Who Determines The Value Of A Book?

“It’s absolutely absurd to devalue our product but I’m not surprised because our industry is populated by nincompoops.” - thebookseller.com

Value. That word has been batted around since the ebook pricing wars began with Amazon selling digital books well below the cost of the printed versions.  Agency models, 9.99 price boycotts, old school vs. new school, DOJ involvement, and all the Chicken Little bloggerss in this industry saying that publishers are all doomed to rot in a hell of our own making.

The argument over devaluation is classical in nature. In effect, who determines the value of an ebook: the reader or the producer? Even the all-knowing Wikipedia doesn’t have an answer:

The economic value of a good or service has puzzled economists since the beginning of the discipline. – Wikipedia

It is an argument of whether a book has intrinsic value or subjective value. Does the thing itself have value apart from anything else, or does it only have a value which is assigned by the user?

Intrinsic value:  refers to the value of an item which is contained in the item itself

Subjective value: worth as being based on the wants and needs of the members of a group, as opposed to value being inherent to an object

We all come at this from different sides.

As a writer or producer, we lean toward a book having intrinsic value, knowing the amount of labor invested in that book. The hours of the writer, editor, designer, and packager. Not only that, but also the capital investment to fund these processes. From a producer’s mind, the cost of these functions lie in the finished book. In that sense, the book has intrinsic value.

From the consumer side, the value is subjective. As a reader, I am not interested what the cost of bringing a book to market is. I am only interested in the amount of enjoyment I am going to receive from reading it. My estimation of my enjoyment potential is what is translated to the value I am willing to give to the book. Laying on a booktable, the book has no value until I, the reader, want to invest my interest into it. It’s like standing in a crowded room with a thousand conversations going on; I am only willing to listen to someone that I think is interesting, and will only exert my ears to hear them if what they say is something I deem valuable.

The free market allows this battle to happen between consumer and producer until a general price is set where both sides are reasonably content. There will be those on the producer side who will not sell at the market price, deeming it too low and an insult. On the flip side, there will there be readers who think the set price is too high.

Its an interesting dilemma actually. Does a piece of writing have an intrinsic monetary value?

The subjective theory of value also assumes a restricted amount of product in the end. In the digital world, copies of the product are infinite.

Any goods that are in unlimited supply would have no value. In other words, those useful items that are of insufficient quantity to satisfy demand have a price, and those that exist in numbers superfluous to demand (or that satisfy no wants) are free. Wiki-McKnowitall

Publishers, producers, and writers obviously can not make a living by taking up the “free” idea wholeheartedly, and readers, I assume, would not expect enjoyment at zero cost.

Or maybe they do.