Apparent Value: What’s the Right Price for an E-Book?

Apr222011

One of the things that’s come up in conversation a lot in the past week is the price point of e-books. So before I say anything else, there’s a poll to the right that I’d like you to answer just off the top of your head right now:

What’s the right price to pay for an e-book?

Go ahead. Answer that. I’ll wait here.

Done?

Okay, that’s kind of a trick question because you’d pay more for an author you love or a story you’ve been waiting for than you’d pay for a new author or an impulse buy. My cut-off point is usually around $9.99, but I’d pay full hardcover price for a new e-Pratchett or to get my favorite Allinghams that are falling into dust restored on my iPad. All books are not created equal. But if you’re talking about trying new authors, or just looking for something new to read on the spur of the moment, I’m thinking that price point drops even lower, to $6.99, $7.99, mass market prices (which I’m still appalled by for mass market). The thing that makes me hit the “Buy” button after I’ve read the free sample is the need to read more, but the price point can make me decide I don’t need to read more THAT much. The price point can’t make me buy, but it can stop me from buying.

On the other hand, I’m deeply suspicious of $.99 books. Why are they so cheap? Do the authors not value the stories? Are they slashing prices in a desperate everything-must-go effort to get readers? Are they hobbyists, writers who just threw something up there to see if it sticks? I told Mollie it was like going to the store and seeing a new can of cola next to the Coke. If it’s in a badly designed can and it’s half the price, I’m not buying it because it’s going to taste bad. If it’s in a fabulously designed can and it’s a dollar more, I might try it, just because it catches my eye and it seems valuable. The ugly can might hold much better cola, but the good design and the respectable price tag is still going to pull me to the other one. But the one I’m really most likely to buy? Coke. I like Diet Coke. I’ve consumed a lot of Diet Coke. Diet Coke does not let me down. In the same way, if there’s a Pratchett in iBooks for $7.99, another fantasy book I’ve never heard of with an amateur cover for $.99, and another one I’ve never heard of with a stunning cover for $8.99, I’m going to read the sample of the $8.99 one because of its apparent value. But I bet you anything, I’ll be buying the Pratchett.

Granted most readers are probably more adventurous than I am, but I still think price point has a huge impact, especially since the only letters I’ve ever gotten on pricing from fans have been the ones complaining that e-books are priced too high. Some readers are upset because it costs almost nothing to put the books up on the net (in their argument) so the books should be much cheaper. In this they’re missing a couple of key points–publishers have overhead no matter what format you buy, and you’re not buying paper when you buy a book, you’re buying story–but it doesn’t matter because public perception of worth becomes reality. What should be a question of “How much is this story by Jennifer Crusie worth?” becomes, “Well, I’ll pay $14.99 for Welcome to Temptation in trade paperback because that’s worth it, but I won’t pay that $9.99 for the same story in e-format because they’re ripping me off.” One’s wine in a bottle and the other is wine in a box. Same wine, but the perception of the value of that wine is different.

All of which makes pricing difficult. Lower priced books sell better, but do they devalue the reader’s perception of your work’s worth? Higher-priced books don’t harm the perception of value, but they can annoy readers who think you’re gouging them to pay for your yacht. So the key is to find a price that most readers will think is fair that still holds the apparent value of the work at an appropriate level.

Which brings us back to you. Since the Argh Nation is made of some of the smartest readers I know, what do you think?

Filed in Publishing

161 Comments to 'Apparent Value: What’s the Right Price for an E-Book?'

On April 22, 2011 at 11:47 pm Skye said...

I won’t pay full hardcover price for an e-book (MTT was less than that when it came out this summer), and I have to admit I feel bad paying paperback prices for an e-book (and aren’t they appalling anymore? It used to be easy as a kid to buy a couple with my pocket money). But I know that there are basic costs whether the book is digital or printed, so I’ll pay the paperback price.

Now, I will pay more for a trade paper than a mass market paperback because I expect the trade to be better quality, I like the feel of them in my hand, and they generally have more attractive covers.

And wow, I posted first. That’s new.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:13 am Julie said...

Well hell. I love to vote (never miss one of your polls). When random people call me to take a survey I am overjoyed to share my opinions. Sadly, I am SO not qualified here. Boo.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:21 am clunybrown said...

I can loan a physical book as many times as I’d like to anybody I’d like. That is the main reason that I won’t pay higher prices for an e-book. Barring a few exceptions, I don’t pay more than $8 for electronic. But I agree with you on the cheap books; unless it’s a novella, I’m wary of anything below $3.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:30 am Andrea said...

I have to say, ebook prices annoy me. At harlequin, it is cheaper most of the time to buy print books. The thing is..if music is available digitally at much lower prices than the physical copies, why aren’t books? It baffles me.

As for the 99 cent books…I’ve done promotions for some Indie authors where they sell their book on Amazon for 99 cents, to drive sales and get their book out there to a wider audience. Most everything I’ve read and reviewed for the Bestseller for a Day has been quality writing.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:31 am Christine said...

All this eBook stuff is very interesting indeed. One thing that I am doing lately, even with library books, is reading page 100. I have been tricked before by a good first page. If you can read page 100 and get sucked in, it is usually a good book. In my humble opinion. So for myself, until the whole deal settles down I won’t be spending money on eBooks. I am a member of a couple of free municipal libraries here in Australia that now lend eBooks. Wonderful. I will stick with those for the time being.

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:01 am CatScott said...

When I start a new book I usually can’t put it down until I’ve hit the 50 page mark. Life is too short, so if I’m not engaged 50 pages in then it’s time to move on.

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On April 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm Christine said...

Dude, you misunderstood me. I meant that I flip to page 100 and read just that!

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On April 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm Rita said...

50??? Make that 5 for me.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:40 am Sabrina said...

I’m flexible on pricing as long as I feel that the pricing is “fair”. For example, if a newly released hardcover comes out for $27.95, I know that if I jump early I can typically head to my local Target and grab it for about 40% off. In those cases, I’m willing to pay $14.99 for the e-book since that is still a deal for a new release and likely the most inexpensive format. That price point is typically my personal max for e-books and only spent on items I really want to read – which by the way is what I was happy to spend on Wild Ride : )

I do feel as though the prices should naturally go down over time and as other book forms are released. Once the paperback becomes available for example I would like to see the e-book price point drop as well. While ultimately I do feel as though I am paying for the story, I personally feel as though the e-book should be the least expensive form to purchase for the simple reason that a physical product does not need to be manufactured. I understand that many of the same costs exist regardless of the book format, but for some reason I get a major case of the cranks when I see an e-book that is priced the same (or higher) than their hardcover and paperback counterpoints. That’s my two cents : )

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:34 am Jenny said...

You know, I think that would be smart pricing: mark the e-book down as the print moves into cheaper editions until it reaches a floor value beyond which it doesn’t drop.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm mq, cb said...

This is basically what I expect from the pricing. Backlist should cost less in an ebook format because the publisher should already have recouped its costs in the print run, and made its required profit. I don’t expect backlist to cost less in a paperback format unless it was backlist when it was printed. Even a dusty old copy in the back of the shop is the bookseller’s non-income generating capital until I buy it, so whilst a discount is nice, I don’t expect it.

However, although the publisher and retailers should still make a profit on the ebook, I don’t want to pay the regular paperback price on backlist. That’s just greed on the part of the publisher/retailer because the unit cost of producing and selling an ebook must be lower than that of producing a paperback. I know that there’s the initial conversion cost, the cost of making available the book in a storefront, ongoing server costs etc, but if that’s not less than the overheads of keeping the dusty paperback in the back of the shop, together with all the production costs of making it and trekking it out there in the first place, why did they bother with ebooks to begin with? The industry would have done better to refine the existing paper production model, say by having custom printing like Faber Finds. So unless I assume that they are all idiots lacking sensible self-interest who can’t add up, ebooks must have lower production costs.

I do still buy paperbacks. I buy ebooks (a) mostly for storage reasons (I have little left); (b) because it’s easier when I travel and (c) occasionally for the instant gratification. (No more deciding that you absolutely have to have the backlist that you discovered the other day and then schlepping to town to try fifteen bookstores – btw, I live in London where there probably are fifteen bookstores within walking distance). But I know that I’m taking a risk; the ebook could be deleted from my device remotely by the server (Amazon has done this before, btw), the device itself could cease to be supported and there will be nothing that I can do about it. I don’t get the security of a paperback and I can’t lend it out, sell it or give it away so ideally I would expect to pay a little less because of this risk.

So, for a new release, I would be happy paying the same price, or just under, on an ebook (and I might even pay slightly more if an ebook had got worthwhile extra features: can you imagine a Pratchett or a Fforde with interactive footnotes?) at release but for the reasons given above, I expect the price to drop off over time even if the paperback price remains the same.

I only buy hardbooks in art or photography books, or books where the illustrations pay an important part, or as gifts, or secondhand.

Finally, I agree with egads below that “buying the story” is not a credible argument for differential pricing. There isn’t one set price for all books everywhere. That argument would only work if what drove the pricing was how much the author and other creative elements got, rather than the physical production costs.

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On April 25, 2011 at 5:15 am Micki said...

Me too post. I think e-books should be priced at about 10 percent lower than the lowest-priced tree-book. But, for something I’m not sure of, I have a really hard time paying more than $8 for fiction, $25 for non-fiction and $35 for decorating books (which would suck on e-readers, anyway, I’m given to understand). It’d have to be one of my 95 percent satisfaction guaranteed writers to pay more. (LOL, but I didn’t vote because I don’t buy e-books yet, so I don’t REALLY know what my buying habits would be. Just basing it off tree-books.)

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On April 24, 2011 at 11:34 am Annie said...

I won’t pay more than $12.99 for an ebook, but then I wouldn’t pay more than that for a hardcover, either, I don’t care who wrote it. If I need immediate gratification, I can basically always find the title for that price somewhere and then resell/trade it if it turns out not to have been a keeper.

I do think the sliding scale thing is smart, and I’m pretty sure that Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series follow that model – hardcover is $12.99, and when they go to paperback, the price drops to $7.99. I find myself sort of grudging the ebook pricing for mass markets (that were already released in hardcover) being identical to dtb pricing, because all the work – editing, layout, formatting, file generation – already happened in for the hardcover (which is why I don’t grudge it for hardcover), in a way I don’t grudge it for books that come out only in paperback (Ilona Andrews). And I really grudge it for backlist. Combine that with the challenges around lending books, and I find it really easy to justify purchasing epubs internationally. Theft, no. Buying ebooks in epub format every time I’m out of the country, yes. Giving my friends shopping lists and my account information and money to pick up epubs for me every time they’re out of the country, sure.

One of the ways that I see heavy ebook users dealing with that is that a cluster of folks go in on the hardback, share it, resell it when everyone’s done, and then people buy (or don’t) the ebooks when they go to paperback and the price drops.

I keep going back to the model of what happened in music. Admittedly, it is FAR more hassle to scan in a book and OCR it and convert it to HTML and then convert it again to whatever format your device uses, but no-one is going to make Will Cuppy available as ebooks any time soon (american lit critic, humorist and self-proclaimed hermit, d. 1949), and I love it. So I did that work and now I have those books with me in my purse all day long. I’m trying to get on board with doing it for Angela Thirkell books, but I have dogs. And a yard. And I like to preserve the illusion of having a life.

And if someone was looking for the Philo Vance mysteries, they’re on Gutenberg Australia.

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On April 24, 2011 at 8:47 pm MaineBetty said...

Will Cuppy, “The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody”
Loved it, still have the crunchy warped little paper back.

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On April 25, 2011 at 6:13 am Jenny said...

Oh, I loved that book. Haven’t read it in years.

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On April 25, 2011 at 2:56 pm Annie said...

And “how to become extinct”, “how to attract the wombat”, “how to tell your friends from the apes”, “how to get from january to december” and the magnificent “how to be a hermit”

why hemingway is taught in the schools and not cuppy eludes me altogether. the world would be a different, and I am firmly convinced better, place if it was the other way around.

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On April 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm mq, cb said...

Just bought Will Cuppy’s “The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody” in pb on the basis of your recommendations.

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On April 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm MaineBetty said...

Not to mention “Is Sex Necessary?”, with, I believe, James Thurber.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:42 am Cathy M said...

I’m one of those people who will get the latest book in hardback from my library. If I want a copy to keep for myself, I’ll wait for the mass market paperback. I rarely buy trade paperbacks, so I probably would not spend the $9.99 to $12.99 price for an ebook.

If I know the author and like previous works, I’m good with the $6.99 price, but if I don’t know the author I wouldn’t necessarily buy the book for $6.99 based on the sample. I’ve seen too many books start off fine and then turn into wall bangers. If the author is new to me, $2.99 is no problem. And for me, the cover is not a big issue unless it is ghastly. I’m looking for the story so accurate back covers and dust jackets are important along with a good sampling of the writing.

While I realize that publishers have costs incurred to bring the book to print either digitally or in physical format, the ebook eliminates the actual cost of the paper, the people who run the presses, the trucks to deliver the books to the distributors who in turn ship the books to the stores and all the charges that go along with the process. I would really like to see the unit cost of a physical book as opposed to the unit cost of an ebook. I’m sure that will never occur, but that is the only way to settle the discussion of the appearance of overpricing of ebooks compared to physical books.

I think it is interesting that there is a price gap between $3.99 and $6.99. Has some marketing study shown that books priced in between those ranges don’t sell? I’m going to date myself and say I remember years ago when I was a librarian that hardbacks cost $5.95 and paperbacks were $1.95. And yes, I do have gray hair.

Comparing ebook/physical book pricing to wine in bottle vs in a box leaves out the aspect of the resalability (is that a word?) of physical books. You can sell the book to someone else which you cannot do with an ebook or you can loan or give it to someone else, which is not easy with ebooks if not downright impossible. The content is as valuable, but there is also value in the medium of a physical book. These are all aspects to the pricing game.

Most people have a price point limit or budget, but that limit is definitely not a consistent, easily determined line. To me it looks like a lot of educated guessing will be going on for some time.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:59 am Camanoah said...

I have to admit that so far I’m a “book in hand” person, but I do see the beauty of being able to take a huge amount of books when traveling between my home and cabin, without having to decide what I might want to read before I go and without having to whittle down the number of possibilities due to the weight of the books. I also worry (because I’m like that) about replacing my whole library in digital form and then having the technology change (like 8 tracks, cassettes, VHS, etc.) or having a horrible computer crash, etc.

If I start to use ebooks more (so far, I only have a few on my computer and no separate reader), I think the price should be in the paperback range – $6.99 to $7.99 at the most (if that is what the book would sell for as a paperback). I have noticed on-line (on B&N) that the Nook price is sometimes higher than the price of buying the actual book, which seems weird. I have been considering buying ebook duplicates of my favorite authors (you are definitely one of them – I think I have all of them – even Sizzle…), but since I have some very prolific favorites, it would be quite an expense.

