Keep E-book Prices Affordable

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Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby aburt » Sat Apr 10, 2010 4:25 pm

E-book readership is growing rapidly (though still small in total). Publishers who've been in the ebook business for a while, like Baen and Fictionwise, have taken the approach of pricing ebooks low, often less than mass-market paperback prices. Now that more and larger publishers are entering the space, they're pricing their ebooks to compete with hardback and trade paperback prices.

Then there's the question of pricing for shorter works, like short stories.

As an author I want to be rewarded for my work, but not to the point where prices lose readership. As a reader I want to pay a fair price for what I read. (Editorial comment... I personally feel ebook prices from mainstream publishers are getting a bit pricey...)

And there's the question of whether variable pricing based on reader satisfaction makes sense, like how you tip the server more for great service at a restaurant and less for poor service.

What are your thoughts? What is a fair price for ebooks? Take the E-book pricing survey at http://www.critters.org/surv if you haven't already, and share your comments here.

Thanks for your input!

--Andrew Burt
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Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby caitlinthomas » Sun Apr 11, 2010 2:28 am

Truthfully, I've generally felt a little surprised that the price of ebooks are at all comparable to printed books.

To publish an ebook has far fewer expenses and risks, from what I gather: no printing or shipping costs or overrun write-offs. Once the book is in the system, costs seem pretty minimal, even allowing for a hefty author payout.

That's from the publisher's end.

From the reader's end, the cost of an ebook reader is often pretty gulp-inducing, and some don't allow sharing books with family members or friends unless the reader itself loaned, or they have a very similar model. Further, if the ebook reader (or computer) becomes outdated and replaced or broken, as I understand it, all the books previously bought on it can't be transferred. My understanding is that you have to start from scratch again with most models. Someone please correct me if my information is outdated or incorrect though.

Given what I understand to be true however, to pay hundreds of dollars for a reader, and then buy ebooks at almost the same price as print on top of that, but with far more risk of losing them all, and limited ability to share with my sisters is... not appealing as a value. I would probably only seriously consider buying ebooks if they reflected the lessened publication costs and made the investment and risk in storing them all in one place a possible costs savings after 120 or so book purchases.

That's my take on it, anyway: generally not a good value at the current prices. My theory is that publishers persist because while sales are low, the profit margins are impressive per sale. I do believe that there's enough room for decent author payments without scaring away money conscious readers though.
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Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby tecnopaul » Sun Apr 11, 2010 10:30 am

Seriously, I'm a respectable reader, but ebooks are harder to read than hard copies. I see that I can get many many many books for free and that some ebooks are either the same cost as a hard copy, sometimes a HARDBOUND copy, or otherwise within $2-$3. Who wants to pay that much? IF I'm paying that much, I'm going to buy a hard copy and find a free softcopy to download and keep up on the way with. I would think the music industry would be a word of warning to the literary industry.

If you publish an ebook at a reasonable price, people will buy it, but if you don't someone else will simply upload it and give the work away for free. It's all about how much control you want to have over your own creation. Frankly, what is the profit margin on a paperback? If a paperback novel sells, how much does the author net? That should be the selling price of an ebook. MAYBE $0.05 over that cost to cover the cost of maintaining the hard drive the copy is residing on. If you sell so many copies that traffic becomes an issue, then maybe raise the price. But how much does it cost to maintain a gigabyte of data on an external server that's having less than a gigabyte a month downloaded? For me about $10/month. Not enough to worry about as long as I get $20/month in sales. A good zipped basic ebook might be 50 kb. That's? 20,000 downloads a month. If you use fancy formatting and get it up to 4 mb, you're down to 250 copies. But then, you've also excluded many people like myself that have readers that do the formatting for me, so I now have to go to a seperate program to download and read.

Reasonable cost, reasonable format. If that were the case, I'd buy more ebooks. I've bought over a doze ebook readers over the last decade and I can honestly say the idea is appealing, but it's only this generation that has the size, weight and clarity to the point I'd try to read a whole novel in ebook format.
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Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby bookworm » Mon Apr 12, 2010 4:00 pm

There are a lot of costs that go away with ebooks like printing, shipping, and returns. It's been said that half the books printed are commonly returned, with shipping back at the publisher's expense.

There are costs that must be paid, like paying the author, editor, copyeditor, cover artist, layout, any marketing costs, and allowing profit for the publisher and bookseller. A lot of those costs are shared with a print edition and should be shared on a per-copy basis spread over the total number of print and ebook copies that are expected to sell.

The cost of hosting ebook files is nearly nothing and layout is done inexpensively with software which means the cost of an ebook should only include the second kind of costs.
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Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby readerwriter » Tue Apr 13, 2010 1:47 pm

I got a Kindle for my birthday about 6 mo. ago and I love it!

I've loaded it with classic science fiction books that I paid practically nothing for. But at the same time, I can't buy the latest and greatest novels out by my favorite authors without paying *MORE* than I would pay for a paperback.

This makes no sense to me.

Now, I do feel that the publishing industry serves some valuable functions for both readers and authors.

(1) They serve to screen out dreck. Some of those free or <$1 ebooks available in the Kindle store, to put it charitably, perhaps should have seen a few more rounds of edits and rewrites. Now if Baen or Tor see enough potential in a book to crank up the presses and the marketing machine, chances are, it will read pretty well to me, too.
(2) The professional editors at publishing houses help the author hone his or her text and push it to that professionally-polished level.
(3) They provide valuable marketing and publicity expertise to get the word out.

