Thursday, October 27, 2011

Well, no, I'm not paying $9.99

I'm a devoted fan of Mysterious Press and have been for years.  When the news came today that their website was up and running and books were available for download, I scurried over post haste.

It's a lovely site. Easy to navigate, lots of ways to buy an ebook.

And right there at the top were books by Ross Thomas. I adore Ross Thomas. I've read them all. I was ready to buy. Because I have a Kindle, I clicked the link to Amazon.

And I didn't buy.


Because the price is $9.99

And frankly, I'm not willing to pay $9.99 for an electronic edition of a book I've already read. Even if I love it (and I do.)

Otto Penzler is a SMART retailer.  I've got the sales receipts to prove it. I've spent hundreds if not thousands at his store over the years, and always been pretty glad to do it.  His staff is knowledgeable and friendly.

But, they've missed the key consumer mindset that I think a lot of publishers have too.  Ebooks are replacing mass market editions. And mass market editions are $5.99 or $6.99.  Or at least they were when I bought ALL of the Ross Thomas books in mass market.

The problem is of course now people expect that the electronic edition is going to come out at the same time as the hardcover. It used to be that hardcover came first, then a year later the mass market at the lower price. If you were willing to wait, you paid less. If you were willing to read fast and give it back when you were done, you paid even less and got it at the library.

I don't know how to solve that problem.  All I know is I don't want to pay this much for this book. 

I guess I'll just have to go back to reading the $25 hardcovers I bought at The Mysterious Bookshop on my last visit instead of re-reading Ross Thomas.

And if you've got any thoughts on ebook pricing, please leave a comment.**

**I should warn you I'm extremely intolerant of " print publishing is dead" tirades 
and anyone who uses the phrase "legacy publishing" doesn't get posted. 
If you don't like that, no problem, write your own blog.


csyusten said...

I prefer to pay less for the ebook simply because I don't have the physical copy that I can hold in my hands. I think something publishers could do is sell a combo ebook & print copy for a slightly higher price than either of them separately. I would enjoy it anyway!

Anonymous said...

This really gets my goat, too. A recent example, I wanted to try Nightlife by Rob Thurman after reading a great recommendation. Paperback=$7.99, Kindle: $10.24

In the past couple weeks alone I went to Amazon 3 times fully intending to buy books, only to find them more expensive on Kindle than in print. Three lost sales.

Daisy Bateman said...

How about the tiered pricing system Amazon uses for digital music sales, where new and popular songs go for a higher price, but come down to 99 cents as they drop in the charts? Say, $9.99 for the ebook when it's first released in hardcover, then lower (say, $3.99, since you don't get the paper) when it comes out in paperback? Not a perfect solution, but it does preserve some of the aspects of the current model.

Feaky Snucker said...

I prefer a real copy. That said, 9.99 is spendy for an ebook. I thought it would be a good idea if as a promotion, an electronic copy code was made available for a free download of the book, if you bought the hardcover. More people are waiting for the paperback, and that might be a way to sell more. Some DVD's have that feature, and wondered why not books?

The Gerlings said...

I think consumers expect to pay less for ebooks because they cost less to produce. You still have authors, editors, and cover artists who need to get paid but the physical production costs are lower.

There is no cost for printing, for paper, for ink, for warehouses, for shipping. Consumers are aware of that, and they expect to see those savings reflected in the ebook price. No one likes to feel like they're being ripped off, and a $10 ebook feels like a ripoff no matter how much you want the book.

I think most people are comfortable with paying $5-$7 for a novel-length ebook by a known author. It's what we've come to expect as the baseline pay for novels. For a short story or novella, I expect to pay less.

Book sellers and the people in charge of ebook pricing need to change their mindset. A hardcover can sell for $25 because it won't have much competition. How many hardbacks come out in any given month? How many are on display when you walk into a store? You might see a dozen at best. But the ebook market is flooded.

If you look under the tag/search for a mystery novel at any ebook seller you're going to find a drove of titles. It isn't a handful of established names but a swarm of everything under the sun all vying for your attention with links to recommended books leading you away into the never-never of ebook land. You go looking for one thing and find three dozen sample chapters on your e-reader.

To sell, a book needs to be priced to compete. The market is competitive, buyers are choosy, and most people don't have the money to spend as it is. Books are a wicked indulgence we sneak into our budgets, and if a reader can get two books for the price of what you're selling one book for then they're going to go for two books every time. There's no reason for them to have brand loyalty unless the writing is amazing.

