Maybe it’s time for some historical perspective

Here’s an interesting post at The Passive Guy: The “Big Change” era in trade book publishing ended about four years ago. It starts with an extensive quote from veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

…as publishers, retailers, libraries, and their ecosystem partners prepare for whatever is next, it becomes increasingly evident that — from the perspective of trade publishing at least — we have already lived through the biggest period of transition. It took place from sometime in 2007 through 2012. … At the beginning of 2007, there was no Kindle. By the end of 2011, there was no Borders.

Yep, big changes, all right. No one is going to disagree with that part. Shatzkin goes on:

[T]he challenges of today aren’t about change of the magnitude that was being coped with in the period that ended five years ago. They’re more about improving workflows and processes, learning to use new tools, and integrating new people with new skill sets into the publishing business. … It isn’t that there aren’t still many of new things to work on, new opportunities to explore, or long-term decisions to make. But the editor today can sign a book and expect a publishing environment when it comes out in a year or two roughly like the one we have today. The editor in 2010 couldn’t feel that confidence.

This seems plausible to me, but I see The Passive Guy thinks this is a bunch of hooey:

Unfortunately, the predictions in the OP represent a typical pattern of thinking in an industry swept up by disruptive technology. The survivors of early changes think, “It’s going to stop now. Nothing happened to me last year or last month, so nothing will happen to me next month and next year.”

PG doesn’t think this is the case for Big Publishing and its ecosystem.

Why? Big Publishing is simply too expensive. It costs everyone too much.

And I must say, that seems plausible, too. Among other things, The Passive Guy points to the high ebook prices we’re seeing from the Big Five publishers . . . I will add here, not from Saga! Which, yay! has the basic economic sense to think that possibly price might affect sales. But it’s certainly true that we see very, very high ebook prices for a lot of authors when there is no obvious reason to think that readers are willing to pay that much. I don’t mean the newest from Lois McMaster Bujold or Ilona Andrews. Lots of readers ARE willing to pay a lot for their new releases, obviously. But I see, for example, that Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer’s debut SF novel which just came out, is offered for $12.99 (Tor). That’s quite a price to hang on a debut novel. In contrast, Dark Run, a debut SF novel from Mike Brooks (Saga), is available for $7.99 — still higher than some readers will pay, but I’m sure far less off-putting than a price tag above $10.

While I looked for debut novel prices of recent releases, I noticed that Roses and Rot, Kat Howard’s debut novel from Saga, is $1.99 today. I haven’t read it, so this isn’t actually a recommendation as such, but if you were thinking of picking it up, I bet you find that more appealing than $12.99.

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8 thoughts on “Maybe it’s time for some historical perspective”

  1. Ebook pricing is incredibly frustrating! The latest Raksura book is $13.99 in ebook, which I happily paid because I love the series so much, but how many readers on the fence were lost?

    It’s not just new books either, some backlist prices are absolutely absurd. I’ve wanted to read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, but it’s $17.99 in ebook! Sharon Shinn’s SF Jane Eyre retelling, Jenna Starborn, which I’ve long wanted to read but never been able to track down in print, is $18.99 in ebook! I want to read these titles, but these are more than I typically pay for new releases.

    I really appreciate Saga’s pricing, and have picked up titles I might not have if they were at a higher price point, eg Genevieve Valentine’s Persona and Icon, which aren’t my typical subgenre at all but which I ended up loving. Harper Voyager’s digital first pricing of some of their novels at $2.99 has led me to pick up several of them recently too.

  2. Allan Shampine

    I was just talking about this on Facebook after Ken Hite complained about eBook prices being substantially higher than hardback prices available on the resale market. There is some interesting work going on about this sort of thing (e.g., the DOJ case against Apple and the publishers). Complicated stuff, though.

  3. It’s the prices for backlist ebooks that frost me. They should be pricing low to get new readers to try the older books, and maybe make fans who’ll pay full price for new releases. But above $10 for books that are over fifteen years old? I don’t know what business sense they think it makes. People aren’t (among my acquaintance) buying the new paper copies, either, not till they are in mass-market, or used and in good condition.

    someone in TPG’s comment thread points out that the disruption may be just beginning, pointing out at the equivalent time in the 80s we’d had six years of the PC and the mainframe makers, Wang, DEC, DataGeneral, were doing fine. But ten years later they were all gone.

  4. On the other side of the fence, even though I greatly prefer paper books, when I looked up The Bell Between Worlds I was shocked to see the ebook listed at $2. That’s my clearance-rack impulse buy price point, and that’s on a book I greatly enjoyed. So now I’m considering getting an ereader after all . . . but if I do, I’m incredibly more likely to prefer the paper versions unless the ebook is cheaper than getting it shipped to me. I read too much to drop $15 on books on a regular basis, especially when I live near a number of used bookstores stocked with $3 and under clearance.

  5. Megan, $1.99 deals on books you already know you’re interested in are not that rare. I got Genevieve Valentine’s PERSONA that way even though I wasn’t sure I would like it, because at that price I was willing to take a chance. That happens pretty often. So I don’t think you’ll have any trouble stocking up on ebooks even if you do prefer paper.

    These days I even occasionally pick up an ebook of a new title in a series because the price difference can be so large. I just got Hambly’s latest Benjamin January mystery as an ebook even though I have the rest in paper. I don’t like splitting series, but it was half the price. I’m still determined to buy all the Foreigner books in paper, though.

  6. The thing that a struggle with for ebooks is that you don’t actually *own* them, even if you pay $17.99. With digital items, you are only paying for the license to access them, until the owner decides to revoke it. I buy ebooks, but only if they are only a few dollars (or not available in print, when I have a big internal battle with myself about my maximum budget for ebooks). I can wave off a couple of dollars if I don’t like a book, or if the owner decides to remove it or change it, but I prefer print books for books that I want to own. In my mind, my ebook library is not fixed, but my physical library is solid and constant.

  7. That’s certainly an issue, Aimee. I wouldn’t mind seeing a big legal bruhaha about this — I expect Amazon would probably lose either legally or at least in the court of public opinion. The horrible optics of deleting books from people’s kindles ought to make even a giant like Amazon blink.

  8. There are work arounds. I’d rather not have to do it, but as the set up is what it is:

    While I buy paper for books I love I’ve discovered I prefer reading on the kindle ( the light weight doesn’t aggravate rsi) so I always back up to my PC via Calibre. I usually download via usb, too, which doesn’t give them access to remove a book. So far the books stay put, which means I need to manually delete when I decide to remove them from my library. Fortunately that hasn’t come up much and so far I’ve remembered to do it.

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