Wednesday, March 3, 2010

E-books: Their pricing, the cost to publish them and what do they hold for the future of writing?

When I discuss self-publishing with other writers, one question I'm often asked is, "Are you going to put out a paper book or an e-book first - or both?" Granted, a lot of debut authors going the self-pub route see e-books, whether through Kindle or Smashwords, as an easier, lower cost option. Without a publisher (and all their inherent expenses) to set pricing for them, that leaves the question of what to price an e-book wide open for the self-pub author. Ultimately, yes, I do plan to put my books out as e-books, but first I'll introduce them as p-books (lingo for 'paper books'), primarily because most of the people I personally know don't yet own an e-reader and don't read enough to warrant them buying one.

Recently, Amazon announced that starting in June it will pay authors 70% of the Kindle list price. This deal states that the list price must be between $2.99 and $9.99. Currently, many self-published authors are offering their Kindle titles at very low prices, like 99 cents... or even free - the logic being that readers are more likely to sample a new author if they can get the book for practically nothing. Their plan then is to build a readership base, in the hopes that they can later charge more for subsequent works. While I follow this logic, I can't say I agree with it, for the simple fact that it devalues the artist's efforts and the product they have to offer. There is also the problem of perceived value and 'you get what you pay for'. I just can't go there. To research, write and polish a work of historical fiction can take me up to two years (although I'm sure if I had a deadline of any sort, I could drastically reduce that time-frame). I believe the product I put out at the end of that time is worth something more than pennies.

Anita Davison's blog, in her post An End to Those Pesky Rejection Letters?, talks about whether this door to publishing for writers is a good or bad thing. And Mirella Patzer analyzes the emergence of e-book readers and their impact on the future of how we read in her blog post Reading, Then and Now.

Traditional publishers have been arguing that even though printing, shipping and warehousing costs are eliminated with e-books, there's still a lot of expense associated with them, like editing, cover art, marketing, and physical overhead (those Manhattan offices aren't exactly cheap). A recent New York Times article explores the dilemma of e-book pricing by traditional publishers.

How much would you shell out for a self-published e-book? $9.99, $4.99, $1.99 or would you only try it if it was free? Art Edwards discusses e-book pricing in his post: "How Much Would you Pay for a Self-Published E-book?".

So folks, that's a lot to digest. The bottomline is that publishing is in a state of fluctuation. Technology is changing so fast that by the time I get one thing figured out, it becomes obsolete. The economy is putting a squeeze on publishers and consumers and that all trickles down to the would-be author, as well as established authors.

Until later,


Sheila Lamb said...

As I posted on Mirella's blog, I haven't actually read an e-book yet, self -published or not. Although I spend much of my time on the computer or BlackBerry (mostly work/writing related), I prefer paper when its time to read for pleasure. That said, since I DO spend so much time plugged in, I'm sure I will get an e-book sooner or later.

Simon B said...

It's something that's been on my mind and good to see your thoughts on the subject, Gemi.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks so much for posting the information you have been gathering on the self-publication idea. I just wanted to let you know that as an avid reader, I really appreciate the written word in just about any form I can get it, stringently edited or not. To think of all the authors in the past that were denied publication of their material is heart-breaking and I fully believe raw talent and good stories are paramount to correct grammar and sentence structure, etc. Having said that, however, I do think it's nice when the author spends a bit of time reviewing their manuals before publication before they send it off to be printed.
I haven't yet crossed into the realm of digital books, though. As a traditionalist I love the smell of books and the simple act of turning a page. I have read many books that were self-published and will continue to do so, because I think it's a great opportunity to experience the vision of so many different authors.
Thanks again for sharing with us your journey! I look forward to more posts and eventually reading your stories.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

@ Sheila - I installed the free Kindle for PCs on my laptop. I read (and enjoyed) one self-published novel on it so far (by Lisa Hinsley), but it just made me want to buy a real Kindle (which I'm betting was one of Amazon's objectives in giving away the program).

@ Simon - Hello! Good to see you here. Is it sunny there in Spain? I need to get out of Ohio!!!

@ Elizabeth - I just finished a self-published historical novel in paperback, Grant's Indian by Peter Johnson. I hear his audio version is pretty good, too. But anyway, yes, I could have done this quietly, but I figured what the hey, maybe others can learn with me.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I've had to switch to a 'moderate comments' mode, due to non-English spam. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

Terrific post Gemi. I read ebooks on my iphone and through that device I have access to Barnes & Noble, Stanza, Fictionwise, and Amazon Kindle in addtion to several others including Smashwords, Iceburg, KOBO, and others.

I would not hesitate to pay $9.99 for your future novels because I know and admire the high quality of your work and the calibre of your talent.

But there are some ebooks out there, on Smashwords and soon likely on Amazon, that aren't well written and lack plot and polish. For those, a dollar is too much to pay.

But for yours, you must definitely sell it at $9.99 and not a penny less. And I'll be watching!

Jen Black said...

Can't help feeling that e-books should be considerably cheaper than their paper counterparts because of all the costs they avoid - paper, printing, distribution, storage etc etc. I have a Sony e-reader, and have bought a few things for it to take on holiday recently - then it really comes into its own. Small, slim, slides into a small handbag and easily read on the plane, in the airport or in bed at night - the only place I ddin't dare take it was the beach - all that Tunisan sand....

Eliseo Mauas Pinto said...

Undoubtedly, the digital progress has come to publishing, probably this will be the future and an open door for new writers and novelists...but unluckily this is not yet available for some places like South America.
I have a couple of books I want to publish but no one deals with Southamerican writers
Great post!
Keep up the good work

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Eliseo, if you find out anything new about that in regards to South America, do let me know. It's interesting to know how business and technology differ from one part of the world to another. BTW, is there a South American equivalent to