“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Thoughts On The Pricing Of E-Books

I came across a Twitter comment during the week, which was retweeted by Mike Cane, from a woman who had drawn a line in the sand on the price of e-books. She was happy enough paying anything up to $5.99 for her e-books; beyond that, she just wasn’t prepared to go.
  Given that I recently upped the price of the e-book version of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE to $7.99, as part of my ongoing experiment in e-publishing, I found her attitude fascinating.
  I should probably give you some context to this ‘experiment’, by the way. I first e-published EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, after buying out the rights from the publisher, at $1.99. It sold pretty well at that price, and I even got a royalty cheque from Amazon after six months. Around about then, I bumped up the price to $3.99, just to see how sales would fare. Not very well, as it turned out. The book still sold, but in nowhere near the same numbers. And so, being a perverse sod at the best of times, last month I bumped the price up to $7.99. Sales, as you can probably guess, fell off a cliff. I think I’ve sold three copies since the price went to $7.99.
  I should also say that, given that I work full-time, and write in my spare time, I don’t have a lot of time left over for promoting the e-version of EIGHTBALL. And the last couple of months, while the book has been retailing for $7.99, have been particularly busy. Perhaps sales might have been a little better had I invested a little more time in reminding people that EIGHTBALL is there. We’ll never know.
  I should also say, before going any further, that different writers have different reasons for publishing e-books. Some are e-only writers, and are bent on earning a living from their writing. Some, like myself, are part-time writers who publish (some of) their backlist at a discount price in the hope of drumming up some word-of-mouth and momentum on their writing careers. Others are full-time writers earning a living writing conventional books, whose publishers also offer their books in e-format. And on it goes.
  The point being, ‘writers’ are not a monolithic bunch who all earn the same amount of money from their writing. The same applies to publishers, some of which belong to vast corporations, while others are of the small but perfectly formed variety, struggling to make ends meet and publish interesting books. Many others inhabit the middle-ground between those extremes.
  And yet, there is a growing number of readers who insist that the price of an e-book should be this and no more.
  Now, I do appreciate that the middle of one of the worst recessions / depressions in living memory is a very bad time to be arguing the case for raising the price of anything, and particularly a luxury item such as a book. Some people, of course, would argue that a book is not an luxury, but an essential, but that’s a debate for another day. The bottom line is that, for most people, the money they spend on books comes out of their disposable income, which to all intents and purposes makes it a luxury item.
  I can also appreciate the main argument some readers put forward for cheaper e-books. If, say, Lee Child’s latest thriller is retailing at $18.99 as a conventional book because of his publisher’s costs when it comes to printing, distribution, etc., then the e-format should be considerably cheaper, given that there are no printing and distribution costs.
  Having said that, and without pretending to know how Lee Child’s publishers work, it’s also true that the conventional and e-version copies of Lee Child’s latest book comes at the end of a long chain of events, most of which cost quite a bit of money, given that the services involved are provided by skilled professionals, not least of whom is Lee Child himself.
  Ah, say the e-readers, but why not cut out all those pesky middle-men? Why doesn’t Lee Child just write his book and upload it directly as an e-book? He already has the brand, and even if he’s selling his book at a reduced price, he’s taking home all the profit, which means that readers and writer both profit.
  That’s fine in theory, but again, and without pretending to know anything about Lee Child, it presumes that Lee Child is a skilled editor and designer, typesetter, marketing specialist, etc.
  Ah, say the e-readers, but the costs of such skilled professionals are one-offs. If Lee was to out-source all the requirements he isn’t capable of providing himself, and write a couple of cheques, he’s home and hosed. Apart from the fee he pays to the various e-publishers, he’s taking home all the profit.
  Again, in theory, this is very true. Unfortunately for most writers, they’re not Lee Child. They don’t have his brand. They don’t have his financial resources. Neither do they have his gift for writing a cracking thriller, but that, again, is a conversation for another day.