All that said, I am sorely tempted to buy an ebook when I’m impatient to get a favorite author’s new book (or a book from the UK that is not yet out in the US) and would probably pay more than a paperback price just to get it faster. Also, if out-of-print backlists of my favorite authors or newly discovered authors became available in ebook format only, I probably would buy them if I didn’t have them already. I do love the idea of out-of-print back lists being available instead of searching for used books. This would also benefit the authors as they would receive income that the used book market doesn’t give them.

As I have the inherited Swedish thrifty genes, I wouldn’t mind if prices for ebooks were less than for a paperback, but I am mindful of the author’s right to benefit from their work, so think the paperback price would be fair to everyone. Maybe, having new books priced a little higher at first with some back-list books available at a bargain price or free to read online or like ebooks from the library which you download but they expire after a certain time limit. This might allow a potential buyer wants to “test the waters” to see if they like the author’s writing style.

Sorry this is so long. I’m kind of all over the place and I have a tendency to overuse parentheses. These are a few of the many many reasons I am not a writer, but I am an avid reader.

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:23 am Sierra said...

So, speaking of Pratchett…you saw that he’s got a new one coming out this fall, right? It’s a Vimes-centric one titled Snuff, and I can’t wait. :D

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:35 am Jenny said...

Really? YAY!

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:39 am Sierra said...

Amazon’s got it listed with a release date of October 11. I’ve already read the Wikipedia summary of it about 4 times, getting myself more and more excited. :)

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On April 24, 2011 at 12:37 am Muria said...

Ooh! A Vimes book?! Those are my absolute favorites! Even when the family laughed at me for carrying around a book called “Thud!”. Thanks!

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:31 am Sierra said...

Paying hardcover prices for an e-book is ridiculous to me, largely because it feels like a convenience fee for reading it right when it comes out more than anything else. Hardcovers are pricier because they’re a higher quality. You pay for the materials. I understand that an e-book that’s released at the same time as a brand spankin’ new book is going to be more expensive because they’re trying to make money, but it irks me to feel like I’m being penalized for choosing the e-book. If it’s an author I love, $14.99 is my cutoff for a new e-book I can’t wait for. Anyone else? I’m waiting, damn it. At least until it’s less than 10 bucks. And I think that having a lower price would let more people (who are on tighter budgets) pick it up sooner, so wouldn’t that benefit everyone?

However, if it’s an amazing book and I didn’t have to pay that extra money to read it at a certain time, then I will oftentimes go out and pick up a physical copy of it at some point. Either so that I can have it as a bathtub book or so that I have a gorgeous hardcover of it or so that I have a copy to push on people to get them hooked as well. Your books and Pratchett’s both fall into that category for me.

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:34 am Sierra said...

My guy, E, managed to find a couple of articles on ebook pricing for two particular authors, and how the different prices impacted sales. The first one deals with pounds instead of dollars, but the trend is still apparent and kinda cool. If they’ve popped up in the comments before, I apologize.

http://www.teleread.com/paul-biba/stephen-leather-made-12691-57-from-kindle-ebooks-in-december-by-steven-lewis/

http://boingboing.net/2011/03/08/will-all-digital-boo.html

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:50 am Jenny said...

Thank you! And your guy, of course.

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:12 am Electric Landlady said...

As another data point, Tobias Buckell experimented with variable pricing on an e-version of a short story collection: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2011/04/01/a-year-of-selling-tides-from-the-new-worlds/

I am an extremely late adopter and haven’t embraced e-books yet at all, although I’m eyeing e-readers. If I do get one it will probably mostly be to borrow e-books from the library. I like having physical copies of stuff I really love. So I am not the best person to ask, but I am interested in the question!

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On April 25, 2011 at 3:47 am CrankyOtter said...

I also like charts and graphs and like the post you linked to the best of them all. If I may be so bold as to summarize, including stuff from the other two links: there’s a range of prices that people lump together as equally valuable. You want to price your stuff at the top of this range without jumping into the “serious” purchase category. Pricing stuff really low can make a splash but it doesn’t necessarily last for a midlife genre author so use it as a tool. [end summary] makes sense to me.

I know from art sales that people will pay more for small things if they are held up next to a big, expensive thing. What they are buying is partly the memory of the bigger better piece. Without the big piece, fewer cheap things get sold and for less money. I suspect this is the allure of $0.99 books- they’re only super sellers next to $8 and $14 eBooks. It’s in the author’s and publisher’s best interest to maintain at least one high price point item because everything next to it is considered “more affordable” than a ridiculously expensive $25 hardcover. But they should have a range of prices below that for the various audiences. They effectively do this now with HC, Trade, PB, bundled editions. Now the trick is to figure out how to maintain the high priced lure for eBooks. Maybe they need to make hardcovers extra super special- optional leather trim! Or extra $ for a picture of you photoshopped next to the author at a booksigning?

People will also pay $52 for something they would pay $50 for but they balk around $53. So unless you like round numbers or $x.99 pricing, you should charge $52- or $52.99 for a $50 thing.

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:57 am Egads said...

My thoughts on e-book pricing are all over the place. I feel like e-books should always be cheaper than the current cheapest version of the tangible book. So if it’s only out in hardcover, then the e-book should be a few dollars less than the hardcover sale price. If the paperback edition comes out then I feel the e-book price should drop and be below the paperback price. That’s my comfort zone for buying e-books–cheaper than a physical copy.

Pricing e-books equal to or above physical copies doesn’t seem right. The you’re-buying-story,-not-the-format argument doesn’t work for me if the publisher is going to ignore that argument when they price hardcovers vs. trade paperbacks vs. mass market. Clearly format does matter or all those books would be the same price, because the story remains unchanged. So format should affect price, but what’s fair? I acknowledge that publishers have to format the e-books, make a new cover, proofread, and probably a few more expenses of which I’m unaware, but they don’t have to store or transport copies, handle returns, pay for additional print runs, etc. After an initial investment, the cost to keep an e-book in print is significantly lower than that of a physical copy and the price of the e-book should reflect that in my opinion.

I’m really comfortable paying for an e-book in the $5.00 range. I try all sorts of new authors and gobble up backlist like candy in the 2.99 range. I look warily at the .99 books, but try them now and then. (From an established author, I assume .99 is a short story or novella.) I wince a little at 7.99 but buy my favorite authors anyway. I’ve bought two e-books at 12.99 so far just because I didn’t want to wait, and they were new releases.

All that said, if enhanced e-books ever catch-on, and if they offer real value to the story, then I would pay more for an enhanced e-book than any other format.

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:02 am Carol Anne said...

If it is an author I adore reading, I buy the paperback/trade/hardcover book or search for a hardcover copy if the paperback thrills me. Why wouldn’t the eprice be equal to the trade paperback?

I don’t have an e reader and thinking about getting one, the bookcases are bursting. I guess the price would/should drop over time?? Audiobooks get discounted from the full price which is the same as a hardcover or more. I think MTT started out at $35.00 at Indigo. My question is would libraries start checking out ereaders with several downloaded books in the future? Or, would there always be a paper book? (Says one who had Beta machine as the format was better.)

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:18 am Birgit said...

Quite frankly, I rather pay more for a real physical book than for an eBook, but that’s just me. And as far as prices for eBooks go, well, I have to agree that I’m also suspicious about those who only cost 99cents!? Though, admittedly, I’ve read great “cheap” books as well as awful “expensive” ones …
BTW, it’s neat to see you also love to read Pratchett :-D !!

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:25 am Sure Thing said...

I’m like Julie – not qualified here, having not bought an e-book ever. But I have a comment :-D

You (Jenny) said: “Granted most readers are probably more adventurous than I am,” – really? I’m tend to be one of those “I know what I like and I like what I know” type of people. That’s why I hang out here going ” Where’s your new book , Crusie?”

I am sometimes adventurous. But that is more likely because the book was on sale.

I buy a lot of stuff on sale. Two of my fave brick and mortar stores do sales twice a year. I make out like a bandit then. I got 2 hardcovers of Agnes and the Hitman for a very reasonable price. One copy to keep and one to lend, in case anyone wants to know.

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:53 am Katie said...

Love sales at bookstores, but I like to haunt used bookstores instead of waiting for them. Half Price Books is practically my second home. Not only is it cheaper, there’s always so much more variety.

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On April 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm Jenny said...

I think most passionate readers are a lot more adventurous than I am. I don’t go looking for new authors. I still have a list of authors that people whose tastes I share are passionate about that I haven’t read. And a lot of the time when I read, I read for comfort–it’s a bad day, have a Heyer and some hot chocolate–so that cuts down on my new authors, too. But there are a lot of readers who actively look for new authors which is smart because then you can read through the back lists of a new fave writer, best of both worlds.
So I don’t assume everybody reads like me. Except for you.

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On April 24, 2011 at 11:57 am Sure Thing said...

I *had* to type it: “I love this comment!”

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On April 25, 2011 at 5:20 am Micki said...

I dunno. I consider myself a passionate reader and a complete addict . . . but I’ll rarely buy a book unless I’ve read a good review, or seen it mentioned by someone who is in an on-line fan group of someone I love. Even then, I pay attention to reviews on amazon. Fortunately, there are so many good books out there, I never have trouble finding something to read. (I’ve also got a lot of book-junkie connections, and they often have similar tastes!)

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:51 am Katie said...

I’m one of those people who doesn’t have, or want, an e-reader. For me that means buying a book in e-format requires reading it on my laptop, which restricts my reading experience (can’t read the book anywhere it’s inconvenient to drag my computer). For that reason, I only get them from the library. If I were to start buying them, they’d have to be cheaper than mass market, which is the form I buy almost all books in, to compensate for that restriction. But that’s just me. I expect that people who like using the Kindle/Nook/iPad are willing to pay more because their experiences with e-books are qualitatively different from mine.

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:51 am robena grant said...

I’ve been reading blogs regarding this topic for several months. My stance has been one of wait and see. Let the dust settle. I’m an avid reader, belong to two bookclubs, don’t own an e-reader, mostly buy paperbacks, but still buy some hard cover books of favorite authors, and have a library card. I seldom buy books that I don’t enjoy. I read across genres, and I’m very selective.

To my mind, price point comes down to an author needing to know his/her worth. For example, when you apply for an executive position and are asked what your salary requirements are, you don’t say, “Oh just give me what you want”. You have to know your value. And as an author you have to have the confidence that what you’re doing is building a readership of loyal fans, a career, stories that will have legs. You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot.

The whole $0.99 cent thing is not about price. It’s about sales, and trying to make certain lists, and with the hope that that will establish author name, blah, blah, blah. It’s all a big game, and many are rushing to get in on it because they fear if they don’t, they’ll miss out on some incredible opportunity. They hope they’ll make some Amazon list or something, they’ll get noticed, they’ll get a print contract. And that’s all wonderful, IF the product is good. And it’s disastrous if it isn’t.

What I’ve heard from many readers is they buy these self-pubbed e-books, or ebooks from authors they’ve never read before (without even reading an excerpt) and then they’re disappointed. Many times the reader doesn’t get beyond the first few pages. But here’s the catch. Even at $0.99 cents they still feel cheated. Will they ever buy that author again? Will they say all $0.99 cent books must be trash? Will they write negative reviews? Give nasty word of mouth?

For the well-established author, going into e-book publishing through their publishing house, is a different story. I agree with Jenny, there are other costs to be included in that overall price. BUT in that case we’re also talking about established authors. Or debut authors who have passed the many gatekeepers. The reader knows what she’s getting (most of the time) so the higher price is fine. I’d expect to pay the equivalent of the paper back price for an e-book from a publishing house.

But that’s just my $0.99 cents worth.

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On April 23, 2011 at 3:56 am Ericka said...

i suppose i should post the disclaimer first: i do not have, nor do i want, an e-reader. i love books – the smell of the ink, the texture of the paper, the crinkle of the pages – and it’s going to take some doing to get me interested in any kind of electronic format.

that being said, i tend to view e-books more like apps for my phone, and it has to be REALLY special for me to pay more than $0.99 for one. and i realize that i’m being arbitrary about it, because i will pay more for the software in a box at a store for a program that goes on the computer than i will for basically the same thing as an app on my phone. so clearly i’m all kinds of illogical. but somehow the analogy is the same in my head between the apps and the software and the e-books and the “real” books.

i didn’t help, did i?

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On April 23, 2011 at 6:46 am Julie said...

I don’t know if you helped Jenny or not, but you certainly helped me feel less alone! ;)

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On April 23, 2011 at 7:47 am J said...

I have issues with buying ebooks that are as expensive as or more expensive than the print versions for authors that I am not familiar with. That’s because, in spite of the added convenience of the ebook form (at least for travel and not having to spend the time to go to a store to get it), it has less value to me than a physical co. If I don’t like the book, all I can do is delete the book. I can’t pass it along to a friend or swap it to get something I like better, all of which makes it feel like I didn’t just waste my money, even if I didn’t enjoy the book. So, I usually just buy ebooks from authors who have a good track records with me or are less expensive than any version of the physical book that I can find.

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On April 23, 2011 at 8:14 am HeatherR said...

My personal economics about ebooks. (YMMV). I don’t like ebooks. I don’t have the money to drop on a dedicated ereader, and I much prefer to read a book as a book than on a laptop or desktop. For one, I stare at a computer too much as it is, I don’t need to be staring anymore. And two, I’m a curl-up-in-a-bed-or-chair-er when it comes to books, and that just doesn’t work with a laptop. So while I have bought ebooks, I only did so because the story was no available in any other format and I *really* wanted to read it. (I paid $5-$8 for them.) But I’m a huge re-reader, yet my experience reading the ebooks is so annoying that I’ve never read an ebook twice. So while I may pay more for convenience, the fact that I know I’ll never read it again definitely lowers the value of an ebook for me.

The other thing about value, for me, is that if I’m willing to pay lots of money for a book, I’m going to want to keep this book for a long time. A not insignificant portion of my library is hardcovers over 10 years old. I have no piece of computer equipment anywhere near that old. Add that to the lack of rereading, and I’d only want to get an ebook when I didn’t want to reread it nor keep it for years. To me that’s at MOST a paperback, if not used paperback value.

While I appreciate the sentiment that I’m paying for a story and not the format, I’ve been trained all my life by the publishing industry to think otherwise. Paperback, trade PB, smaller hardcovers, full sized hardcovers – They all have different prices because we are paying for paper. I’ve paid an obnoxious amount of money for the Absolute Sandman (oversized, leather-bound, slipcased) for the format. I certainly didn’t need the story because I already had TWO other formats of the same story (yes, I have the full comic run plus the trades.)

