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.