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E-books [Jun. 12th, 2012|01:58 pm]
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I get a lot of questions and comments about e-books in my daily load of email.    The bulk of this post will be about e-book pricing, but just to clear up a few things, I'll start with one of the commonest questions (which happens to conceal a couple of misconceptions in it.)

Why don't you let your books be made into e-books?    To which the answer is 1) All my novels are available as e-books, in multiple formats.   Information about them is on my website and on the publishers' websites.   2)  All current book contracts with traditional publishers cover release as an e-book (usually in addition to release as hardcopy.   E-book publication is now standard and universal among traditional publishers, at least for fiction.

If you can't find a current book from a traditional publisher in e-format...you're not looking in the right places.  (But you should be aware that Amazon.com has  de-listed books for a variety of reasons, including an argument with a publisher.  Most such de-listings have been temporary, but might convince the unwary--who look only at Amazon--that a given edition does not exist.   Try something other than Amazon to check (the author's website is a good start, as are author pages at publisher websites.)  If you have a brand-new-shiny e-reading device with a proprietary file format that doesn't match any other, however, you can expect a lag (as publishers scramble to figure out how to format files to display correctly on that device) before the first e-books show up with it.   (And if you think that's not a real problem, you haven't talked to the people doing the work.  I recently read David Rodin's War and Self-Defense--an Oxford University Press book--on a friend's Kindle, and the formatting was...difficult to read in places, is the kindest way to put it.) 

But now to the main point of this post--which is the source of many questions and complaints: e-book pricing.   Since I have already demonstrated a willingness to make waves, I'll start by dropping a very large rock in the pond of assumptions about e-books....that they "should" be cheap, like potato chips...that pricing them even as much as a regular mass-market paperback is too high (one of my correspondents announced angrily that he would never pay as much as that and huffed away.) 

E-books are now considered a desirable format...for many reasons.  One reader can "contain" hundreds of books--so that many books are easier to store (never mind that Amazon and other suppliers can snatch them off your e-reader as fast as they downloaded them in the first place--and Amazon has done so),  easier to carry around.   One e-reader clearly weighs less and takes up less space than the number of books "in" it.   Since e-readers are expensive (for most of the people in the world, out of reach expensive), they're a luxury item--entertainment electronics.   Now in most of the first world, if you want more convenience....you pay more for it.   If you want the latest thing right away...you pay more for it.   If you want it delivered to your door, rather than going to a store to buy it...you pay more for it.   (Free shipping is sometimes available, but not always, from all suppliers.)    If you want the sparkly/shiny/newest/most fashionable....you pay more for it.  Whether it's a more efficient automobile,  a car with all the latest electronic connections, the best sound system, that parking assist thingie....you pay more for it.  So--given that e-books are a luxury, a highly desired format for many affluent readers--why all the outrage if an e-book is priced higher than a paperback?    Why are some readers not willing to pay for the convenience, the compactness, the immediate gratification of a download?   Where did they get the idea that luxury should be cheap?   Good sheets aren't cheap.  Quality china isn't cheap.   Organic vegetables aren't cheap.  Why books?

Behind that demand--besides the sense of entitlement to "what I want, when I want it, how I want it, for free" is lack of understanding what costs lie behind every book, including e-books.   From the point of view of the people behind the curtain--the people who write and produce books--every book has certain fixed costs, regardless of the format under which it's released, and some books have additional costs in some formats.  

Author Costs:    Writing a book takes time and effort.   How much time varies, depending on the length of the book, the writing speed of the author, and the other obligations (day job, family, etc) of the author...but in my case, which I know best, a book takes me a year of considerably more than 40 hour weeks, with no vacation time.   Some of those weeks reach 80 hours; I'm guessing the average runs somewhere between 60 and 65.    The same hours of my work go into the book, no matter what format it comes out in: hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, e-book.  The effort--what it takes to think up the characters, the story, to generate those words every day, day after day after day--is impossible to make clear to those who haven't tried it.   Yes, it's exhilarating when it comes together (and it's a mental crash when it doesn't.)   But it's also the long slog through all those words, making sure that they make sense, that cause precedes effect, that characters keep acting like themselves, that punctuation is not just correct, but clarifies meaning, that the reader knows who's talking not only with attribution tags, but with vocal tone and physical gesture, and so on.    Some days this part is easy.  Sometimes it's the proverbial sh*tting bricks.   But the important thing to realize (besides that it's work--real work) is that the reader gets the same story, the same words, no matter what format they come in.   I have put as much into the research before and during the book, into revisions, the edits, the copy edits, proofreading...the same effort to promote it (maintaining--which includes paying for--the websites, writing the blog entries, visiting bookstores, going to conventions) without regard to what format the publisher uses.   Why should I be paid less per copy for a version that is a luxury item in the first place, and much-desired in the second? 

