On Pricing E-books

In light of the Dept. of Justice coming down on Apple, HarperCollins, and some others in regards to e-book pricing, it’s time to address the question: what’s a fair price to pay for an e-book?

Frankly? Any price that is set that is below the print copy.

Allow me to be blunt about something, and this may not score me any points, but it needs to be said: no author works for free. We have bills to pay. We have mouths to feed. And we certainly reserve the right to profit from our labor. Most people seem to forget that writing is a job, and not a hobby, or “that thing to do to pass the time”. No. It’s a job, it’s a full-time job, because no matter how long you actually, physically write, the mental process of creating a story is interminable.

However, and on this one I’m standing firm, never should an e-book cost more than a new paperback. Yes, HarperCollins, I’m looking at you, because I see what you’ve done with Philippa Gregory books. I shouldn’t have to pay $14 for an e-book if the paperback costs $12.  No. While the production costs for paperbacks in trad-pub do, in a way, warrant the percentage of the list price that is withheld by the publisher. However, what is there on the e-book end? The production of an e-book is not difficult. Moreover, it’s a one-time thing. There are no repeated payments to the printer, and there is no sending back the overstock if it’s overprinted with e-books. Formatting and uploading is a one-time affair.

Where is the money going? Amazon’s distribution fee is pretty damn small. The author whose e-book is going through a publishing house gets about 16% off the total price. So the other 84% goes to the publisher…why? What, exactly, does the publisher do in order to warrant that much of a royalty on an e-book?

Formatting? Possibly. But formatting, in and of itself, is not a difficult task. If you own a writing software like Scrivener, it does publish to .mobi or .epub format. Even with something you get off download.com, if you toy with the originating file a bit, it’s not that difficult to have a good end result with the conversion.

To shift gears a little, let’s talk e-books for self-pubs.

I notice that more and more authors are going exclusively e-pub with their self-publication. Know what, awesome. It taps into the market directly and wicked fast, it’s free (contrary to what Writers Beware may say, self-publication is possible for free, and this is one of those ways…ahem), and it’s pretty damn easy. And usually, to generate a buzz, the new authors make their books anywhere from 99c to $9.99.

I am not a fan of e-books being priced at a buck, because the author should get a decent royalty cut. $2.99 is the minimum threshold for a 70% royalty, and believe me, that is plenty fair.

And yes, I think that there is nothing wrong with charging almost ten bucks for an e-book if you’re a self-pub. Personally, I wouldn’t do that for my books, but I can see why one would. For one, it’s profitable. For two, if your book garners good reviews and gets a good sales track going, then you have every right to make a better cut off it.

Let’s not get into the “well, it better be perfect for that price!” schtick that I’ve seen. There is no published work, trad or self, that is absolutely perfect. It’s a human labor, and as such, human errors are made. People seem to either forget that altogether, or don’t even stop to consider it. Nothing is perfect, and some of the books priced for 99c should be priced much higher for their content. Conversely, some of the books priced at $4.99 are poorly written and I would be hard-pressed to look at them again. In other words: forget for a second the standards of “perfection”. For one, there’s no such thing, and for two, you’re wasting the time that you can spend reading in trying to vet someone’s work against a subjective standard.

I will be the first to admit that I’d be hard-pressed to shell out $10 for an e-book, but if it’s recommended to me, then I’ll happily fork over the money. Perhaps there’s a bit of an actor-observer bias in me, considering I’m an author plying my trade as well, and thusly know how difficult it can be to drive sales to your book, but I have nothing against shelling out for someone’s work. They too poured in their blood, sweat, and tears into making it perfect, just like my team and I have invested into The Index Series. But when it gets to be where the print book is cheaper, that’s where we have a problem. Ahem, HarperCollins, that’s on you.


My books, should you want ’em: http://amzn.to/InrIwW