The Price of Ebooks, Thoughts?

Recently my writer’s group and I (another fun blog post to come next week about this wonderful group) have been having a little debate over the price of eBooks. Obviously this has been spurred on between the argument between Hachette and other major publishing houses with Amazon. I won’t get into the argument, mainly because I have tried to avoid a little of the “drama” here. I’ve read Hachette’s side, I’ve read Amazon’s side. I very clearly saw how they were trying to get both authors and readers on each of their sides. I stayed in Switzerland.

The argument is two fold here.

A) Should publishing houses be told how to price their eBooks? (I guess indie authors are in the mix here too.)

The answer to this directly corresponds to the second part of this argument.

B) Should eBook prices be lower than print prices for the same book?

I’ll try and be brief in my answers as I would really like everyone else to weigh in on this as well and wouldn’t want my long winded opinion to sway you from your gut reaction. Even in my writing group we are slightly divided. My friend Dan, who writes amazing sci-fi and thriller books (www.danielside.com), is on the equal eBook/print prices and his arguments are pretty enticing as well.

For the first question, my first reaction is no­ Amazon and other big retailers should not be able to dictate to the publishing houses how much they want to sell their books for. I’ve been ticked off quite a few times with Amazon’s seemingly endless and overbearing rules (sometimes I feel I am in business with Christian Grey here ;)). As an author, publisher, etc., if you want to put your book on sale through Amazon and receive your standard royalty you have to sign up for KDP, which basically translates to Amazon owns you for a three month period. That’s right, you cannot have you eBook listed on ANY other site for that time. If you chose not to enroll in KDP you can still put your book on sale but you receive a FRACTION of the price you normally would (I believe it falls from 70% royalty to 35% royalty).

So yes, I think in theory we should stand tall and say no to the bullies who try to dictate our eBook pricing. But the problem is, Amazon are just so freaking successful. Not just for themselves (though I seriously do not want to even think about what their bank account looks like), but they show us results too. I sell, hands down, WAY more books through Kindle Amazon than any other platform I have my books listed on. I’m talking like 99% of my sales are through them. Who knows, maybe this is me doing something wrong, but I don’t think so. I only have one book listed under KDP, the rest are normal listings and even those out perform through Kindle than on any other platform. So, unfortunately for me I begrudgingly have to agree to Amazon’s­ at times bully-ish­ rules and not bite the hand that feeds me.

For the second question, I think this is where a lot of people become divided. Personally, as an avid reader first and foremost, I think eBooks should be priced at a lower cost than print books. I stand by this as an author too (though I have some exceptions on this that I will explain in a moment). First off is the simple economics. It doesn’t take as much money to produce an eBook as it does a print book. It just doesn’t. Yes, the initial costs for both are the same: editor, proofreader, cover design, etc. Yes there is a cost to make an eBook (though to be honest you can get a decent eBook formatting for under a hundred dollars and it is done in under 24 hours… nothing earth shattering but it gets the job done). If I sell an eBook, after those initial costs I don’t have a lot of overhead. Yes, the retailer takes their share­ roughly 30%, but this is based on the price that I set. For example (for simple math) if I sold my book for $1.00, I would have to pay $0.30 to the retailer for “selling my book”. Physical books however are more set in their costs­ first you have to pay to actually produce each book (for indie authors maybe roughly $3.00-$6.00 depending on the length of the book), then I have to pay the retailer their royalties for “selling my book” and then I get my own royalty from whatever is left over. Putting aside the economics for a minute, there is also the lack of versatility with the eBook. You have it on your eReader and there it will stay. I can’t loan it to my grandma, aunt, friend, etc. unless they also have an eReader and even then the eBook has to have a “lending” option, set by the retailer and author.

From a writer’s perspective, I also think lower eBook prices are a way to gain new readers. Personally, I am just not willing to spend $14.99+ on an author I have never heard of… But I am more than glad to spend that on an author I love and know I will enjoy the read. I think as an author, careful pricing of our eBooks is a way to gain new readership. Here’s an example: I once got a free eBook written by Marie Force. I hadn’t read any of her other books but this was a first in the series. After I read, and loved, her book I very willingly paid $4.99+ for each of the other books she wrote in the series. I think there is close to ten now. I probably, in all honesty, would have never read any of her books and now I am a huge fan. I try and price my eBooks fairly so I’m not undermining my time and craft but so people who have never heard of me will give my books a chance. Then, once they have read my work and hopefully liked it, I would hope they would stick with me for the rest of my career.

Okay, so here is the BUT. I can completely understand why the major publishing houses have to price their eBooks higher. Publishing houses have very large overheads. There are many people whose salaries depend on the sale of those books. Editors, marketing, proofreaders, copy editors, even the nice newbie who has to bring everyone coffee and their mail. When you slice the pie up, you have to price the eBook higher so that people can pay their mortgages. I don’t believe, however, that because you charge more for an eBook it means that it is a better quality book. I’ve read some terrible traditionally published books priced at $14.99+ and some FANTASTIC indie books for $0.99! And vice versa. Sometimes I think indie authors undersell themselves, but that’s a different debate.

Okay I will leave you with a final tidbit to mull over before you let me know what you think:

Traditional publishers usually give roughly a 30% royalty on eBooks to their authors, 10-15% usually for print books. This makes me wonder if they too realize that the overhead is not as great for eBooks and are therefore able to give more back to the author.

Okay, I think I’ve talked enough now.

What are your thoughts?

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