So, no, I’m not voting in the poll. Since you are on my Automatically Buy the Hard Back list, I’d be willing to fork over a lot more cash for your books than for someone else’s. But I’d only buy your ebook if you didn’t have any other format out there.

PS This whole ebook situation does NOT apply to non-fiction. I had to write something on the Stoics recently, and being able to search ebooks for specific phrases was a good send.

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On April 23, 2011 at 9:00 am McB said...

First off, a new Vimes? Coolness!

Second, I get the whole argument about why e-books aren’t as cheap to publish as what people think they are. But I’m not ever going to pay as much for an e-book as I will for a hard copy. Why? I guess it’s an emotional thing. I can enjoy a book published in e-form and the new e-readers do well at capturing the look of a printed page. I can get engaged in the story. BUT, I have no emotional attachment to owning it. It’s not a thing, you see. It will never take on that patina of an old friend. It’s not really MINE. I’ll pay pretty good bucks for some of my auto buy authors, but I expect to get an actual physical thing for my money. If I pay full book price, I want the full book experience. And I think that’s what the argument over e-book pricing is really about, the experience.

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On April 23, 2011 at 9:04 am Renee said...

Not knowing anything about the overhead cost of putting out or sending an e-book over the “waves”, I’m not sure what a true fair price should be. That being said, I don’t have a problem paying the same as a full price paperback book. I don’t think I would pay hardcover prices for an e-book. My normal top-line price for any book, hardcover or paperback is $25. I imagine I would feel the same way about an e-book, unless it was a bundle of several titles. But when it comes right down to it, if it’s a book from one of my favorite authors, I’m not sure I have a price ceiling. I do know that I wouldn’t spend more than a paperback price on an author I’m unfamiliar with. I guess you could say my loyalty is priceless when it comes to my beloved authors.

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On April 23, 2011 at 9:09 am Renee said...

I also think it should be said that just because a book isn’t printed on paper, it doesn’t minimize the time, blood, sweat and tears an author has put into it. For me, that is worth AT LEAST a full paperback price. IF I ever get an e-reader myself, it will be for the convenience of having the book at my fingertips in a flash, not that it’s a cheaper way to buy it.

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:46 am ruthie said...

Ebook is just another format. By that argument, you should be willing to pay the same price for a paperback as for hardcover. Lord knows the author did the blood, sweat and tears thing, but they only did it once. ;) Too snarky? Just consider that, in the paper copies, they are priced relative to their cost of production and materials…and those relative costs also dictate the longevity of the copy. You don’t have that difference for ebooks, and you can’t guarantee their longevity.

Here’s something to ponder. Since copies sold equals income for author and publisher, as someone up above suggested, if you can sell more ebooks at a lower price, isn’t that a good thing? Especially if it draws in new readers with shallow pockets who can’t now afford to try a new author at the standard paper book prices but will most likely have more discretionary income at some future time and move up to paper or just buy more ebooks.

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On April 23, 2011 at 9:47 am Jenyfer Matthews said...

I read this post last night and could have commented then and been way up in the “top 5″ comments for a change, but I wanted to see what others had to say on the topic before I chimed in.

Perhaps because I am an author with primarily digital publishing experience I have a much wider range of acceptable pricing. I don’t look at low pricing as an automatic sign that the product is inferior, but as a promotional tool. Everyone is trying to get noticed and no one has a harder time making a splash than unknown authors with a digital book. Ever stop to think of how many books are available on Amazon, let alone the internet at large – mind boggling. I approach ebooks as I would any other book – I read the sample (if there is one), then I decide whether or not the price and sample together is tempting enough. The most I have ever paid for an ebook is something like $12 and that was only because it was a new SEP. As a general rule, I like to cap my spending at the level of a mass market paperback.

My own books are priced at $2.99 – and it wasn’t easy to come up with that price. I work very hard to write a book, whether it is released in print or digitally. My first three books spent about 4 years priced at what I felt was a ridiculously high price with the publisher I was then connected with. When I got my rights back, I gave them another polish and decided to try to give them a new life by lowering the prices. I tried to strike a balance between what was fair to me and what might attract a reader unfamiliar to my writing. The price is no real reflection of how much time I have invested in these books between writing / proofing / editing / revising / formatting and I find it slightly depressing to think that my books would be automatically dismissed because someone had a preconceived idea about how the price point relates to the quality.

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On April 26, 2011 at 12:36 am Rosa said...

as a reader who learns to love writers at the thrift store or library through maybe 3 or 4 books before I ever purchase a new book, I think low pricing to attract new readers is super smart.

I do worry, though, that with ebooks you won’t be able to raise the price later. There’s a clear progression with paper books – free from friend/library, used pb, new pb, used hardback, trade, new hardback, and there’s obvious reasons why the price gets higher. For works that are epub only, the library is the only really free route and then it’s all pay for new, same format, so it seems like the difference in price would be harder to jump.

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:00 am nightsmusic said...

I’m coming out of lurkdom! I’ve only done that a few times here.

Though I have no ereader, I do have a half dozen or so books on my EVO to read when I’m stuck somewhere or I’m traveling. I’m a tactile person who still loves the feel of a good book in my hands where I can play with it and pet it and smell the ink.

I was more than willing to pay the paperback price for the ones I bought though because, whether they’re electronic or not, the author put their heart and soul into the story and regardless of the medium, the ‘sweat equity’ remains the same.

What I did make sure of before I bought them though was that I would continue to have the ability to re-download them should something happen (like the 3 hard drive crashes in 45 days I went through at the first of the year which was a huge disaster for me, but I digress…,) however! That said, I shouldn’t have to pay twice as much for an electronic book just because I can re-download it again should something happen. Granted, if I lost a paperback, I would either have to pay full price or go to a used bookstore, but I wouldn’t mind paying $0.99 to re-download just like I don’t mind paying that amount to replace a book at the USB that I’ve lost or damaged beyond readability.

I don’t buy hardcovers, but paying a premium price for an eBook simply because it’s out in hardcover is not something I would do either. There’s a difference in overall price for the publisher between hardcover and paperback. Yes, same sweat equity, but my impression of hardcovers has always been when an extremely popular author’s publisher decides to release in hardcover, it’s first for the publisher’s benefit and second for the rabid reader to have a collectible/keeper and third for the author themselves. In that case no, I would not spend $22 or $24 for an eBook. There are many who most likely would though and that’s fine as long as eventually, the book reduced to a more reasonable paperback price when the paperback was released. Some eBooks don’t though and I don’t understand that reasoning except to say that it only invites piracy which is a whole ‘nother topic, Lucy…

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:07 am McB said...

The $.99 thing … I can see newish or relatively unknown author doing this to introduce their books to readers. I might take a chance for .99 and come back for the next book and pay more. BUT this will only work if the .99 book was pretty darned good. For me it’s not just about price; its also about my time. If it wasn’t worth .99 of my time and attention I won’t buy a second one at even half that price. So I won’t thnk less of a book that’s cheap but cheap alone won’t get my repeat business.

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:19 am Psyche said...

When Amazon was pricing most paperback-release ebooks around $5.50 – right around when they first released the Kindle – I would buy stuff just on the basis of good reviews. $6 seemed to be a mental cutoff for me. For whatever reason (and I’m sure it’s not logical at all) above $6 I find myself asking “Do I really need to read this now? Could I get it from the library instead?” So above $6, I really only buy stuff from authors I know and trust, or that comes with a very trustworthy recommendation.

I’ll pay up to $10 for must-buys, but if the ebook is more than the mass-market paperback, I won’t buy no matter what the price. It’s a pet peeve. I know there’s overhead, blah, blah, yeah. But the publisher bought paper and ran presses and paid money to ship that book to Amazon, who in turn paid money to store it and ship it to me, whereas with the ebook, they maybe spent a penny on the associated storage and shipping costs. Pricing an ebook higher than a paperback is about protecting a business model, not about selling consumers the goods they want at a fair price.

Also, one promotion that gets me all the time is free or .99 for the first book in a series. If the book is good, it’s like free samples of crack. The author goes straight into the must-buy pile if I’m hooked after that first book.

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On April 23, 2011 at 9:58 pm Jenny said...

That’s a good point about $.99 for the series as a loss leader.

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On April 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm carolc said...

Yes! Exactly. I rarely buy hardcovers because I can’t afford to spend that much to feed my reading habit, so if an e-book is priced more than a mass market paperback it has been priced right out of my reach. And really, I know that printing is only a portion of the costs associated with creating a book, but printing and shipping has got to be more than the cost of putting out an e-book.
For that matter, if paper and printing costs are so cheap, how do publishers justify charging 3 to 4 times as much for a hardcover as a mass market?
I know that writing is hard work, and God knows writers deserve all that they are paid, and more, but how does it serve anyone if books are too expensive for anyone but the rich?

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:43 am Julie said...

I voted the 6.99 to 7.99 category as a fair price point, but like you said I’m willing to pay more when its a new release of an author I really like — I’ll pretty much pay whatever they’re asking for Pratchett or Jim Butcher (or Crusie!). I’m also leery of .99 books when they are authors I don’t know, and I tend to comb the reviews pages to see what my fellow readers thought before I even bother to download a sample. My ereader is a Nook and B&N does a nice Free Fridays promo, though, and I’ve found a few authors I like that I probably wouldn’t have tried unless they were free that way.
I’ve also picked up several SF/Fantasy books from Baen’s free library that led to me purchasing more ebooks from them. Baen, by the way, has a lower price point for their ebooks than anyone else but as far as I know you can only purchase those books directly from them.

One thing I totally don’t understand is the idea that its OK for retailers to aggressively slash the prices of hardcover new releases but the ebook price point is not negotiable. My ebook copy of the new Dresden Files book is going to be 14.99, which I will cheerfully pay, but B&N is selling the hardcover discounted down to 14.71. And the overly tall mass market paperbacks that cost 9.99, I think those things are ridiculous, and unfortunately any book that comes out that way costs 9.99 as an ebook as well.

I think thats about it, I’ll return to lurksville now 8)

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:44 am Betty Fokker said...

I won’t pay the same price for a e-book as a hardback unless I have no other choice. I have to really love the author (yes, you count Ms. Crusie) or I have to absolutely need they book for research. When I just want to read for pleasure, I search the cheap (or even free) stuff and sample to see if me likey. I’ve been very happy, and meh, about various choices. However, if I feel meh about a book after I’ve spent $9.99 I am bitter, whereas I am willing to take a chance on a new author for $.99.

I don’t think they should cost as much because the overhead is much less. The printers are getting nothing. I understand that the publishing co, and the editor, and the author all need to get compensation … but if I pay the SAME price for an e-book they are getting MORE compensation than if I bought a hardback I also suspect that the people who are making the “more” are not the authors. Thus, I balk at paying the same price for an e-book. Plus, I am a tight-ass cheapskate.

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:04 am Lexus said...

If I may, Betty, the costs for ebooks aren’t that much less. Yes, there’s no paper, ink or shipping, but there are still hours of time put into creating the books, starting with the author’s time. Then, add in editors (even indie authors, if they’re smart, pay for professional editing) and graphic artists who are paid to create the covers.

A new twist for ebooks is professional formatting for the seemingly dozens of electronic formats. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other etailers take their cut, too. And, of course marketing is still in the mix. Ads still aren’t free.

I appreciate readers wanting to save money – we all do, but someone somewhere put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the product they want for free. Imagine if we called a plumber and asked him to put in 200 hours on a job to get 99 cents. He’d laugh and hang up.

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:49 am Lexus said...

Apparently, the 99 cent pricing is to spur a boost in sales that then gets the book ranked higher on Amazon.

As an author working on her first novel, I can’t see selling my hard work for 99 cents. A year (or more!) of work is worth more than that. ;) I’m strongly considering epublishing as an indie, though.

As a reader, I love ebooks. I download them straight to my iphone which has all the ereader apps – Kindle, Nook, iBook. I carry an entire library in my pocket to read whenever I have an unexpected spare moment such as waiting in line at the checkout, at the doctor’s office and even for a meeting to start (don’t tell my boss). Thanks to ebooks, I’ve read more for pleasure in the past year than I have the five previous.

I buy and read both indie and traditional publisher-house books. Technology has certainly expanded choices for readers. A virtual bookshelf has unlimited room whereas a bookstore’s isn’t.

My concern, though, is as technology moves forward to new formats, and it will as it has with movies and music, will I have to repurchase my favorites? That would tick me off.

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:58 am Mary Stella said...

When I first bought my Kindle and discovered that a lot of new hardcover releases were e-priced at $9.99, I immediately began to buy more new releases and pre-order more. (Prior to that, hardcover purchases were reserved for my Auto-Buy list like you, SEP, Nora, Robert B. Parker, etc.) I also realized I could get the new releases quicker in e-format. Another bonus. For my real favorites, I usually end up with an e-version and then the h/c once I get off the rock to a full bookstore.
There isn’t as much of a price difference between e-format and mass market paperbacks. I’d have to check the Kindle, but I think I’ve paid 6.79 for books that sold for 7.99 in stores.

I’m not a big fan of trade paperback size and the “upsized” paperbacks that came out a few years ago really annoy me. I still buy them because I don’t want to punish the authors, but I’m thinking black thoughts about the publisher and distributor when I do. (I’d heard that the upsize pbacks was the brain child of Anderson distributing, or was it Levy? I forget.)

I noticed recently, that the prices for e-formats are increasing on hotly anticipated new releases. Janet Evanovich’s upcoming Smoking 17 is priced for Kindle at 13.99. I’ve read a number of reader blogs and a lot of e-readers think that’s too high a price. I still pre-ordered. Pretty much there’s one Evanovich for me to buy each year. I might have held off if the price was, say, $15.99, or if I knew I was looking at paying 13.99 for multiple books this year by a single author.

The acceptable price point is going to vary by reader. We all have different budgets.

I studied a lot of authors and blogs before deciding to put up my books at $2.99. These are backlist books, not new releases. Even though I made squat on them when they were new, I wanted to set a price that was fair to readers and that would be acceptable in more budgets. I also hoped to might tempt some to take a chance on an unknown-to-them-name. With the e-tailers pricing/royalty structure, books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn the author a 70% royalty.

In addition to the hours it took me to write the books in the first place, then revise them for the original publisher, then the additional time to go through them recently and try to fix some copy-editing misses, I also invested my own money for a cover artist to produce the new covers and paid a company to format/code them for Amazon and BN.com. (I did the format work myself for Smashwords.) I’ve lined up some paid advertising for the summer. Given all that, I don’t think that earning approximately $2.00 per copy is unreasonable pay.