  Simply put, and like the vast majority of writers, I’m not in Lee Child’s league. If publishing exists as a pyramid structure, with a lucky (and very hard-working) few at the apex, then I’m down in the dirt scrabbling for purchase on the steep incline.
  When it came to e-publishing EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, I was in a better position than most. The book had already been published, and I was in possession of a pdf that was already type-set to a professional standard. The book also benefited from some blurbs that had been provided for the conventional version. I did, however, commission a new cover for the book, which means that despite receiving that royalty cheque from Amazon (it was for $100), I’m still in the hole, eight months later, to the tune of over $200.
  Given the cost of living here in Ireland, and that I’m a husband and father with all the responsibilities that entails, I would need to sell roughly 35,000 copies of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE per year, at its original price of $1.99, in order to avoid seeing my daughter live in a cardboard box. Even at $3.99, I’d need to sell 25,000 copies. That’s a hell of a lot of books to sell in order to break even. And at $7.99, I’d still need to sell 8,000 copies, or thereabouts, to achieve the same.
  Go ahead and ask the vast majority of writers how they’d feel about selling 8,000 copies of their book per year. But do me a favour and have an oxygen mask handy. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any untimely strokes.
  There are a number of aspects to the e-pricing debate that seem a little odd to me. The first is that e-publishing was originally trumpeted as a means of bringing reader and writer closer together, because writers could by-pass the whited sepulchres of the traditional publishing houses and connect directly with their readers, via the intertwined electronic miracles of e-readers and the Web. Instead, it appears that many readers are taking the hump with writers because they won’t play ball and give them quality books cheaply, while writers are taking the hump because readers want quality books on the cheap.
  This clash may be a consequence of many e-reading fans being early adopters, the kind of Web-savvy people who jumped on the idea of combining the potential of the internet with their love of reading, and see e-books as the idea synthesis. Being Web-savvy, of course, they don’t expect to pay very much for the digital content they read; indeed, they seem a little bit shocked they’re expected to pay anything at all.
  The other odd thing, from a personal point of view, is exemplified by the drop-off in sales for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE once its price started to go up. The e-book fan (or anyone with even the vaguest grasp of economics) will very probably be screaming right now at the screen a variation on, ‘It’s the economy, stooopid.’
  I understand that. I really do. But from my point of view, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE is the same book regardless of whether it’s $1.99 or $7.99: it’s not a quarter as interesting, or funny, or thrilling, at the cheaper price, and it doesn’t come in at 25,000 words rather than 85,000 words.
  It’s not my place, by the way, to say that EIGHTBALL is interesting, funny or thrilling. I’m just saying that whatever qualities the book had at the $1.99 price, those qualities remain the same regardless of whether I charge $7.99 or give the book away for free.
  I suppose my central concern, when it all boils down, is that fans of e-books are confusing cost and value. That’s not to say that very good books aren’t being sold for $1.99, or $0.99, or even being given away free. But it’s patently self-limiting for a reader to impose an arbitrary price of (say) $4.99 on a book, and state that he or she refuses to pay any more, regardless of the quality of that book.
  This becomes especially resonant, I think, when we move away from the realms of fiction, and particularly genre fiction, to talk about the kinds of books that require serious research, which in turn requires investment. But that, again, may be a debate for another day.
  For now it seems that many authors are happily collaborating in a race to the bottom on price. The mantra is very much quantity over quality, to the extent that many writers, in a desperate bid to get noticed and put one foot on the bottom rung of the slippery ladder, are now giving away their books for free.
  There’s a certain kind of logic to this, although it only exists inside the e-publishing bubble, which appears determined to eat itself. Because once you give away one book for free, the expectation is that all your books will come at no cost, an expectation that derives from an entirely understandable mentality that runs, ‘Well, if you don’t value your work, why should I?’
  Ultimately, and pursuing the deranged logic that characterises the e-publishing frenzy on lower and lower pricing to its bitter end, can it be very long before e-fans are demanding that writers pay them - not very much; perhaps as little as $0.99 per book - for the privilege of reading their books?