Publisher Costs.   Producing a book to professional quality takes time and effort...and because the people putting in the time and effort must be paid, it also takes money.   To get a good book at the end takes eyes on the page all through the process, and those eyes have to be paid.    There is no automatic process that substitutes for eyes--human eyes, trained human eyes--looking at every symbol, every letter, every punctuation mark, every margin, every word on every page.   And they must be different eyes, because humans get bored and skim over something they've seen before.   So the first--and very necessary--cost to the publisher is the cost of hiring those human eyes: editors, copy editors, artists and book designers, production personnel to set up files for typesetting,  proofreaders.   It takes longer to do a good job of editing 800 manuscript pages than it does to edit 500 pages.   Every cost-cutting measure that leads to fewer eyes on the page will result in additional errors.   Whatever the format in which the book finally appears, the up-front cost of producing a book well has already piled up fixed costs, and those fixed costs are the same for all formats.  All books, in traditional publishing, go through editing, copy editing, book design (font, margins, etc.), conversion of the incoming word-processing file to the out-put file that "sets type" and goes to the printer to be run through that printing machine.  

This conversion is not mere button-pushing--not all writers use the same software (or the same edition of the software) and every software has peculiarities (as does every writer.)   For instance, there's the big argument about spaces after sentence-ending punctuation (one space or two?) and the argument about tab v. automatic indentation at the start of paragraphs.  (I can attest to the fact that some releases of MS Word are not reliable about indenting at the beginning of paragraphs after a carriage return and occasionally require a manual tab, which you had better have set to the right size ahead of time.  Production may hate to see tabs--since unlike on typewriters,  the code is different for a five-space auto-indent and a five-space tab and their software balks--but in my opinion someone needs to write better software for both writers and typesetters/printers.)   It may be less arduous than the older process of setting lead type, but the conversion still takes eyes on the page, all the way through the page proofs. 

Once the book is typeset for hard-copy printing, there are only one or two formats to consider--two, if the book first comes out in hardback and then a year later in paperback, or one, if the book is issued as a paperback original.   Reformatting from hardcover to paperback is relatively easy these days. 

E-books, however,  are a different kettle of fish.  Thanks to the bright ideas of e-reader developers, there is no single standard. file format that will work with all e-readers, and file conversion is--once again--not as easy as some readers think.  (Note the comment above about the Oxford University Press edition of Rodin's book...something in the software occasionally combined words intononsensewords or divided words into sen sele ss blocks of letters...just like that, and separated by more than one space.)   Once more, eyes on the page--only this time, reading the entire file on every single reader, to see if the formatting "holds" all the way through.   The initial presumption--that publishers could take the writer's cleaned-up/edited digital file, plug it into a machine, and get a clean, perfectly formatted digital output--turned out to be a very false hope.   (We knew that already for the scanner-to-OCR-software-to-spell-checker conversions from paper to digital...an early experience for me that turned "soldiers" into "sold hers" all through one book.  These errors--as the spell checker chooses real words--can be harder to find when reading proofs, though "Twenty-five sold hers came out of the woods" is pretty obvious.)    So e-book production--the behind-the-curtain stuff you don't see happening--has the same basic "get the manuscript edited, copy edited, ready to publish and typeset" cost as a paper book, and in addition has the cost of converting it to however many e-formats the publisher can afford to support. 

Once the e-book is formatted, it has to be stored--and the storage itself has to be maintained. 
Sure, most books take up less than a Mb of storage space, a tiny fraction of today's storage space on a commercial server....but the server takes up a whole lot of kilowatts of electricity--and so does the AC to keep the servers cool.   Redundancy--so if one bank of servers goes down, the book will still be available to readers somewhere else--is necessary.   The website from which the book is downloaded has to be built and maintained.  So once again, humans come into it, and they all want to be paid for their work.   None of that is free--not the work to build the site, not the servers, not the electricity that powers them, not the software that runs them.  

Friends of mine who have begun producing their out of print books themselves--converting the digital file (if they had one; scanning the book if they didn't) have reported that it takes hours (during which they're not writing) to do the publisher's job.   They get faster with practice (they know the typical errors that creep in) but still...hours go by in which a chapter (or two, or three) could be written.    It's now possible to pay someone to do the conversion for those who don't want to climb the learning curve to doing it but that adds to the up-front cost of being your own publisher and producing your own books..  

All of which is why I am not overly sympathetic to those who complain about the price of an e-book and insist it should never be more than (whatever they think, which has ranged in emails I've gotten from 99 cents to $5) because (as one said) that's how much they can drop without even thinking about it. 

There were years when I didn't have the money to buy new books.   I'm an avid reader and re-reader; I treasure the books I now own, from Misty of Chincoteague on up to the latest purchase (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Free Range Knitter, if you must know.)  There were (and still are) free libraries, where I could borrow them.   As I made a little more, I could buy paperbacks (so I was reading the latest Dick Francis a year or two after it came out--so what?  It was new to me.)    I bought used books (at one time all my hardcover purchases were from used bookstores and library sales.)   And when I could, I bought new hardbacks (or got them as presents--super-yay for that!)   So I've been through the "I can't afford books" thing myself and support libraries that lend books and used bookstores that sell them.   

What I don't support is  the notion that new releases in the most desirable edition--the e-book--should be priced below the cost of production--at a level where the people who made the book--from writer to editor to printer to binder to cover artist to bookseller--can't make a living unless the writer is at the very peak of bestsellerdom.   
Whether it's Amazon using its muscle, political and economic, to complain about trad publishers "price-fixing"  (as if it weren't Amazon who tried to force the publishers to accept its price, without regard to existing contracts or the cost of production) or individual readers.