At .99 a copy, the author earns a 35% royalty – .34. So, some are weighing the lower earning against the possibility of the very low price generating higher number of sales. Some are using the .99 cent offer as a way to attract readers which will then boost the sales of their other books. I might have already mentioned, and if I did, forgive me for the repeat, that a friend recently put up a short story for .99. That story sold something like 100 to 200 copies a day. Additionally, as soon as she put it up online and it started selling, she saw the sales of the digital formats of her other books increase. (The other books are sold by her print publisher.) The .99 story proved to be a marketing tool.

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:01 pm Jenny said...

I think that if you’re using the $.99 as a deliberate marketing tool, it can be effective still. But I still worry about the apparent value if it’s a novel. For a short story, that’s probably about right.

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:33 am Mary Stella said...

Me, too. Some authors are trying .99 as a price on the first book in a series, or offering it as a temporary price or a coupon. I don’t think I’d put an entire book up for .99. Might do a novella at 1.99.

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:07 am ruthie said...

I don’t agree on the relative pricing, or maybe I should say I don’t see it that way. ;) I voted for the $2.99-$3.99 price because, for me, ebooks are ephemeral. Call me a Luddite or a dinosaur, but an ebook is not forever. Your iPod (or other reader) dies, there goes your library. Your hard drive crashes, same thing. With a real, printed on paper book, even if your bookcase tips over and the books crash to the floor, they are still readable. Really, it takes a lot to destroy a print book.
So, my thinking is essentially the opposite of yours, Jenny — the more I like an author, the less I’m willing to pay. I know the chances are good I’m going to have to replace that “book”, maybe more than once, so, I want the price low.
Likewise, if it’s an unfamiliar author, i.e., not a trusted read, I don’t want to waste a lot of cash on it. And this is where ebooks have it all over saving money by buying used books when you’re not sure of the author — if the ebook stinks, you can delete it. If that paper book stinks, you still have to deal with it. I wish I could throw the stinkers away, but I can’t even bring myself to throw them at the wall when they deserve it!

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:08 am Katy Cooper said...

I can’t remember where I read this, but I do have the sense that the source was good. Apparently, the cost for the physical part of a physical book–the paper, the ink, the cost to print, the cost to ship, etc.–is a tiny, tiny part of the total cost. Less than $1, so much less that I could see why the prices aren’t different. The publisher doesn’t get the whole $6.99 of the cover price. I think they get half that. Out of that, there’s all the overhead: salaries and benefits for editors and assistants and marketing and finance and HR and facilities; rent; office supplies; everything I can’t think of. Not to mention royalties for all those books…or not getting paid because of Borders’ bankruptcy, or at least not getting everything and not getting it any time soon. All of those are fixed. If the cost of the physical part of the book is less than a dollar, then that’s all they can cut without starting to cut into their profit margin.

All that being said, I will take a flyer on a ebook if it’s less than $3. If someone says to me, “This is really good,” and the book is less than $3, I’ll buy it without a whole lot of question or investigation. If it’s priced the same as a physical book and the author is new, I’ll hesitate, the way I do if it’s a physical book. With a reader like me, the upside to the $3 book is that it can be a gateway book, sort of like a used book, only the author gets something for my purchase (unlike a used book). I can’t tell you how many autobuy authors started out as used book trials for me. And I’m pretty sure I paid $3.25 for Jenny’s Anyone But You (that was the cover price at the time), and it was a gateway book to eventual hardcover purchases.

So I guess what I’m saying, with a great deal of wordage, is that I don’t know :)

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:19 am NtYtCrzyCatLdy said...

I understand your comment about the readers who buy an ebook as buying the story, not necessarily the book but I somewhat disagree. The costs up to the printing should be the same for both types of books (e and physical). BUT since an ebook isn’t printed, there shouldn’t be the cost of printing associated with the book and thus the ebook s/b a small % less. Seriously, if the publishers just reduced the price of an ebook by a small % the public would be all over it. I’m not talking hardbacks. They’ve figured that out. But the Mass Market books should not be the same price whether its a physical book or an ebook. The ebook s/b lower. It is so irritating to want to try a new author and purchase a book published in 2003 (because its the start of a series and I MUST read in order) and have to pay the same price for the book in e format as I would if I went to a big box store and bought it. Irritating! So 1/2 Price Books..here I come. But it is painful.

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:51 am RfP said...

I would need an “It depends” option in the poll.

I buy both ebooks and print books. I generally treat the formats as interchangeable, except when the book’s so striking that I want to live with it, i.e. have a paper copy physically on my shelf.

In either format, what I’ll pay depends on the book and my expectations for it, and those factors play into a threshold price above which I won’t go. The state of my book storage also factors in, more so than the upper price threshold. For me, short and fluffy often means not a keeper (i.e. it doesn’t rate a space in my books storage), so I’ll look for an ebook and a low price. For something that comes out in hardcover at a high price, I’m somewhat format-indifferent: if it’s something extra-special I might buy it in hardcover or buy an ebook at a high-for-ebooks price. If it’s not extra-special, I might not buy until the paperback comes out and/or ebook price comes down.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm Keith said...

I definitely think e-books should cost less than paper ones – the almost complete lack of manufacturing or distribution costs makes that a no-brainer. But there is a flood of new, previously unpublished writers who are eager (some nearly desperate) to see their words in print. Hence, the corresponding flood of 99-cent e-books. As a writer, that worries me. Here’s why.

Pricing is not logic-driven. It’s about setting and maintaining expectations. The same people who think nothing of paying $4 for a cup of coffee or $2 for a bottle of water also think it’s perfectly reasonable that a piece of software that took weeks or months to develop should be sold for 99 cents as an iPhone or iPad “app.” They’re not bothered that the seat next to them on a plane might have cost that other passenger hundreds of dollars more – or less – than they paid. They’re okay with the fact that buying an album’s worth of downloaded songs from iTunes costs as much or more than a physical CD.

Consumers accept the above for one reason: because it’s what they’ve been led to expect. Logic isn’t a factor. It’s about what we become accustomed to, and not at all tied to the economic value of the product or service.

Case in point: Polls have shown that if Facebook ever starts charging even a small fee – as little as the cost of one cup of coffee – many people will stop using it, even though it’s a service that millions of people currently spend hours a day using. Why? Because they’ve been led to expect that all social media should be free, regardless of the value it may bring to their lives.

While I don’t have an easy answer, my primary concern is that this is the time when precedents are being set for this emerging product. As we speak, consumers are getting used to e-books being cheap. Dirt cheap. And that’s an expectation that I think is going to be hard – if not impossible – to reset.

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:05 pm Jenny said...

Exactly. This is the apparent value problem, the old “perception is reality” bit. Not only are readers getting used to e-books being cheap, they expect them to be cheap because they think the production costs must be less, paper costs a lot, etc.

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On April 24, 2011 at 7:09 pm francois said...

I wouldn’t say that music on iTunes was a good example here. Music sales are WAY down on what they used to be, so I’m not sure that people really support the model that much.. Theres also a convenience factor about having music in a playlist, rather than on a series of CDs on your shelves that counts for a lot. While it is nice to have access to a lot of books on your Kindle, you don’t really need that many to get you through a train journey say, unlike if you’re listening to songs. Also, you can share music with friends by turning up the volume. Can’t do that with an ebook.

The other factor with free social media is that kids have no money. So aside from expectations, thats why Facebook would have a mass exodus if it started charging. The audience for books is a bit wider than that. But those two factors could change the buying habits of the generation coming up.

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm CrankyOtter said...

Where are all these cheap like dirt eBooks you speak of? I’ve bought maybe 2 of them from the bookstore promos with the understanding they were a temporary promo price. I would price eBooks with decreasing pricing as others suggested but maybe $8 for brand new / well liked author, $6 average price and $3-5 for backlist. I do like the idea of having the first book of an Established Series be a loss leader at one or two dollars.

Partly I think sellers who have a supported e-reader should lower their take a little. Because if I’m only saving, say, $4 over a hardback, my sunk cost in a reader means I need to buy three dozen books to break even. Then, I’ll probably need a new reader in 4 years, in lieu of storage of pages before I buy, I do need them to store, perhaps for half of forever, a backup copy of the book and the database of what I own so I can get it recovered. But I think that should be done for pennies on the dollar.

Lastly, the goal of lower pricing is marketing. You can pay for ads or forego early profit in lieu of ads to get the word out. The trick is the anchor point. We’re payin for story+format. We don’t want perceived value to go so low that our favorite authors can’t make a living. But we don’t want to feel ripped off either. Music is only partly a good model because music is free on the radio with only minimal wait and little say in the timing. Books have always been restricted by cost or by having to search them out at library and waiting ones turn. So money or opportunity cost is exchanged for books in a way it isn’t for the most popular music. And apps are sold cheap to get millions of customers rather than hundreds. The aggregate income is not $0.99 and most apps are either not as involved as writing a book or are an extention of existing work. That said, I did spend $10 to get a keyboard app which starts with a limited audience pool.

My point? Music/ apps aren’t a one to one analogy. Books have an established set of anchor points and most of us value eBooks at a bit under existing anchor points for a long list of reasons.

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On April 23, 2011 at 12:18 pm Kim said...

I also voted for the $2.99 to $3.99 range, although I would have voted for $5 if that had been a choice. Disclaimer–I don’t have an e-reader and don’t intend to purchase one until books no longer are printed on paper. I think that e-books should be at least 20% lower than the price of book printed on paper to account for the lower cost of materials, shipping, storage, returns, etc. In addition, the 20% lower price should be based on the purchase price of the book, rather than the suggested retail price. If a publisher can make money on a hardback that is sold at $16, it should be able to make a similar profit on an e-book that is sold for $12-$13. I’m sitting on the sidelines and waiting this one out. I have a real trust issue re: the technology and my ability to access a puchased e-book. I remember vinyl records, 8-tracks, VHS, … I’ve replaced my music and movie library several times because of changing formats. If I have a paper copy of a book, the only thing that I have to worry about is a fire, flood, or mudslide.

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm Michele said...

I bought a Kobo reader with my Christmas money this year. I had very occasionally bought ebooks before this to read on my laptop- almost exclusively from Harlequin, who sells out of print book bundles and novellas at really good price points. I liked that what was available on Harlequin was stuff I couldn’t get anywhere else, and that they allowed for discounts and coupons so I could buy at a price that I was comfortable with. Almost half my Anne Stuart book collection is in ebook because of this.
The most I spent for any of them was $18 (that was for 4 complete novels); the rest were almost evenly split between $6 books and under $2 novellas.

I decided to get an e-reader because with infant twins, I can’t carry the number of books to travel that I normally do (somewhere between 6-10 depending on the length of the trip). With the Kobo being $99, that was a price I was willing to try out how an ereader would work for me (and I wanted to take advantage of library ebooks, which Kindle didn’t offer until just this week). Since January, I’ve only bought a handful of ebooks (mostly from smaller presses), and it’s almost all stuff that I would have a difficult time finding in print. All of them have been under $8.

I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to spend my book money- my impulse buys are WAY down. Right now, if it’s something I’m willing to pay hardcover prices for, I’m buying the hardcover because I can get discounts to get the price under $15. For paperbacks, I’m having a hard time justifying paying $7.99 for an ebook when I can get the paperback for under $7 at most places (and then have the option of selling it/trading it for something if I decide not to keep it). If I had the option of using rewards dollars/coupons for ebooks like I do with print books, I’d probably utilize them more often. I’m not buying much from new to me authors, so $2.99 or $.99 prices don’t really mean much to me at this time.

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On April 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm Mary Stella said...

I looked at the poll and couldn’t pick one price because of all the variables.
Now I’m thinking about the publishing challenge of varying prices for different formats. As readers, we expect hc to cost more than trade, trade more than mm. We expect that about a year after the hc comes out, a less expensive mm will be released. That is acceptable. The hc packaging adds to the value of the purchase

I don’t feel the same acceptance when a book that originally came out in trade, later comes out in mm. There is not, to me, enough difference between soft cover formats to justify that original trade price if the publisher is going to soon lop off the physical size and the price. I’d have preferred the mm size from the outset

In epub, there’s just one product. The e-release that appears when the hc is released doesn’t change when the mm comes out. Maybe that sliding price will be the way to go.

I know the e-releases are part of the total package and the money earned needs to support the overhead of the release at all- the physical production of the book from editing to cover design to printing, distributing, marketing, etc. I don’t expect the e-version of a brand new book by a NYT bestselling author to be priced at 3.99. I’m good with 9.99 when the book first comes out and a lower price if a book’s already in Mm.

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:22 pm Marina said...

I think Baen Books, a small sci-fi publisher, hits the sweet spot with their e-book pricing – $6 for the newer books, $4 for back list titles, and $15 for ARC (advance reader copy) that come out before hardcovers hit the bookstores. Woot! Wouldn’t you like to get your next Crusie months before the official publication date? Oh, and the best bit? No DRM – digital rights management – the so called anti-pirating software which strictly limits what you can do with that e-book you ‘bought’.

I’m surprised there’s been so little discussion of DRM in this discussion because, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a big reason to resent paying paperback prices for e-books. Yes, it’s the same story just a different format, but we’re getting a lesser product with e-books. You can’t loan ‘em, resell ‘em, and worse, transferring those files to your shiny new e-thing when the old one dies will not be pretty. The music industry gave up on DRM’d music because they finally acknowledged it was causing more piracy than it ever stopped. Honestly, book piracy? Please. If I want a free book I do it the old fashioned way, I go to the library.

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On April 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm Mary Stella said...

How was that ARC distributed? If it was a freebie that is now being sold, then the publisher and the author aren’t making any money.

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:09 pm Jenny said...

Plus it’s illegal to sell ARCs.

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On April 24, 2011 at 12:46 am Marina said...

Hmmmm – illegal? Someone at Baen made a slight boo-boo in their promotion then. Scroll to the bottom of this link & you’ll see the price tag. http://www.webscription.net/p-1289-cryoburn-arc.aspx And this is one author I really don’t want to offend. I buy anything she writes, hardcover, the moment it’s available.

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On April 24, 2011 at 8:20 am Jenny said...

It’s illegal to sell a printed ARC. Not sure about e-ARCs. Especially if she’s publishing the book herself. Then she can do anything she wants. It does say it’s unavailable now.

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On April 25, 2011 at 5:32 am Micki said...

It may be illegal to sell ARCs, but it’s done . . . a lot. Apparently (-:. I would have no idea, but I heard that several of the ARCs of Cryoburn’s author turned up on eBay for really, really high prices. By making the eARCs available and cheap (well, cheaper than eBay), you really cut the legs off of THOSE pirates. And I have to say, I was really, really tempted to get the eARC of Cryoburn, but . . . I can’t remember what happened. May have been technical difficulties, or I just might have been too busy.

