The price of ebooks

It seems like book publishers, writers, sellers, printers and other hangers-on have suddenly realised they are next. And it's put the industry in a bit of a titter. It's not as if this should have come as a shock. But that's what you get with old industries that are suddenly confronted with new technologies that are capable of disrupting their whole business model. Think the book industry learned from the mistakes the music and film industry made?

Guess again.

They are quickly heading to the top of the charts of sheer stupidity. And what they don't realise is that, unlike the movie industry and—though to a somewhat lesser extent— the music industry, they have even less of a legitimate ‘raison d'être’ than their counterparts in those industries.

Just look at what you need to write a book and get it out to your readers in the “new” “Internet Age” we live in today, compared to what you need to make a movie (or even a music album). Stripped right down to the bone, you need a computer, and probably an Internet connection. For a movie or a music album (depending on your preferred choice of music, of course) you need a lot more kit to start with. And then come the supporting industries you need to make the finished product.

Granted, just a writer with his computer and an Internet connection is probably not enough. You need a good editor. You need promotion. You probably need a dozen other things. But still, the bare basics that you'll need as a writer in this “Internet Age” are a lot less than you need to make a movie.

I'm not saying the end of publishers, or printers and what have you is coming. Though I'm pretty sure if the current crop of top-tier publishers continue on the path they're taking, they will be replaced by others that approach this new technology revolution the right way. At least, I fervently hope so.

I have quite a few thoughts on the current trends in publishing, and especially on the ebook front. But lets concentrate on one aspect of it that's getting more attention lately.

On reddit yesterday, I ran across this piece by Michael Hyatt, a publisher, called Why Do eBooks Cost So Much? (A Publisher's Perspective). Go ahead, read it. It's not very long.

Well… I call bullshit. Or I think maybe he's right about the situation now. But then my answer would be: YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!

But lets just dive into the specifics for this piece. Hyatt states at the start that:

As you are probably aware, Amazon is selling most eBooks for $9.99. That is already roughly half the price (depending on the format) of the typical physical book.
So, ebooks for about $9.99 and physical books for about $20?

Maybe it's the genres that I read (and maybe it's because I live across the pond, but that's a whole different can of worms I will certainly be writing something about in the near future), but that's absolutely not what my experience with pricing on Amazon is. Here, let me show you (and keep in mind that this was collected in like 5 minutes, I did no specific searching, just went on Amazon and clicked a few books it recommended to me).

exhibit a
exhibit a: pricing for A Feast of Crows by George R.R. Martin

Okay, so the ebook (Kindle Edition) is $10.57, and the paperback is… oh, huh? $8.99? Okay, must be a fluke. Let's try another.

exhibit b
exhibit b: pricing for The Novice by Trudi Canavan

Darn, $11.03 for the ebook, $7.99 for the paperback. Next?

exhibit c
exhibit c: pricing for The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Nope, $10.57 for the ebook, $8.99 for the paperback. One more try?

exhibit d
exhibit d: pricing for Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Yes, that's right. $7.99 for the paperback. And a whopping $16.01 for the ebook. Need I go on? I think not.

This last example isn't even a rare occurrence in my experience looking for ebooks on Amazon. I've even seen ebooks priced one or two dollars higher than the hardcover. Which is INSANE.

But what can I say, I think the whole book publishing industry is acting insane at the moment. Except for one, actually, which, well, read on…

Because I have an even better ace up my sleeve against Hyatt's bullshit story. Take a look at the pricing at baen book's ebook store called webscription. Here, I'll just give you a snapshot:

exhibit e
exhibit e: pricing at the webscription ebook store

There you go, $5.00 or $6.00 for an ebook. Now we're talking. But that's Heinlein, dead writer, old catalogue, so their other books probably aren't priced that low, right?

exhibit f
exhibit f: more pricing at the webscription ebook store

Wrong. Again, $6.00 for a David Weber ebook. And nearly every other ebook on that website is either five or six dollars.

And what's that green lettering you see there? That's right, it says:

Baen Free Library Book
In other words, baen is saying: here's the download link, go crazy, dear reader!

And if you're thinking they only have the dregs of their catalogue up there as a free ebook, think again.

And I know the genre is pretty narrow, it's mostly SciFi, with a bit of Urban and Fantasy stuff creeping in lately, but if you're in to those (and even if you aren't), I would highly recommend checking out a few books on their free list. What can you lose?

But enough kidding around, baen is gonna be out of business pretty soon, right? Because, just giving away your books for free can't be good for the bottom line, right? And those five or six dollars can't nearly be enough to cover those enormous costs of producing an ebook, right? Right?

Right. Let's talk again in a couple of years. And, in the meantime you might want to read this insightful piece by Eric Flint, one of the excellent authors whose books you'll find in the webscription store.

My guess is, baen is probably gonna be here a lot longer than most other publishers if they keep on showing their customers the finger. Which is basically what they're doing at the moment. Good luck with that. That tactic is working out so well for those other behemoth industries that went boldly before you, kicking and screaming into the Internet Age…


The sharp word.


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