So: if the price of e-books annoys you, don't buy e-books.   Go to the library, buy used copies, wait for the paperback.  Don't gripe at me.   Especially don't make it clear that you think my work--word for word the same--isn't worth much if anything in e-book form, just because you can fit it into your e-reader without your arm feeling the strain.
  

And now...back to work on the edits of the 800+ pages of the next book that someone thinks is worth less if it comes in a more convenient package.   Maybe I should try telling the grocery store that I'll only pay the per-pound price for pork-on-the-hoof for that bacon in the convenient one-pound package.  Er...no. 







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Comments:
From: geekmerc
2012-06-12 07:29 pm (UTC)

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I don't mind the price of e-books, although the lack of paper, printing, binding should be a little cost offset (not much). My biggest complaint on e-books and digital media in general is DRM and the lack of ownership. I sell (or usually donate) all of my books that I no longer read to people who will read them. Because publishers CAN, they do retain rights on digital works and limit what we can do with them. It is only now that SOME books you can loan to a friend to read. I'm still waiting to see how it goes when someone kicks the bucket and wants to leave their digital works to different people in their will.

For the record, most computers can use e-reader software. It's not as nice as hand held, but some people do use it. Computers themselves are becoming less of a luxury item and more of a necessity.
[User Picture]From: muaddim
2012-06-12 07:59 pm (UTC)

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Dear Lady !
I did tried to buy fair and square "The speed of dark" book You created.
But,i You may remember,it was not possible,and i admitted on torrenting it ,and offered to pay the cost of this e-book directly to You .
And,i still do want to do so,'cause it sit on my phone,waiting to be re-read 8)
[User Picture]From: chantry
2012-06-13 12:35 am (UTC)

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"The Speed of Dark" is available in e-book format - for Sony, iBooks, and Kindle at least. I own a copy of the Sony-format book and just verified the existence of the iBooks and Kindle versions. I know for a fact that the Kindle and Sony versions have been available for several years.

So if you really want to pay for what you torrented, you can easily do so, and have been able to do so for some time.
[User Picture]From: tkil
2012-06-12 08:35 pm (UTC)

better software

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but in my opinion someone needs to write better software for both writers and typesetters/printers.

Someone did. 35 years ago. (Granted, a popular add-on makes it easier to use, but the basic idea was there.)

The WYSIWYG revolution of the '80s set back semantic markup by decades, and we've been paying the price ever since. The concept of a "style" in MS Word can sometimes serve a similar role, but they're hard to explain and very easy to omit.

Semantic markup is easier for writers, because it allows writers to ... write. Without worrying about formatting. Move paragraphs without worrying about page breaks.

It's easier for typesetters, because it allows them to separate formatting from content, and it lets them modify format without touching the content. (This can also be a boon to the writer: want double-spacing? Drop caps? Internal thoughts to be italicized instead of delimited by asterisks or colons?)

There are a very few specialized fields where this doesn't work very well (e.g., poetry where the author wants a certain layout of words). But for the vast quantity of prose fiction and non-fiction, switching to semantic markup is a tiny cost with huge benefits.

More benefits: changes made to the text can be mechanically identified as changes to the text, and not random formatting noise.

Switching layouts (hardback, paperback, e-book, pdf, html, braille) is trivial. Further, it allows features like automatic reflowing or hyperlinks if the platform supports it.

Providing (or, possibly, requiring) a standard layout and format is simple, and very hard to get wrong. (Compare to manually going through a document and checking each paragraph for the proper start indent character, etc).

As for ease of use... there is a steeper learning curve, and the tools are different than what most people are used to. On the plus side, straightforward prose is incredibly easy to type, and the lack of formatting removes a whole series of menu clicks, pulldowns, and other trivia that is required in a WYSIWYG world.
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-13 05:02 am (UTC)

Re: better software

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Right now, the thought of taking time off writing to learn a new system (and losing access to my old files) is pretty daunting. But the history of the TeX is interesting--thanks for the links.
[User Picture]From: catsittingstill
2012-06-12 08:41 pm (UTC)

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First off, let me say I don't hold you responsible for what the publisher decides to charge for an e-book of your work. I had the impression that decision is solely up to the publisher, so I would never complain to an author about it.

That said, the answer to "when you want X you pay more for it" is "I already did. When I bought my expensive electronic device for reading it."

I object to people trying to make me pay more for it twice.

Especially when one of the reasons I made the capital investment in the first place was to be able to take advantage of cheaper books. Because, 1) it was explicitly advertised that way and 2) it just makes sense that when you take the blank book out of a book, you save money (blank books cost nearly as much as paperbacks do), and a smart seller passes some of that savings along to the customer.

I don't mind publishers making a profit of me; I expect that. I want that, because I want publishers to prosper and hire many authors. What I mind is publishers trying to make more profit off me than they do off my brother who buys paper books. Now they're just gouging. Punishing me for doing what was the smart thing at the time.

