Wednesday Flashback #1

This is the first Wednesday Flashback post. Every Wednesday, I’ll post a note, screed, or longer piece that was written in the past and then subsequently forgotten. Sometimes, they’ll stand for themselves, other times, they’ll need some framing.

A scribbled note from 2/18/08:

If a certain television episode is 44 minutes and costs $1.99, but you decided to read instead, what would be the equivalent? You would need to analyze how much you can read in that length of time, comparing it to how much your time is worth, the creative weight of the content, and the ease of accessing the medium.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

I get it; I was trying to say that maybe we have different priorities for our entertainment dollar. Some things are worth two bucks for an hour, other things are worth less. A select few might be worth more. A ten-dollar cd is a particularly good investment for me a lot of times. Well, as long as it’s a good cd. I listen to good music over and over again, a lot of times, analyzing the crap out of it. I have listened to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs album probably twenty times through since I bought it a month ago.

But books? Amazon and ebooks are changing our expected values.

Or are they?

I’m not sure about that statement anymore. I used to think that Amazon was the most evil company in the world (I mean, besides Wal-mart, amiright?), but I think that they might have just been in the right place at the right time. Technology is changing books, not Amazon. New content-packaging, new story-telling techniques, new ways of interacting with the stories all change the our relationship to characters, narrative, and expression.

But value? What dictates value?

I don’t pay for cable; I pay for internet, and then I stream content whenever I want to watch something (I also have an antenna that I bought for ten bucks that allows me to pick up local HD channels, so there you go). So let’s see what we’ve got here:

  • Netlfix = $8
  • Hulu Plus = $8
  • Maybe three or four Redbox rentals a month = approx. $5

So I sit at around $21/month for television entertainment. Let’s assume my wife and kid don’t enjoy any of that entertainment for a second.

  • average of 1 sitcom each night (22 min. each, 5 weeknights/week, 4 weeks/month = approx. 7 & 1/3 hours a month.)
  • average of 1 hour-long show every week (44 min. each, 4 times/month = approx. 3 hours a month.)
  • average of 1 documentary every two weeks (1 & 1/2 hours, twice a month = 3 hours a month.)
  • average of 1 movie every two weeks (same as above; 3 hours a month.)

Totals = approx. 16 hours of entertainment, valued at $21, which comes to about $1.31 per hour of entertainment. Again, this doesn’t take into consideration any television that my wife watches, nor does it take into consideration Thomas the Train, Sesame Street, or the Backyardigans… So the real per-hour value is a lot lower than that.

Assuming that my wife watched the same amount of tv as I do, it brings the total down to around 65 cents/hour, and even less when you realize that she watches a lot more than I do.

Assuming that you read a page a minute, and you have a 200 page book, you should read that book in 3 & 1/3 hours. If your expectations for value were the same for books as they were for television entertainment, then you should expect to pay around $2.17 – $4.33 for that book.

Of course, the high-fidelity nature of the experience goes a log way to tweaking those numbers, right? I’m talking about streaming one thing and choosing another, perhaps you would rent a book for cheap (or, I don’t know, visit a library?), but if you paid for all of the televised content on Itunes or whatever, it’d cost at least $68 (dollar sitcoms, two-dollar dramas, ten-dollar movies and documentaries). Figuring for the same amount of time of enjoyment, it breaks down to $4.25/hour. Now that 200-page book is worth $14.15.

And that’s the kind of math that the publishers would like. There again, the math is problematic. I can watch those shows and movies again and again, I can watch them with other people, just like I can read the book over and over (but if it’s not Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, why would I read it again?).

Something to think about. Those cost-analyses get pretty interesting when you start looking at other things (typical MMO subs are $15/month, but if you play it for 15 hours/week, you’re only paying 25 cents/hour. Poll here, and yes, it’s problematic, too). Blu-rays are $20 a pop, and if you only watch it once, that’s like $10/hour—not very efficient.

It doesn’t really matter as long as you think that you’re getting a deal. Cable is crazy expensive, and that’s a good reason why fewer and fewer people are paying $60/month for access to that content. And I refuse to pay $15 for an ebook…

I wonder what kind of cost/hour books should be striving for, and whether or not that’s a valid way of looking at entertainment…