The Difference Between Price and Value and Why it Has Nothing to Do with Your Book

a new pathWhen I read Richard Halliburton’s first book, The Royal Road to Romance it altered how I think about the process of living. Though it is as far from a business book as you can get, it is one reason I make a good living doing things I love.

Another reason (and, to contradict what I said above, even less of a business book) is Dr. Seuss’ unknown classic I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. A youngster, plagued by problems, sets out for Solla Sollew, “where they never have troubles, at least, very few.” The lesson he learns, again, triggered new thinking and new actions, a different path in life.

At the other end of the spectrum, I own 3/4 of Donald Knuth’s indispensable The Art of Computer Programming and haven’t made it past the first few chapters of book one (the engagingly entitled Fundamental Algorithms, which I assure is dead sexy to Knuth’s target audience.)

You can buy Halliburton’s book for five bucks. The good doctor is a bit more, used copies going for $7 or so including shipping.

It would be easy to spend over $200 on the Knuths, and you’d have to dig to get them for under $20 each. These are classics, still used in computer science classes because they are the fundamental maths and logic behind the way computers are still programmed all these years after they shrank to desktop size. Or phone size.

Price is easy to see.

Value? You can know it for yourself, sure. I know which of these volumes I value (I own two copies of The Royal Road to Romance and every time I find a first printing for under ten bucks I buy it as a gift for a friend.)

So how do you price your books? How can you price them so they reflect the value your readers will get from them?

You can’t.

Some readers will get no value. Painfully, some won’t even finish the book you poured your life into.

Others will write you beautiful letters, calligraphy on quality bond paper in scented envelopes, describing how you’ve altered their trajectory.

Do you charge the first group nothing, and the second group whatever a life is worth?

No, you charge what seems fair and reasonable to you, and then if you’re smart, you experiment with less, more, free, and any other price you can imagine. (And you don’t assume that your digital book is worth more than/less than/the same as your print version. Don’t assume anything. Make your best guess and experiment.)

You are not selling a commodity whose price can be computed as Cost + (Cost * Markup Percentage).

You are selling the potential to change lives, even if it’s only through the vicarious experience of an hour’s escape.

As Tom Peters said, if you spend $20 for a book and get one good idea, it’s the deal of a lifetime.

Go make some deals.

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