And Baen has been selling e-books, without DRM, in multiple formats, for two dollars less than the paperback, from the hour the hardback was released, for something like a decade now--I presume this isn't a charity move. If the other publishers are having trouble making reasonably priced e-books pay, perhaps if they took the Baen folks out to lunch and asked nicely how they do it, they could get some help with the basic nuts and bolts.

So when the price of an e-book annoys me, I don't buy that e-book, you're right. Often I won't even buy it in paper, because I start to associate the book itself with people trying to gouge me, which is unfair because I know the author doesn't have much say in the e-book price, but emotions aren't always rational, and buying is an emotional business. So I go get something from manybooks.net or Baen or the library or I go into town and visit the used bookstore. Or I get something more reasonably priced and sometimes discover a new author I like and have someone new to follow.

Because just because I made the expensive capital investment doesn't mean I'm chained to it. If publishers try to gouge me, I have other options. And so does everyone else with an e-book reader.
[User Picture]From: kengr
2012-06-13 12:00 am (UTC)

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On the other hand, Baen's proofreading is getting *abysmal*. One of other books on the August release list (and thus "50% available" to folks who've purchased it) has "hoard" instead "horde" throughout.

And I won't go into what they did with military terms in another book. Let's just say certain sentences became utter nonsense because whoever proofed them didn't know about a military term and replaced it with a similar ordinary word. Which made the sentence utter nonsense even if you *didn't know the military term, but painful nonsense if you did, since you could see what the word *should* have been.
From: (Anonymous)
2012-06-12 08:41 pm (UTC)

from Victorian Barbarian (Chuck)

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Very well put. As someone who has made his living for the past 33-1/2 years as a copy editor, and a recent convert to using an e-reader, those formatting errors most likely come either from editing online instead of using a printout, or neglecting to check every "page" of the final electronic product. This is probably made worse by the lack of an ability to produce a hard copy of the edited final version, since you'll always miss things viewing electronically that you would catch looking at a hard copy.
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-13 05:13 am (UTC)

Re: from Victorian Barbarian (Chuck)

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And boy is that true. I see differently on screen and on paper...I cannot edit nearly as well on the computer screen (considerably larger than an e-reader.) The hardest things for me to catch on screen are continuity and chronological errors...there's no visual cue to "how far back" that previous reference is.

And on e-readers--at least the ones I've been shown--there are no page numbers, just percentages. So when I read the one full book I've read on an e-reader, and wanted to go back and look at a previous page again (say, 5-10 pages back) to check on something, I had no easy way to get there.
[User Picture]From: kk1raven
2012-06-13 01:11 am (UTC)

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I don't object to e-books prices being similar to paper copies. I won't buy most of them at that price but it doesn't seem unreasonable. I can see no excuse for pricing e-books higher than new paper books though.

I don't exactly agree with the idea that e-books are a more convenient form. They are more convenient to store in the short term although they become problematic in the long term, particularly if DRM is involved. I don't regard them as more convenient to read though and reading is the reason I obtain books. I buy fiction e-books when I can't reasonably buy paper copies or when the e-books cost significantly less than the paper copies. The books I really want as e-books are field guides. My Kindle isn't useful for that purpose though since it lacks color. I just got a hand-me-down iPad last week and now I intend to accumulate field guides for it so that I can stop hauling piles of books with me when I travel but still identify what I see.
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-13 04:58 am (UTC)

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If I understand the pricing for the new e-books...when the hardcover is released, the e-books are about half the price of the hardcover. Amazon, and yes, I'm picking on them, has a habit of discounting new hardcovers very low, and not discounting the e-books, so it can look as if the e-book price is higher than the hardcover. It's not. When the paperback comes out, the e-book price drops (it may drop before that--I don't know because I never tracked it in the in-between) and it drops again when the paperback is older. (Do I have to explain that the cover price on a book is not the money the publisher receives when the book is sold? Bookstores get a huge discount on the cover price, and are paid incentives as well to showcase lead titles. Publishers pay for bookstores for placement the same way the airlines now make you pay extra for "better" seats in coach.)

I agree that a field guide on a color e-reader could be great (having come back from trips abroad laden with field guides for that country, which I can't use here because...different birds, plants, etc.) I'd carry one in the field, if it could stand field conditions (heat to over 110F, cold down to 25F, being bounced around when I'm on the tractor, the occasional sprinkle of rain, being dropped on the ground (not often, but it's going to happen to anything I have along.) So far, when I tell my e-reader-owning friends what might happen to one in regular use here, they shake their heads. Instead, I carry a camera, photograph whatever it is, and then check it out once I'm back inside.
[User Picture]From: paksenarrion2
2012-06-13 01:13 am (UTC)

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On the matter of books that are in formats difficult to read-if it is either free or purchased without DRM, you can convert it to your preferred format by running it through Calibre. You can convert pretty much any format into any other format. And it is a free program.

