Stop whinging about the cost of ebooks

Last Updated on June 23, 2024

Reading community: I have a bone to pick with some of you. For the love of the literary gods can you stop flipping out about the cost of ebooks.

Let’s forget the years of effort put in by authors. Let’s shrug away at the hundreds of hours of work put in by beta readers, proof readers, and editors. Let’s brush the thousands of dollars spent by publishers on production expenses off the table. Not your problem. You’re the customer; the only thing you need to worry about is the quality of the end product you receive on your Kindle and how much you have to pay for it. Everything that gets a book to that point is the cost to the publishing industry in time and money for doing business with you.

I want to be clear here: you are the customer, and you are being fair in your assessment of a consumer market–up until this point.

Let’s get into the meat of the problem

The bone I want to pick at is around the complaining I see online that the cost of a book–usually an ebook–is too much. That is utter bullshit.

Whether it be US$2.99, US$5.00, or US$11.99, a book is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment when compared side-by-side to other forms of entertainment available for purchase. Now, there are a million different variations of what I’m going to show you below, and I’m sure we can all have a world of arguments over a few cents here or there, but for the sake of my argument I’m using US market costs and forms of entertainment in a dollars-per-hour comparison that I could find online.

As a caveat, I want to be very clear that I’m not commenting on individual purchasers’ financial positions, here. That is not the point of this post. It’s going to sound harsh, but your individual financial ability to afford an ebook is not the publisher’s problem (in much the same way that the costs of production are not your problem). Publishers set the price at what they think the market (the tens of millions of us out there, on average) will pay. It’s up to you whether your financial position allows you to purchase that book in the same way as it’s up to you whether you buy a new iPhone, or a car, or a fidget spinner, or a pint of glorious Ten Fiddy Barrel-Aged Stout (drooool). So, let’s skip over that line of discussion.

Show me

I’m a visual person. Without something in front of me I struggle to visualise the point of an argument. So, using a few Google searches and a little bit of mental elbow grease (and a good-ol-fashioned spreadsheet*), I’ve built the below example.

This graph shows the cost-per-hour of entertainment for a few things I like doing whenever I’m in the US. I found the cheapest prices for entry for each (except video games, where I used the current non-discount price, and the books where I used the new-Kindle cost price of our most anticipated books of 2019 list), found average times for each activity (using the higher end where available for comparisons), and hey presto, there’s your ballpark cost per hour of entertainment for a few fun activities.


Now, sure, the US has 326 million-odd people spread out over an area the size of Australia, and from massive cities to little towns, there are price variations, a million different activities you pay for, etc, etc, yadda, yadda, yadda, but stick with me on the point of this post, here, because I want to be clear.


(And if you’re pirating books: honestly, go dunk your head in a bag of sweaty pirate dicks, mate.)

Let me nail this down

If you’re a committed couch-potato and watching tens or hundreds of hours of Netflix, Foxtel, SciFi, or whatever cable network is relevant in your country paying $USD $9.99 a month for unlimited access, then you’re probably on a really good wicket and getting better value for money than a book. Fair enough. We can’t win them all. A book is certainly not the be-all and end-all of entertainment value-for-money.

But most of the things you are willing to pay for to have a good time–be it going for a few pints with mates or watching a movie at the cinema or having some ridiculous sounding coffee at Starbucks–when you break it down to dollar-per-hour of entertainment, a book is going to give you far better value than just about anything else.





* a few notes on my spreadsheet workings

Below are a few details that led to my spreadsheet workings. I’m not going to share the spreadsheet because (a) again, nailing it down to the exact cent or factoring in some random county’s discounted Sunday lunch cinema ticket cost is not the point of the post, and (b) I’d love to be challenged on the theory of this. I knocked this up in a few hours based on a few online discussions I’ve seen or participated in  over the last few years–it’s not the definitive argument on the topic and I’m happy to take on just about anybody’s relevant perspective.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.

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