32 comments:

Gerard Brennan said...

Intersting points, Dec. I think eventually, the pricing issue will level out. You can expect to pay £7.99 (sorry, I think in quids) for a mass market paperback these days. So to me, the ecopy should be cheaper than that. Similar to the difference between a CD and an album from iTunes, perhaps. Generally that's only a difference of one or two quid. However, you do get some up and coming bands releasing tracks for free... one song from an album isn't the same as releasing a whole novel, but maybe the equivalent will be free short stories in the future. Who knows?

At present, Wee Rockets is available on Kindle for £0.99 and I'm happy with that. It's a marketing strategy to get a virtually unknown book out there. Some free copies will be issued to reviewers too. Then the price will go up to £2.99. That seems a fair price to me, but if people were willing to pay more, I'd ask for that price to be raised. But for now, I'm going to sit back and see how the Blasted Heath (my epublisher) pricing policies work. Nothing's nailed down but sooner or later I hope/think we'll see some sort of stablility. And the authors worth paying for will get paid.

Cheers

gb

Anonymous said...

Good post, thanks for the insights. I've paid more than $10 for e-versions of books by authors I know and love. For between $0.99 and $1.99 , I'm happy to take a chance on a writer I don't know at all if someone recommends it or the book looks interesting enough.

Stuart Neville said...

I've noticed people tagging the US Kindle edition Stolen Souls with "$9.99 boycott" and similar at Amazon.com. I'm amazed that people are really that cheap. You think a year of my life is worth less than $9.99? You really believe that ten to twelve hours of entertainment isn't worth the equivalent cost of two or three coffees, or less than two beers?

I think it's the sense of entitlement that bothers me. It's particularly common with those who believe they have a some sort of right to download music and movies for free. It's like they expect to extend their hand and have a chocolate cookie placed in it, and anyone who stands in the way of their free chocolate cookies is violating them in some way.

In my former life, I worked in music, and there was a constant fight that musicians had to engage in: to get paid. They'd play a gig and the promoter would only give them a fraction of the agreed fee because there wasn't enough business done at the bar, or some spurious excuse. One musician friend told me that when he'd complained to the promoter about it, the promoter replied that music was just a hobby, not a proper job, so he should consider himself lucky to get any payment at all.

The same attitude pervades the Internet. That those who work in the creative arts should be happy to get pennies for their efforts because it's not a proper job.

Using bargain prices as a promotional tool is perfectly valid, but the customer should know that they're getting a bargain. The hardcover of Stolen Souls costs $16 on Amazon. It likely costs more in a bookstore. Pricing the e-book at $9.99 seems more than fair to me. When the paperback is available between $9.99 and $16, then the e-book price should and will be reduced accordingly.

Until then, if you really don't think those twelve months of my life I spent delivering that book are worth $9.99, feel free to browse the many self-published $0.99 offerings on Amazon.

Or, if you really want to be entertained for free, how about going to the bloody library?

Declan Burke said...

Gerard - I think you're right about pricing finding its own level; it's all very early days as of yet. My fear would be that it's the early days that will set the tone of the conversation on the topic, if not the actual price of e-books.

Cheers, Dec

Declan Burke said...

Stuart -

There is definitely a sense of entitlement out there, which I find pretty offensive, to be honest. It's one of the uglier consequences of people confusing what's available on the internet with e-books, simply because both are digitally formatted.

And yes, I did mean to mention libraries in the piece. It's a win-win scenario for those who don't want to pay for their reading (or support the writer's time-and-craft investment), and the writer still gets a small PLR payment per every book taken out on loan.

Cheers, Dec

John Gaynard said...

Declan,

Your article shows that eBook pricing has more to do with black magic than science or accepted theories about quality and price elasticity!

With regard to your comment about authors paying people to read their books, many a true word is spoken in jest. Because it looks, already, as if many second-hand booksellers on Amazon are paying people to buy their books. How can they make a profit out of a sales price of one cent? Of course, they get their share of €2.99 to post the book to the customer, but, given that they also have to pay for the cost of acquiring and packaging the book, I can't understand how that share of €2.99 can generate even a nominal profit, even if some of the sellers, which describe themselves as charities, are selling thousands of books a day. I would suspect that most resellers on Amazon are probably selling only a few dozen used books a month, if that, and they are certainly losing money.

Many thinkers about the internet & information have said that information (of which literarutre constitutes a sub-set, and music another) wants to be free, but if we look at the luxury goods industry we see that people turn up their noses at free and consider that paying a premium price for a watch or a perfume(which is also nothing more than a bundle of information) ensures quality.

The newspaper industry is having to come to terms with alternatives to its products by experimenting with different business models, such as the New York Times' recent success in getting readers to pay $13 or $14 a month to read it online. However the NYTimes people hesitated for months, and thought long and hard before implementing the subscription model, asking themselves the same questions as you are asking. Price it too high and you get no takers, price it too low and you don't make a living, whatever the quality.

At the moment, it looks as if the ePublishing industry is like the California gold rush, where the people who sold the shovels (the editors, the proofreaders, the book illustrators) made more money than the people actually panning for gold (the writers).

Michael Haskins said...

Dec, I am in agreement with you on eBook pricing. I have raised my books to $3.99 from $2.99 and my short stories from .99cents to $2.99 and my newest book to $4.99. Sales have slowed down, but I put some of that on the holidays and people are shopping for others, if shopping at all. November sales were less but the money was more. I am looking forward to a boost in sales when the new Kindle/e-Book owners open this gifts. However, I think they'll start low priced books or with favorite authors. The problem with Kindle eBooks is that many of the cheaper books are not edited, etc. Like you, I have paid for cover art and editing and think it will payoff in the end. When eBook readers realize there are a lot of bad books out there, they will be more careful when buying at 99cents books that ain't worth reading! That is when they will move upward to authors such as yourself (and, hopefully, me).