What good does a mediocre ebook by a big name author do? I can't display it on my shelf. I can't get "caught" reading it. I can't use it for a doorstop. If the story isn't enjoyable than I'm going to go looking for a story that is.

And, harsh as it may sound, there are some authors who are in a rut with their writing. The plots are predictable. The writing is staid. When I'm reading for pleasure I might skip over them because their last book was lackluster. A poor showing in a previous book coupled with a high price on the ebook will have me waiting on the library edition to decide if I want to keep reading work by that author or not.

Nancy Kelley said...

The sticking point with e-books is that it's not actually a sale, it's a license. The owner of the book (or of the right to license it) is offering you the right to load the book onto your machine, just like a software company offers you the right to download their program. No one with a PC would say they owned Windows; likewise, one cannot own an e-book.

The sticky part of license agreements is that they can be changed or reversed. In the Amazon TOS (and, I assume, other e-book retailers' TOS as well) is a clause stating that Amazon can remove books from your device if for any reason their license to sell it is revoked. Remember the student a few years ago who lost all his notes to 1984? This was why.

Booksellers don't come into my house and remove my books from my shelves. That's because I have actually bought them. They are mine. For some things, I am willing to pay more for the right to say I actually own it, with everything that means. For most books, I am content to simply have them on my Kindle with the right to read them whenever I want.

However, I am not willing to pay the same $9.99, or $15.99, for a license as I am for ownership in perpetuity.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Last year my mother offered me a Kindle for Christmas.

I declined because ebook prices are too high, because I live in France and ebook prices are different over here (no shipping costs in the digital world? the download has no foreign expense, like heck! just try it I have Kindle on my mac). Also because I read in different languages and have access fantastic libraries with graphic novels that Kindle doesn’t support. I love my library. The other reason is that I like to read in the bathtub and have woken up with more than one novel floating on the surface.

No one has a Kindle in Paris, even serious book people. Ask anyone what it is and they will say, “What?” Not just the French, the international crowd.

A few weeks ago I read in Le Figaro that is launching the Kindle as the hot Christmas item for 2011. The article talked much about the Kindle’s success in the US and concluded with the warning that ebooks are expensive and because the French are notoriously frugal the Kindle might not do as well as in the US.

There is still a real market for translated hard copies over here. Maybe agents should think more about investing in translations and marketing hard copies for European sales than worrying about ebook sales in the US. At least it is a less volatile market and when the Kindle finally does hit over here you’ll already have the footwork done.

bettielee said...

Yes, please. A little common sense. Do you know Watership Down is like $13 as an ebook? It's $8 as a paperback. Now I would love a version of that book I can't wear out, but I'm not paying $13 for a book I have uh... 2 ragged copies of.

Adam Heine said...

For the big publishers, what might work best is keeping e-book prices on par with whatever the cheapest edition of the book is at the moment.

So when the book is released on hardcover for $25? The ebook is $12-15. A year later when the trade paperback hits ($12-15), the ebook drops to $10. Then again, the mass market version comes out ($6-8), the ebook also becomes $6-8.

Whatever the pricing strategy, it just doesn't make sense to me for the ebook to ever be MORE expensive than the physical versions.

Karen said...

It still costs to produce a book -- editing, marketing (if that happens), design, even website costs -- but I believe that despite this some costs are offset by the publisher not having to physically print the book, not having to store it in warehouses and not having to cater for returns. Therefore if a publisher tells me ebooks are just as expensive to produce as paper books I flat-out don't believe them.

I think an ebook should never cost more than the trade paperback. It should cost the same or less. My price-point is $6-7.

Publishers don't seem to realize that by pricing books too high they're not just losing on that sale, they're losing future esales too. I am starting to build my own list of publishers I'll buy from. Publishers that suit my price range and my tastes. If I go to a site an the books are too expensive, I don't go back to that site more than a couple of times. It doesn't matter how good the books are, I just won't buy them.

I personally would love a combined paper/ebook combo. I'd pay a little more for that, but not too much. (Thinking a dollar over the paper price here.)

Lisa Shafer said...

I definitely agree that an e-book should cost less than a physical book. After all, for a book, you're paying for all the materials, and with an e-book, you should just be paying for the work that went into it.

Anonymous said...

