The overlap between eBooks and “maybe” books

Several comments to the previous post about frustration with the increase in ebook prices! I want to comment more extensively about that.

Mona says: Regarding the kindle price > hard copy price: So ANNOYING! I really want to buy that book, but I’m not going to pay $6+ for a book I can’t sell, lend, transfer, or even hold in my hands! Ridiculous. …I’ve lost count how many books I went to buy on Amazon, and then this very issue stopped me.

Elaine says: I figure publishers want readers to buy the paper copy. instead they’re losing my business for a lot of ‘maybe’ books. I’m getting harder and harder to convince to buy a high priced e-book. Sometimes I’ve liked a sample, then looked at the price – and decided to pass and try the library, or just something else.

And of course Hanneke says: Anything below $10 looks cheap (like an easy buy) to Dutch eyes! … $15 to $20 is normal, even for popular (kids’) books that have been in print for decades

To which last comment, my response is, WHOA, BRILLIANT WAY TO NOT SELL BOOKS.

Anyway, my point is this:

I am 100% certain that by raising ebook prices, publishers are going to move fewer books through legitimate markets, while increasing the incentive for readers to shift to libraries, used books, and ebook piracy. To me as a reader this is mildly annoying. As an author who is not a mega-bestseller, it is infuriating.

I wonder how many of you came across posts last year about how ebook sales are falling relative to print sales? I sure did, and some articles attribute this to ebooks hitting their natural ceiling of acceptance. This is not very persuasive. I’m not sure who out there can fail to see that as ebook prices rise, sales will inevitably fall, as described for example here:

The Wall Street Journal reports that Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have all reported declining online book sales after inking deals with Amazon that gave the publishers more say in the prices for their titles.

A look at the Kindle store found that each of the five big publishers – which also includes Penguin Random House and Macmillian – have an average cost of $10.81 per e-book, while online books from others had an average price of $4.95, research group Codex Group LLC found.

What a shock! As prices rise, demand falls? Who would imagine such a thing! Next we will discover that when you drop objects, gravity still causes them to fall! And yet some people still find this hard to believe, evidently:

Still, other publishers tell the WSJ that e-book sales aren’t a result of the Amazon deals. In fact, he says the industry is a “title driven business. If you have a good book, price isn’t an issue.”

The attribution of the “he” in the second sentence there is not clear, but one gathers it’s an “industry professional.” Well, buddy, no wonder Amazon is eating your lunch. Price isn’t an issue! Really! You know, if you believe that one, I don’t know what to tell you. But if you want a great bridge, I have one riiiight here.

I’m sure it won’t amaze you all that the connected poll indicates that 94.7% of respondents disagree with the price-doesn’t-matter guy.

I hear that Saga — you know, the Simon and Schuster imprint that’s bringing out two of my books this year and next — is going to be playing with lower ebook prices this spring. WELL, GOOD. I hope they CRUSH THE COMPETITION so obviously that even the most committed price-doesn’t-matter people realizes that just possibly they are a trifle overoptimistic on that one. Naturally, I would be particularly pleased if *my* books crush the competition! Onward with that!

Anyway: for me as a reader, anything over $10, I will just wait until the price comes down or until I can get it used unless the book is:

a) Exactly what I want to read right this minute and I can’t stand to wait.

b) By Patricia McKillip or CJ Cherryh.

c) A beautiful cookbook that I really want. Those almost never come down to the $10 level, and no wonder, as photograph-heavy as they are. So there’s no point waiting for that to happen. I often pick up used copies, though, if the publisher’s price is really high.

Categories (a) and (b) overlap sometimes, but not all the time. And probably there are other authors who join those two from time to time. But the fact is, there are A LOT OF BOOKS. If one seems to be priced excessively high, then what the heck, I will read something else and just wait for the price to come down or for used books to appear. When I was a struggling student, I routinely waited years for the mass market paperback to be released. This is just like that, except my TBR pile is way more extensive and seriously, I would not run out of stuff to read for years if I quit buying new books altogether.

I am CERTAIN that publishers are losing a TON of “Maybe I’d like this” sales to readers who complete that sentence, “but since it’s so expensive, I guess I’ll read fill-in-the-blank instead.”

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14 thoughts on “The overlap between eBooks and “maybe” books”

  1. Yes! EBooks should not be priced higher than the MMPB, either. And older ones should at least acknowledge the existence of the used book market. $7.99 for 20yo books? Really Ms. Hambly?

  2. A used book market, we should note, which has been made amazingly convenient by Amazon. How can publishers not realize what a simple option used books can be, if the new books are priced waaay up in the stratosphere?

  3. This is why my wishlist on Amazon is so unmanageably long. “Looks good but I’ll stick it there till the price drops – no way I’m paying that.” And sometimes the price does drop, but more often I forget about the book despite the memory flag my wishlist provides.

  4. Mary Anne, exactly! And it’s not even that I forget about the books on my wishlist; it’s just I forget who recommended them or why they sounded good, and meanwhile more recently recommended books have caught my eye, and aaaallll the time new books I know I love are coming out, so the ones on the bottom of the list keep sinking downward…

    Considering I can either not-buy books and have them sink to the bottom of the wishlist, or buy books and have them sink to the bottom of the actual TBR pile, well. I know which *I’d* prefer if I were a publisher, but I guess their priorities are different.

