An American Editor

March 10, 2010

On Books: Deciding to Buy or Not Buy (III)

In Part I of this 3-part article, I discussed the role reviews play in my decision-making process as to whether or not to buy a particular book. As noted, reviews are rather limited, largely because there are so few credible reviews and so many books published each year. In Part II, published yesterday, I discussed the role cover design plays and how good cover design acts as an assurance for the book buyer. Today’s discussion addresses the final legs of my decision-making process: Content and Pricing.


A good writer grabs you with the first dozen or so words; a hack writer like me doesn’t have that knack. I am willing to plod through a nonfiction book but not through a novel. So I want to see that the story gets off to a good start. I also want to see how many errors there are in the first chapter.

Perhaps it is because of my work, perhaps it is because I was always bothered by language misuse, or perhaps it is because I wish to be — at least in my own mind — a literary elitist snob, but when I find glaring errors in the first few pages of a book, I know I will never read further.

When I think about it, my standards are higher for pbooks than for ebooks. I think that is a result of two factors: First, that nearly all my pbook purchases are nonfiction, primarily history, biography, philosophy, and English language. Consequently, I expect greater accuracy and better production values because these books are not read-once-throw-away books. Second, that the nonfiction books all command a much higher price than the fiction ebooks, or I am willing to pay more for nonfiction than for fiction and so expect more. I am more forgiving of fiction ebooks than of nonfiction pbooks. However, I would not be so forgiving if I purchased nonfiction ebooks or paid a price for the fiction ebooks that was comparable to the price I pay for the pbooks.

I don’t know if more people are writing and “publishing” as self-publishers their masterpieces of fiction as a result of ebooks, but it sure seems that way. And they are cutting corners. Recent fiction ebooks I read had fundamental editorial errors, for example:

  • beet instead of beat
  • compliment instead of complement
  • court marshal instead of court martial
  • affect instead of effect
  • principal instead of principle
  • seam instead of seem
  • roll instead of role
  • passed instead of past
  • there instead of their
  • your instead of you’re
  • die instead of dye
  • lead instead of led
  • one instead of won

Had the error occurred once, I would have chalked it up to a typographical error; but these errors occurred repeatedly. Interestingly, a couple of times the authors actually got it right, only to return to the incorrect word.

These errors are significantly more than a mistyping or misspelling — it demonstrates a lack of command of language because seam and seem, for example, are not even close in meaning. Thus a review of the first chapter is important and I have come to the point that I will not buy an ebook whose first chapter, or a significant portion thereof, I cannot sample. And even if the author seems to write well, that is, is a good storyteller, I won’t buy the ebook if the sample is loaded with editorial problems; I know it will annoy me until I just give up trying to read the ebook.

This is the advantage that a pbook has over an ebook — not that a pbook cannot have these errors, they can, but that I can return the pbook; most ebooks are not returnable.


Pricing is my last consideration as I am not hesitant to spend a lot of money on a book that I want. For example, I recently bought Michael Burlingame’s Abraham Lincoln: A Life, which sells for $125 and Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Z. Kedar’s Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade, which sells for $75. But I don’t casually spend such sums — I buy too many books to spend that kind of money casually.

I more quickly and easily spend higher sums on nonfiction pbooks than on fiction ebooks. A lot comes down to the quality of the work in relationship to the price.

Although I am willing to be more forgiving of an ebook, I am, correspondingly, expecting to pay a lower price. That is, the lower the quality the lower the price. Similarly, I will not pay a high price for a low-quality pbook. The difference between an ebook and a pbook is that I will consider buying a lesser-quality lower-priced ebook but will not consider buying a low-quality pbook regardless of price. I believe this is the dichotomy of value that I place on fiction (ebooks) and nonfiction (pbooks). 

Price is less a constraint for me with pbooks because I rarely get to the matter of price if value is lacking; I am simply less forgiving of pbooks than of ebooks. Pricing is a constraint only in the ebook buying decision-making process.

For lots of reasons, but primarily because of lower quality, I am very reluctant to spend more than $3 to $5 on an ebook. Consequently, when an ebook passes muster — that is, I get past the reviews, the cover design (or lack there of), and the sample content — I make my decision based on price. I need to believe that the price has some correlation to the quality. If there is a close correlation, I will buy the ebook; the farther apart price and quality are, the less likely I am to buy.

That is how I decide whether or not to buy a book.



  1. One reason I get so annoyed at major typos and other problems with print books is that you can’t return the books for those problems. At least not for full price! That’s my main reason for not buying hardcovers very often, even ones by my favorite authors. The advantage of ebooks is that they can be corrected and reposted without a huge cost on the part of the publisher.

    One of the major reasons that ebooks are full of errors – but they aren’t alone – is that many ebooks are not written by professional, skilled authors and are not edited professionally, either. They go straight from brain to keyboard to PDF to web access without any intervening quality-control process. That’s one of my main reasons for rarely, if ever, wanting to buy ebooks.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — March 10, 2010 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

  2. […] topic has been broached before (see, e.g., Valuing a Book: How Do Publishers Decide on Value?, On Books: Deciding to Buy or Not Buy (III), and The eBook Wars: The Price Battle (IV) — Value) and is likely to be broached many times in […]


    Pingback by Valuing eBooks: Is it a Sensory Problem? « An American Editor — July 8, 2010 @ 6:57 am | Reply

  3. […] topic has been broached before (see, e.g., Valuing a Book: How Do Publishers Decide on Value?, On Books: Deciding to Buy or Not Buy (III), and The eBook Wars: The Price Battle (IV) — Value) and is likely to be broached many times in […]


    Pingback by Valuing eBooks: Is it a Sensory Problem? | The Digital Reader — July 8, 2010 @ 7:05 am | Reply

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