I find it very helpful in converting work PDF files (that are extremely difficult to read on my Kindle).
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-13 05:15 am (UTC)

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Well, I've only ever read one book on an e-reader (Kindle) and don't intend to struggle with it again. (The Kindle was hard to hold at a good angle for me without accidentally hitting the button to advance the "page", and it slid around on my lap, so in addition to the formatting problem, it was just not a fun toy.)
[User Picture]From: leesalogic
2012-06-13 01:27 am (UTC)

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I don't usually buy hardbacks, and before ereaders, was happy to wait for paperback.

Now that I have an ereader, it'd have to be a really great book for me to pay more than $10, and even in that price point, there's very few ebooks I will buy at that price. I don't even like paperback prices, especially now that they are moving toward the bigger, and thus more expensive, paperbacks.

The sweet range for me on ebook pricing is from free to $7. Most of the ones I'll buy are in the $3-$5 range.

The next big thing for me, other than price, is DRM. I won't buy books with DRM if I can help it. And if I do buy it with DRM, I'm going to break it. I want to read that book on whatever device suits my fancy at any point in time. Fortunately, most of the places that are DRM-free also sell their books in the price range I find reasonable (Baen, for one).
From: (Anonymous)
2012-06-13 01:48 am (UTC)

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I often wonder if the fuss made by some is based in the differnce in price between hardback books and paperback books? That might set up the expectation that a chunk of the cost of publishing a book is in the physical product, hence their annoyance at the cost of a electronic version.

Cost of the books was not my motivation for getting an e-reader. My husband and I are both avid readers, but while some authors, such as Ms. Moon, we both read, others only I read. Since we actually do not have enough book cases for all our books as is, an e-reader for me made sense. Also some authors are now producing novelles that only appear in an e-format.
I have not come across a book in e-format that cost more than a paperback, most have cost the same amount.
Claire
From: sheff_dogs
2012-06-13 01:45 am (UTC)

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I don't own any of the dedicated reading devices, I do sometimes read books from Guttenberg, Baen etc on my laptop. Apart from the cost of the various devices I have huge reservations about a system that means I don't actually own the books in perpetuity ... or at least until I've worn them out, which does happen.

I think a lot of people just do not accept that books really are a luxury, one that many people work hard to pay for above their physical needs. I do buy new books from authors I know and trust like yourself. I also buy second hand often when I authors I like are out of print, though in that case I would very much rather buy; also for authors that I enjoy as light reads I would normally borrow from the library, but will buy cheaply if I come across them. Those books aren't keepers and find ther way back to the various local charity shops. I occasionally borrow from like-minded friends or family. But the vast majority of my reading comes from the library, because I simply can not afford to buy all of the books that I would like. I am glad that authors get some small renumeration from the PLR.

Books seem to be in the category of thing that people expect to be able to buy cheaply, but as with food, transport and much else there is a cost to that cheapness, maybe the purchaser doesn't pay it, but someone does. Demanding cheap books assumes that the people producing them will have to be poorly paid, and is in effect denying the worth of the work they do. Some forty years ago I knew a retired proof reader who had worked for Oxford University Press, when she worked each book was proofed by seven different readers completely separate to the editing and it showed in the quality of the books produced. She was retired because even then this had become too expensive and the number of proofings reduced. Over the years I have seen increasing numbers of errors in books even from the most reputable publishers and that is mainly down to the insistance on cutting costs. There are things that it is just not worth buying if you are not prepared to pay for the good stuff and books are one of them.
[User Picture]From: ravan
2012-06-13 01:57 am (UTC)

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I'm not paying for "convenience", I'm paying for a different, less expensive to produce, format. Disk space is cheap. Yes, redundant web farms are a little expensive, but the publishers need them anyway for their propaganda pages. If the formatting is handled correctlty to start with (see semantic markup, above), format shifting by the publisher is simple. Look at the way html handles things - it doesn't take a federal project to reflow a web page, and a good formatter/software writer can make it work for varying page sizes (eg hardcover, trade, paperback.)

The publishers want the control over pricing because they want the money that they thing they can squeeze out of the readers for "read once, DRM, can't ever lend" books. E-books are a publishers dream - a book that you can't lend, you have to buy another copy at full freight. So they demand the right to soak people again for having the privilege of paying an arm and a leg for e-book readers.

Guess what? I don't buy e-books unless they are cheaper than paper, period. If the publishers want to jack up their prices, fine, I'll wait until they are desperate to sell. They *have* to make money, I *don't have to buy* an overpriced e-book.

I buy a lot from Baen - they don't abuse me with DRM and overpriced crap. Sure, the copy editing on their ARC's (advance readers copies) sucks, but that's because they are a raw product, not the final. I don't buy ARCs - I don't have to have that kind of instant gratification.

Thing is, with Amazon, the market determines the price. Apple got the publishers to turn that upside down so they could sell crap to its locked in market without having to compete on price with Amazon.

Seriously, Big Six - I don't buy. Often, if they overprice their e-book, I won't buy the paperback either. So they lose twice for their little game.
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-13 05:38 am (UTC)

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Headdesk. It's not "a little game." You've been misled. Publishers are not "jacking up their prices". E-books of any quality are not "less expensive to produce." Read my post again. An e-book has exactly the same production cost as a paper book up to the point when the file that goes to the printer has to be reformatted to go to an array of e-readers. And that is an additional cost. The physical book is a small fraction of the cost of producing a quality book.