  5. speaking of McKillip, I was checking on KINGFISHER (out tomorrow), and found there’s another one coming this year, a collection of three called Dreams of Distant Shores .Kindle edition $9.99, paperback $15.95.

    McKillip I’ll seriously consider buying paper and e-book together, but I sure wish publishers would price more sensibly, especially offering two for one sales, but they don’t. I’ve realized, though, that I’m more likely to read an e-book quickly, since I can have it with me easily. So I’m drifting that way for my purchases, and starting to hold out for used for paper copies, unless I really really love the author’s work. Even though I’d like to support authors, I only have so much to spend.

  6. I was looking at Kingfisher earlier today (McKillip is also on my auto-buy list), and both the Kindle and hardcover were priced at $23 – $24 for pre-order. When you mentioned the prices for Dreams of Distant Shores, Elaine, I thought at first you were talking about Kingfisher. So I went to check Amazon, and what do you know? The prices for both versions has gone down! It’s now $14 and $18 respectively.

    Something else I was wondering. Does it make a difference to an author how the books are priced? If self-published, then of course. But otherwise? I know generally how Amazon does royalties, but not traditional publishers. Is it different between ebooks and hardcopy? I don’t mean to be nosy; it just came to mind.

  7. Even for Patricia McKillip, I’d hesitate at $24 for an ebook. Especially since I’d rather have it in paper. But $14 – $18 seems more reasonable.

    Without working through the math for my personal books, I can say with some confidence that the author almost always does better if you buy the hardcover vs any other form, including the ebook. The publisher generally does better if you buy the ebook vs any other form. On the other hand, I would never expect someone to pay significantly more for the hardcover than they’d end up paying for the ebook just because of that.

    I can also say that given the choice, I would personally far rather have dramatically higher sales than somewhat higher royalties. Royalties are nice, but higher sales means a much better chance of continuing your actual career. So regardless of royalty rates, I would much rather see a low ebook price for my own books.

  8. Interesting: for some reason I assumed authors got more from ebook sales. Because the publisher doesn’t have so many costs, I would have thought they’d pay more to the author . . . guess not?

    I don’t think I’d ever pay more than $15 for an ebook, and I’d only pay $15 if it’s the next book in a favourite series and I have to read it RIGHT NOW. Otherwise I’d definitely rather have the hardcover. I’ll pay $10-11 for authors I love, $5 for books recommended by multiple people I trust, and $3 for “sounds good, what the heck!”

  9. The blog Passive Voice (“a lawyer’s thoughts on authors, self-publishing and traditional publishing”) tries to cover author payments from trad publishing, e-book sales from all sources as well as other things, AND coincidentally to this conversation has two entries today about e-books:
    the other is picks up something from Hugh Howey: ‘The state of the industry” – essentially lousy, with coloring books being the big sellers

  10. Kim, nope. Because the publisher’s costs go down, their profit goes up. Relatively little of that extra profit finds its way to the writer.

  11. Considering I can either not-buy books and have them sink to the bottom of the wishlist, or buy books and have them sink to the bottom of the actual TBR pile […]

    That is the story of my life.

    I have to say I’m not inclined to buy e-books at pretty much any price. I’ve read a ton of digital fiction online over the last 20-odd years and the only ones that stick are the ones I print and reread that way. Most of my home library consists of used books, because I’m a member of several online bookswapping sites (like where I throw anything vaguely interesting on my wishlist and get stuff sent to me quite randomly long after I have any recollection of why I wanted it in the first place. This has worked out superbly for me with regards to finding new authors. I suppose I could use the library for this, but I don’t like to give things back…

    But once I like an author and it comes to paying for a new book format is more important than price to me. I’ve been staring at Bujold’s latest novella and grumbling to myself for weeks now that it’s e-book only and wondering if I will cave in. But I’ll never know now since I’ve heard that there will be a Subterranean Press edition. It will probably be way too expensive for the page count, but I would rather overpay for a physical version than buy an e-book. I also often choose paperback even over discounted hardcovers in the interest of shelf space. It is not lost on me that I would not have these space issues if I read more e-books…

    Speaking of which, is there a physical version of Pure Magic available? I just finished the short stories (see, I do make exceptions to the e-book thing in very special circumstances…)

  12. Macs, there definitely is a paper version of Pure Magic! It’s available through Amazon. If you don’t use Amazon, you can certainly buy a copy directly from me.

  13. @Rachel, for some reason Amazon refused to admit to me that there is a paper version even after I checked and checked. I’ve finally discovered why: it’s listed as by author “Ms Rachel Neumeier” and so it’s not connected by author to your other books. While this doesn’t explain why it was so hard to dig it up even when searching by title, or by author, you should probably connect it to the kindle version. I know there is a way that anyone can submit a correction to amazon info, but I don’t know how to do it myself. (Unless you have it separate on purpose.)

  14. Macs, thank you! I had no idea. How ridiculous. I will figure out how to get it to come up with any search of my name.

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