The pricing of ebooks

I’ve been hooked on ebooks since getting my first Kindle about six months ago. I love the convenience of carrying a whole library around in a device that weighs less than a novella. I love the fact that I can slip the Kindle into my very small shoulder bag and have something to read while I wait for a bus, stand in a queue or have a quick cup of coffee. I also love the fact that I can adjust the font size and read without my reading glasses [which I hate].

Yet convenience and portability alone would not be enough to keep me attached to my Kindle. The thing that really keeps me addicted is the price of the books that I can now read.

In my pre-Kindle days I would ration my reading to authors I knew because the price of books was so ridiculously high. $30 AUD for a book is a lot for someone who can devour two books a week. So I read far fewer books. And the big six traditional publishers are fairly and squarely to blame. Their greed has literally priced print books beyond the reach of all but the most die-hard readers. If they are in trouble now then they have only themselves to blame.

I have no deep, philosophical problem with the idea of profit but I do resent the kind of profit taking that goes hand in hand with price gouging. Not only is it greedy, price gouging is also rather stupid in the long term. Why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? Or in this case both the goose and the goslings. Not only are millions of readers being ripped off but so are most authors.

In an environment where only the middlemen [the publishers and the retailers] reap the benefits something always has to give. Borders and Angus & Robertson have already foundered and the big six publishers will be next because demand is no longer matching supply. Readers are demanding access to books at a fair price and the ebook revolution is giving it to them.

Yet even now the big six publishers are trying to milk readers of their hard earned dollars by pricing ebooks at a ridiculous level. Why would any reader pay $20 for a brand new ebook when the paperback version can often be found at a cheaper price?

Think about it. The author gets the same tiny royalty whether their work is printed or digital but the publisher gets a whole lot more for a digital sale* than they would for the print sale because publishing an ebook costs next to nothing! No paper, no printing costs, no  storage costs, no transportation costs, no cost of returns when a title doesn’t sell.

Traditionally these are all the costs that publishers have cited for the high price of print books. Now they are saying that printing is just a tiny cost and that it is the ‘other’ costs that make ebooks expensive. ‘Other’ costs?  Such as? Well, apparently manuscripts have to be converted to a whole range of different e-formats and that’s expensive. Really?

Having talked to a lot of indie authors my reaction to ‘conversion costs’ is : BULLSHIT! Indies do conversions every day with far smaller budgets and yet they can afford to price their work at anything from 0.99c to the standard of $2.99! I’ll talk about quality later in this post.

Then the publishers cite the cost of marketing. Now to most readers this would sound like a fair cost because they do not know that only a tiny percentage of A-list authors get any marketing at all! These are the authors who are most likely to produce best sellers. Every other author must do their own marketing. If they can. Just like indie authors. There is one huge difference though. When an indie author makes a sale he or she keeps most of the profits. When a mid-list author makes a sale they still only receive a miserly royalty payment.

And now to the question of indie quality vs traditional quality. As a reader I can testify to reading some real stinkers from indie authors. Quite frankly there are a lot of snake-oil authors out there who dash something off in a month and slap it onto Amazon in the hope of getting rich from the gullibility of readers. There are also many dedicated authors who try their hardest but can’t afford a professional editor to massage their stories into shape. And then there are the wunderkind, indie authors who spend years writing their books, self-edit, get beta readers, self-edit again, scrimp and save to hire professional editors; all so that they can put their name to something good.

Yet these wonderful books are still priced at $2.99.

Since starting this blog and getting my Kindle I have discovered true gems amongst the indie offerings. These are books that old time publishers would have recognized as worth publishing. They are books that I would have bought even at a higher price because they are so damn good. Yet neither they, nor their authors are getting the recognition they deserve. Part of the reason for that is that these authors are not snake-oil salesmen. They do their marketing but they have integrity so they don’t ‘hard sell’. They don’t spam Twitter and Facebook and all the other social media sites with their advertising. They are genuine people who are dedicated to just one thing – writing.

So, the next time you’re looking for an ebook to read why not spend a little time and effort investigating the indie offerings. You can’t miss them. They’re the ones for $2.99 instead of  $20. Even if you buy six of them for a total cost of $17.94 and enjoy only one you  are still saving yourself $2.06. That’s almost the price of another book!

