E-books and the price of coffee

One of the stupider things enraged writers (singularly from the US or the UK, of course) like to throw out – besides “pirating e-books is literally like stealing the wallet out of my pocket” (yes, literally! right?) – is that buying an e-book is like buying a 1-3 $4 cups of coffee – and if you can afford a cup of coffee, why can’t you afford an e-book? (assuming e-books prices of between $4-$15 US).

It’s singularly stupid. First of all, who the hell spends $4 a day on a cup of coffee? That’s $120 a month just on coffee! Which is a third of your monthly salary if you live somewhere like the Laos, say (and that’s assuming you work for someone like the UN).

I don’t spent it. I care about coffee – deeply care about coffee, and far more, probably, than I care about books – and I spend those $4 on a bag of ground coffee which I prepare at home. One bag probably lasts me two weeks, so we’re looking at a total budget of $8 a month on coffee (excluding, you know, sugar and milk or the cost of heating up the water!), which is still less than the cost of most e-books.

And I live in a Western country now! I am actually allowed to buy e-books in my region, I am actually given the choice of buying those books. For more than my entire monthly coffee budget. (Incidentally, the cost of a cup of coffee somewhere like Laos is nowhere near $4, as it must account for the much lower local earnings. A cafe Lao costs, if I remember right, around 4000 kip (US 50c) and a luxury cup of European-style coffee costs 15000kip (around $1.50) so again, that coffee-to-ebooks comparison is essentially meaningless). The e-book still costs the same (i.e., it is priced for a US/UK resident), which is significantly more, ratio wise – it’s 26 cups of coffee per e-book.

There is just something terribly arrogant, not to say vulgar, about that $4 cup of coffee statement.

9 thoughts on “E-books and the price of coffee

  1. The beauty of the internet is that in many places an ebook costs 26 cups of coffee, but pirating an ebook then tweeting at the author about it is free.

  2. The other thing about that argument is that, if I spend $4 on a cup of coffee, I know that I will get use and enjoyment out of those $4.

    Conversely, if I spend those $4 on an eBook there is a chance that I will not read it meaning that I will get no use or pleasure out of the $4 other than the endorphin rush that accompanies a spot of aimless consumerism.

  3. Interesting post. I would have more sympathy for writers (and especially musicians) if I could return all the books I’ve bought and found that they suck or return CDs that I’ve only listened to once. I’ve spent thousands of cups of coffee on stuff like that.

  4. My dad used to buy a cup of coffee each day on his way to work. After some amount of years, he realized just how much he was wasting.

    In other news, Lavie, there are a lot of warped perceptions about pricing that comes from living in the West. Even the sense of art as a commodity (which means it’s property, which means it commands monetary value and must be sold for transmission) is warped in my opinion. Because of what Bill says–it adjusts how people interact with the work. I’d prefer to give it away and earn a value-free response than charge $4 and have people feel like they got ripped off.

  5. Pingback: Yo ho ho and a Bottle of Rum – On Internet Piracy | MABrotherton.Com

  6. It’s a fair argument from a US/Canad/Europe-centric point of view.

    “Millions and millions” of people cheerfully pony up that $4 daily (or at least a couple of times a week) at their local Starbucks…and the enjoyment of a cup of coffee is, what, a few minutes? Versus hours and hours for a novel.

    The argument makes perfect sense to me. Not that I buy $4 coffee.

    But I would cheerfully pay $4+ for an intriguing ebook as long as it was sold DRM-free through a vendor who will let me download a copy without jumping through hoops, like Smashwords and Baen. Including both volumes of the Apex Book of World SF…graat stuff.

  7. A lot of people buy $4 or more of coffee every day or at least several times a week. Otherwise I wouldn’t literally have three Starbucks within walking distance of my apartment, plus about 4 other small coffee shops. I don’t drink coffee, but plenty of people line up for it every day. [In Canada last year 88% of Canadians stated that they drink at least 1 cup of coffee in a typical day and coffee drinkers consume an average of 3.5 cups of coffee per week in cafes and restaurants]

    The issue is not making the comparison that a cup of coffee and a book might cost the same, it’s simply that the group that enjoys one thing (coffee drinker) may not enjoy the other (books). I mean, you probably wouldn’t catch my husband dead with a book before going to work, but coffee? Sure. But telling my husband that he should spend his coffee money on books…probably won’t work.

    Similarly, I grew up in a poor country, in a not-so-nice area. Most of my peers did not own books because when they had any money, it went to other things they enjoyed. They did not value books very much. A book is entertainment and the same kind of entertainment I enjoy is not the same kind they enjoyed (they spent their money on music, btw).

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