So, given all that, I believe it's reasonable for publishers as well as authors to make a profit on a book.

HOWEVER, for an e-book, there is NO NEED to invest capital in printing presses, paper, transportation, or buying back remainders if the book was a bad bet. The cost of hosting and serving the file of the e-book is vanishingly small compared to these costs of hard-copy books.

THEREFORE, I believe that all of the costs associated with hard-copy books should be subtracted out from the e-book price. There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for trying to charge HARD-COVER prices for an e-book! None whatsoever.

Publishing houses, wake up. The launch of a book with a premium-priced hard-backed version is a fossilized business model. If you try to maintain it in the face of new technology, you will go the way of buggy-whip manufacturers.
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Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby stevesh6 » Wed Apr 14, 2010 6:40 pm

Most of what I've read says that the sunk costs of ebooks aren't that much different from a paper book, with the actual printing and shipping costs being a small part of the overall cost. Of course, that information came from the publishing industry, so ...

As caitlin suggested, the real issue is DRM. When I can lend an ebook to my sister (as I can with a paper book) and when I don't have to worry about my ebook reader crashing and wiping out all my books, I'll consider buying ebooks, even at a price close to that of paper. The dinosaurs in the publishing industry (and the music industry) eventually have to realize that old business models don't work in the Internet age.
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Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby susanbeamon » Thu Apr 15, 2010 12:12 am

I am not a fan of e-books. They are too fragile for my tastes. Hit the wrong key and you'll never see them again, unless you re-buy them. That's harder to do with a real book. Plus, e-books don't smell right, don't sound right, don't look right. Oh, don't tell me about "progress". E-books have their place. If i were going somewhere, like to Mars, where weight is a consideration, e-books would be acceptable. As to the price I would pay for something that could vanish in a second, that I could not give to someone else when I was finished, that I could not print out, free seems best.
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Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby Mushalera » Thu Apr 15, 2010 1:25 am

One of my major concerns when buying e-books is the formats they come in. I won't buy them if they're only in proprietary formats. Why? It's because the proprietary e-book readers aren't worth using, in my opinion, since they hard-code all the formatting (fonts/colors/sizes/margins/spacing), and they rarely do a decent full-screen. They try to replicate the look of a 'real book', but it just gets in the way. I think they should utilize a computer strengths instead of weaknesses. Customization and personalization is essential for the books I read. So, I generally look for formats like .txt, .rtf, or something I can change into such (like .html or .doc). Plus, the commercial readers usually try to imitate music players with a library system, tags and such. That's kind of overkill for me. I'd rather just have static favorites like Firefox has in its bookmarks menu. A library system in addition to that isn't bad, though, if it doesn't slow things down too much. So, my point is, I'm willing to pay a lot more if I can get the format I want (without DRM) than otherwise.

On another note, I think cost of production should be taken into account. People know that it costs almost nothing to replicate an e-book. Companies aren't fooling them when they make them cost the same. I don't think many people will pay the same amount—at least not until such as the Kindle becomes much less expensive, and even though they probably would then, I think it would be unethical.

As for readership, if you raise the price you'll lose some readers. The more you raise it, the more you'll only have only certain kinds of people buying it (i.e. people who already know they will likely love it, the rich and people willing to go out on a limb). Despite what I put on my survey, I think that $2–3 a book will gather the most readership. I'd buy loads of books a year if that were the case, while if they were priced at $20, I might buy one book every five years, if that.

Paper books, on the other hand, can drive the price up significantly. I don't like having standard prices for books, but that can't be helped too much if the books are owned by corporations.
Mushalera
 

Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby koilire » Thu Apr 15, 2010 1:34 am

@caitlinthomas
>That's my take on it, anyway: generally not a good value at the current prices. My theory is that publishers persist because while sales are low, the profit margins are impressive per sale. I do believe that there's enough room for decent author payments without scaring away money conscious readers though.

That idea makes sense when the resources for reproduction are limited. If that's the reason, I think it has become a tradition. There is not really any reason to do this for digital goods, except insofar as bandwidth is a concern (but it's not *that* big of a concern). Overall profits are what matter—not how much you make per sale. You can sell as much as you want. It's not like we're farmers with only so many crops for the market.
koilire
 

Re: Keep E-book Prices Affordable

Postby Apeman » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:16 am

I've been hooked on e-books for quite a few years now. I first stumbled across them as a result of a Baen Free CD in the back sleeve of a book I borrowed from the library. That led me to the Baen Free Library, wher they have 100+ back list (but some just a few years old) books in a variety of formats for free. This then led me to continue buying series when new, as well as branching out to paying for e-books by new authors I'd never read before. The pricing was the first thing that hooked me - $6.00 for a new book, as opposed to $15 - $20. I read on my phone (first an XDA using Microsoft Reader, now an iPhone using BookShelf) and have purchased about 120 e-books. I like to read wherever I am, so for me the e-book reader is very good. Also, the pricing definitely brings the books down to the realm of impulse buying, especially when I can finish one book, and instantly go online and get the next - instant fix!

I also really like Baen's practise of not DRMing the books - what I buy is mine, dammit! It's led to me buying more books, not less, as has their Free Library. I know that the costs of producing a book for a publisher is the same whether it's dead-tree or e-book, it's only the printing, distribution, and store markups that are not there - however that's the bulk of the price.

For me the ebook pricing decision is that the price should be half or less of a deadtree paperback, the author must make the same amount of the sale as if I'd bought the equivalent "version" of the deadtree, and the publisher must make enough to stay in business and keep buying the stories I want to read.
Apeman
 

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