Is there not an important distinction between brand-new books and re-releases like those Janet is talking about? In the case of the former, I'll gladly pay $10.49 (maybe even more) for the ebook as soon as it's available; my comparison point, after all, is the equally new $25 hardcover.

But in the case of the re-releases, a price point of $4.99 to $5.99 feels right - because my mental image of these books is a mass-market paperback tucked in the back pocket of my jeans.

Price vintage Ross Thomas, McBain, MacDonald, Westlake, Block, etc. re-releases at $4.99 per book and I will personally buy a dozen every year.

Vicki Rocho said...

As a brand new Kindle owner, I'm just becoming aware of this problem. I want to fill up my Kindle with juicy reading options, but don't want to spend a fortune to do it.

I also don't want to forsake my real-life paper books. What I would LOVE to see is the opportunity to download the ebook for free or 99 cents whenever you buy a print version. Best of both worlds.

Stacy said...

From my perspective, I'm willing to pay a bit more for an ebook since it provides the convenience of not waiting. There have been countless times in my research where an ebook has saved my ass simply because I could get the book immediately. (That's nonfiction, though I pay it for fiction, too.) Also, I feel a couple of dollars more is not a big deal when searching in an ebook is SO much easier than in the hard copy.

As for fiction, there have been books I've been too excited about to wait, so I paid the ebook price, which was more economical than paying for overnight shipping. I'm wondering if, in your case, maybe the real issue was not the price, but the fact that you'd already read the book?

Anonymous said...

What? Just pretend you're paying for an e-textbook and $9.99 is cheap.

I love Nancy and Angie's points. I've heard complaints from people in the APAC region as well about how hard/expensive it is to get e-books. Which is a ridiculously lost business opportunity.

I can see an argument for paying extra for an e-book if 1) I get to keep the license and 2) it comes with a lot of USEFUL bells and whistles that you couldn't get in a hard copy. I'm making this up, but if for example the Percy Jackson books had a link to a mythology site, or a chart that showed the geneaology of the characters, or even an interview with the author. But not all books will have a need for that.

Lydia Sharp said...

I have yet to pay more than $5 for an ebook. Maybe someday that will change, but for now, I'd sooner pay $20 for a paperback than $10 for an ebook. And my only reasoning is "that's just the way I feel about it." I'm only going to do what I feel comfortable doing, no matter how valid an argument for one side or the other. At the end of the day, it's my money I'm spending, no one else's.

Ali Trotta said...

This is very informative. I've heard a lot of debate about what an ebook should cost. I've seen some priced very higher (higher than I'd pay for a print book), which doesn't make sense to me. This post helped me a lot.

McKoala said...

I've spent more than I like to think about on ebooks - I value the convenience so much. The good news for publishers is that I have bought waaay more books than I would have done if I had had to toil to a shop. Impulse buying is my friend, but not my bank's. The bad news is that I don't buy anything that I think is priced at more than the equivalent paperback - it's a kind of budget control and protest combined.

Colin Smith said...

There are a couple of good ideas here that could be combined. First, I like the idea of offering a free ebook download if you buy the hardcover edition--at least for a limited time. This would alleviate the fear that people would buy the cheaper ebook over the hc. Then, after the hc has been out for a short time, offer the ebook at an appropriate price (i.e., not 9.99). As some have suggested, perhaps it would be good to price the ebook according to newness. So a new ebook could go for, say, $7. When the pb comes out, drop it to $6 or $5. If the title goes out of print, drop the price of the ebook to $3 (I'm assuming it costs nothing to keep the ebook "in print").

With a little creative thinking, I think ebooks and regular books can co-exist to the benefit of author, publisher, retailer, and consumer.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to pay that much for an e-book simply because I won't actually OWN the book. When I have guarantees that the e-book is mine to keep forever and ever, regardless what happens with my e-reader or the company I bought from, then maybe I'll be prepared to pay more. If I can get a physical copy cheaper, I will prefer that, because no one comes to my home and takes a paperback away from me. I have zero confidence in e-books in terms of longevity, and I factor that into the price I'm willing to pay.

Meaghan said...

Just a quick note: Mass Markets go for about $7.99 and most MM pubs try for "Premuim" paperbacks when they can- for $9.99. Just because those books WERE $5.99 when you bought them, doesn't mean that's what they'd be worth now.

