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E-book pricing

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cw gortner
Bibliophile
Location: San Francisco,CA
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E-book pricing

Postby cw gortner » Wed January 5th, 2011, 8:02 pm

Several of my friends recently got e-readers for Xmas and expressed to me varying levels of outrage that my digital books were priced $13 - $8, respectively. I explained that e-book pricing varied, depending on the place and the length of time the book has been on the market, but they seemed to think that ALL e-books should be no more than $2, max. I must admit, I was taken aback by the notion that an e-book should be priced less than a download movie-on-demand or even a movie ticket.

As an author, I know e-book pricing is THE hot button topic for 2011 and beyond. Many agents are seeking more flexible e-book right clauses in contracts and some writers are reporting the impact of e-books on their print sales and wondering where it will lead as far as advances go and the value of books in our culture, in general. It's not overly dramatic to conclude that e-book pricing could conceivably ravage the publishing industry in similar ways that digital downloading did to the music industry, unless we work together to reach consensus.

As a consumer, I always want things as cheaply as possible, so I understand why many consumers believe e-books should not be more than $x because after all they are not physical objects and e-readers are an investment. But we're apt to forget that all the writers, publishers, marketing and design teams involved in getting a book into our hands remain as vital for an e-book as any other version. The formatting issues alone around e-books remain significant, with each platform requiring slight variations, which publishers must accommodate. While there are savings to be found in the lack of physical book distribution - which is, contrary to belief, not the biggest cost publishers incur – these savings are currently offset by digital formatting issues, as well as server maintenance and other costs. Not to mention the potential of losing even more independent bookstores to aggressive chains, given that discounting in physical books has already taken such a significant toll on independents. Those that cannot afford to engage in e-book discounting, much as they currently can't afford the steep chain book discounts, will be ruined. Doors will shut and, for me, the loss of any bookstore is a loss to our society as a whole.

I'm all for reading in as many formats as we can and believe e-readers offer a marvelous adjunctive to our culture. But it seems to me it's not quite as easy behind the scenes as we suppose. Just because a book has ceased to be a physical object doesn't mean it has suddenly lost its value. We still need well-edited and designed books; e-readers bring their own set of challenges and drastic lowering of e-book pricing can't sustain this industry or the many people who work in it. If a hardcover is $25, a trade paperback is $14, than most people in the publishing industry believe a new release e-book should not be lower than $13. Authors and other professionals in the industry still need to be paid for their work in order to continue to bring us books.

I want to keep writing and reading quality books, so I'm willing to pay for this privilege, much as I'm willing to pay $12 or $15 for a movie ticket. Whether I e-read or buy it in print, I still passionately believe books deserve a value.

What do other folks think?
THE QUEEN'S VOW available on June 12, 2012!
THE TUDOR SECRET, Book I in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
[B]THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
THE LAST QUEEN
[/B]

www.cwgortner.com

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parthianbow
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Postby parthianbow » Wed January 5th, 2011, 8:47 pm

I hear you, CW, I hear you. One only has to see the Kindle fora on Amazon.co.uk to register the outrage from most (90%+) of readers at e-book prices. Why should we pay more than $3-5 etc. etc. While I find it weird that some books cost more as an e-book than as a hardback, I'm with you all the way that they should be well priced. Unfortunately, the majority of people don't see it that way, and as I've seen on the afore mentioned fora, many just go and download it illegally.

I'm sure you've found your own books available on torrent websites - if you haven't looked - they'll be out there. Mine are, more and more. No one really does anything about it - besides, the perpetrators use technology to bounce the download all over the net so it looks as if it's being downloaded in Colombia, for example, when it's really being done in the UK.

I really worry about this, I really do. Currently, unless the price of e-books drops significantly, with all the terrible implications that has for low to mid list authors, I think that the trend to download illegally will only continue. Which means that many authors will make no money at all, which means that they may well have to give up writing. And that, as they say, is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. But after all, the lowest price is what counts, isn't it?
Last edited by parthianbow on Wed January 5th, 2011, 8:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: error
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

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EC2
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Location: Nottingham UK
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Postby EC2 » Wed January 5th, 2011, 9:22 pm

Very well said C.W. You put the case so well and clarify the pros and cons. I certainly think $2 is way too low an asking price, but what will the market stand? The readers I have engaged with, seem to think they should be paying much less than for a paperback but then many do not see the behind the scenes issues that you talk about and just put it down to nasty greedy publishers and authors ripping them off. I don't have an e-reader at the moment, but if I can put myself out to purchase one (seems people can afford the expense of the reading machines but think the books cost too much - eh?) I would be happy to pay around the price of a discounted paperback for a book in e-format.
I think you should do a blog post about it, or would that be too risky?
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed January 5th, 2011, 9:22 pm

I can sympathize, but I don't see any realistic way of stopping the slide. I've been in an industry where supply outstripped demand, and despite all the hard work and inherent value in my product, there was nothing I could do to keep the prices up. A group got together with the intention of shoring up prices, but it was like trying to stop the incoming tide--most of them not only failed, but they lost a significant amount of market share trying.

