Jilly: The Murderbot Dilemma

How much would you pay for an ebook? Or a series?

I’ve been trying to decide whether to invest in Martha Wells’ Murderbot books. I don’t usually dither over book purchases, but this series has me hovering over the buy button.

The community on Argh Ink (Jenny Crusie’s blog) loves Murderbot. Jenny loves and re-reads the series. These are smart people. They read a lot. They’re sharply observant and constructively critical about their recommendations and DNFs. They tend to like the kind of stories I like. So that’s a strong positive.

I read the first novella, All Systems Red, and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t desperate to read the next book immediately, but I haven’t forgotten it and moved on. I felt like that about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles—had a hiatus of maybe a couple of years before I bought the second book—but that series became a favorite and one that I regularly re-read.

The Murderbot premise is great—an introverted, self-hacking robot protagonist who’s technically not a person but who has an engaging personality–fascinating, funny and conflicted. The author makes you care about the character. The writing is clever and complex. The stories are sci-fi, with lots of great world-building and action, but deeply character-driven. As far as I can see from a quick scan of the reviews, the first four novellas arc to a satisfying conclusion.

There’s really only one argument against Murderbot. The price. According to the many disgruntled reviews on the Zon, the first four titles are essentially one book, with each act published as a separate novella. According to Amazon US at the time of writing, they are:

All Systems Red: 155 pages, $3.99

Artificial Condition: 149 pages, $9.99

Rogue Protocol: 150 pages, $10.99

Exit Strategy: 176 pages, $10.99.

That’s around $36 for one ebook. Or (since I already read the discounted taster installment), $32 for three-quarters of a book. I’d read that in an afternoon.

In theory I could buy the second, Artificial Condition, and then decide whether to continue, but unless a story is a complete disaster I like to finish it. Pretty sure that if I grab Book 2 I should expect to buy and read them all.

I’m lucky enough that I can afford to pay $32 for three-quarters of a book if I really want it. Right now I’m in the market for a little self-indulgence. I haven’t had my hair cut since early March. Or visited an exhibition or eaten in a restaurant. I haven’t traveled into Central London since the covid-19 lockdown was announced. The money I saved by on tube fares alone would easily buy Murderbot.

So it’s not about the money per se. It’s more a dislike of being taken for a ride. The last time I felt this cranky about the price of a book was Anne Bishop’s Etched in Bone (the last book in her Others series). I’m still sore about that. From memory I think her publisher priced the e-book at about $24 (more than the paperback) for the first year or so. I was outraged enough to wait it out. And eventually I read the book but by then I was so over the story I haven’t gone on to buy the new books in that world.

I think I’m likely to be stuck at home for a while yet, so I’m guessing that sooner or later I’ll crumble and buy the remaining Murderbots. Then it will go one of two ways. If the series turns out to be a keeper, I’ll be thrilled. I’ll re-read them over and over and you’ll never hear another peep from me about the price. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll feel as sore as the angry reviewers. Maybe more so, since I was warned.

What do you think? Have you read these books? Are they worth it?

How much would you pay for an ebook or a series? Which authors would you pay top dollar for?

13 thoughts on “Jilly: The Murderbot Dilemma

  1. I can relate to your dilemma, Jilly, as I had the same one. I haven’t read any of the series, but after hearing such great things on Jenny’s blog, I thought I should give them a try. But despite the glowing reviews, I balked at the price. 9.99/10.99 for novellas is a bit steep, I have paid that much for full-length novels by Louise Penny (which I read over and over) but that’s pretty much outside my price-point for a new-to-me author.

    I haven’t read anything in the series yet, so I have no way to judge whether I will like the books or not. My solution is to read the books via my local library. IfI read them and find out that they’ll be repeatable keepers for me, then I’ll buy them. If it turns out that they are not my catnip, then that will be that.

  2. I put in a request for it at my local lending library. Since I became a published writer I’ve begun buying a lot more books, especially ebooks, because I know how much authors need sales. Also, the library doesn’t have a lot of the newer romance authors.

    But my pockets are not unlimited and I feel like the pricing in this series is unreasonable. So, the library it is.

  3. Oh, I think Elizabeth and Jeanne have hit it on the head — folks in the US can try before they buy through the library system. I have heard rumors that I might be able to borrow books somehow from US libraries, but I’m not quite sure how that works. I think we might have been able to do something through McDaniel, but our time has probably run out on that perk to classes.

    The book is sticking with you, so that’s a good sign. You might want to make this a “special occasion” series, and ask for it on your birthday/other gift-giving holidays. (“Murderbot for Valentine’s!” LOL, that strikes my funny bone.) It does sound like it may be worth the high price. I’d at least try book two — they are winning all sorts of awards.

    It’s definitely on my list of books to check out one day, but I already have far too many books to read. Wolf Hall is still on my bed’s bookshelf, and I haven’t cracked a page for . . . five years? More?

    • The Libby app is a useful way to access US libraries. If someone you know has a library card and is willing to share their number with you, you can access and request quite a few books. I do this with my mom because she rarely checks out books, never e-books, so I don’t have to worry about using it too much. I think you can request up to 25 titles and borrow for 2 weeks.

  4. I thought the same about the Murderbot series: everybody likes it, it’s way too expensive. I was lucky enough to get the last two installments for free when Tor had a promotion for Martha Wells’s new novel (missed the first two novellas, dang it). I bought the first one for $3.99 to see if I liked it, and, like you, I enjoyed it and it sticks with me even though I’m not over the moon about it so far.

    However, I thought I remembered that one could lend Kindle books, so I googled, and Amazon says yes. There’s restrictions on time. BUT. I could buy book two and lend it to you, plus the last ones. If I felt like two readers were enjoying for the price of one, I’d feel a lot happier about that $9.99.

  5. I haven’t read that series (but I’m intrigued); however, John Scalzi did something similar by releasing THE HUMAN DIVISION one chapter at a time. Each was reasonable at $.99 but there are 13 chapters. Not as expensive as your series but each chapter is listed individually in my kindle. I hate that.

    • 13 individual chapters clogging up my Kindle would annoy me more than the price. I really like the way Ilona Andrews does it–posts chapters for free on the website, then takes down, edits and sells the complete book. They drum up a lot of interest (I saw more than 1,000 comments on the most recent chapter of Ryder) and it seems not to hurt sales of the finished article. I read all the Innkeeper books as a serial, and bought them all.

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