There are a lot of issues that go into ebook pricing that cause weird discrepencies in pricing- most of it has to do with negotiations between authors, agents, publishers, and sellers. Amazon wants to be the only digital seller out there and is willing to lose money underpricing ebooks now to get rid of the competition. Publishers value their content and don't want to (read: can't afford to) let the mindset become that a book costs $9.99 or less. The pricing agreements they've worked out with Amazon puts a bottom on how cheap an ebook can be priced at. Agents and authors depend on royalty percentages so lower prices don't exactly do them any favors. Plus, this makes it next to impossible to sell a combo edition (physical/ebook) even though that would make a TON of sense, because the agents and authors would take a hit on the royalties side.

Bottom line: There are a lot of people who work a lot of hours for not a lot of money to bring you content- no matter the format. I understand not wanting to overpay and being consumer smart, but if you are buying an edition of a book that you will, in theory, never have to replace (and therefore will never pay for again), that isn't worth $2?

Anonymous said...

@Cookie: That's certainly an issue, but there are ways of getting around it. Most e-book stores allow you to download the e-book file after you've purchased it (B&N does this, and so does Kobo). Not too sure about Kindle e-books, but again, there are ways...

After that, you can store them directly on your e-reader (assuming your e-reader lets you import files), and you can even convert them to other file formats using certain programs. I've done that with all the e-books I've bought, so that if B&N one day decides to get rid of my books, I still have all my digital copies.

steeleweed said...

Don't be put off by the 'self-pub' issue, but drop by

and browse his last 8 or 10 posts, including his responses to comments. He understands how to price fiction & non-fiction, paper and digital. His observations on the effect of various pricing schemes and on ebooks in general are very perceptive.

Janet Reid said...

I'm not put off by the self-pubbing folks. I think they're going to show us the way on ebook pricing.

I'll check it out, thanks.

The Zug said...

Didn't we used to hear a lot about how printing and distribution costs impacted book prices?

Well, printing and distribution costs are seriously lessened in the case of ebooks--in the case of printing, they're erased.

And yet in some cases, ebooks cost more. The Kindle edition of The Great Gatsby costs $11.99, and I'm sorry, Meaghan, but in that case the people "who work a lot of hours for not a lot of money to bring you content" passed away a long time ago. Plus, the theory that "will never have to replace" an ebook edtion is specious--you'll have to keep buying Kindles, and you'll have to hope Amazon never goes under.

Of course, so long as dummies keep paying these rapacious prices, Amazon and others are going to keep charging them. Kudos to Janet for saying no. If more people would, the prices would go down.

Michael G-G said...

Talk about erudition in these comments!

As a champion cheapskate, I have only ever downloaded (on my computer) those alluring "free" or 99 cent offers. I gulp when I buy hardcover books, but at least I get to fondle them to my chest, if I so desire.

As for the term legacy publishing (the use of which will doubtless cause me to be damned and banned), I'd never heard the term before the recent brouhaha on Chuck Wendig's blog. I presumed it was what my heirs would be doing when they received the very generous terms of my last will and testament. (All that cheapskatery in the present will do them good in the future.)

Amy said...

Not long ago, I saw some publishing industry folks on twitter wondering why overall book sales were down despite the growth in the e-book market. And I immediately thought, duh, it's the pricing!

I'm an avid reader, and for years I have bought about 100 books per year. This created a problem--an overflowing bookshelf. Even after getting rid of all the books I knew I wasn't going to read a second time, I still had no space. So I bought a Kindle! Yay! Now my library could grow as much as I wanted it to, without my house turning into something you'd see on "Hoarders."

And then I discovered that many ebooks were ridiculously priced. Often they cost more than the paperback! Someone who buys 3 books a year may not care if they are overpriced, but I buy 100 a year. Price matters!

So now I have a new system. When I want to buy a book, I check the price. If the ebook costs what I feel is reasonable (usually a dollar less than the paperback), I buy it. If it's too expensive, I add it to my wish list with a note to buy only if the price comes down. Then I periodically go to my public library's website and put holds on the books from my wish list. As I check them out from the library and read them, I erase them from my wish list.

The good news is I'm still getting to read all the books I want. The bad news is that the publishing industry is making much less money on me. I know because my book budget is loaded with extra, unspent cash that is just waiting for a good book to be offered at a fair price.

ryan field said...

