Steve Fenton

Coffee vs books

Independent authors can rock! I own books from independent authors and although you are taking a little chance (unless you know their work or get a recommendation) it can be well worth it. But then this popped up in my social feed!

Coffee vs Ebook

The concept here is that coffee takes 1 minute to make and costs more than a book that takes 2 years to make. WAT!

While I appreciate the sentiment of supporting indie authors and smaller publishers (as well as medium and large publishers because books rock)… I can’t get my head around this image. We’re comparing a cup of coffee to a book. How wrong is this… let me count the ways.

I’m not going to give a lecture on economics, but I think we can all agree that if I make a cup of coffee, I can sell it just one time and only in the specific format I created. The next customer is not going to be interested in this cup of coffee – they will definitely want me to create one from scratch and to their order.

When I write a book, it may take myriad additional hours but I can place that book into an ebook store and sell it a million times. I can sell it more than a million times if I want – but I’m probably very happy if I sell it a million times. Every time the book sells, I’m dividing all the time I spent writing it by an extra sale.

So let’s do some quick and easy numbers. I’m going to round-like-heck in order to avoid using a calculator – feel free to check the numbers.

I create a book in two years. I sell 24 copies. I can say that it cost me 1 month per copy. Once I have sold 731 copies, my time cost has dropped to 1 day per copy. If I sell 18,000 copies then I’m under an hour per copy – and all of this assumes two years of working 24 hours a day. Your time spent writing a book may be much more or much less than this. The book can keep selling for years without any additional time or cost and I’ll continue to further divide the time between the number of copies.

Starbucks vs Paperback

So let’s agree that the long-tail aspect of book selling and the fact that you only need to write it once to sell it a million times both make it a bad comparison for making a cup of coffee, which you have to do every time you sell one and you stop making money as soon as you stop selling coffee.

Now I’m going to economics your face in. I know I said I wouldn’t, but I really meant to add a “yet” in there somewhere.

In economics (and in simple layman’s terms) you have fixed costs and you have variable costs. To make and sell something you often have some of both. The thing is, coffee is mostly variable cost with a bit of fixed cost. Fixed costs would include having a coffee shop you have to rent. Variable costs would include wages, coffee beans, milk, hot water, cups, straws and all the other things that you need more of whenever you sell something. Coffee is mostly variable costs.

Books on the other hand are mostly fixed cost. You invest a big chunk of time in writing the book. You can’t sell one book without this, but you don’t need this time for every copy you sell. You spend it once only. There are some variable costs for your book, things like paper if you are printing real copies and things like delivery cost for transmitting the book over whispernet – but most of the costs is sunk before your first copy hits the shelf.

Variable vs Fixed

So you simply can’t compare books and coffee. It makes you look ignorant. When people say “you can’t compare apples and pears”, you actually could because the nature of producing them is incredibly similar, even though they taste different. What you can’t do is compare coffee and books.

In summary; support authors of all kinds if they write good books. Good books are incredibly important to humankind. I also happen to value good coffee – but I actually tend to pay more for good books (usually £15 – £40) than I pay for coffee (usually £2.25). Let’s not start campaigns that make independent authors look like imbeciles or that make them look like charity. Buy their books because they are good, not because they are poor.

Thank you for enduring this post.

Written by Steve Fenton on