Do publishers want control over pricing? Yes--the same way you would, if you were in business producing something to sell. You would want to sell your product for a price that covered your cost and gave you enough to live on.

If you think that with Amazon "the market determines the price" you're simply misinformed. Amazon manipulates the price of books in order to drive more traffic to its more profitable sectors, sell more Kindles, and in order to gain control of publishing--Amazon is now functioning as a (not in my view very ethical) publisher for indie writers, and manipulates the prices of their books without warning. (The Amazon contract is worse for writers than any publishing house contract I've ever signed, largely because it gives Amazon freedom to change the terms of the contract at will.)

But it's really simple. If you don't want to buy my books because you think the price is too high...don't buy them. Go to the library and read them for free.

[User Picture]From: harfafnor
2012-06-13 03:46 am (UTC)

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I am so glad you wrote this. I've been wanting to ask for ages how selling an e-book affects what you get. Not meaning to pry into what you get at all. Just say, do you get a smaller amount from the e-book sales if they, meaning the sellers, sell it for a lower price? I have almost stopped buying paper books, hardcover or otherwise. My smartphone has the ability to use e-readers and I take full advantage of it. I always have my phone, except when my memory lapses and I forget it. So, I always have a book to read without taking up the extra space to bring one. I've read your last two books on my phone. At lunch by myself, pull out the phone and read. Waiting in the Dr. Office, pull out the phone and read. WONDERFULL!! I don't mind paying the price for an e-book, even if it costs a bit more than the book. But, I've yet to see one that was more. Like you said. Convenience.
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-06-13 06:11 am (UTC)

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The way royalties were structured pre-e-book, writers got more per sale from hardcover than from mass market paperback sales. Since we usually get an advance against royalties, the first royalties go to paying back that advance. On my very first book, the original Sheepfarmer's Daughter, I got a 6% royalty on the cover price. That came out to--if I remember correctly--23 cents per sale. My first hardcover release was Remnant Population (which tanked in hardcover--it didn't earn out by an embarrassing margin) and as I recall it had a 10% royalty on the cover price.

E-books started out with what we writers thought were pitifully low royalty rates...but e-book sales were very low for years (years in which ebooks made less than 5% of my writing income) so the cost of implementing conversions to e-books was borne by the few e-books being sold. Even Baen, a pioneer in e-publishing with its Webscription program, didn't deliver significant e-royalties for several years after starting that program. Kindle made a huge difference, and Nook provided another jump. At present, the per-sale royalty for e-books is a little less than for paper (even when the cover price is the same.) However, the sales figures for e-books have climbed to the point where publishers are seeing actual profit from that sector (also, the infrastructure for producing and selling e-books is now in place.) In 2010, I think it was, I first saw e-book sales providing over 15% of a royalty statement...in 2011 sales of e-books in the "hardcover" period were about 40% of total sales in the first 3 months (keeping in mind that if you compared cover prices, the e-book was about half the price of the hardcover), and this year, with the demise of Borders as a paper book outlet, the e-book sales were more than half the first 2 months sales.

Still: the highest e-book price (during the hardcover "season") brings in less per copy in royalties than the hardcover. And there's still a clause in writers' contracts cutting royalty rates for books sold at deep discounts (such as remaindered books.) When a bookseller drops the price to use a book as a loss leader, that can trigger the clause. When a bookseller like Amazon decides to drop the price on an entire format of book...let's just say it's a matter of concern.

I don't mind getting less per sale on e-books than I do on hardcovers as long as there are enough sales to keep me and my family afloat. Mass market always outsold hardcovers...and have a lower royalty rate...so having e-book royalties somewhere in the middle is just another step on the ladder. We all hope volume will keep up with the drop per sale. OTOH, if publishers can be talked into upping the royalty rate to compensate, that would be whipped cream.

But those of us who are traditionally published know that there's a limit--we know that the majority of the cost of production is not in the paper, but in the editing, production, distribution, and advertising, and so there's a limit to how big a bite we can take before we become unprofitable. There are options, sure. Self-publishing e-books works for some people. Frankly, I'd rather spend my time writing than editing, formatting, etc, etc, etc. The people who are succeeding with self-publishing have to do all the jobs my publisher does in addition to writing new works. I'm a better writer than proofreader, and a far better writer than marketer (I'm the girl who could not sell even one box of Girl Scout cookies.)
[User Picture]From: xanify
2012-06-13 11:15 am (UTC)

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I agree with you, and I happily buy ebooks from Amazon/Baen/wherever (and then sometimes I buy the paperback anyway because I like having physical books on my shelf).

However.

In my opinion all this griping about ebook pricing is kind of publishers' fault.

Imagine you're a person who doesn't know anything about publishing, or the book industry, or author compensation, or how the editing process works or anything like that. You've never had the need to know anything about it, you don't know anyone in the field, and so you are perfectly ignorant. However, you like to read, and you know you can walk into a bookstore and buy a book in paperback for (say) $10, or the same book in hardback for $30.

It's not so hard to draw the conclusion that hardbacks cost 3x as much as paperbacks because its hardback-ness is expensive to produce.