I've ranted about this for a long time. Some publishers, not all, don't seem to get the mindset with which serious readers shop for digital books. We typically read faster and shop more often, which means it's all about lower prices and volume. We love our e-readers and can't wait to spend money. Evidently, some publishers aren't great business people. Volume is fundamental to making money with regard to low ticket items. E-publishers get it. they price to sell, according to consumer needs.

The sad part is that I have passed on digital books I've wanted to buy simply based on high pricing. This sux for the authors who wrote the books and have no control over the pricing. I have a set limit and won't spend over that limit...especially for backlisted digital books. I have, at times, made exceptions. I did this for "Shine." I did this for the Steve Jobs bio...but part of the proceeds for the Jobs bio went to charity.

And, with pirating so rampant, the more they charge for digitl boks the more the pirates steal from authors. I know pirating is a completely different issue. But high prices for digital books is one the arguments pirates will use to defend themselves.

Anita said...

People in the industry have talked this subject dead. Here's the thing: When I talk to readers (who don't know the ins-and-outs of the industry and don't give a rat's ass about the reasons why publishers say ebooks have to cost as much as paper books), they say they refuse to pay a lot for an ebook--"a lot" being more than six bucks. The only exception is with a HUGE, HUGE author.

Sarah said...

I really would like ebooks to be a supplement to hard copies, something that lets me easily have a library with me in my Kindle, but doesn't replace the joy of holding a real book in my hands.

At the current pricing, that's not possible. I have to choose. Often I choose e-books because of my very, very tiny house, but I always prefer a real book.

My hope is that publishers will eventually package the two together. With the restrictions on e-books - have you ever tried to print something from one? It's crazy. It involves more than a bit of law breakage and intense computer frustration - I would absolutely pay a slightly higher price for the opportunity to buy both versions at once. The ebook is just a bonus feature tacked on to the paper book.

Kathryn Elliott said...

Did an e-Grande Frappuccino and blueberry scone come with the $9.99 price tag? Otherwise, I’m out.

Sarah McCanless said...

If you haven't checked out Nathan Bransford's post on why ebooks can cost more than hardcovers, it's a fascinating read:

SBJones said...

I am not in the marketing department, but I do find it a bit odd that I can make more money per $2.99 eBook sold than I do from each $15 paperback sold.

Why some choose to price the eBook so high is beyond me. Even a $4.99 eBook is a great deal for customers and pure money in the bank for the author and publishers.

DeadlyAccurate said...

I'm going to be an odd one, but I don't mind if the digital version is set at trade paperback prices. I've been paying for digital game downloads for years, and I pay full retail sometimes. I just spent $60 to preorder a game that's coming out in a couple of weeks, and that was for the digital version. reason I was willing to spend full retail (instead of waiting for the price to drop) is because this is a game with a play time in the triple digits (with previous incarnations of the series, I've put in over 300 hours without even finishing the main storyline, and the developers indicate this one is on-par in length).

$10 is my comfort point for digital books. I've spent $13 and $15 a couple times, but I have to *really* know I'll like the books and be dying to read them right then.

gregkshipman said...

Kindle/Nook loaded with e-books... great when traveling, more convenient than a convenience store ('cept you can't buy gas there) and (oh wow!)the size/weight doesn't change regardless of the number of 'books' you cram in it!... That being said; I'm a hard-copy kinda guy. I love the page-turning thingy, the heft of the pulp-a-roni and besides, without books what would I do with all the shelf space (there's only so many Pam Grier posters one can put on a wall and still be in 'girlfriend compliance' mode). But I will jump in and say, My ideal consumer would expect to pay less for a digital copy 'cause in my world, that's pretty much how the 'software' game is played. And just because I've not joined the 'Kindle' Brigade does not mean I'm rooted in the past. Oh wait, hang on while I turn down this eight-track copy of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On'...

Anonymous said...

I'll pay the same for an ebook as for a mass market paperback, i.e., $7.99 or less. Ebooks aren't trade paperbacks and sure as heck aren't hardcovers. For those, I'll gladly shell out a little more (though I'm expecting a good-to-high quality (read long-lasting) book -- better binding, pretty cover art, nice paper, etc.

Tell me why publishers moan that they still have to pay cover artists for ebooks when many of my ebooks have an ugly, boring, and clearly generic cover that I hope no one actually paid for.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Have publishers ever discussed bundling ebooks and harcovers? I have a Nook and use it, but I have an childish attachment to hardcover books. There's something about a wall full of books that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Also, I'm a sort of lending library amongst my friends and I enjoy giving recommendations and sending books home with kids. Despite the Nook lending feature, I can rarely let others borrow my Nook books.