As a voracious reader on a budget I’m going to be spending 90% of my reading dollars on indie books. I’ll also be sticking pins into voodoo dolls named after the big six publishers. I really, really hate being ripped off!

cheers

Meeks

* Apparently the big six publishers and Apple have been colluding in some price fixing by setting the price of ebooks themselves instead of allowing retailers to set the price. Given the legal controversy now raging over this price fixing I hope that things will change back to the wholesale model soon. At least the wholesale model had some relevance to supply and demand.

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

49 responses to “The pricing of ebooks

  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    My brother bought a Kindle Fire and I have yet to read a single book on it. They’ve been confiscated by my children. 😦

    But, back on topic, your point is well-made, but…

    For many indie writers, selling books at 99 cents to $2.99 is not profitable, let alone enough to actually make a living writing.

    While the same could be said for authors getting so little (in comparison to traditional publishers and distributors (which take their own fairly huge chunk out of gross earnings)), that just goes to show that neither model really works for both the writers and the readers.

    I would say that, in today’s economy, $5.99 to $9.99 is a fair price for a novel, with $5.99 being the e-book price and $9.99 being the paperback price. Maybe push it up to $15.99 for hardcover.

    In the US, where I live, I remember being able to buy a regular-sized candy bar for 49 cents. At that time, I could buy a paperback for about $2.99. When candy bars went up to 99 cents, I could get a paperback for $5.99. Now that candy bars are up to $1.29, I have to spend around $9.99 for a new paperback–more if it’s an epic. That’s not gouging. That’s inflation.

    It is my personal belief that a reasonably good writer with a reasonably good following who is reasonably well-established should be able to make a living, and support a family, with their writing. I’m not saying it should make ’em rich–that should be reserved for the bestsellers–but it should provide them with a decent middle-class income, at least in developed countries.

    Admittedly, $20 for an e-book–any e-book–is outrageous and is definitely gouging.

    (Sidenote: Non-fiction is a completely different market with different pricing for different reasons.)

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    • acflory

      I absolutely agree with the price range you advocate! That would be a fair split between the 3 types of books. Unfortunately it won’t happen overnight as indie authors are all either scared of pricing their work higher for fear no-one will ever buy or, they’re hoping the low prices will act as a form of marketing. Loss leader? Sorry I’m not sure if that’s the correct term for it.

      Either way the myth of overnight success is just that – a myth. In the current model I fear that even good writers will have to wait for years to be recognized enough to make a decent living. 😦

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      • Stephanie Allen Crist

        See, here’s the thing. “Indie authors” is a notorious (in my humble opinion) term that seems to (with MANY exceptions) apply to writers who are too focused on something (it varies) to find balance between art, craft, and business.

        Even the name, “indie authors,” seems intent to bely the fact that self-publication can be run as a successful business, with the same basic precepts of business–namely, it takes time to make a profit, planning and marketing are essential, and you have to understand the marketplace to succeed unless you are really “stupid” lucky. Instead, it seems more like an identity that goes something like: “The system didn’t work for us, so we’re bucking the system! 😛 )

        Low leading prices are not, nor will they ever be, an effective marketing strategy for independent authors. The concept you are referring to (which goes by a few different names, including loss leader) involves a BIG company cornering a market by dropping prices so low the company takes a BIG but TEMPORARY loss to drive competition out of business, and then RAISES prices higher than the market would otherwise bear (before their competition went out of business) to make up for the previous losses.

        This might be too American of a reference, but think Wal-Mart; translation, big box store drops prices ridiculously low on a wide swathe of products, drives mom-and-pop shops out of business, then raises prices and sending the profits out of the community, because they pay their employees pittance.

        It’s a very aggressive form of “marketing” and cannot work in this particular marketplace. Besides, in my opinion it’s unethical. The ONLY company that stands a chance of doing that sort of thing is Amazon, and they did other (more ethical) things to ensured they “cornered” the market while still leaving their competition hanging on by their fingernails.

        Indie pricing seems more like people wanting to publish, but either lacking the confidence, the knowledge, the platform, and/or the quality to demand a viable price. Unfortunately, a LOT of readers assume it’s the quality that’s lacking, and often they’re right.