John @ The Mystery Bookshelf said...

Personally I shy away from the self-published books at $0.99 as I'm wary of the quality control on the basis of if the author doesn't value his work why should I? And I know there is the volume vs price equation to be taken into account in terms of making a living.

I do read ebooks but it's not my preferred medium so I do expect it to be priced at a discount to the hardcover but Stuart's pricing seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Dana King said...

This is the best piece I've read on this topic, which I confess I have grown weary of. I'm going to point both of my blog readers to this post as the most reasoned examination I have found.

Like you, I have a regular job and write in my spare time. Frankly, my Kindle publishing is a lark for beer money at Bouchercon, and a bit of an ego boost when someone i respect says something nice about the book. I chose the $2.99 price point strictly because it was the lowest price at which higher royalties kicked in. I respect my time and effort too much to give it away, but I also don;t have the brand of a Lee Child. To me, that's the best price point to get my foot in the door while maintaining some self-respect. (Considering I bought an ISBN number and had the book professionally formatted, I'm still likely to lose money on the deal.)

If I get any traction, I may raise the price, seeking the point of diminishing returns. I may also reduce the price of this book as a promotion when the next comes out. But I'll never give away something new.

Another good point you raise, about books = luxury items. Yes, they are. People's perspective of luxury varies, but anything beyond the bare necessities of life--food, water, shelter, clothing--is a discretionary purchase. I cringe when some wanker laments they could no more not read (or write) than not eat. Give them an either'or choice and see which they choose.

The Daring Novelist said...

The thing to remember about book pricing is that our legacy is variable pricing. Historically, if everybody had had to pay full price to read a book, we would have only had a small fraction of the readers.

Those readers who declare they won't pay more than X are the "aftermarket" readers -- those who have only been able to afford to read as much as they do by only buying discounted books: used, libraries, remainders, sales.

It's easy to run periodic sales -- and that, I suspect, will be the future of ebook pricing. (Amazon makes this easier for traditional publishers, but indies can do it too.)

Darlynne said...

As a reader, I believe publishers and authors should charge what they want for their work. As a reader, I am free to choose the books and authors I support with my money.

Digital content, however, does not come with the same agency as a physical book. I cannot lend a digital book (one of the surest ways to introduce readers to authors), I cannot trade it in, I cannot give it away to my library when I'm done. If I live in the wrong geographic location, I cannot purchase the digital title even though the print title is available where I am. I cannot use a retail store's discount coupon for a digital title from one of the big six publishers, even though I can use a discount coupon for the print edition of the same title. A discounted digital title for new-to-us writers says, "Come in, look around." I, personally, see that as an invitation, not a right or entitlement, and am grateful for the opportunity. When agency pricing took over digital content, I had to rethink what I could afford to pay on an author-by-author basis.

Paying for digital content gives me a lease essentially, not true ownership of a physical book as we all understand the concept. It would be economically unsound, imo, to pay more for a digital title, which is the case with some of the books I was considering purchasing this morning, than the print edition. The question of paying the same or similar price for a digital title that doesn't carry the same inherent benefits is one each reader has to decide for her/himself; when money is tight, choices have to be made.

What I'd like to stress more than anything, however, is this: Readers, and I'm speaking particularly of those who are real fans of crime novels, sci fi, fantasy and romance, are enormously loyal to and vocal about the authors whose work they love. If you provide us reasonably-priced access to your first (or any) book and it joins the ranks of those we love, we will, almost without fail, purchase your entire back list and eagerly await your future work. We will tell our friends, family, reading group and on-line communities; we will ask our libraries to carry your books so others can have access; we will buy your reasonably-priced digital content, even if we already own everything you've written in print.

Give us a chance to get to know you and we will pay you back.

Stuart Neville, I purchased the audio version of The Ghosts of Belfast with my fingers crossed. I loved it and bought the audio version of Collusion the day it came out. I have told everyone who walks or crawls within shouting distance of me that they must buy your books. But I haven't purchased Stolen Souls yet because I can't afford to at this time. I would love to have the first two books on my Nook as well, but the same applies: I can't spend $9.99 for ebooks right now.

I am, we all are--readers, writers--doing the best we can with what we have. I do not think you should get only pennies for your work; in my dream world, brilliant writers such as you would earn the stratosphere money that James Patterson does. Waiting for a discounted price or a coupon to purchase a digital book, however, doesn't mean I expect free chocolate cookies and I am saddened by the comparison.

michael said...