So if I love a book, I want it in hardcover so I can have it pretty on my shelf and give it to others, but I've often found myself wanting to also have it on my Nook for convenience, but I'm unwilling to pay another ten bucks for the ebook. BUT I would pay a few extra dollar for both.

Maybe book publishers need to do what the periodicals are doing. 15.99 for hardcover. 9.99 for ebook. OR BOTH for 18.99. Win-win.

Sam Mills said...

Here is my problem: longevity. I keep my books, ALL of them. I have books from when I was a kid, and books my mom handed off to me that have got to be thirty years old.

And I can still read them, because they are books.

On the other hand, half the movies I own on VHS tape haven't been released on DVD. Cheap VCRs still exist, but they won't for long. My choices are: make an awful home-copy DVD of my own (I'd have to buy the hardware/software to do this), or hope they come out on DVD and buy them again. I can't watch them forever unless I pay or work to keep the format up-to-date.

I'm not going to spend a fortune on electronic copies of books, when there is no guarantee I'll still have hardware capable of reading them again in ten, fifteen, twenty years.

Stephanie Barr said...

I think the key elements are touched on here:

First, there is no reason, in my mind, that ebooks should be priced higher than mass market prices. (And I've seen them priced higher even when mass market were available - not just when hardback only is available). If you have the words for a mass market, you're saving printing and distribution costs on the ebook. That should be as high as it goes.

For a hardback, you're not just buying a book and the words, but you're buying something you expect to last, probably the rest of your life if not longer. I collected Georgette Heyer books and I deliberately went looking for hardbacks, even if they were pricey, because I want to give the collection to my daughter after I die. I don't see that kind of option for an electronic copy.

The movie industry and the music industry both tried to argue that the electronic market should be priced as high as the ones with media. They lost. Booksellers will lose, too.

That's my opinion, anyway.

jesse said...

The situation is a mess. Retailers kept the prices low to drive the new technology, and now publishers are having a hard time convincing people that the low prices don't quite work on their end. Add the perceived value of an intangible product with a set of very corporate leaning usage rules (DMCA/DRM) and you get a total Charlie Foxtrot (as my military buddy used to say).
Thus ensuring the survival of the existing system - at least for now.

Melinda said...

Funny, paying a bit more the ebook if it comes out at the same time as the hardcover hasn't been bothering me. I don't mind paying $9.99, especially if I know I like the book. Maybe I'm odd. Now, I won't pay more for the ebook than I do for a hardcover. Not a chance. But, I know the backend work for that ebook is the same as the hardcover and the mass market. Writing, editing, proofreading, layout,'s all there no matter how it's served up. So it doesn't bother me. /shrug

Melinda said...

I should add that what I really expect is for the ebook to be priced less than whatever version is available in print. So, if all that is out is hardcover, then I expect it to be less than that. If it's out in paperback...I expect it to be less than the paperback. Not a huge amount less, but something.

Greg said...

I think the publishers are setting prices with a look to the future. They can't charge more for a MM because of expected prices. If they can convince people that ebooks cost between 10 and 15 bucks once they become the predominate revenue stream people won't fight the price point. Right now you can point to your old books or a book you buy off the shelf and say, "This is cheaper." What about in 5 or 10 years? What about when a major publisher makes a book from an A-lister available only as an ebook? It will happen. The worst thing for publishers, from a business standpoint, is a physical object that can be passed around, borrowed, loaned, and sold used.

eDilettante said...

The problem is of course now people expect that the electronic edition is going to come out at the same time as the hardcover. It used to be that hardcover came first, then a year later the mass market at the lower price. If you were willing to wait, you paid less.

I think this is a major point that is widely overlooked. In their haste to attract people to eBooks, mainstream publishers started to make their digital editions of new releases available simultaneously with the first print edition, which in reality is the equivalent of deciding to release the mass-market paperback alongside the hardback. Why would you do it? You can't justify more than the mass-market price for the eBook edition, so logically you should delay its publication until you have given the first edition sufficient time to defray the bulk of the publishing costs. Then, as with the mass-market paperback, you release the 'popular' edition at a cheaper price 6-12 months later.

The model is broken now though, and readers expect the digital edition to be available simultaneously, but will not (and should not) accept a higher price point, increasingly making the first print edition less sustainable and thus making overall cost-recovery more difficult.