Now I'm wiser. And make no mistake, when it comes to content, supply has absolutely buried demand. It has become very easy to cobble words together, edit them, and the vehicle is getting easier and easier to format and produce. I used to help publish annual reports for a large nonprofit in the eighties, and it took me weeks to format using Word 2.0 and cut-and pasting, halftone photos, etc. etc.

Today, I can do something similar in about four hours by bringing up any of several Indesign templates and dropping the content in, rearranging the illustrations and graphs and captions with two clicks--it's amazing.

The ebook formatting may take a learning curve, but any publisher in the business will be able to do that faster and faster. All the huge staffing overhead that used to be required to run a publishing house will drop to 10%, just like the time required for me to format and publish a 100-page report has gone from months to hours. And the cost of the physical product is nil.

The supply of content is expanding exponentially. The greatest effort now is going to be sorting through the awful, mediocre, and decent so that only the outstanding remains. I have no idea how to monetize that. People LIKE to share about things that please them, they'll do it for nothing. And as for hiring it done--useless. Consumers are very gun-shy about recommendations and marketing from people who are paid to say something is wonderful.

All I can say is that writers must write first for the love of storytelling (or communicating, in the case of non-fiction) because it never was easy to make a living at it, and it will continue to get harder as technology expands the supply by reducing the cost threshold.

Been there, done that, decided to be okay with it. because there isn't anything else you can do.
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Matt Phillips
Reader

Postby Matt Phillips » Wed January 5th, 2011, 10:52 pm

I can understand people wanting to pay less for an e-book than a physical one. But $2? When they pay $1.29 for one song on iTunes, and a book provides many more hours of entertainment than one song? (Well, unless you play that one song ad nauseum; my college roommate's infatuation with "November Rain" by Guns'N'Roses comes to mind.) I'm certainly not belittling the value of music, just drawing a pricing comparison.

J.A. Konrath recently blogged that new writers offered a publishing contract today with a release date of mid-2012 might be signing a deal for a print run of books with few if any bookstore shelves remaining at that point where a reader might find them. If Borders, B&N and independents go under, everyone who can't get shelf space at places like Target and Walmart will presumably have to rely to a large extent on e-publishing, perhaps self-publishing.

My first reaction was that he was exaggerating. But then it occurred to me, when was the last time I saw a record store?

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cw gortner
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Postby cw gortner » Wed January 5th, 2011, 10:57 pm

All great comments, thank you so much. I agree with Ben, the pirate stuff is just horrendous and some consumers don't seem to care. As MLE says, it's an unstoppable tide. EC, I have considered doing a blog post about this but I must admit, I'm a little freaked out about getting very angry e-readers on my case. The truth is, consumers do drive demand and many have been trained by certain online retailer tactics to think that e-books are these insubstantial objects that should never be priced above X. The target is always the greedy publishers, the greedy authors, the fact that the books are digital and not physical. Few seem to stop and consider: Hey, a person with a mortgage and bills does this for a living. I'm reading many hours, indeed often a year or more, of a person's life here.

Even fewer are aware that that same certain online retailer is angling to be a publisher, or actually a provider of publisher services, for it cannot possibly do what, say, Random House does. Many consumers just want the bottom line to satisfy, without taking into account the time devoted to writing a book. Even if, as MLE points out, the process of creating e-books becomes faster and more economical, the actual act of writing is still the same. Authors must be compensated; as it is, very few of us make an actual living at this, or get anything near what other entertainers do, yet we're expected to support a price on our product that basically nets us cents on each sale.

And I don't buy the whole "Who needs publishers?" bit that some people are touting as a solution. Go ahead. Do it yourself. Cut out the middle men, they're the problem. I honestly support self publishing, but to do it well you still need cover designers, editors, marketing. Otherwise, your book is just another in a mountain of unknowns. Some enterprising authors are overcoming these obstacles by pricing their e-books low and making it up in volume, but they are few and it's hardly sustainable as a solution over the long term.

It's truly a dilemma and must be addressed.
THE QUEEN'S VOW available on June 12, 2012!

THE TUDOR SECRET, Book I in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
[B]THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
THE LAST QUEEN
[/B]



www.cwgortner.com

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cw gortner
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Location: San Francisco,CA
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Postby cw gortner » Wed January 5th, 2011, 11:10 pm

"Matt Phillips" wrote:J.A. Konrath recently blogged that new writers offered a publishing contract today with a release date of mid-2012 might be signing a deal for a print run of books with few if any bookstore shelves remaining at that point where a reader might find them. If Borders, B&N and independents go under, everyone who can't get shelf space at places like Target and Walmart will presumably have to rely to a large extent on e-publishing, perhaps self-publishing.

