decision time as I would spend on a full-priced book and I consequently don’t mind too much if it’s the kind that you read once because it suited your mood at the time and then you never look back on – like a cheap purse you bought for a specific dress and party that you don’t need again.

    I’ve gained a few hours entertainment and the author has gained a reader they wouldn’t have otherwise, so everyone wins to a degree.

    Occasionally you will find one of those rare gems in the bottom of the discount barrel that you know you would have paid full price for if they’d asked you and next time you see one by that author you won’t care so much if the asking price is a little more because you want to read it. But you also find the ones that you wouldn’t take home even if they were giving them away and you know you would regret spending even $0.99.

    On the other hand, when it comes to something I really want, I don’t care about the cost or the brand. If I want it, I’ll get it, even if I have to wait to save up the money.

  4. Oh, sorry guys for taking forever to respond to these! I’ve been sick :\

    Zoe, you’re welcome! And thanks for stopping by! 🙂

    Lepifera, true, it’s very hard to put a price on something so ambiguous as “art”, or “entertainment”, or “enlightenment” lol! It used to be that arts were patronized by a queen or a wealthy benefactor, but that’s not so much the case anymore. Most states here don’t even give writing grants anymore – my state has just discontinued ours 🙁

    But still an artist needs to survive, with their electric bills to pay or children to feed or student loans to pay back. So it turns around that the consumer now is the “benefactor” by paying for the book.

    Writers do still give a lot away for free though, through blogging and such.

    Judi, oh bah, WordPress was having a brainfart a couple days ago. Always copy/paste your comments! I’ve learned my lesson many times, lol! 😉

    It is exactly like that, isn’t it!? I guess the deciding factor is whether you want your book to be that 99 cent entertainment, or a more “luxury” read. Each has its own value and place in the market, but they’re not the same. And it’s true, if you’re offering a product that is truly exceptional, people will spend the money on it if they really want it. I mean, not like $4.99 is a fortune or anything, lol!

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