I had a well known fact slap me in the face last night. I’ve been aware for some time that the ebooks that come from legacy publishers are over-priced. Most of the ebooks I’ve bought up til now have been either self-pubbed or from ebook publishers. But lately I’ve become all too aware of how crowded my bookshelves have become, and last night I thought I’d buy Patricia Briggs most recent Mercy Thompson novel, River Marked as an ebook. I love these books. I absolutely ate them up on my recent vacation. But I balked at the $12.99 price.
I really want to read that book, and sooner than next January when the mass market edition is released and the ebook price comes down to $7.99. I can go to the library, yes. But the point is, by pricing the ebook so high, Ace has deferred my purchase, and risked losing income. Do they think that by pricing the ebook unreasonably high at $12.99, that I’ll be more likely to say, “Well heck, I might as well spend three dollars more and get the discounted hardback from Amazon for $16.17?” Really? Hardbacks are bulky, heavy, and take up too much space. Or perhaps they believe that getting it now rather than later is worth the $5 premium?
Obviously, that works for some people. Some people do buy ebooks at that inflated price. But if you’ve been following any of the authors I’ve mentioned here in the past (Konrath, Eisler, Stackpole, Rusch, Smith), they’re all pretty much united in the opinion that lower prices for ebooks result in greater sales and greater income.
J. A Konrath likes the $2.99 price point for his ebooks, Dean Wesley Smith recommends $4.99 for a full length novel. Michael A. Stackpole charges $4.99 for his backlist ebooks. Ebook publishers like Samhain, Loose-Id, and The Wild Rose Press typically charge from $4.50 to $7.00 for full novels.
Much less than what legacy publishers charge.
Some have suggested that self-pubbed books and epublishers have to charge less because the quality of the product is just not up to legacy publishing standards. Legacy publishers edit their books better than self-published authors or small presses do, the argument goes. They spend more on book development and production, they deserve to charge more for their product. However, the amount traditional publishers spend and what they spend it on is pretty much irrelevant to the customer. It’s all about perceived value. Legacy publishers are competing for my entertainment dollars. If I think spending $12.99 is a rip-off, I’m going to spend that money on something else that I think is fair value, whether it’s another book or renting a movie. As a consumer, I don’t care what happens behind the curtain. I just want value for my money. And my Scot blood says $12.99 is too much for an ebook when another author’s traditionally published, professionally edited, backlist books are available digitally for $4.99.
This (along with other business practices) is hurting publishers. Ebooks are increasing their market share daily, but traditional publishers aren’t fully taking advantage of the trend. They’re trying to maintain print books as the more attractive product by pricing ebooks unattractively. Instead they should be using ebook profits to keep their companies afloat and their balance sheets healthy (while paying their authors a competitive royalty so they don’t jump ship and scurry over to Amazon’s new imprints).
This follows a well-established historical pattern, however. In almost every industry, when there’s been a big shift in technology, there have been early adopters and those who want to stay with the familiar old ways. Sometimes early adopters jump on the new train too soon, and fail. But more often it’s the ones who wait until they can’t ignore the fact that the world has changed anymore that get left behind.