BTW, many of the fans who got the eARC said they were going to buy the hardcover also as soon as it came out. I think (but I’m not sure) several were also interested in the corrected e-book (the eARC still contains typos, the publisher warns). V. v. interesting business model. (-: But as a hard-cover-loving fan, it really screwed up our book discussions, because suddenly all the non-Luddites dropped out and read the eARC (-:. And the discussion board was kind of a mess for a few weeks as people tried to keep spoiler notices on the posts . . . .

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On April 27, 2011 at 4:56 am Vicki V. said...

This is the publisher selling ebooks to readers before the hardcover goes on sale. Baen Books calls their early ebooks eARC.

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On April 29, 2011 at 2:00 am Mrs. Turkey said...

The more I think about it, the more I agree with this post: Baen has it figured out, in terms of both fair pricing, and free series starters as a way of tempting readers into trying new authors. Really, if an ebook is more than $5, then I really have to think about it and budget for it. Less than that and I just gobble them up! :-)

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:34 pm Clever Cherry said...

I did a seminar once on how to price your work. At the time I was a massage therapist. Even before that I felt like people should be trusted to determine how much their work is worth. Of course, there are always delusional people who will think they deserve a million dollars for mowing your lawn, but for the most part, I don’t respect the right of people to price their work. Then I either want it badly enough to pay the price or I don’t.
That goes for books, as well. I realize it’s often not actually an author who determines the actual price on the finished product, but they do make the decision to go with this publisher, that editor, etc. etc.
I don’t own an e-reader but I’m sure the same will be true if I decide to buy one. If I want an e-book enough, I’ll pay the price for it.
As far as being suspicious of a 99 cent book, I don’t get that. I have found some things I needed and value, dirt cheap at the peddlers market. I found a lamp there that was handmade and beautiful. One would have thought it would cost a fortune and if it had been handled by JC Penny’s or Nordstroms, it would have. I paid ten dollars for it at the peddlers market.
Of course there are some 99 cent books that aren’t good. Guess what? There are some 24.99 books that aren’t worth 99 cents.
@Mary Stella – I just finished All Keyed Up. What a fun read! And I loved spending time with the dolphins.
OT Melissa Senate commented on my blogpost! I wrote a blog about her wonderful book, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School and she read it and commented. I was flabbergasted. In a good way. http://noveltruths.blogspot.com/

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm Clever Cherry said...

Now that the post drifted back in from cyber space it has a ridiculous error. Should read I DO respect people’s right to price their work. Duh.

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On April 24, 2011 at 8:21 am Jenny said...

It was in the spam filter. No idea why.

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:37 am Mary Stella said...

@Mary Stella – I just finished All Keyed Up. What a fun read! And I loved spending time with the dolphins.

Thank you!
I know how you feel. Spending time with dolphins is one of my favorite things, too.

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On April 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm Clever Cherry said...

I have a comment floating around out there in cyber space somewhere. Afraid to redo it cause it will then appear twice.

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On April 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm Jordan said...

On any given day, I’ll pay any given price for the right book and what that right book is changes, given the day. Some days, I’m looking for a quick story to fill a few hours; other days, solid story-telling; still others, eclectic non-fiction. So for any book, it depends on my wants and expectations.

Right now, because I read my e-books on my computer, I reserve e-book purchases for the quicker, lighter, lower expectation purchases that satisfy my need for when I need anything to read, because I want something now: so I want a price to reflect that lack of commitment. But really, if I were to get out of my house and wander into the brick and mortar store, for those needs, I still want cheap — I’m only expecting a couple of hours of fun — so even then, my brick and mortar of choice offers discounts. For the other stuff — the stuff I slowly digest over months, or stories I revisit like old friends — I’m willing to invest the cash and when I find an e-book reader that I like using for these types of books — I’ll be willing to invest the cash then, too.

PS. In theory, I love libraries — the foundation of a free society. Unfortunately, I’m a little to free in my concept of time and when I frequent the library, I usually owe more than when I frequent the book store.

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On April 24, 2011 at 1:35 am Kate George said...

Our lovely small town library doesn’t charge us fines for overdue books. Thank goodness or I’d have to sell the house to get the family out of hock to the library! It’s the “The library’s in town and we live in the boonies problem.” I can never remember to take the books back.

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On April 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm JLondon said...

When I buy a book, what I really want is the story. The words give me pleasure, not the format. I buy almost exclusively e-books, but that’s driven by convenience – availability and storage. My primary driver is to find an author that I am confident that I want to read or to try and then, to find the book in the format that is most convenient to me. I can find enough of those through blogs and recommendations to keep me happy – I am unlikely to browse through cheap or free books in any format in the hope of striking gold.

I would be prepared to pay more for a book by an author that I knew I really wanted to read. I am not sure what kind of price differential would drive me to move from my preferred format to another. I am prepared to pay for my own convenience, so I think there would have to be a hefty discount.

I am not especially worried about the reduced cost to the publisher of selling electronic format rather than physically printed books. It’s better for the planet, and I don’t think it will result in super-profits for publishers. I assume the structure of their business will change. Hopefully it will mean that their role becomes more concentrated as a talent-spotter and story-polisher rather than a printer and distributor. If it means that they can afford to take more risks on writers, can keep titles available for longer and accept smaller sales to allow time for writers to build, then that would be a bonus for readers.

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On April 23, 2011 at 3:54 pm Corinne said...

I’m another reader without an e-reader. I don’t have one because I resent the idea of spending somewhere upwards of $100 (I just checked the price of Kindles, and today’s best offer was $114) to acquire a gadget with which I could buy things–books–that I can otherwise acquire for a similar price without the mediation of the gadget (making books different than recorded music, for which there’s always been a gadget of some kind, be it a Victrola or an iPod). I’m also not a fan of DRM. Basically, in order for me to buy one there would have to be a product out there that’s only available on e-readers which I wanted [$114 + tax + shipping + cover price of product]-much. That’s a pretty high bar; in order for e-books to appeal to me in the ordinary course of affairs their price would have to be very low. 99 cents would be good, which I realize is probably below what would be necessary to appropriately compensate the author and publisher.

One question this topic raises for me is how people’s e-book buying habits correlate with their physical book-buying habits– i.e., does charging hardcover-ish prices for an e-release cannibalize its potential hardcover buyers, vs. charging lower prices cast a wider net? I’ve already outed myself as a cheap luddite, and the cheap part holds in the real world, too. I get a lot of books from the library, buy hardcovers only when I absolutely can’t wait for a book, and buy a fair number of paperbacks on the theory that if I do love one to death, they’re easy enough to replace. I suspect that if I were given an e-reader, I would suddenly develop a strong interest in the less-well known works of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

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On April 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm bennett said...

I love e-books and my Kindle, but I have a real issue with paying full price, even just paperback price, for a book I can’t lend to all my friends if it is really good. Or sell to the used bookstore if it really sucks.

So, I voted for the 2.99-3.99 range because most e-books do not offer reasonable lending or resale options.

So now, like others, I use the e-sample to see if the book looks like it’ll be good. But then I price check the book. If the e-price is the same as (or more than) the available print price, then I decide based on the author (usually) whether to buy a print copy, borrow the print book from my local library, or look for a used copy to buy. If the e-price is enough below the print price to compensate me for not being able to lend/sell, then I buy the e-book.

The process is a little tedious – and I have a long Amazon wishlist called “Waiting for cheaper” – but it works for me.

As for the .99 books, I’m leery of them unless it’s some kind of special deal on authors I know.

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On April 23, 2011 at 5:10 pm Virginia said...

I like my nook because it is convenient and yes it does save trees. I do think the e-books should be priced lower than traditionally published books because there is the fact that it is less expensive to produce. I will buy from authors I know and I might try a new author with an e-book because they are cheaper and if I find a new author I love, I will continue to buy them in all formats. If the story is well written I will purchase it with whatever means I have to. That said, I am tired of unpublished authors publishing their stuff and acting as if they are the same as a vetted author who has already worked with an editor and publisher to get their work out to the public. For me it is not so much the price of the book as it is the quality. Self publishing by an unvetted author is no different than using a vanity press.

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On April 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm Cathy said...

“One’s wine in a bottle and the other is wine in a box. Same wine, but the perception of the value of that wine is different.”

This is not a good analogy. I understand why an author would think of the story as the only thing that contributes to the value of a book; but as a reader, I don’t share this perception. When you buy wine in any container, you can drink it yourself, share it with friends, resell it, give it as a gift, etc. That’s not the case with e-books.

When I buy an e-book, I don’t own the book. I own a license to a collection of 1s and 0s that can be displayed on a specific set of devices. It’s illegal for me to convert the book for use on any other device. Imagine if you had to re-buy all your paper books each time you bought a new bookcase!

When I buy a paper book (in the U.S), I have rights under the first-sale doctrine of copyright law. I’m allowed to lend the book, sell it, donate it, or store it on a different bookcase. These rights are worth real money and they make paper books intrinsically more valuable.

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On April 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm francois said...

+1

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm Mary Stella said...

When I buy an e-book, I don’t own the book. I own a license to a collection of 1s and 0s that can be displayed on a specific set of devices. It’s illegal for me to convert the book for use on any other device. Imagine if you had to re-buy all your paper books each time you bought a new bookcase!

If I understand it correctly, if the book is published in e-format without DRM, you can copy it to other devices. There’s a lot of debate on whether authors who put up their own stuff should go with DRM. Some authors (including Konrath) as well as the creator of Smashwords advocate trusting the readers and not electing to go with DRM. That’s the option I chose for Smashwords and the e-tailers they’ll distribute to (Sony, Apple, Kobo, Diesel). I don’t think, or at least don’t remember, if I had a choice when I uploaded to Amazon and BN.com. I know I opted to let buyers “loan” their copies.

To great extent, we authors are learning along with everyone else. Some of this is trial and error. I’m doing all I can to educate myself so that I don’t feel like I’m flying blind. Hearing what all of the readers are saying in the comments here at Argh Ink is definitely helping my own education.
Thanks, all!

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On April 23, 2011 at 6:34 pm Deborah Blake said...

I don’t have an ereader. I did just buy myself a Galaxy Tablet, which in theory I can put ebooks on, but I haven’t tried that yet.

But I’m with the “I won’t pay as much for an ebook as I would for paper,” people. I thought Cathy put it very well above. Not only can I not lend, give away, or swap an ebook, I have a huge collection of VCR movies that will soon be unusable, so I don’t trust the ephemeral nature of technology. A book is still a book.

I buy my favorite authors (like Crusie) in hardcovers–in part because I like the solid feel, and in part because I know they will hold up best over time, as I reread them. The very favorites I often also get a paperback copy of so I can push it…er lend it…to my friends.

I would never consider spending more than the price of a paperback book on an ebook, if the paperback is also available. I might do it if the book is out of print and ebook is the only way to get it…but that would be unusual.

As an author, I am a great believer in authors being paid for their work. But I also know, at least with my nonfiction books from Llewellyn (and all publishers and contracts are different) that I get paid less for an ebook sale than I get for a print book sale.

I’m not going to pay as much for music I download onto my computer as I will for the CD that can go from my house, to my car, to work. Or be given away, etc. So I’m not going to pay as much for an ebook as I would for the print version. For right now, as the medium changes and shifts, I doubt I would spend more than $3.99, since once my gadget is traded in for something new, there is no guarentee that I will be able to access the ebook again.

Please pass the virtual wine in a box; this discussion has given me a headache.

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On April 23, 2011 at 6:50 pm Noirem said...

I don’t think ebooks should ever cost as much as mass markets. With any print edition you have to offset the risk that you’ll print however many and only sell a fraction of them. Any retailer, including Amazon, has to stock books which means paying to have room and taking a risk that you’ll sell a copy of this book rather than losing a sale because you didn’t stock that book instead. Those risks don’t exist with ebooks.

As for covers, I couldn’t care less. I’m not a hugely visual person – I don’t read graphic novels because I can’t slow down enough to take in the picture beyond a cursory glance – and I gave up on cover art having anything to do with the story (you added an off-screen dog to a reissued story because your publisher wanted a dog in the picture? Ridiculous!). Add to that the fact that my Kindle doesn’t display cover art and, well, I couldn’t care less about cover art. I pick books on recommendations – word if mouth, author endorsements, similar librarything libraries.

But not ebooks over $6 and not established series where the first novel isn’t a cut rate.

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On April 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm Diane (TT) said...

I have a Kindle (I got it for my b-day, so I didn’t have to pay for it, but the opportunity cost of asking for THAT instead of something else is also measurable). I do not buy all books on my Kindle – I just got the new Julia Spencer-Fleming One was a Soldier in hardcover. Partially because I ordered it back in October, before I got the Kindle, but partially because I re-read Julia Spencer-Fleming so much that I want to be able to flip to the parts that I want easily, and I haven’t yet trained myself to do that with the Kindle (also, I have all of her other books in paper or HC, so I feel the desire to have this one, too. I love Claire and Russ!).

To me, the primary value of the ereader is the space-saving. I have about 70 books on it, which would cost me another bookcase, since all of mine are already overflowing. It won’t take too many months of e-book buying to save myself the $140 in not-purchased bookcases. Not to mention not-having-to-move-to-a-bigger-apartment-rent. OK, I DO, but that’s more because my kitchen is inadequate than the books. I wish I had more books on the Kindle and less forming walls-o-books that I just have to move whenever I move. But I am not sure I’m ready to give up my physical books for all (or mostly) ebooks, yet.

I went through this with vinyl/ cassettes to CDs (I’m pleased about THAT transition) and have NOT really gone through it with videocassettes and DVDs (I still have both players). And I’m not that worried about losing it/ breaking it/ changing technology – because I suspect Amazon is going to be around for a while, and my ebooks are in the cloud. I DO own them and Amazon would replace them on a new device.

And if Amazon goes defunct, there goes my Prime free shipping, so my life won’t be worth living anyway (no decent bookstore in my town).

I get paying near-retail for e-books, because it is partly about the story and partly about the access. A new book can cost nearly as much as the HC, because it is not otherwise available elsewhere NOW. There’s a waiting list at the library, the book hasn’t hit the used bookstores or Half-Price Books yet. I’m willing to pay that for favorite authors, to be able to take hundreds of books on the airplane with me.

I’m also willing to pay full paperback price for a new book issued in PB. I admit that I balk at paying more for an e-book than the discounted HC, even though I really don’t want the HC cluttering up my too-full book room.

I prefer to get a dollar or so off, since I can’t lend the book, etc. (OTOH, in my case, lending the book often means to my mom or my sister, which costs extra at the post office, so, really, I should get a discount on HCs).

But I’m with Jenny in that feeling of value that makes you feel like you got something GOOD, not something generic. I bought 6 cupcakes for $8.50 this morning, because they were locally made and vegan (not that I’m vegan, but it shows care for ingredients). Also, 3 were maple-walnut and 3 were chocolate overload. And none of them were fluorescent-colored or had a plastic toy embedded in the icing.

