How much is a good story worth?
If you’ve been following recent news, you’ll know that several major publishing houses (Harper Collins, Apple, etc.) are being hit with an anti-trust lawsuit regarding their attempts at fixing eBook prices. See here for an explanation of the issue. The problem is that self-published authors are selling their books at $2.99 or less, and publishing houses feel that this is devaluing eBooks. They are worried that people will stop buying their higher-priced, best-selling novels in favour of mass-consuming the self-published books that are flooding the market. The obvious solution would be for publishing houses to simply price their eBooks lower in order to compete with self-published authors… but it isn’t as easy as that.
I had always believed that eBooks were overpriced – it costs nothing to produce an electronic file, after all, so why should I pay $14.99 for it? But then I read this article. When you print thousands and thousands of books, the cost of printing only amounts to a few dollars a copy. That’s why you can find $5 books on the discount shelf at your local book store, because they really don’t cost that much to actually print. So why are books priced so high? Because of all the overhead costs the publisher must pay – author advances, marketing fees, etc. All these things still have to be paid for, whether you’re making a print book or an eBook. The only difference with an eBook is that you’re saving those few dollars that would have been used for printing. So in that respect, eBooks could logically be priced almost as high as print books. And most of them are fairly costly – usually half the cost of the print book’s list price.
But then you get the difference between owning a pdf file, and having in your hands a real, heavy, paper-cut-inducing book. Yes, eBooks offer the advantage of being able to carry around your entire library in your back pocket. But if I had $15, I would rather spend it on a real book. I’m proud of my book shelf, and I love being able to just plop down in front of it and peruse the book spines for my next read. Not to mention that I like to share my books with my friends, but I don’t think I’d want to share my eBook reader.
At the same time, eBooks are growing in popularity, and publishers do need to turn a profit. If they only charge $2.99 for their eBooks, I imagine the profit margin must be nearly non-existent for the author. Apparently some authors are actually walking away from book contracts because publishers refuse to let them retain their e-rights to their books, because they’ve realized that it’s far more profitable to sell eBooks on their own terms. Amazon Kindle, for example, offers a 70% royalty rate if you price your eBook between $2.99 and $9.99. Who wouldn’t want that?
But then with self-publishing, you get eBooks priced as low as 99 cents. Initially I thought that this was a fantastic idea, because if you are trying to build up a readership, what better way to get people to buy your book than by selling it for less than a dollar? A single cookie costs more than that, especially if you get one of those delicious gourmet ones. But then I remembered a book sale I went to a few years back, where I bought maybe fifty books for about $50. If the cover even mildly intrigued me, I bought it. But how many of those books have I read since then? Maybe a quarter, if that. Maybe eBooks need to be priced a little higher – say, $2.99 – in order to make it worth the reader’s while to actually open up the file. It’s hard to discover new authors if you never read the books that they write.
What do you think? What’s a good price for a self-published author’s first book? I’ve been leaning toward $2.99 – a bit more than 99 cents, but still less than a Starbucks latte. Would you pay $2.99 for a story from an author you’ve never read?
Funny and relevant comic — click here!