"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Friday, July 15, 2011

What's the price point for an ebook?

When I got my Kindle, I was all atwitter with excitement about the thousands of books I could read for very little money. Then I started shopping. Bestsellers, books from the Big Six publishers, were rarely under $9.99.

Color me appalled.

There is no paper involved in producing an ebook. There is nothing that has to be generated or re-generated. An ebook is an electronic file that is uploaded ONCE to the e-distributor (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, etc), where it is sold over and over AND OVER again.

I might not mind if the author was getting the lion's share, or at least an increasing revenue, of their creation, but (correct me if I'm wrong) I think most authors in the Big Six houses rarely see more than 25% royalty on their ebooks. That's about $2.50 per book. The publisher gets to keep the rest. Why?

According to them, they have to keep the rest in order to keep the lights on, employ their staff, and look for new authors. Really? Perhaps they should find other ways to bankroll their operations, instead of trying to convince authors that being poor is for their own good.

When I published What Would Erma Do, I initially set the ebook price at $2.99. This is my own personal breaking point, so I thought it seemed fair. Within the first month, I dropped it down to 99 cents, for two important reasons:

1. It was a new book from a new author (of that genre), so I wanted to entice a quantity of readers. Who could refuse a book for a dollar?

2. I knew that if I sold enough books, sooner or later it would start to creep up the Amazon rankings and more people could find it. At that point, I could raise the price back up to $2.99.

I did the same thing for Hit or Missus. But now, the more I think about it, the more I think I'll keep my books at 99 cents, at least until the market changes. If the lowest priced book becomes $1.99, I'll probably follow the market. When you're thinking of buying an ebook or  selling one, consider the following: not only is an ebook uploaded once and sold multiple times, it's often not even "sold".

Welcome to DRM, Digital Rights Management, a system for keeping consumers from transferring a song or book or movie from one device to another an infinite number of times. (Yes, I know it's a little more complicated than that, but I only want to focus on one aspect today. Bear with me.) I'm not arguing for or against DRM. It is part of the landscape. I'm just saying that, unless an author has opted out of DRM, when you "purchase" a book, you are only purchasing the right to store it on your Kindle/Nook/whatever.

A year or so ago, there was a big brouhaha at Amazon. It seems there was a question about whether Amazon had the rights to sell George Orwell's books on Kindle. While the matter was being settled, Amazon pulled Orwell's books from their Kindle store and from anyone's Kindle who had purchased one. Yes, read that sentence as many times as you like, it will still mean the same thing. One day I had 1984 on my Kindle and the next day, I didn't have 1984 no more.

Everything got corrected and the books went back to everyone's Kindles and all was well. But you see my point?

Do you want to pay $9.99 to rent a book?

One more thing to think about: technology grows at an astounding pace. How many of your favorite albums have you re-purchased as 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, MP3s? How many of your favorite books will you end up re-purchasing when the next generation reader comes along?

It's just something to consider. Thoughts? Ideas? Jokes?


Helen Ginger said...

Most of the authors who are with big houses don't have much say over the price of their books. But there are more and more authors who are going solo and do have a say. I have a feeling that it's those latter authors who will determine the price of books in the long term.

Enid Wilson said...

Amazon allows return for Kindle ebooks. I found it rather unfair too.

Chemical Fusion

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