I sure wish authors of novellas/ short stories would sell bundles of their own – I cannot tell you how much I resent the shelf space I have devoted to anthologies in which I like one of the three stories. Well, I probably could, but it would be OT.

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On April 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm GatorPerson said...

I buy hardcopies of authors I want to keep. I think of the Kindle books as less important books. No, that doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I feel. I may buy a Kindle copy of one I already have so’s I have it anytime I’m somewhere that I don’t want to lug paper around. I don’t want to pay the full paper price of an ebook. No, that doesn’t make sense, either.

At the same time, I’ve noticed that I’m buying more books of both kinds since I got my Kindle. No, that doesn’t make sense, either.

And, yes, the CherryBombs can tell you that mostly I make sense.

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On April 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm Gin said...

I read similar numbers to what Katy mentioned about the cost of a paperback (mass market) — the last time I saw numbers, it was something like 80cents to produce a 300 to 400 page paperback in a large print run, including delivery to the distributor’s warehouse. It’s not the huge cost that a lot of readers think it is.

Slightly off-topic, does it bother anyone else, this whole “gaming the system” aspect of self-publishing, by way of manipulating price points? I don’t mean that as negatively as it probably sounds. But sometimes it feels as if it’s no longer about producing a good story, but has almost become a matter of tricking the reader into picking up the book, not because that reader might enjoy the story, but because every individual sale will get the book closer to some magic number on some bestseller list, so that more readers — who may or may not even read the book — will buy it, which will propel more sales. Which seem oddly unconnected with numbers of readers enjoying the story.

I guess I’m just uncomfortable with the way the marketing hat (the one that’s completely obsessed with numbers and increasing them at all costs) seems to be dominating the writer hat for those authors who wear both hats. I suppose it’s been the other way around for too many authors, but something feels off to me, at least with some self-publishers (not anyone here). I know it’s naive to believe that a good story will find its audience (and I’m constantly telling new writers that “if you write it, they [the readers] will come” is NOT a valid business plan, and I’m always reminding writers that writing is a business), but some of the discussions I’ve seen about setting price points and hitting bestseller lists and the trickle-down effects and how to orchestrate Amazon numbers — it just seems so …. I don’t know. Cold, maybe. Calculated. And perhaps disrespectful of the stories and the readers.

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:30 am McB said...

Isn’t it always about getting the reader to pick up the book. I don’t see it as ‘tricking.’ But covers have always been the first lure, with the back blurb being the second. And inspite of being schooled all our lives in the “not buying a book by it’s cover” adage, it works on us to some extent.

If it’s true that authors are selling e-books cheap just to drive up sales, it seems a bit self-defeating, to me. Sure it looks good on paper, but at, what did someone here say, $.34? A .34 a copy profit, they might as well be free. And still if it’s a lousy book that doesn’t mean much. You might hook a lot of initial sales, but a bad book is a bad book and good luck getting people to come back for the second one.

But as I said earlier, if it’s a great book, and you just want to get folks attention, get them to take a chance on you so they’ll remember your name and come back for the next one, then I can see it being profitable. But you’d have to be awfully darned sure of yourself.

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:28 pm Mary Stella said...

You’re right that .34 doesn’t sound like much, but remember that on a 7.99 mass market paperback, a lot of authors only have a 6% royalty, which means they’re earning about .47 per copy. That’s a lot of copies that have to be sold to earn out an advance.

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On April 26, 2011 at 12:56 am Rosa said...

I wonder what price some self-publishing dead tree edition writers charged, to get enough copies out to end up with a major publishing house contract so they didn’t have to self-promote so much. Isn’t that the story behind Celestine Prophecy, The Red Tent, and What Color is Your Parachute?

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On April 23, 2011 at 10:16 pm Kaetrin said...

I voted for $2.99 to $3.99 but really, it depends on the book. I don’t want to pay MMP price for an ebook – I think the digital version should be cheaper – by at least $1. I don’t want to pay a novel length price for an e-novella. I am debating at the moment whether or not to buy a book which is only 78 pages on a reader but is priced at $4.99. I think that is too much for the length of the book. However, it is about the same price as a fancy coffee so maybe I’m just cheap.

If there had been an option of $3.99 to $5.99 I would have clicked on that one.

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On April 24, 2011 at 8:22 am Jenny said...

I have no idea why I skipped that price point except I was probably half asleep when I put the poll together.

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On April 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm Hellion said...

I’m one of those appalling people who buy Mass Market. I don’t buy trade–not even your stories, Jenny–because I already have the book in Mass Market most like and I won’t buy the book in every cover. Call me crazy (or more appropriately, cheap). The *ONLY* time I’ve bought hardback anything was J.K. Rowling, who fortunately doesn’t sell in eBooks, but if she did, I probably would make the exception for her and buy her book no matter what price she attached to it. She’d be it though.

You’re absolutely right though. I don’t think of ebooks and paperbacks/hardbacks as the same. I don’t think I’m buying a story, I’m paying the author for a story–because frankly I think the author of any book gets about the same money as a musician gets for a CD, which is very little, and what I’m paying for is publishing costs rather than a story which the author wrote for peanuts anyway. And I refuse to pay equal amount of money for “publishing costs” on a PDF file as a “flesh and blood” book. Never mind that PDFs have rarely ever lasted indefinitely. Software changes, viruses corrupt–something–and I have to buy the blasted thing again. Yet I have had a romance novel of Julie Garwood’s since 1987, which I’ve read more time than I can count and have yet to had to replace. Though if I did, would cost me at most $8.

Some people are willing to pay lots of money to see live musicals and operas and plays–which I do enjoy, but am unwilling to spend for; but I’d rather go to a matinee movie. Which I assume is the equivalent of the Mass Market novel. It’s cost efficient and I was highly entertained, but I’m not so much out of money that I have to eat ramen noodles every day for the rest of the month.

I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I’m sorry, not all of us have that much discretionary funds to spend. :)

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On April 24, 2011 at 8:21 am Jenny said...

I don’t think you’re in the minority at all.

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On April 24, 2011 at 1:46 am Kate George said...

I can tell you that my first book consistently outsells my second book even though the second is much better (IMO). The first is .99, the second is 3.99. I can only imagine that the price is driving the sales.

After reading Bob Mayer’s experience with .99 cent books I decided to try that out. As mentioned above, because it is a series the .99 book acts as a loss leader. I own the e-rights to my books so I can play around with it. The print pricing is totally out of my hands.

I’m losing some of my fear of the wrong price. It’s hard to learn if I’m frozen in fear – somehow I’m more open to trying things out at the moment. I don’t think there is a magic number, but if there is someone please tell me what it is!

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On April 25, 2011 at 7:29 pm Clever Cherry said...

Both books were good. Eagerly awaiting the third.

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:40 am Deborah Blake said...

Good for you, Kate! (And you’re right. Book 2 was much better. Not that Book 1 wasn’t good, of course.)

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:51 am Virginia said...

After thinking about the question a little more, I decided it’s like real estate and I was a Realtor for 15 years. We always said a house was only worth what a buyer was willing to pay. So I guess it’s the same for a book, no matter how it is produced. Books have been an important part of my life. My great escape and I guess I will always find a way to escape.

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On April 24, 2011 at 11:13 am Jennifer said...

Sorry, no time to read the comments- must go hide eggs (again and again and again).

Just need to grouse a bit. Normally I’ll pay mass market prices for an e-book, or up to $10 for a new release I really want. But now to my grouse: I had been thinking about buying a particular gardening book for a couple months, but hadn’t committed. It was 7.99 in paperback. As it’s getting spring-like, I decided last week I really wanted the book, and logged on to Amazon to buy it. It’s no longer available in paperback, but is suddenly available in Kindle format. E-book is not as good for a gardening book, but I would take it since it’s my own fault for dithering, right? But the Kindle version is 9.99! This bugs me. It’s not a new book, it’s been out a few years. I’m not buying it. I won’t pay $2 more for a digital book than I could have had the paperback for last year. Maybe I’ll find it at a used book store.

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On April 24, 2011 at 11:26 am Jennifer said...

Just went back and double checked. The book came out in 2006, and the Kindle price is actually 9.59. Not happening.

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On April 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm Mariana said...

I get old stuff used via amazon — works well

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On April 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm AgTigress said...

Just an idle fantasy: imagine if manuscript had given place directly to electronic readers, without the invention of printing intervening, so that all the written texts of the 14th/15th C onwards, other than rare medieval manuscripts, had by now been lost forever. Think of the excitement if someone came up with the idea of printing stories out on paper and binding them, so that people could purchase and own them outright, read them anywhere without any equipment other than one’s own eyes and hands, and pass them on to one’s children and descendants, secure in the knowledge that if carefully handled, they would last and remain readable for centuries!

Yes, I know there are a number of holes in that fantasy. But the codex — the book — superseded the scroll in Antiquity, long before printing, so it has been around a while, and I think there is still a lot of life left in it.
:)

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On April 25, 2011 at 6:16 am Jenny said...

I agree. I think the reports of the death of print publishing have been greatly exaggerated.
But change? Yeah, big changes coming.

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On April 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm Kara said...

Part of the problem is the perceived value on the part of the publishing companies. Their perceived value does not match mine. Case in point, I happen to love reading older novels. One of the authors that I particularly enjoy is PG Wodehouse. The Kindle versions for each of his novels run something like 6.99-9.99. I won’t pay that for a book that I can devour in a very short period of time. Especially when that book is public domain. The publishing costs for that book were all paid off decades ago. I got them all for free from project gutenberg. Now, if they had priced his body of work or small collections of his novels at a low price point, I might have paid for them, and they would have made some money. For me, long-dead author should equal very low prices to encourage people to read their works.

For newer novels, I won’t pay more than mass market price. For brand new releases, I might buy for hardcover price if it is one of my favorite authors AND I am unable to buy or read the hardcover for some reason. I don’t buy a lot of hardovers because I just don’t have that kind of money, they take up too much space on my bookshelves and they are often very heavy to hold.

For backlist, I fall in the three to six dollar price zone depending on book length, whether I already own it, author I have not read before versus one I love, and how much I want/need that book at the time I’m looking at books. When you have a book-a-day habit, money becomes a concern. So, while I would rather buy mass market or Kindle version so that some of my purchase benefits the author, I won’t pay ridiculous amounts for something I can buy at the used bookstore.

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On April 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm Ingrid said...

Surely Wodehouse has not been dead long enough to be in the public domain? In the European Union copyright lasts for 75 years after the author’s death, if I’m not mistaken. Is that not the case in the US?
With any luck Jenny’s granddaughters should still be getting income from the French Dutch and German translations of their grandmother’s books long after she’s dead.

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On April 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm Kara said...

Hmmm. I never looked up his date of death before. Apparently some of his works are public domain and some are not and it depends where you live, etc. I had thought he died in the thirties or forties as the books I had read were all the older ones as the library did not have any of his newer works. Learn something new every day.

My point about long-dead authors still stands, in that I am unwilling to pay high prices for very old books, especially when they are quite short.

I’ll be checking out the copyrights on the ones I got from project gutenberg.

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On April 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm francois said...

He died in 1975. In the UK he is covered until 70 years after death. Different laws in different places. I could see how you might assume he died earlier – he wrote in that 20s/30s style for a long time.

Good post about Wodehouse and Gutenburg here: http://www.spontaneousderivation.com/2008/08/22/copyright-and-wodehouse-the-suspicious-desert-of-gutenberg-texts/

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On April 25, 2011 at 6:14 am Jenny said...

He’s covered until 70 years after death in the US, too.

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On April 25, 2011 at 6:15 am Jenny said...

That’s the plan.

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On April 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm McB said...

Oh, and if I may weight in for a moment on the side issue of trade paperbacks … hate ‘em. Less enduring the hardback, less convenient that paperback. It has turned me off from buying a particular book on at least one occasion.

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On April 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm Weed12 said...

Of favourites books – like yours of course! – I like having a hard copy as well as a copy on my Kindle … so I think that if you buy 2 copies in this way say from Amazon, the ecopy should be much much much cheaper.

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On April 24, 2011 at 6:38 pm francois said...

“you’re not buying paper when you buy a book, you’re buying story”

Actually no, not entirely. You are buying a physical object, that you could later sell or give to a friend. An ebook is difficult to share and has no resale value.

Also, I know how I am with formats that require a reader – eventually I forget or think what the hell, move on to a new format and lose all the content. Thats how the tech industry screw you over by getting you to buy new versions of stuff you already own. Physical books have everything built in. Its a dead end for people in the business of selling. And don’t get me started on how most modern appliance are built to break down quickly so you have to buy a new one…

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm Mary Stella said...

Forgive me for not being able to find the comments again where people wondered if they’d have to rebuy their books if their e-reading devices died. I can’t speak for any other e-reader than Kindle, but Amazon keeps track of the books you’ve purchased. Something happened to a friend’s Kindle. She called Amazon and they shipped her a new one with all of her purchases pre-loaded. Granted, her original Kindle was still under warranty, but I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t do the same for a non-warranty case.
If Amazon goes belly up at some point, we Kindle owners are screwed, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. If it does, I promise to send a Kindle-compatible copy of each book to any reader that says they’d purchased one. I trust the readers!

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On April 24, 2011 at 10:56 pm Sabrina said...

I am book ADDICT. I have over 350 books in my kindle account. I have a library with over a thousand print books. I go to library sales and come home with sacks of books, and I usually have about 25 books checked out of the library at any given time. I buy new books at the rate of about 10 a month from my local independent bookstore. That being said, to answer your question – I won’t pay more than $9.99 for a kindle license to read a book. When the publisher prices the e-book MORE than the print version, I not only won’t buy it, I will boycott all the books by that publisher for awhile – it infuriates me that much. I feel like they are punishing us for saving trees and the environment. I will read books that are free on kindle, or 99 cents or any price lower than 9.99 – I go more by reviews and description in deciding whether to try the author and the story. I just read a trilogy by Julie Ortolon – she offered the first book free – I bought the second and third books, and would have paid more than she asked for them. I thought this was an excellent idea for her to expose more people to her backlist. I have every single book you have published, Ms. Crusie, several ALSO in the audio version, I enjoy them that much. So thank you very much for all your hard work!

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On April 25, 2011 at 12:15 am Vicki V. said...

Sorry Jenny, this ended up being way longer and more rambling than I intended. Feel free to delete for any reason.

What I’ll pay varies by cost of current physical edition, partly perceived value, and partly frustration publishers are too stupid to price ebooks to maximize profits. I’m an accountant who does cost accounting allocations of overhead costs every day. I know what makes up publishing overhead and I’ve seen reasonable author-generated breakdowns of costs for physical books vs ebooks. Not a writer, never worked for a publisher. I’ve had a Kindle for three years and I only buy ebooks.