As someone who has written professionally (critic for newspapers, screenwriter with two sold scripts that never were filmed), I can't help remembering the advice I got when entering the writing field, if you want to make money get a job, if you have to write do it because you have to and expect to be poor.

The point that seems to get ignored in these discussions is "supply and demand." Writers are not paid by the hour or how much of their life is in the book, readers pay based on how much they want to read the story.

As a reader I have no set limit. The agency model is a source of my wrath at times as it traps some first time writer's work at $12.99 (more than I am willing to spend on a writer whose work is unknown to me) and often traps a e-book at a higher price than the paperback.

Price has always been a factor. Even in the ancient times of print only, I bought hardcovers and trade format new releases for one or two authors, the rest I got from the bargain bin, mass market paperbacks, and used books. $15 then was too much for me to spend on most books. E-books have not changed that. Instead I now can afford new releases and more books.

I buy a book because I want to be informed or entertained, not to support the lifestyle of the writer or publisher. There is too much talent out there for me to read every book I want, so price becomes a factor. And as I watch the prices of a book bounce all around, I wait for it to reach the price I am willing to pay for that book.

Stuart Neville said...

Darlynne-

First of all, thank you for your kind words about Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion. I appreciate your support.

The chocolate cookie comparison was specifically in reference to those who feel they have an entitlement to illegally download pirated music and movies and resent anyone trying to prevent the distribution of same.

An example from this week - a bestselling Spanish author named Lucia Etxebarria announced that she was giving up writing for the foreseeable future because more of her books were being illegally downloaded than legitimately purchased, and she could no longer afford to work without payment. She made the announcement via Facebook and was met with a torrent of abuse from downloaders, berating her for feeling they should pay to read her books. One of the responses was along the lines of (and I'm broadly paraphrasing here): writing is a vocation, and if you were a true artist, you'd write for free.

It's that kind of attitude I'm making the cookie reference to, and I stand by it. Pricing for legal downloads is another matter entirely.

I, like most traditionally published authors, have no say in the pricing of my books, digital or otherwise. My US publisher, Soho Press, is an independent company working out of a small office. They price the books as competitively as they can, but there are inherent costs in producing them, whatever the format. The difference between the retail prices of the Kindle and hardcover editions is $16.00; the Kindle edition is priced at slightly more than a third of the hardcover, 38.4% of its price, to be exact. I think that's a fair drop in price for something that certainly doesn't cost $16.00 less to produce.

If someone simply can't afford $9.99, then that's yet another matter. There are a number of options, first among which is to borrow the book from a library (though I understand not everyone has a library branch within a reasonable travelling distance). Another option is to wait until the price comes down, as it will when the paperback edition becomes available. Higher prices for new releases are the norm for DVDs, music, video games and so on, and I think it's fair that books be treated similarly. The Ghosts of Belfast has been priced as low as $3.49, and I'm happy for that kind of promotion to bring in new readers.

The specific thing that bothers me is tagging of books on Amazon with phrases like "$9.99 boycott". The word "boycott" implies protest, and that in turn implies that pricing a newly published e-book at $9.99 is somehow unfair. Which I don't think it is.

lil Gluckstern said...

As a reader with a limited budget for books, I tend to buy the books of writers whose blogs I read. This is a weird notion that I support those writers who give of themselves in their blogs, and share some the exigencies of their lives. I usually buy print, but since I'm running out of space, I try to wait for the ebook. I may be fortunate to be able to do this, but I love my books, and I do use the library as well, because I can't buy everything I want to read. Does this all make sense? I also think that having a picture of an adorable child or two warms this grandma's heart. So what's next-rent a kid-feeble joke there. I expect to pay and just have to dance. I don't buy the powerhouses; they don't need me.

Andrew said...

Agree so much with what Stuart is saying, especially the way people differentiate between the money they spend online and offline.

Nobody would think twice about a tenner if they're in bar, a couple of pints (and we all know where they end up) doesn't cost people a thought, yet ask them to spend €10 online and it's as if you've added on a few zeroes at the end. And that goes for everything, not just ebooks

There's an expectation of cheapness, if not freeness, on the internet from films to music and as books move more into this domain they're going to be swallowed up by it too.

Fully agree that the digital versions should be cheaper but from recent experience I know that if people perceive value in the book they'll pay for it. It's trying to build that sense of value that's going to be the toughest part for authors, I think.

One of our books was number 1 on Kindle in its category against books produced by big publishers - and in some cases available at very low prices - but because we had the audience for it, it worked out well.

