Today I learned that one of my favorite authors is coming out with a new title in a couple of weeks. This is the second book in a series I´ve wanted to read for a while, so I figured I´d go ahead and grab the first one and perhaps preorder the second. I was looking forward to this, since it´s been a while since I last read anything by this author.
I´ve should have expected what was to come. This is a traditionally published author, and ever since the big publishers got their way with Amazon a couple of years ago, their ebook prices has steadily increased. So I shouldn´t have been surprised when I saw the price tag: $8.99 for the first, and $19.01 (!) for the preorder.
Okay, this is a favorite of mine, after all, so I might have grumpily coughed up $8.99, but 19 bucks for an ebook? Heck no. Maybe in a few years, when the publisher has squeezed his most loyal readers (anybody see what´s wrong here?), and puts the title on sale, I might consider it. If I remember. If I still care. Unless I remember this and gets annoyed again.
There are so many wrongs here, I´ll have to pick them apart one by one.
First. Ebooks are cheap to produce. I get that producing a paper book is more expensive, and needs to be priced higher. I mean, I price my paper novels around $15, and make less than I do on an ebook priced at $3.99. And there are costs associated with ebooks as well, but this is an investment, meant to be producing an income for decades. Once the production costs, such as editing and cover design are covered, the cost of producing an additional ebook is marginal. So, the more savvy traditional publishers are pricing their ebooks at 6-8 bucks these days. And indies, whose business models generally rest upon ebooks, are selling theirs at 3-8 bucks. My novels are generally priced at $3.99, and I guess this is sort of a middle ground. I could have gone up a dollar or two, but I´m happy with $3.99, since it is a fair price to both parties; To the author, since it makes more than a paperback would have earned, and to the reader, who gets a book for less than a third of the paperback price. This is called a win-win situation, which is about as good as it gets.
Second. From the prices above it is obvious that the publisher is squeezing the most out of their most loyal readers. I hesitate to use the word fan, but I guess if a reader actually goes ahead and buys this book at $19 this is a true fan. Now, I wish I could ask the publisher: if you have this kind of true fans, why are you treating them this way??? These are the people you should treat the best, they should get the introductory offers, the special launch price. Instead, the publisher is greedily demanding they pay almost 20 bucks for an ebook! I know this may seem a normal price in some countries, such as here in Norway, but generally this kind of pricing is unheard of. An ebook generally cost between $3 – $10, with a segment as low as $1, and a few just above $10. A first-in-series book may be priced at $1 or even free, while the rest of the series is priced higher. This is a normal range, and most readers seem to have a limit at about $5-$6, depending on how well they know the author.
Third. Publishers are in business to make money. They can speak all they want about culture and art and whatnot, but at the end of the day they are businesses. When Amazon, another business trying to make money, tried to push prices down, the big publishers fought back. They wanted to set the prices (higher) themselves. Now, Amazon has more sales data than anyone on the planet, and their data suggested that lower prices not only sold more books, but made more money as well. These are two distinct issues, and should not be confused. As an indie, this is something I´m well aware of. Because of the royalty rates, I need to sell six books at $0.99 in order to make as much as I would at $2.99. But if I priced my books too high, I would´t sell anything. So everyone needs to find their balancing point.
But back to the publishers. Ever since they «won»the argument with Amazon, their prices have steadily increased, while their sales have dropped (In many cases the ebook edition is more expensive than the paperback!). This is the origin of the myth that says ebook sales are dropping. It isn´t. Ebook sales by the biggest publishers, who prices their books at 12, 15, 20 bucks (!) are dropping. Of course they are! And then, when publishers report this, the media (and let´s face it, these people aren´t always the sharpest pencils…) is all over it, writing stupid articles about how ebook sales are dropping, and that it was all a fad.
If you look at the smaller publishers, and the indies, who are making up a large and growing portion of the market, their ebook sales are increasing every month. Add to that the fact that industry statistics only count books with ISBNs, the «ebook sales are dropping» argument becomes even more invalid. A few ebook retailers still demand ISBNs, but the biggest one doesn´t! There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of titles out there without ISBNs, and some of them are bestsellers! It used to be that every book carried an ISBN, but that is simply not true anymore.
The real picture is this: Ebooks are selling more every months, but the big publishers are losing market shares. The reason, unless you already guessed: Ebook prices. They are, simply put, pricing themselves off the market. The reasoning may be what many are speculating, that this is a way to protect paper sales. I don´t know. It might be as simple as a combination of greed and ignorance (which is what I believe). The fact remains though, readers won´t pay 20 bucks for an ebook. And you shouldn´t. Not even for a favorite.