New hardcovers, $9.99 max except for short list of authors. Very short. I’ve paid up to $12.99 a few times.

Well, for the Maybe This Time ebook, I’d have paid Amazon’s hardcover price but Jenny is on a list all by herself :) I pre-ordered the ebook and two hardcover copies, and as Jenny knows, I ended up donating one of the hardcover copies to the library’s permanent collection. Those two hardcovers are the last physical books I bought and might be the last physical books I ever buy.

New mass market paperback, my max is the paperback price on Amazon.

Trade paper, my max is $9.99 but I did pay more for a few Heyers.

Backlist, it depends. If I own the book already and an ebook will free up space on my shelves, my max is probably $4.99.

Backlist in a series for an author new to me, the new ebook and backlist will determine if I even buy the new ebook. Won’t pay $7.99 for backlist.

Before Kindle, there was a short list of authors I’d buy in hardcover. When I got my first Kindle three years ago, Amazon was pricing ebooks at $9.99 on down and I started buying a LOT of ebooks instead of waiting until the paperback release and $9.99 was my sweet spot. After Apple killed that I went back to waiting for almost everything until the paperback release.

The best ebook price is the price progression that produces the most profit. Period. Sometimes that’s an old book but first in a series, for 99 cents.

From Bob Mayer’s guest column on Konrath’s blog.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/04/guest-post-by-bob-mayer.html

Short version “My Area 51 series sold over 1.4 million copies in print for Random House. I sell more e-copies of my Atlantis series per week than RH does of Area 51 in six months.” Bob sells the first Atlantis ebook for $ .99 and the rest at $2.99. Random House sells the backlist ebooks at $7.99. And I’d bet lunch Bob gets more PER BOOK from Amazon than PER BOOK from Random House.

There’s no one best ebook price. But not more than the current physical book on Amazon. And not $12.99 for an ebook that’s been out for a year. And not $7.99 for a ten year old book. And sure as $%#! not $45.99 for a package of the four Nora Roberts’ bride books.

Publishing is in flux now. Very little of overhead costs is actually the physical book and the real question is how to allocate overhead costs to various edition single units. It’s seriously depressing how many people see no contradiction between “want dirt cheap ebooks and publishers and authors don’t need to make money on them” and “want every book ever published available in ebooks”.

Hardcover publishers justify high ebooks prices because they think ebooks cannibalize sales of hardcovers but most people with ereaders have stopped buying physical books so we’re a lost sale unless there’s an ebook edition AT AN ACCEPTABLE PRICE TO THE AVERAGE BUYER. Almost all authors selling big in ebooks built up a big readership before ebooks. Self-publishing is not going to generate more income for most midlist authors. It just isn’t.

Physical bookstores are in trouble which means fewer places, and fews books for people to look at before they buy. Borders filed for bankruptcy, Barnes and Noble is doing better but not a lot better. Most Kindle owners don’t even go to bookstores unless they do it to pick out books to buy later as ebooks.

I barely have time to read any of the books I’m already buying, so I just don’t buy books by new self-published authors. The only self-published books I’ll buy are by authors who previously made it through the filter of physical books from traditional publishers, and on to my list of good authors.

Here’s the really interesting part of owning an ereader. I’ve always bought a lot of books (insert romance reader jokes about ladder for Mt. TBR) but now with sample chapters and instant access to right-now-delivery 24/7, I’m buying more books, and more by authors new to me, than ever before. And reading more of the books I buy. That should be a win for both authors and publishers. That it’s not is an indication there’s something really wrong somewhere.

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On April 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm Kara said...

Yes, exactly this. So much of what you said defines exactly what I feel about ebook pricing.

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On April 25, 2011 at 8:42 am Sheena said...

I don’t own an e-reader, and don’t have any immediate plans to do so, unless I get one specifically for travelling to cut down on the weight of the minimum 5 books I take everywhere. But when I pay for a book, a print copy I mean, I pay for the right to keep that copy, and be in charge of it, and lend it to my friends, and repair it if it tears, and take it into the bath. And for it to be inviolate – not vanish after a period of time. The other aspect of price I take into account for a book is the time and talent and resources it takes for an author and publisher to bring write, edit and polish the story. It seems to me that to bring a book to the point of publication takes the same amount of time and resource, whether you are using a typewriter and galley proofs or a computer and pdfs. And I am prepared for e-books to be a similar price to print publications, only slightly cheaper to compensate for paper and binding and storage space, to account for the time the author takes to write and refine it, and the publisher takes to edit and evaluate it.

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On April 25, 2011 at 8:46 am Sheena said...

Sorry, just realised that Lexus made my point much more clearly and succinctly earlier in the comments.

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On April 25, 2011 at 9:49 am Lora said...

I paid 12.99 for The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall because it was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value and it was sooo worth it to me…I also passed it on (nook and all) to my mom who loved it.

I paid 99cents for Wicked Lovely and felt ripped off.

So yeah…very relative to me. I have to want something baaaad to pay 9.99 but it does happen.

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On April 25, 2011 at 10:16 am piper said...

I own a Sony ereader. My husband gave it to me as a present. I love it. I rarely buy physical books anymore and those are mostly impulse buys that are cheap cheap cheap at Walmart. I would not be able to tell you the cost of buying a book (hardcover or paperback) at a store because I do not look. The ereader has cut down on a huge amount of mess that I had because I never read just one book, but rather 6 at a time and they would be piled about my chair.

I buy most of my books from Sony or Kobo. Both keep a record of my purchases and if I need to re-download for some reason, the copies are there. I don’t generally need to do this as I keep a copy on my computer as well as on my reader, but I worry less about loss than I probably would otherwise. I’m not fussed about lending them out to friends because I don’t do that (generally) with my physical books because so many never get returned.

It really irks me to read on other forums about pirated ecopies being available. (I once read only days after release about someone wanting to find a pirated copy!!) It seems that some people feel that because it is available to buy it should be available for free. I wonder why these people think that writers should be doing it for free. I know that I wouldn’t go to work every day if no one was paying me, so I’m not sure why a writer should be doing it for the love of the craft and not to put food on the table and pay some bills, but I digress.

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On April 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm Denisetwin said...

I cannot see myself ever paying more for an e-book than I can for a print book. The print book is in a format that is not going to get old or unusable. I can loan it out, I can trade it, I can sell it for a dollar at a yard sale, it doesn’t suffer from data mishaps or electrical malfunctions. If I’m going to buy an e-book, I refuse to pay more than the hardback/paperback price because of this. It just makes no sense to me to pay the same. If there was a sliding scale, such as hardcover out, e-book out at a couple bucks less, paperback comes out, e-book drops to a couple bucks less than that, it would make more sense to me. But as it stands, the value of the e-book TO ME (and I know it’s different for everyone) is lower than the value of the print book, so I’m not willing to pay the same or in some cases, more for E vs print.

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On April 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm Katrina G said...

Like everybody else I have a lot of variables in my head as to what I would pay. I finally picked the mass market price range because that’s about where my impulse buying level often kicks in the most.

However, I dream of a day when, if I’m in the mood for a short story I can quickly download a nice one shot deal for 99¢ or 1.99. A novella would be from 1.99-4.99, depending on how many chapters, and then a full blooded novel. Even non-fiction has its variables but for a serious non-fiction book on a topic I was interested in I would impulse buy up to $15.

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On April 25, 2011 at 2:03 pm misspiggy don'twannabe said...

My DH has a kindle. He also is a ranter about things I don’t always pay attention to but he claims that Steve Jobs is behind the increased pricing for e-books. DH was an early adopter for the kindle and bought many books for low prices – now that the ipad is out and functions as a e-reader, he claims that Apple forced Amazon and others to raise prices. It could be true.

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On April 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm Annie said...

It wasn’t Jobs per se – it was that Apple agreed to let publishers set pricing, period, end of story. Amazon didn’t do that – Amazon committed to paying publishers whatever they were getting for dtbs, and then made up the difference if they were selling it below that. The publishers were getting steady $ – but they didn’t control the public-facing price in the old Amazon model.

When Apple came along with iBooks, after the success of iTunes, Amazon didn’t want to lose market share, so they caved to that model. And then some publishers (looking at you, Penguin) decided to play hardball – they wanted all the customer information Amazon collects – and they didn’t want it anonymized, they wanted names and addresses and so forth. For why? They didn’t care to disclose.

There are authors I do not read any more because they became such appalling, embarrassing apologists for their publisher’s insistence on obtaining detailed purchaser data from Amazon. Data, incidentally, that they never felt entitled to with dtbs.

Frankly, I don’t think Amazon will fail – and I really don’t think they want to trigger any more public uproar with retracting purchased materials – they’ve had plenty of filth hit the fan over that, and it seems like they’re learning.

I’m way more concerned about the recent revelations regarding tracking with iDevices – even if you turn off location services, your device keeps track of you. Apple does not care to say why, nor do they propose to give people tools to turn that off.

And again – I know that books and music are not the same industry, and that dtbs present laborious obstacles to theft that CDs & Vinyl didn’t, but the lessons from music are vivid, and I’m not confident publishing understands how tentative their situation is.

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On April 25, 2011 at 4:16 pm orangehands said...

Funny, I went to vote but you didn’t have my price range: $4.99-5.99.

Now, that’s what I think e-books should cost, and I’m talking about full-length novels here; I can’t keep the book forever, I can’t return it if I buy a dud for a new author, or re-sell or loan it out, and I can’t hold it in my hands. On the other hand, its still a story and I believe stories are worth value (not to mention it does cost the publishing industry something to make it.) So $4.99-5.99.

Right now I’m willing to pay $6.99-7.99 for a novel e-book, because the two publishers I mostly buy e-books from (Dreamspinner’s and Loose ID) set the prices for that. But I try to wait for a coupon and/or spend a lot of time hemming and hawing before I purchase new authors, especially since I can’t return the book if I get a dud. (That’s my running theme, right there: either let me return a book I don’t like, or let me re-sell it.) And I don’t seem to be willing to go over it. For instance there’s a book I want to try, I really do, but it’s $8.99, and I just can’t make myself buy it. Is the dollar really that big of a deal? No. But I truly do not believe a fiction e-book is worth $8.99.

Part of me kind of agrees with the two-tier system for authors publishing print and e-book for their new story. When the hardback comes out in print, the e-book is, say, $9.99 (people seem to agree on that), and then when the paperback comes out, the e-book is $4.99-5.99. But the $9.99 – in my head – has to be attached to a hardcover, because you are paying to get the e-book earlier (just like you are with the hardcover). To pay “hardcover” price for an e-book from an author who hasn’t been bumped up yet to “hardcover” range seems too expensive.

On the other hand I realize this a. isn’t fair to authors who are exclusively e-book style and b. its saying I agree e-books are worth $9.99, which I truly don’t believe. So part of me is also okay if there wasn’t a two tier system, and e-books just cost $4.99-5.99. Maybe a dollar or two extra for getting it”early” like a hardcover. Which still is only allowed for print and e-book authors because e-book-only authors can’t have a “hardcover” and “paperback” version.

And yay! A new Vimes book! (Which I still wouldn’t pay $9.99 for, because while the story would be worth it the format isn’t.)

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On April 26, 2011 at 3:57 am Vicki V. said...

How Steve Jobs Drove Up the Price of E-Books and Why It Benefited Amazon Instead of Apple.

Pretty much every publisher but Baen Books (who practice pricing sanity, what a concept) priced ebooks the same as DTBs (Dead Tree Books) even for hardcovers. Amazon knew someone would be the tipping point for ebooks and Amazon had the deep pockets to make sure it would be Amazon. They chose to sell the Kindle at what the tech industry thinks is a small profit, “paperback” ebooks at a profit, and “hardcover” ebooks at a loss.

Every $9.99 “hardcover” ebook Amazon sold, up until the iPad came out a year ago, was a loss leader of around $3 to $4 per “hardcover” ebook sold. Amazon paid publishers the same $$$ for every “hardcover” ebook sold that they did for the actual hardcovers they sold. Amazon doesn’t release detailed sales and profit numbers for Kindles and ebooks, but what they have said makes it clear the combination worked big time and made money. Amazon is now selling more ebooks than DTBs. The best industry estimates seem to be that right now, somewhere around 80% of all ebooks sold are Kindle editions.

Amazon correctly judged the price point and built a huge and profitable market. They own the Kindle, and the Mobi ebook file format they use, and now also own Audible so every audio book bought from Audible shows up in the archive on the Kindle just like the ebooks do. They sold millions of Kindles and tens of millions of ebooks. Amazon was also smart enough to provide free Kindle reading apps for desktops, laptops, iPhones, the iPod Touch, Android smartphones, and probably coming soon to your toaster and your lawnmower. And all of those lovely Kindles and lovely Kindle apps generate ebook sales.

Steve Jobs told the NYT three years ago about ebooks “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore” without seeming to notice that the other sixty percent do read. So Apple (probably of the opinion that Apple doesn’t price anything at a loss, not deliberately anyway) let someone else beat them at building a market from tiny to humongous. When Apple did decide to sell ebooks (for the iPad) they were of course in a totally different file format from anyone else. And Apple refused to sell ebooks for the iPad at a loss (and why should they since there wasn’t any advantage for them to do so) and refused to let anyone else (Amazon) undercut them on ebook prices.

Apple told publishers to set the price for ebooks and Apple would sell them in the iPad bookstore as long as no one else (Amazon) sold that ebook for less. Publishers didn’t care because Apple would be just another market paying the same as Amazon.

But Amazon had created a giant ebook market that was seriously resistant to hardcover prices for ebooks. When the dust settled, Apple had far fewer books available in their ebook store at least partly because why should a publisher waste their time creating another ebook edition with a different file format for a much smaller market. The Kindle app on the iPad probably annoys Apple no end.

Most new “hardcover” ebooks now sell from $11.99 to $14.99, and Amazon makes a profit on EVERY ebook they, which makes Amazon even more profitable than they were before Steve Jobs and Apple came late to the party.

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On April 26, 2011 at 7:36 am Jenny said...

Actually, Amazon was taking a bath on a lot of those books, trying to tell publishers what they could charge for books. Apple wasn’t the only one who fought them on it, so did the CEO of Macmillan. Amazon said, “Fine, we won’t carry Macmillan books.” Macmillan took out a full page ad in the NYT that listed their bestselling authors (and they have a lot of them) and then said, “These books available everywhere . . . except Amazon.” Amazon caved.
The business is still trying to figure out the price point philosophy on e-books. Amazon tried an end run to control the market and got clipped. Perfectly good business plan, it just didn’t work.

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On April 26, 2011 at 7:43 am Jenny said...