The idea of piracy is really scary though. I had a number of complaints that I wasn't making a PDF version available and that somehow I was in the wrong for making sure my books were protected with DRM. It's like asking you to leave your keys in the ignition and hope nobody steals your car.

So far it seems the ebook world hasn't been exposed to the level of piracy that music and films suffer and I really hope that doesn't happen.

Dalrynne - "I cannot lend a digital book (one of the surest ways to introduce readers to authors)"

Kindle allows you to do this but obviously if you're using a different device it's an issue.

michael said...

Andrew, perhaps this YouTube video with Neil Gaiman will relax some of your fears over piracy. If I mess up the link it is under the title "Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qkyt1wXNll&list=PL7B0EDBCD0F974E6E&index=2&feature=plpp_video

Andrew said...

Thanks, Michael, I'll take a look at that when I can.

Maxine said...

Sorry, I have not read all the comments so may be repeating others' points:

The print distribution costs are about 20 per cent of total, hence a reasonable price for an e-book (distribution costs almost zero) is 20 per cent less than print.

In the UK, e-books are subject to VAT (unlike print), as are audio books. this is 20 per cent that someone has to pay (author, reader, publisher, bookseller).

I think it is plain stupid to think that "e is free". It is much harder to produce e-format than print - for a host of reasons. As well as that, many of the costs of publishing are fixed, irrespective of distribution.


As a keen reader I am happy to pay what it takes to read a book I want to read, as books are much cheaper than the cinema, theatre or opera, whatever the format. I prefer to read the print format so will pay for that. However, if a book is only available in e-format, or is one I want to read anyway but is on special offer, I might go for it. But, my main point is, books are cheap for the reader-value one gets out of them, whatever the format. Filtering by the publisher is worth a lot. I don't think a free or cheap e-book is worth it if it is bad (read self-published in many cases). I am happy to pay for this filtering.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I too have no choice in my book pricing, neither hard copy nor eBook, but I've taken some flak for it. My response is generally that an entire novel should not be the price of a single three minute song. (not to degrade what bands do at all, but it grates that people expect it).

If a book or story is for promotional purposes, I'd rather go free. For example, I was just in a free anthology which has had 5ooo downloads in its first month on a single platform. It was purely for promotional efforts. We believe it's translating into sales already.

Also, people wonder why I don't self pub to control the pricing. Well, it takes a lot of specialists to get a book put together, and my strength is writing, not managing or trying to beat my own learning curve.

Never say never on self-publishing, but I'll likely start very small if I do.

Darlynne said...

Stuart, I have to confess that I composed letters to you after reading each of your books, but never sent them because the fan-girl squeeing was too much even for me. I need to find a more mature way to say "your writing rocks."

Thank you for restating your position about cookies and entitlement; if I had read the original article and subsequent comments with fewer ruffled feathers, I might have made a more accurate connection.

Pirating is beneath contempt and I don't agree with readers who rate books poorly because of pricing; any sane person knows authors have no control over that. On the other hand, I do understand the ire directed at publishers when the price for a format we cannot completely own is as high as or, in the case of Ken Follett's book last year, higher than the hard cover; when the agency model won't allow the use of a discount coupon for digital titles; when geographic restrictions price digital books higher still.

Unfortunately, authors have a much more public face than publishers, and you bear the brunt of that ire. It is neither fair nor right. It is, sadly, one of the realities of the internet and those tags do get everyone's attention, they are most definitely a form of protest, however misplaced.

The $9.99 price isn't unreasonable, but it is more than a typical mass market paperback here. The format of a digital book stays the same whether the physical book is a newly-published hard cover or a glossy paperback. Buyers of those formats get something different for the price they pay, digital buyers do not, nor do they have the same rights of ownership. The issue, then, seems to be one of timing
--do readers want to pay more to have the digital book now or wait until the price comes down?

Let me put my fan-girl hat back on for a moment (sorry, it takes a while to adjust all the bells). Your books are priceless to me and I will continue to buy them as and when I can. They are worth every penny, sou, pfennig and pre-Euro currency I can think of to buy them, within my budget. My frustrations with the digital publishing industry in no way diminish my respect, which is boundless, for your work.

seana said...

This is a great discussion intelligently presented on all sides. I'm not going to weigh in, because on the one hand I work in a bookstore, that still tries to stay afloat as a bookstore, though with increasing dependence on the higher mark up sidelines, and on the other I just had a story published in an ebook, which is being sold for, you guessed it, 4.99. So there's a case of conflicted loyalties there.