And from there, you conclude that because a hardback isn't really all that more than a paperback materials-wise (a cardboard cover, fancy binding, more paper) a lot of the cost of producing a book must be tied up in the physical production of it. Okay, maybe the author earns more from a hardback than a paperback (you have some understanding of basic economics) but surely not $20 more.

Then come along ebooks, and they're also $10. Say what?? The same price as a paperback, and you don't even get a physical thing - they don't have to spend money on ink and paper! (They might have to spend money hosting the ebook on a server so you can download it, but the entire Internet has also taught you that hosting is basically free and/or entirely ad-supported so this is not a considerating for you.) That's highway robbery!

So you write angry emails to the author (whose name is on the book in large font on the front cover, as opposed to the publisher who is a tiny icon on the spine and a little name in the inside cover along with a legal notice you've never bothered to read), because you don't know any better, and well ... here we are.


Basically I'm trying to say is publishers have taught us (for generations, I expect) that the physical container for words is worth more money than the words themselves, so when they try to sell people words without the physical container, griping ensues.
[User Picture]From: xanify
2012-06-13 11:17 am (UTC)

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A consideration, not considerating ... agh, grammar fail.
[User Picture]From: ladymurmur
2012-06-13 02:21 pm (UTC)

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I am quite content paying for an ebook what I would pay for a paperbook. It has always been the story that I am paying for, in my mind, rather than the delivery mechanism. The ebook is thus just as valuable to me as a paper copy - actually more so, given the sheer convenience factor of an ereader capable of carrying hundreds of titles at once, and the near-pain-free reading that it provides, as opposed to paper books (thanks to joint issues). The fact that my husband and I can, for the price of a single purchase, now both read the same ebook at THE SAME TIME is a priceless joy! No more biting one's tongue, waiting anxiously for the other to finish.

One of the great moments of pride in my adult life was the realization that, once I had a solid job, I could afford to buy books NEW instead of used. This meant that I could now actually CONTRIBUTE to the continued careers of authors whose work I so enjoyed. Even if it meant that I buy perhaps fewer titles each month, I am still an active participant in a process that I value and support.
From: sheff_dogs
2012-06-14 05:51 pm (UTC)

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Yes, buying your own books new is a bit like passing your driving test, one of the markers that show you really have grown-up :-)
[User Picture]From: sobrique
2012-06-13 07:04 pm (UTC)

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I'm an ebook junky, and am quite prepared to pay premium prices for eBooks, in return for the convenience of not having to lug a hardback around. (I mean seriously - hardbacks are generally the first generally available format, and they're really not much use for a lot of reasons).

I am also firmly of the opinion that there's a lot of overhead in producing books, which means the cost of 'a book' in the sense of a finished manuscript, will always be present.

I work for an IT company, so daily deal with operating costs of servers. They're substantial, and I'm forever being faced with ... actually quite a similar argument - people can go to PC world and buy a terabyte of disk for 'not very much' and so are horrified that we charge somewhere in the region of 100x as much, but without really considering that it's comparing apples to oranges.

But on the flip side - I'm afraid I'm also one who begrudges paying multiple times for a book in multiple formats. I also begrudge paying _more_ for a digital book, that I'm firmly convinced costs less to reproduce and distribute than a hard copy. (Because even if you do have to run servers, I reckon they're still cheaper than 'printing' infrastructure).

I would _really_ like to see that starting to follow the same model as we're starting to see on the DVD market. The 'triple play disc' where you pay, but if you do you get 3 formats. (DVD, Blu ray, and digital).
I will happily pay 'hardback price' to get hold of a book I want on the earliest possible date. But I don't usually want a hardback, preferring instead eBook generally, paperback sometimes, and occasionally audio. I have a few hardbacks, but if I'm honest, they're more as ornaments, because I actually like to read them.

I'd love to be able to pay a 'one price' and be able to request alternative formats for an additional amount that's a nearer reflection of actual cost of production.
[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2012-06-13 08:19 pm (UTC)

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The thing is, there are so many (legally) free and very cheap e-books around that it does feel as though one is being ripped off (please note: I said this is how it FEELS, not necessarily how it actually IS) when the e-book costs more than the paperback. In fact, I decided not to buy something just yesterday for that very reason (well, that and the fact I'd just spent rather more than I can afford on another e-book!).

My main problem about e-books is that they are just too darn easy to buy - it's easy to rack up a frighteningly large bill in a very few minutes. I have to be very, very strict with myself.
[User Picture]From: tranceanasazi
2012-06-14 03:16 am (UTC)

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Not sure how this can apply to the subject at hand,but,personally?I'm not at ALL interested in going the route of e=books.Like my music,while friends and family are all pushing at me to just download stuff,instead of buying the cd's/cassettes (yes,I still listen to,and record,stuff off the radio,as well as listen to tapes I've got of bands that don't have the stuff on the latest medium)?I prefer to buy the books and cds and such that I like because I know for SURE that the artist I'm supporting is actually getting at LEAST some of that money spent.Just an old school geek that way,I guess.That,and e-books aren't exactly the sort of book that's wise to read,say...while soaking in a tub,or floating in a pool.*shrug*