I have a question. Why are printed books suddenly “Dead Tree Books” and print publishers suddenly “Legacy Publishers”? It’s like the health care bill having “Death Panels.” Tag something you’re scornful of with a disdainful nickname. It doesn’t bring anything to the discussion and it creates a divide. The same thing with the Kindle app on the iPad annoying Apple. Why? It makes their device even more useful, makes people even more likely to buy it (they can read all their Kindle book on the iPad, so they won’t lose anything). Why would they be annoyed?

It’s not them vs. us, it’s not e-books vs. print books. The best of all possible publishing worlds includes both and e- and print publishing. And the best way to discuss it is to strip out the emotional component and look at the numbers, listen to readers.

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On April 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm Rosa said...

Sorry, it’s a term we use in my office, so you know if you have to search your email inbox or rifle through the top of your desk for something. Kind of a joke about how much paper we generate, for an online-only corporation. I’m actually a paper-only reader, for books, by preference and cheapness.

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On April 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm Vicki V. said...

Sorry Jenny, you’re right about the us or them mentality and scornful nicknames. There’s a lot of that in a lot of different places these days. That’s not what I intended. Legacy is a term in use for a long time in other industries to refer to older companies with higher costs and no easy way to reduce those costs.

I have a flypaper brain and picked up DTB on a very active Baen list where ebooks are just another type of format and it probaby started as a snarky comment. People use the initals as shorthand for non-ebook editions. Baen is hugely into ebooks at reasonable prices and has been for a long time.

Apple actually is unhappy with the Kindle app and a bunch of other apps. Apple gave notice that no app could have a button that takes the user directly to their outside website to purchase content, and then eventually issued a clarification that they would allow it if the app also contained a way to buy the content from Apple with the standard 30% going to Apple. The drop dead date is, um, I think the end of May.

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On April 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm Jenny said...

I figured the DTB had to be just one of those terms like “Obamacare” that somebody with an ax to grind started and then it got picked up. I have to admit it’s the first time anybody ever called me an arboricide on my blog.

Here’s the problem I have with the Kindle/iPad rivalry. It’s like saying that Bose is outselling Lexus in car stereos. It’s true, Bose is outselling Lexus in car stereos. But Lexus has an entire car wrapped around their stereos, so the price point is significantly higher, and people are probably not buying Lexus just for the stereo or even because of the stereo, although it’s a nice selling point. The market that the iPad is trying to hit isn’t Kindles, it’s laptops, and it’s having a big impact there. As for Apple requiring anything bought on their app to go through Apple, I’m pretty sure (although not positive) that all Kindle purchases have to go through Amazon and all Nook purchases have to go through B&N. All of that is going to go once the industry gets around to recognizing one form, but that’s going to be awhile, and in the meantime, I think both the Kindle and the Nook are proprietary and only the iPad has an open form for buying. (Can you buy books for the Kindle from B&N? I really don’t know.) I could be wrong since I only buy from iBooks, and I’ve never tried the other forms, but if that’s true, then iPad is just falling into line with the rest by specifiying that iPad users buy from Apple, not ruining a brave new world.

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On April 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm Kay T said...

I think I get your point, Jenny, but someone using a non-Apple tablet (i.e., an Android or Windows) can get their books directly from Amazon, B&N, etc. There is no gatekeeper function like “APPLE” between the tablet user and the rest of the world. I have an Android phone and I can buy books from anyone without Google knowing about it or caring. Until this year Google did restrict apps to those bought from the Google market (like Apple does), but this was opened up recently so you can buy apps anywhere.

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On April 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm Jenny said...

Okay, admittedly I’m confused. If Apple is a closed system, why do I have books for my Kindle app on the iPad? Or is the plan to ditch the Kindle app? If I had a Kindle, could I buy books on it from B&N or iBooks or do I have to buy them from the Amazon? I’m not getting the arguments, but it’s because I know so little on this not because I think you’re wrong. I’m clueless.

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On April 27, 2011 at 5:53 am Vicki V. said...

Kindles and Nooks and iPads fill different niches.

You can buy and read Kindle ebooks from Amazon even without a Kindle. You can get Kindle ebooks from places that aren’t Amazon (not Barnes&Noble though). Kindle apps lets you read Kindle ebooks you bought from Amazon on desktops/laptops/almost-all-devices including the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

Amazon keeps an archive of whatever ebooks bought from them so you can download them again to any device registered to your Amazon account if you need to.

Same deal for Nook. Buy and read Nook ebooks from Barnes&Noble without a Nook. You can get Nook ebooks from places that aren’t Barnes&Noble (not Amazon though). The Barnes&Noble apps work on the same array of desktops/laptops/almost-all-devices including iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. They also keep an archive of the ebooks bought from them.

The eInk Nook is similar to the Kindle. The color Nook is actually an Android tablet that up until this week was in a straightjacket. It’s the least expensive Android tablet available and technogeeks said it was pretty easy to jailbreak it and turn it back into a functional Android tablet. Barnes&Noble basically just announced they’re going to jailbreak it for you and sell it as an ereader that’s also a mostly functional Android tablet.

Amazon sells only Kindle ebooks. Nook can’t read Kindle ebooks.

Barnes&Noble sells only Nook ebooks. Kindle can’t read Nook ebooks.

Apps let you read both formats on computers, and Apple devices, and Android devices. Although I think it’s pretty safe to say there won’t be a Kindle app available for the Android device called the color Nook :)

Apple flunks all ereader comparisons but I don’t think it really matters because I don’t think anyone buys the iPad as a dedicated ereader. The iBooks app (which uses OS4) sells you ebooks that can only be read on the iPad/iPhone/2nd 3rd 4th gen iPod Touch. Not on Apple desktops, not on Apple laptops, not on the 1st gen iPod Touch (which uses OS3).

The Kindle app works just fine on the Apple 1st gen iPod Touch so that particular Apple device can buy and read Kindle ebooks from Amazon, but it can’t buy and read Apple ebooks from Apple. Also, the Apple bookstore has a much smaller selection of ebooks. FWIW, I saw at least one article when the iPad came out quoting publishers about how difficult Apple was to work with on uploading of ebooks.

Amazon will convert .DOC or .DOCX files for you so those can also be read on the Kindle. There’s even a huge media fanfic archive that lets users download fanfic in .MOBI format for Kindle and .PDF format that works on Nook.

Any file in the following formats will work on the Kindle: .MOBI .TXT .PDF .PRC .TPZ .AZW You can have up to six ereaders (Kindles + devices with Kindle app) on the same Amazon account.

The Apple ebook debacle blew up several months ago when iTunes rejected the Sony app for ebooks in the far less popular Sony ereader format. Sony said Apple told the president of Sony’s digital reading division that all in-app content purchases had to go through iTunes.

Apple issued this statement. “We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines. We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”

Which sounded a lot like “We’re not changing anything but here’s what we changed.” So yeah, WTF all over the place since the Kindle app by then had been in iTunes for more than a year.

The Kindle app has an in-app button that closes the app and goes to the ebook section of Amazon so ebooks can be searched for and bought which Amazon then sends to the Apple device. I haven’t seen the Barnes&Noble app but it probably works like that for the Nook.

This displeases Apple because Apple wants their 30% cut even when the Apple device is used to buy ebooks from someone other than Apple.

This is from the iTunes app store guidelines. “Apps can read or play approved content (magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video) that is sold outside of the app, for which Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues, provided that the same content is also offered in the app using IAP at the same price or less than it is offered outside the app. This applies to both purchased content and subscriptions.”

This also suggests if the ebook isn’t available from Apple you’re toast anyway. There’s some question as to whether the deadline is May 31st or June 30th or something else. Apple isn’t saying anything publicly.

I really don’t see Amazon adding the ability to buy ebooks from Apple to the Kindle app, just so they can hand Apple their entire profit on those sales.

Don’t know what’s going to happen next. This is going to be who blinks first.

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On April 27, 2011 at 5:35 pm Jenny said...

It would sound like the whole videotape story all over again except that my e-reader reads all formats. For that alone, I don’t get the “Apple flunks all ereader comparisons.” I compared them and bought the iPad so it passed my comparison just fine. Lani’s sampled the Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad and prefers reading her Kindle books on the iPad, so it really depends on who’s doing the comparisons. In the same way, I don’t understand why “I really don’t see Amazon adding the ability to buy ebooks from Apple to the Kindle app, just so they can hand Apple their entire profit on those sales,” is just a business decision, but Apple doing the same thing is Apple being “displeased.” It’s not that I think Apple is anything but a sharp business, but I don’t see Amazon any differently; they’re both playing cutthroat games along with B&N, trying to cash in on the e-book revolution. I also don’t see the “who blinks first” thing since at the moment, nobody’s in a staring match. This isn’t New Coke; it’s three separate platforms competing with each other, but it’s not a zero sum game. I absolutely agree that we’re still in the middle of the revolution, that’s it’s not all going to shake out for years yet, and that it’s a really exciting time to be a reader, I just don’t get the whole Apple-is-the-enemy vibe. Of course this entire household drank the Apple Kool-aid a long time ago. Alastair held out for quite awhile until he got a look at Lani’s little square Nano and then got his own iPhone. Now he dreams of Macbook Pros and iPads.

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On May 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm k said...

I have an ipad and i can’t buy bestsellers on ibookstore (am not in the US territories). The only books available to me there are the classics, so i have no other choice but to buy it through the kindle app.

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On April 26, 2011 at 8:12 am Anne said...

I have resisted getting an eReader, but will do so this year. Why now?
Book piles everywhere. Books two deep on shelves. No more room for book shelves. When I go on vacation, instead of carrying 5+ books in my luggage, I can pop the reader in my purse. I can download library books from anywhere I can get Internet access.
I too love the smell and feel of paper books but if I loose a book, or it gets coffee dumped on it – its gone and I have to buy it again. An eBook is mine for life – yes assuming the format is still supported. My thought is that pricing should be two tier – “rent” price and “buy” price. “Buy” – yours forever. “Rent” – yours temporarily (2 reads? 1 year?)

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On April 26, 2011 at 10:18 am Gina said...

What I won’t do, because it irks me greatly, is pay more for the e-book than the book book. If I can get the trade paperback for 9.99, why, pray tell, would I spend 12.99 for the e-book? You’re literally getting less, since there’s no paper, shipping, storage space etc to account for.

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On April 26, 2011 at 1:42 pm Jenny said...

I’m hearing that enough that I think it may be set in stone as apparent value. Except for those books that people just HAVE to have. Like a new Vimes. If Susan’s in it, my credit card will contact iBooks on its own.

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On April 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm Kay T said...

So far my price point is FREE!!! I have a few ebooks and they have all been free. I am not ready to spend more than a few dollars if any for a book that I cannot lend to a friend and/or take to the used book store. Sorry, the ebook has to be cheaper than the paper book.

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On April 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm Jill said...

I am a biblioholic , bibliophile, bibliomaniac. Some might say I need a 12 Step Program . But those 12 steps would lead straight to a bookstore. I buy books in any format available. I will buy a book in HC or PB and the same book on Kindle if I am going on a trip (no room for HCs on a motorcycle). I buy favorite authors books in all formats they come in. I do not seek out new authors. Mary Stella and Kieran Kramer being the exceptions. I voted in the $6.99-$7.99 category. Finding 3 of Barbara Samuel’s backlist (from her newsletter) on Kindle for 99 ¢ was a bonus. 99¢ does not diminish the value of the book because I know the author. I could have bought the same books from Amazon’s used list for 74¢.
It seems to me that more and more authors are pubbling their backlists in e format. And that they are very happy to do it.

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On April 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm Jill said...

I should have mentioned that I am very fortunate to be able to indulge my reading vice. :)

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On April 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm ruthie said...

Yes! And if you buy that used book for $.74, you have to spend nearly $4 in postage. How much of that goes to the author??? Nada. So, if an author chooses to make their backlist available via low priced ebooks, they’re way ahead of the game, and the money’s going to the person who earned it!

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On April 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm Cissa said...

Considering I can’t re-sell or re-distribute an ebook (like via Paperback Swap), nor is an ebook likely to be actually available for me to read in 10+ years based on replacing computers and ebook devices…

An ebook is not worth anything like as much as a physical book to me. An ebook is basically similar to a library book- meaning, read it and then it’s gone.

Library books are essentially free to read. I would not pay more than maybe $2-3 for an ebook, since it’s functionally equivalent to a library book to me, and lacks the permanence and the flexibility of physical books.

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On April 27, 2011 at 6:07 am Vicki V. said...

This is an excellent place to follow what’s going on in the business of ebooks. They link to anything interesting or new.

http://www.teleread.com

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On April 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm Jenny said...

I just skimmed the first couple of posts there but it looks excellent. Thank you, Vicki!

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On April 27, 2011 at 11:47 am Mrs. Turkey said...

I’m fairly new to reading ebooks — the newest Vorkosigan book seduced me into buying it and reading it on the Kindle. The most cogent arguement for making that leap? I could buy the story for $9.99 and read it instantly, WEEKS before the local stores would have had the hardback. Eliminating the wait between the hardback and paperback price is, well, fabulous!

Since then, I’ve discovered that I have some pretty defined ideas of what I’m willing to pay for an ebook, and that range is between $5 and $10. Anything more than that, and I’m going to go buy the paper version that I can lend to students / friends / etc. Anything less than that and I feel a bit guilty, and find myself wondering how the author is doing, financially. That said, the Baen Free Library is wildly addictive, and it has lead me to buying more books than I expected, having gotten a free taste of the series!

So, yeah, I’d average the two prices and charge a flat (unchanging) $7 / ebook. YMMV.

BTW: you’re featured on my blog! http://turkeylists.blogspot.com/2011/02/well-written-junk-romance.html

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On May 1, 2011 at 9:26 pm Janet said...

I don’t buy ebooks because I’m either carrying around a novel on transit, listening to an ebook (the readers make the difference), or reading on my computer (trashy fanfiction :). Paying between $4-$10 (Canadian money *gasp).

I borrow all my book from family and the public library. I really only purchase books that my family hasn’t. About 3 a year from the authors I follow. My Mum collects the Jennifer Crusie, my aunt collects Nora Roberts, and I collect Janet Evanovich :) I’m totally covered.

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On May 8, 2011 at 11:25 am Jill said...

I love ebooks! However, I won’t pay more than the paperback price, and even then feel it’s wrong. Look at all the trees I’m saving with my ereader! That should be worth something. I buy a LOT of books; always have. I’ve long ago run out of physical room for them, so the ereader is a very practical solution for me… I cannot get rid of books! Once I buy them, they are with me forever. I buy over 300 books a year, so if the ebooks are too pricey, it’s just a bit much for me on a limited budget. As for $.99 books, they’re usually just very short stories and I don’t bother. When I read, I want a book! My favorite authors… well. I usually pay what I must. but not always happily.

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