But I did want to say that business is booming this holiday season, and I think it's because when you want to buy someone a meaningful gift, apart from buying them some sort of device, you are still stuck getting them a physical book. I expect this will change over time, and then we'll see, but for now, the holidays are great for brick and mortar stores. We're all a little surprised, frankly.
But

seana said...

I don't know what the 'But' was for. Maybe I meant to add, 'But happy.'

Lrakyawnoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lrakyawnoc said...

I'd happily pay more for an e-book if I knew I was also getting the physical book in the bargain (and in some ways, vice versa). Maybe this is just the vinyl shopper in me, but in the music world it's become increasingly prevalent for (at least) indie labels to give an mp3 download code along with the physical vinyl. So you can put the record on at home and also stick it on your mp3 player easily (instead of manually recording the vinyl to computer and laboriously cutting up the tracks etc etc.)

Book-wise, I'd like to be able to read the physical book at home, have it on the shelf with other books I own and love (for somewhat vain reasons as well), and also have the option to have it in an e-reader for when I'm out and about, travelling etc. and don't want to carry a book but will be carrying a phone/tablet/e-reader for when I'm in the mood.

Until that happens, I think I will simply not buy many e-books - what would I show the grandkids? A hard disc folder? I doubt it.

Declan Burke said...

Thanks, one and all, for the thoughtful and measured responses. Plenty of food for thought there.

Michael - if I could respond to what might have been an unfortunate slip, when you say you're not interested in supporting a writer's 'lifestyle'.

As I say in the post, I work full-time; if I want to write, then I have to get up at 5am in the morning, and write until 7am, when the rest of house starts to get up.

I'm not playing the wounded soldier here; I'm saying that because the majority of writers out there, and particularly those who are e-publishing, are in a very similar position to me.

Earning actual money from my writing is part of a circle. The more I earn from writing, the more time I get to write. The more I write, the better my books get, and the more enjoyable they become for the reader. And on it goes.

I don't have a 'lifestyle'; I have bills.

Ultimately, though, the point of this post is me asserting that my work has a certain value. And while readers are perfectly entitled, for a variety of reasons, to say that there is a price above which they won't go, I'm equally entitled to say there's a price below I won't go.

Strip away all the nonsense that can surround writing at times, and you're left with a job of work. A job of craft, similar to that provided by a chef, a mechanic, a baker, a carpenter, etc. Those trades are entitled to be paid their due for the service they provide. It's no different for writers.

Cheers, Dec

Donna said...

Since I was made redundant earlier this year and am now a poor student again, my book buying has been severely curtailed. However, I am still prepared to pay decent money for eBooks I really want, just as I am to pay decent money for print books I really want. I just have to buy less of them.

I wouldn't expect to pay 79p for a new print book, so why should I expect all ebooks to be that price? Of course, it's lovely when they are, and I can find a new author whose books I may end up loving - but then I'll go out and buy the back catalogue at whatever price they may be. I have also rued the 79p I paid for a couple of ebooks when I first got my kindle. I'd rather pay £10 for a great read than 79p for a shite one.

With both print and e versions, I wish the author got more of the money, though.

My one problem with ebooks is that it is more difficult to share the goodness. When I moderate a panel at CrimeFest, I always buy a copy of one of the books by every author on the panel to give away as a prize at the end of the panel (just my way of saying thank you to some of my favourite authors and people for agreeing to subject themselves to my moderation). If I have an ebook only author on my panel this year, how am I going to do that easily? And, if there is a solution, who's to say that the person who wins the prize has an ebook?

As Lrakyawnoc (now, why couldn't you have been called Mary? It took me ages to get that right and I'm still not sure I have!) said, the music world does this really well. I recently put in an order for the new live Killing Joke album. There are a number of different options and costs for vinyl, CD and DVD versions (up to a guitar customised by Geordie), all of which come with a digital download and promised access to other goodies. Some ebook publishers are wise to this idea. The lovely Blasted Heath have their Blasted Box Set, which comes with a USB stick and a lovely presentation box so you can give it as a gift and you still have something to wrap up.

Dec - whatever you decide to charge, I will still pay. Although - she says gloatingly - I still have my print version first edition of Eight Ball Boogie that I bought when it first came out :o)

Stuart Neville said...

Darlynne -

Thanks again for your kind words. Knowing that someone enjoys the books so much makes it all worthwhile.

If you get a moment, could you drop me an email at info@stuartneville.com?

Charlieopera said...