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        • acflory

          I admit that there is an element of ‘bucking the system’ in how I think of indies but I now know a great number of extremely good writers who are indie and do take the marketing and business side of things very seriously. One of them, Rachel Abbott, started as an indie, did a great job of marketing and is now very successful. I should also say that her book was very well written so she covered all sides of the trinity. Nonetheless there is still an element of luck involved.

          Ah apologies, I didn’t understand the true meaning of ‘loss leader’ and you’re right, it can’t possibly apply to indie authors. I must say I rather agree with you about the pricing however having the courage to say ‘my book is worth more’ feels me with trepidation. In any market a product is only worth what the market is prepared to pay for it and for indies that seems to be 2.99 – 3.99. 😦

          Like

          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            As I said, there are MANY exceptions to the sweeping generalization I made; the problem is that, when pondering “indie authors” those exceptions don’t stand out enough against the mass of writers that fit the description.

            Part of the problem is that the marketplace is in-flux. Part of the problem is that there are too few people within the “indie author” club who are willing to buck the new system and say, “My book is worth more than theirs.”

            After all, that sounds really arrogant, but for people like Rachel Abbot and for others who are producing quality books and have the platforms to support them, it’s the simple truth. Their books are worth more.

            To a certain extent, we have to wait for time to fix the system. Other than that, there needs to be those brave few who are willing to stand up and assert their worth.

            Like

          • acflory

            It’s definitely a thorny problem. I know that as a reader I’m in two minds about price. On the one hand I’m starting to use price to help me if I’m just browsing Amazon – i.e. I look for ebooks priced up to $5 on the assumption that maybe these books /are/ asserting their quality. On the otherhand my mouse does linger over the buy button when I’ve never heard of the author and I’m about to spend say $5 on a pig in a poke.

            I guess your comment about platform is the key : if you have a platform of supporters to begin with and do your promotions well then perhaps you can afford to assert the quality of your work.

            Like

          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Platform is the key there. If you’re just browsing, well then it’s all about price/cover/synopsis and that’s all you have to work with. But if you reach people with a trailer and they’re actually looking for your book, then they’re less likely to hesitate because it’s $5 instead of $2.99 or 99 cents.

            The trick is to get people to look for your book.

            Like

          • acflory

            I have to agree with you on the pricing. I just recently found out that Mark Beyer [a very good indie author] has a new book out. On the strength of the first book I bought the second at about $5 without any hesitation.

            Like

          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            🙂 A good book is worth it!

            Like

  • johnlmalone

    LOL. I know my daughter has bought a kindle because she owes so many overdue fines she doesn’t dare put her face in a library for the foreseeable future 🙂

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  • johnlmalone

    a terrific blog — and yes I did read it all; you’ve almost converted me to buying a kindle — except I’ve been using the public library system for so long that I don’t feel the need to. And yet …..

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  • Candy

    It took me a while to work my way up to the Kindle. I got mine a year ago and there’s no looking back. I love it! I’m reading more. I’m reading a wider range of genres. And I’m having fun giving tons of indie writers a chance.

    My mom — a voracious reader and bargain hunter — used to buy cheap reader’s proofs that she found in the basement of the famous Strand Bookstore in NYC. She goes through mysteries and related genres faster than anyone I’ve ever met, so it’s not just about being cheap. Anyway, mom’s eye sight is getting bad and the Kindle has made it possible for her to keep reading AND to keep bargain hunting.

    She loves it!

    She may even love it more than I do and that’s amazing. The pricing on the books she reads and the ones I read are definitely a factor. Yes, I’ve bought some of the big or important or best selling ebooks put out by conventional publishers at pricing between 9 and 16 U.S. dollars, but most of what I’m reading is in the $3.99 and under category. Pricing does matter when you’re shopping for books. I hope the big publishers take note and realize that there’s formidable competition in the lower price range.

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    • acflory

      I believe the big six are aware of the competition between ebooks and print but I doubt that they take indies very seriously. Yet.

      We still have a lot of work to do to establish ourselves as a viable alternative but it is happening because price really does matter.

      I just hope that the market eventually balances out at a price that is attractive to readers but also gives authors a ‘living wage’. I’m guessing somewhere between $5 and $10.