My first reaction was that he was exaggerating. But then it occurred to me, when was the last time I saw a record store?


Exactly! But is that what we want? I mean, all due respect to Konrath but he's an exception. Very few people have succeeded as he has, if he's even telling the truth. He is blasting his message like an evangelical, so I almost think he's secretly pissed off he couldn't get a publishing contract and so he has embraced this new paradigm with the fervor of the converted. I know the syndrome: when I couldn't get a contract in NY after 13 years of submissions and finally turned to self publishing, while part of me was just resolved to see my work in print, no matter what, and prove whether or not I had the stuff to make it, another darker part of me was saying "F*#&k you, publishers! I don't need you."

Konrath exudes that vibe but he's right to a certain extent, though I don't see the demise of print coming about quite as quickly or catastrophically as he predicts. BN, for example, posted its biggest December in 40 years of business, partially because of its Nook, yes, but that means the company will continue to exist. If anything, it'll be a slow erosion of print. Only the mega-bestsellers will get hardcovers in the US anymore (the UK has basically eliminated the format for most fiction) and mass market will go extinct, because mass market is priced right where e-books are. I think trade paperback will become the dominant format for historical fiction and getting co-op (reserved shelf space and table placement on release) will be a much more coveted and rare commodity.

I fear Konrath's ultimate vision because frankly, I don't want a world filled with Konrath-like books and nothing else. How tragic and culturally sterile that would be.
THE QUEEN'S VOW available on June 12, 2012!

THE TUDOR SECRET, Book I in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
[B]THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
THE LAST QUEEN
[/B]



www.cwgortner.com

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N. Gemini Sasson
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Location: Ohio
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Postby N. Gemini Sasson » Wed January 5th, 2011, 11:27 pm

With e-reading devices getting cheaper ($139 for a Kindle now, when a couple of years ago they were $300 or more), more people are buying them and, subsequently, more e-books. The volume of e-books sold will increase exponentially in the next few years. That may be a good thing for publishers.

As for readers expecting to pay less for e-books, some are obviously willing to pay more for the authors they want. Right now the #1 HF on Amazon Kindle is Ken Follett's Fall of Giants for $19.99. Yes, that's $19.99 for an e-book.

Publishing is in a state of flux and it's hard to say how things are going to shake out eventually, but one thing's for sure - ten years from now it will be different. What the best way is for publishers to deal with that and still be viable remains to be seen. Already I've noticed them offering the backlists of many bestseling authors either very cheaply or for free, the idea being that readers will snap those up and after the sampling buy another one or two of the author's books at full price.

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SarahWoodbury
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Postby SarahWoodbury » Wed January 5th, 2011, 11:36 pm

On the other side, a whole swath of people (myself included) grew up never, ever buying books because they were too expensive. We used the library. What if lowering prices allowed you to sell more books? What if pricing e-books at $5 instead of $10 tripled the sales because the audience that can afford a $5 book is so much greater than $10? And, amazingly, with ebooks, it costs the publisher not one dime more to sell 300,000 books than 3000 books. Or 3 books for that matter. The cost is in editing, formatting, cover, etc. Once that's done, it's all gravy.

I think that's what Konrath is trying to say. I also read an interview last year with a NY publisher who said that they were pricing ebooks at $9.99 and up because THEY DIDN'T ACTUALLY WANT EBOOKS TO SELL! How can that be, you ask? Because publishers want to push people to buy print books for as long as they can, since they've invested so much in printing presses, warehouses, and personnel.

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Wed January 5th, 2011, 11:59 pm

Interesting. I've seen the Kindle price at Amazon with those one star reviews to b!tch about the pricing and I just cringe - that is so unfair to the author to tank the book's ratings over prices.

I guess if you're going to purchase an ereader, one should be a smart consumer and look at the prices of the books you are going to buy for your reader and if you don't like it then don't buy. Just like if I went and bought some other fancy electronic what-not and got snotty about the price of the DVD's or whatever I needed to buy to put in it (hope that makes sense).

In the meantime, I'll continue to be a library girl. Since they already can get me most anything I want to read, and if they don't have it I put in a purchase request and 9 out of 10 they get it and usually buy a minimum of five books. You should see how many copies get ordered for the big players like PG and Gabaldon.

Question if it isn't too OT, but I'm seeing a lot of indie/self-pubbed type authors getting their books on kindle like magic. Is this something easy and relatively cheap for an author without an established publisher? These authors are almost viral over at the Amazon boards.
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