Great post, Declan. I also work full-time and am going to school and trying to write my way back into the threatre (where I started). Not so easy to promote ebooks with the zero free time I have left. I also put the books I retained rights to in ebook format (used a professional to do the formatting, etc.) and my sales are about 8 per month (total) ... move over, Bill Gates. I’ve accepted my lot in the writing life and focus on writing what I want and trying new things. I work for a living, end of story. Should I hit the new american dream some day (the lottery), I supposed I’d have the time to promote and read the million friggin’ kindle emails on promoting but the truth is I wouldn’t. Not because I don’t want to sell ... but because it’s too damn much work (I suspect).

I hope to buy back my books 5 and 6 someday but the thought of having to deal with that particular publisher makes my skin crawl. I suppose I’ll give it a shot in another few years ... maybe sooner. There’s too much living to do before swallowing that particular undigestible meal.

I’m happy where I am with crime fiction (my publisher). I make no money ... ever ... I lose on every new effort (mostly because I continue to insist on having a professional editor do the work before I send a book to my agent--never mind my publisher--all out of pocket), but like I said, it’s not about the money (always the romantic, I guess).

- Charlie

Mark Billingham said...

Great article, Dec. I could not agree more with Stuart's comments, most notably about the sense of entitlement. One of the problems, I think, is that many readers vastly ove-estimate how expensive the packaging/distribution of a conventional book is. The majority of a book's costs are down to other things, most notably of course what the publisher has paid to the author for writing it, and the publishers do tend to try and get that money back! This leads to the assumption that e-books can be given away for next to nothing and what makes this even more complex is that certain e-book retailers undercut by reducing the price of an author's paperback backlist to make their e-books seem overpriced. They cannot cut the price of e-books that are subject to the Agency Model, so cut the backlist price instead, which makes publishers and authors look greedy. This suits the e-book sellers of course, who are only really interested in selling e-readers!

I recently received an email from a reader complaining that one of my e-books was more expensive (see above for reason why) than its equivalent paperback and moaning about having to pay so much for something as "ephemeral as the words". Well, excuse me but the words ARE the book, and if they have taken me a year to write I am not going to give them away for less than it costs to buy a cup of coffee.

And we should remember that books in this part of the world are seriously bloody cheap. try buying a book in Scandinavia or South Africa or Australia. I've got nothing against a degree of discounting or against readers shopping around for a good deal, but there WILL come a point when we have devalued books too much. Some might say we've reached that point already.

mimi pompom said...

Totally agree with this post. Writers should not as you have succinctly pt it'be happily collaborating in a race to the bottom on price.'

I refused when my publisher suggested selling my books for 99p for a trial period, as the real value of a book is the work that has gone into it.

I think readers will eventually realise that you get what you pay for. And if a book is selling for £1.99, you have to ask yourself why.

Anonymous said...

as a reader, I don't feel a sense of entitlement at all. I will gladly pay for books that I really, really want to read and I've paid more than $9.99 for ebooks and especially from Soho Press as I think they publish excellent crime fiction. I think the pricing of new authors/unknown writers at high prices make me pause I must admit. I think publishers should offer an temporary introductory price on the digital version and then "hook" me to read the rest (if there is a rest). Otherwise, I can use my library and have done so for debut writers. Established writers- I will gladly pay whatever even if I do bitch and moan at the price. There are some authors I auto-buy without caring at all for the price.

K.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those folks who complains about ebook pricing. Maybe I can shed some light on what you call a sense of entitlement. I love to read. I value books and especially good writers and their works. I am willing to pay for them. But when I see printed, bound books selling routinely for 40% off the list price and I'm expected to pay significantly more for a file, I strongly object. I won't even own the book. I just get the right to read it. I can't sell it, and almost always can't even loan it. There is no way you will ever be able to convince me that the cost can possibly be the same as the cost of printing, binding, boxing, shipping and retailing the book. Hence the debate. However, I don't have the impression that the author is getting the profit. It seems the publisher is setting the price of the ebook and reaping the rewards. This is the issue. If I got a copy of the physical book as well as the file, I might feel differently. Or if I actually owned the ebook file and could sell and share it as I can the physical book, I might also feel differently. But since I don't, I feel ripped off. I don't have a specific price I won't pay, but I do expect to pay substantially less for an ebook than I pay for the same phyiscal book. Lesser known authors do have the ability to self publish and gain an audience, and unfortunately that is a price driven market. I will say that I've found various authors this way that I would not have otherwise found and I will happily pay for the subsequent books, even if the first was free. I also often buy from samples. However, I'm less likely to pay as much for an unknown author until I've bought and enjoyed several books, and feel that the author is writing work that I can expect to enjoy.