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  • medmcn

    While I agree with the previous comment that many “indie writers will have to view their income from the books as a nice little bonus,” the thing that often gets overlooked is the same is equally true of traditionally published authors, the vast majority of whom earn income from their writing a heck of a lot more on par with an Indie than they do with King or Rowling. Being a Trad Published author is by no means finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and the more author start to realize it, the more decide to go Indie. 😉

    (Oh, and thanks for the cover post up there, Meeka) 🙂

    Like

    • Ilil Arbel

      I completely agree. Having published both ways, I can assure you that it is also a nice little bonus unless you are one of the “alpha” authors the trads support. I referred only to the indies because that was the main area of the discussion. These days, you stand more chance of publishing with the indies since they trads are cutting down anyway. Just don’t expect a huge income unless you are very lucky and a great marketer.

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      • medmcn

        True that, Ilil, and I actually meant “Indie” publishing as “on your own,” not “Indie publishers” being the non-Big-6 houses (though I know those houses had the name “Indies” first) 😉

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      • acflory

        -sigh- I’m aware of the fact that none of us are going to be become rich either way but that was never my goal. -cough- Ok that last bit was a teeny weeny lie as I would love to become rich! Not going to happen though. Not unless a great deal changes both in the traditional side of the industry and on our side as well. We have to change the perception of indie = crap but that will take time. Till then we have to soldier on.

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        • medmcn

          The thing about that is, I really don’t think the “Indie = crap” feeling is nearly as strong, or really exists at all, beyond the subset of readers who actually spend a lot of time on blogs and boards that deal with all this sort of stuff. Let’s face it, the average reader couldn’t name a single one of the Big 6 publishers, and has no idea who their favorite author is published by. That sort of thing is so much a part of a writer’s day-to-day that I think we tend to forget it doesn’t make a lick of difference to the “average” person, who doesn’t care a thing about any book beyond whether or not they happened to like it. 😉

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          • acflory

            Mmm… you have a point there Ed. Before I started looking into the whole indie vs traditional publishing situation seven months ago I didn’t care who published my favourite books either. However I did share the bias against ‘vanity publishing’ and I know that most of the other readers in my circle of family and friends still only read ‘real’ books so I know the bias is still there. 😦

            I guess the reality is that there have always been many different kinds of readers – those who only read literary books, those who only read one particular kind of genre, those who want only entertainment, those who only read best-sellers… The list goes on and on.

            Do you have any stats as to who is buying what? From the little I’ve read it seems as if habitual readers are still gravitating towards the traditional side of ebook publishing. They are the ones I’d like to convert to the indie movement.

            Like

          • Ilil Arbel

            The stigma of indie is GONE. I have proof. The Authors Guild has voted to accept indies if they make a certain income. I don’t like their criteria — but that does not change the fact that the indies are now an accepted fact. No one cares who publishes waht.

            Like

          • acflory

            I sometimes think we indies have created our own digital ghetto by pricing books so low. It would be an interesting experiment to see if any of us could sell something if we priced it at $14.99?

            Like

          • medmcn

            I think the ereading devices have made all the difference in the world, as while there always was (often rightly) a bias against Vanity publishing, a lot of the reason for that was as simple as you couldn;t even find those books in a regular store, and they were often printed on substandard quality paper, badly bound, etc.
            With ebooks, those distinctions are gone. All books are on the same “virtual” shelf space at Amazon and elsewhere, and there is no reason why the fomratting, editing, etc of an Indie book can’t be every bit as good as that of a Trad book. At that point, all that matters is the quality of the writing within. And sure, while a lot of Indies are totally subject to criticism on that score, being “trad” is hardly a guarantee of finding quality writing these days, either. Nobody is giving the cast of the Jersey Shore book deals in the earnest belief that they have something important to say as authors. 😉

            Like

          • acflory

            I totally agree Ed. The first few times I found fairly obvious typos in traditionally published books [by favourite authors no less] I thought it was just a glitch in a print run or something. Now when I read trad. books I play spot the typo and almost always win. As for content….-rolls eyes-

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    • acflory

      You’re welcome Ed.:) And yes, I was thinking of those mid-listers while I wrote the post. I’ve been planning to go indie for quite some time now but it wasn’t until I wrote that post that I realised I actually /wanted/ to go indie. The kudos of having a book with a publisher’s imprint on it no longer outweighs the sense of being ripped off.

      The business model has to change and only indies [and the public] can force the change into happening. Vive la revolution!

