E-books, e-books, e-books…why is there all this drama over e-books? Well, I know why there is, I just wonder if there should be the amount of it that is always present. Two articles I read recently (here and here) basically were about the outrage of the ebook adopters at Big Publishing on two very key areas: price and presence. Now I could talk about the latter all day. In fact I have a few times on here about my thoughts on e-books, and I may again once I jump in that water. But I want to focus on price because I think it is the unspoken variable that everyone is trying to solve for X and not always getting the right answer.
Pre-kindle days, your book would come out in either hardcover, with a $20ish-$30ish price tag; trade paperback, with a $12-$20 price tag; or mass market paperback, with a solid $7.99 price tag (maybe shave or add a dollar for the very short of the very long book).
*Note: I’m not getting into children’s-YA prices because they are not what I know and cost less.
If you were lucky to get a hardcover release (and yes, it is hard to get a hardcover release unless you are an established, successful writer, or a celebrity that a publisher can bank in fans splurging for an expensive book), then over time you will get a mass-market and/or trade edition. They do this because they just know not every one would be able to get the hardcover edition. It also allows time to fix any typos that slip in (and yes, publishers are not infallible and typos happen) so the obviously wider audience that will read the less expensive version has the best possible experience when reading. It was a great system. No one really had complaints except wondering why some did or didn’t get hardcover releases. It was a system publishing itself around.
Enter Kindle and e-books. Obviously, there is no longer a new for multiple versions of e-books. So how do we figure the price?
Big Publishing, being built around the 2-3 edition model of the books has higher prices that are in a sense a “digital copy” discount price. They are treating them the same way as if they were Amazon, bought a butt-load of books for a discount, so they could then put their own discount price and still make money.
Self, indie, and small publishing are going for the “App Store” pricing to get more of the impulse buying crowds. It gets a lot of there books out there, but you won’t have the same total profit unless it is incredibly popular, which is something no writer or publisher will know definitely until it’s out there.
Now, I’m sure the pragmatists, like myself, had the knee-jerk reaction of “split the difference.” But there has to be a reason to the pricing, which I think is the real problem. Right now we are caught in a “Jean Zone” where Big publishing is the designer jeans and everyone else is the Wal-mart brands: they are the exact same jeans, you are just paying for a name.
So how do we get the name out of the equation? First we have to remember what we are selling. We are not selling an app and we are not selling a hard cover book. But was are selling a book. In the age of iTunes, we no longer have to by full albums. From that model came apps, where single usages were cheaper than the more complex, multi-use apps. See where I’m going?
Books are a single experience. So a lot of ebook adopters, I think, see them the same as the latest single or new Angry Birds spin off. But they long, dynamic experiences. So if many game apps can go as high as $5.99 and most mmp books are at $7.99, $5.99 – $6.99 does not see like that bad a compromise. I’m sure the $2.99 people are going to hate me for saying it, but that low a price really is just a little much, especially for brand new books. I could see something like all books pre-1985 (completely arbitrary point in the past) getting around $2.99 – $3.99, but to just go there seems like you don’t care enough about your work, your art, to be decently compensated for everything you give up for your audience.
As Craig Ferguson says, “I look forward to your letters.”