Thanks for a great post, it is getting some interesting and worthwhile feedback which I will follow with interest.

ryan field said...

"The model is broken now though, and readers expect the digital edition to be available simultaneously, but will not (and should not) accept a higher price point, increasingly making the first print edition less sustainable and thus making overall cost-recovery more difficult."

You're right about this. I only buy digital now. And not just because I'm invested in more than one expensive e-reader/tablet. I prefer digital. And I don't want to wait.

Jane Lebak said...

My daughter got an ereader for her tenth birthday specifically to buy the Erin Hunter "Warriors" books (of which there seem to be 41). We discovered right away that the earlier books were $5.99 and the ones released in the last 18 months were $9.99 (and not eligible for discounts.)

That seems like a fair model to me. If readers want to get a title right away, we can pay more for the time differential. The back list can get discounted as time goes on.

Personally speaking, most of my books in the last year have come from the library because of the price tags.

Maddy said...

I'm very price sensitive to e-books although a newby still fighting with my ipad, and for right now I won't pay over the print price.

That said, I've been sorely tempted by the ebooks for children - anything to get them hooked, but the interactive versions [the way of the future for the current generation] are few and far between.

On a side note, when it comes to 'audible' books, I'm a complete sucker, and hardly notice the price at all.

Adura Ojo said...

Some e-book prices are ridiculous and yes, there have been times I've not bought a book or opted for the paperback because it made sense to pay less for a paperback. Some publishers seem to think making an e-book as expensive or more expensive than the paperback would prevent e-book piracy and copying. Silly, if you ask me.

John said...

Most of us here are thinking about this in terms of how we've always done things. But the generation that grew up with iPads and thinks a magazine is a broken iPad are not far from reading age in publishing terms...we all know how slowly the industry moves. So another 5-10 years and that generation will be along with e-textbooks and e-everything else and they won't be reminiscing as much about hard copy vs ebook.

I like what Amanda Hocking did with her ebooks. $.99 for the first in each series and $2.99 after that. It'll be interesting to see how her trad-pub hybrid venture goes along with the even more unusual arrangement that John Locke signed with Simon-Schuster, if I recall correctly.

Another big shift is in social media with Goodreads and, to a lesser extent, Shelfari and LibraryThing. Right now, Goodreads is the Facebook of publishing/reading. The community is really active and it can make or break some authors even more so than Amazon reviews. I wrote a couple of guest posts on Novel Publicity about setting up and using Goodreads for authorial promotion, etc., but I won't put the links in here since I'm pretty sure Janet will bitch-slap me. Or is it shark-slap?

Carly said...

I'm willing (and eager!) to pay book prices for a book because I'm walking out of that store with an actual purchase, the book, in my hands. You can hold it, drop it, smell it, and sleep with it under your pillow. I'll pay up to $50 depending on how badly I want that book.

I don't pay more than pocket change for data. Ebooks are basically, don't get offended, what books are in the last step before they become tangible books. Ebooks are polished, edited, and formatted, but not printed, manuscripts.

I'm not an agent or an acquisitions editor, so I don't buy "manuscripts". I buy books, and if they're really good, I sleep with them under my pillow.

To put it another way, if I really love an album, I'll buy the CD. But if I'm downloading it, I'm sorry, I'm just not going to pay CD prices.

Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

Pricing anything is weird to me. I still refuse to pay money for an audio version of a song, if it's free, I'll download it, but as far as CDs go, I drive to Target, pay less than $10, and buy a hard copy of the CD...even if the case and paperwork stay in my storage unit.

I feel like books are the same. I love the idea of a Kindle, but I can't rationalize spending money on something that I can't tangibly hold, can't ask an author to sign.

I think I was born in the wrong generation...even though I'm only 23, lol.

Nate Gilbert said...

I think the industry should head the direction that Orbit Books seems to be going, or even take it a step further. When Brent Week's first book came out it was only available as a seven dollar mass-market-doorstop or as an ebook (I was lucky to snag my copy for a dollar on Sony's ebook shop). AFTER those books did well, his next series was released in hardcover with fifteen dollar ebook versions.

I would ask that all books start their lives as Mass Market and ebook versions. If the books do well, re-release print versions in leather bound collector's editions or hardcovers. This way, print continues, but becomes more of a premium item. The consumer will choose the cream of the crop and the publisher will take less risk up front.