      Like

  • Ilil Arbel

    Okay, much of it is true, but there are some misconceptions here. First, in America, you can get the hardcovers/softcovers for peanuts if you wait a few months, since the used books from sellers online can often be had for a fraction of the cost.

    Second, the indie authors who sell from 0.99-2.99 dollars don’t do it because they can afford it, since they can’t have a real income for these prices. They simply have no choice because the competition is so stiff, so they have to sell the books for less than they deserve. The market is avalanched by trash — and the blurb or review is often misleading. I bought many books that were described as pure genius by adoring friends and relations who post glowing reviews on Amazon, only to be bored out of my wits after page 5. Don’t misunderstand me — I like the fact that everyone can publish. — but I wish people had enough self respect to know that they might be highly talented in many areas, but they can’t really write. I won’t hold a dance recital and charge admittance for it just because thirty years ago I studied ballet as an afternoon elective in school. I would leave ballet to the professionals. Why does everyone thinks he or she can be a writer beats me.

    But as I said above, much of what Acflory is saying is correct. In the U.S., the Big Six are indeed tottering on the brink, they have made major mistakes and they are paying for it. The indie market is winning, and some major authors are joining it because they can make big money in that market. But they will continue to be the only ones who really make money. The rest of the indie writers will have to view their income from the books as a nice little bonus, but no more.

    And by the way, plenty of classics are free of charge. That is my favorite part of the whole thing…

    Like

    • acflory

      You’re right Ilil, the situation is a lot more complex than it appears but I was doing some research on the pricing of ebooks and I realised that many early adopters of ebooks and ereaders are paying those outrageous prices because they lack our understanding of the industry.

      -grin- I think I was hoping for some converts! So much for being non-evangelical huh?

      Like

      • Ilil Arbel

        I LOVE my Kindle… but naturally I won’t pay crazy prices. Truth is, my favorite reading is the classics anyway, and guess what… when I got an incredibly good complete Dickens edition, beautifully done, every single word the man wrote including obscure things I never heard of, and they charged me $2.99 cents for the whole thing, well… you can imagine my smiling face. Then came all of Trollope for the same price. The rest is history.

        Like

        • acflory

          You’d pay a small fortune for something like that in print!
          I still love my personal library of print books but I really do appreciate not having to dust the ones that are on my Kindle. 😀

          Like

  • metan

    Agreed! The high price of mainstream ebooks drives me mad, much like the cost of audiobooks. These things are only made once and then copied endlessly. It is not like paper books that have actual production/supply costs for every item.

    If they were more affordable we would buy far more of them, and as you said, indie books are much better value for money. I love my kindle and although I have grumpily paid full price for my old favourites, it is stuffed full of cheap or free books.

    I expect that I will not get a chance to read them for ages but if the blurb suck me in I will buy it, and then one day (if I ever get spare time!) they will be there. I never feel ripped off.

    Like

    • acflory

      Exactly! The more I learn about the whole publishing game as it stands at the moment the less I want to be part of it, well of the traditional side anyway. 😀

      Like

      • metan

        Maybe one of your overseas readers can tell us how much an average new release paper book is in their country? I would be interested to know what the price differences around the world are.
        I wanted to buy the Dune audiobook recently (no time to read it for Dune in June!) only to find it was ridiculously expensive here and considerably cheaper in the US.

        Like

        • acflory

          I buy most of /my/ books from either Amazon or Booktopia [aussie online bookstore] and the postage is always what bumps the price up.

          I remember reading somewhere, somewhen that aussie book prices are far higher than those overseas because we are such a small market and because the cost of shipping is so expensive.

          I’m pretty sure we’re paying around the $30 AUD here for brand new releases. If we say the AUD and USD are at parity then that would be close to $30 US as well.

          Anyone from the US or the UK have some current figures?

          Like

  • lorddavidprosser

    Well thought out and presented. You’ve done the cause of authors a lot of good. Maybe the big six will finally start to see sense and pick up more indie authors, start sharing their promotional skills with them and put more books on the shelves or kindle at a reasonable cost wthout ripping off the readers or the authors.

    Like

    • acflory

      To be honest Daud I’m hoping that the Big Six don’t. If they started picking up indie authors /now/ we’d be in the same horrible boat as those writers who get their books on shelves but earn a pittance from royalties and still get no marketing support.

      The business model has to change in a big way. Until it does we really are better off as indies.

      Like

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