I’m a frugal individual. While I firmly believe that you get what you pay for, it doesn’t mean you can’t spend the time to shop for the best value for your money. So these days when I am going to buy something, I take my time, find the balance between quality and price, read the reviews, and then find the least expensive place to buy the product I’m after.
I wasn’t always this way, in fact I used to just be plain cheap. If I needed a vacuum cleaner, I would buy the cheapest vacuum cleaner I could find. Hell, I would hit the garage sales and see if I could find one for just a few dollars. This was before Craigslist of course, and if I were the same now as when I was young, I could probably find one for free. Cheaper is better, as long as it works. At least that was how I felt about things.
Unfortunately, I got lucky once in a while, which perpetuated that notion. I found that vacuum cleaner that worked better than any vacuum cleaner I had ever owned. Not only was it reliable and worked well, I only paid a few dollars for it. So if a $3 vacuum was every bit as good as the $200 model at the store, why should I pay $30 for a steak when I could get one for $5 that was “just as good”? And why should I buy a $40,000 luxury car when my $5,000 Toyota was every bit as reliable?
The problem, of course, is you usually get what you pay for, and eventually I found myself “saving” money at the cost of getting a product that failed to do what I needed, or just didn’t live up to my desires. Most of the time a $3 vacuum cleaner is going to suck, and not in a good way. Your $5 steak is probably a half inch thick and served with au jus to cover up the fact that it really tastes like a piece of old shoe leather. And that $5,000 Toyota is a great vehicle if all you care about is getting from point A to point B, but once you drive that $40,000 luxury car for a while, getting in that $5,000 Toyota feels like getting into a toy go-cart.
So I decided that sometimes if you want to be wise with your money and get what you want the first time, you have to spend a little more. Being frugal means I don’t spend what I don’t need to spend, but I can still have some of the finer things in life.
When buying a book, I am the same way. I tend to go for the authors I am either familiar with or were recommended to me by someone who I know has the same taste in books as I do. If I can’t find something new by one of those authors, I will shop around a little and do some research. In the end, I am willing to spend $10-$15 on a mass marketed eBook or $4-$5 on an independently published eBook. I am okay with that because chances are good the book will meet my needs and expectations. (Indie authors don’t have to pay off the agent, publisher, editor, or marketer, so they can make more per book and sell for less.)
There is a growing trend for independent authors to publish their works on Amazon and just give them away for free. Amazon doesn’t normally allow this, but some other eBook publishers do, so these authors publish on other outlets for free then request Amazon to price match the book. This is allowed with Amazon because like any retailer, it is a “loss leader”. A lot of free books will attract buyers to purchase Kindle devices so they can take advantage of all the free books. Of course, like any loss leader, the free product is usually inferior and underwhelming. The authors claim to just want people to read their books. This is all well and good, but you have to ask yourself, if the author is doing this for free, how much time and effort will they put into making it a good book that is worth your time to read?
Writing a book is not an easy task. It takes many hours (sometimes many hundreds) to write even a first draft, and often twice that to edit that story for content and then grammar. Then there is formatting it properly, coming up with a good cover and blurb, and finally marketing the finished book. My book is around 160,000 words, about 400 pages in a typical mass market paperback size (318 pages in my larger 6”x9” paperback), and took me well over 1000 hours to write and edit. There aren’t many people who will willingly spend a thousand hours of their life creating something they just want to give away for free.
It is true, sometimes these hobbyist authors are extremely capable writers who take pride in putting out a good product but just want to write and have people read their works. Sometimes they are using free giveaway promotions to generate interest and hopefully sell some books by word of mouth when they raise the price back up to normal. And sometimes an author with an entire series of books will set the first one to free so readers will get hooked and want to buy the other books in the series. However, these are the exception – the garage sale vacuum cleaners that actually work well.
Currently Amazon has around 1.4 million eBooks available, with 20,000 new eBooks being added every week. While you could correctly point out that pricing doesn’t guarantee quality with any product, in general you do get what you pay for. That being said, will you spend several hours of your life hoping a free book will turn out to be worth the time to read, or play the odds and spend a few dollars on what is more likely to be a well-rounded product?