Edited at 2012-06-15 05:20 am (UTC)
[User Picture]From: finnyb
2012-06-14 03:52 am (UTC)

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I, personally, have no problem whatsoever with paying whatever price ebooks happen to be, whether that's cheaper than a paperback or more than a hardcover. I'm just glad to get the books in a format where I can increase the size enough to make reading easier (since I find large print books to be very hard to come by, for some reason; my local bookstore has only three shelves of them, and almost all are mysteries, which are all well and good unless I'm wanting science fiction or fantasy). I like giving money to people for books. Books are important.
[User Picture]From: purplebookfairy
2012-06-14 07:43 pm (UTC)

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In Norway, where I am, ePub is pretty much the standard of e-books. Unfortunately, a lot of publishers are slow with the whole e-book thing, but that's a whole other story. Fortunately, I read English, and travel to the UK often enough to "buy" my e-books while there, if I can't get them from here.
[User Picture]From: green_knight
2012-06-14 10:06 pm (UTC)

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The one thing I would say - I have done ebook conversions, so I know about the technical pitfalls, and I work as a freelance editor, so I know about the mental work that goes into good books - is that if a book comes with DRM, *you do not own it*. You buy a licence to read in a particular format, you're not allowed to legally store it in a format you can read when your proprietary reader breaks, and the vendor can remove it from your device if they decide to do so. (Amazon has done this.)

So if I pay for a licence-to-read with no permanence, I am not willing to pay the same money that I would need to pay for a genuinely owned, may-give-to-a-friend physical object.

Non DRM books, on the other hand, that allow me to extract the text and migrate it to future devices and back them up to my heart's content - my pricepoint is still slightly below the physical object because, well, unit costs, but not by much.
From: d0cj0hnny
2012-06-22 01:13 am (UTC)

E-books and Pricing

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Ms. Moon, I am a reader and have purchased all the books that you have written recently that are available as e-books. But I disagree with your arguments for the following reasons.

You should not price e-books higher than paperbacks for the following reasons:

1) The costs of producing an e-book are orders of magnitude lower than for a paper book. The fixed costs of writing and editing are the same for both formats.

a) Production - Producing a paper edition involves all those steps that you mention, typesetting, binding, etcetera. But you yourself said it has only taken a few hours for your friends to convert old books to an e-book format. Compare this to the weeks and months and sometimes years it takes to prepare a book for paper publishing. Hours should cost more than months?

b) Distribution - E-book distribution is trivial compared to paper book distribtion. Publishers have been repeatedly and disingenuously insisting that this is a huge cost for them. Yet authors have been doing their own selling and distributing via their own websites. Michael Stackpole runs his e-book store for 10 dollars a month.

2) You make less money if you price it higher.

Amazon and other sites can tell you that e-books that are sold for under 5 dollars sell a lot more than e-books priced above 10 dollars. Authors like Barry Eisler have mentioned that they significantly increased their royalties by dropping the price point from 7.99 to 4.99.

The fact is that the vast amount of the publisher's costs are in the paper. You pay the publisher 80% or more of your book's cost to make the book happen. I believe that most authors are getting about 17% of the cost as royalties. For a paper book that may be reasonable because there is a per-book material cost. For an e-book that is ridiculous.

I am not sure you have thought this through. An used book gives you ZERO royalties. If you self-published with Amazon and sold electronically you would get 70% or more of the cost. You could price it for less than five dollars which would probably increase the sales volume ten-fold and collect 70% of that increased volume.

It comes down to simple math. 17% of a higher price but lower sales volume, or 70% of a lower price and higher sales volume.

You shouldn't take my word for it. Talk to your fellow authors on the opposite side of this argument. Barry Eisler, Joe Konrath, Michael A. Stackpole, et al.

From: Roger Christie
2012-06-24 03:29 am (UTC)

Re: E-books and Pricing

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I'm sure we'd all be happier if we just let Amazon run everything! After all, they only have our best interests at heart!
From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-30 12:54 am (UTC)

EBook Pricing

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The flaw in your logic is that you are comparing ebooks to things like sheets. An ebook is not a physical good. I cannot hold it, throw it away, give it away, etc.

There is a cost incurred by creating an ebook. However, once you have one, you can make essentially infinite copies of it at approximately no additional cost. This is an economic problem that has been inconceivable for the vast majority of human history: economics has always been based on scarcity. Supply and demand. Rarer items have a greater worth.

Now we have the ability to make supply infinite, or close enough to it to make no economic difference. What is the price point of infinite supply? 0. This is economic upheaval caused by innovation and it is not surprising that some people have trouble adjusting. I'm guessing the horse-and-buggy industry was pretty upset about the arrival of the car too...
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2012-09-30 01:18 am (UTC)

Re: EBook Pricing

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A) You did not identify yourself. This is rude. If you choose to respond to something on this blog, introduce yourself, and leave off the snark.

B) The flaw in YOUR logic is that you do not grasp what will happen when creators and producers (who help creators) don't get paid for their work. Apparently you think all writers, book designers, illustrators, etc. will be willing to work for "essentially zero" just so you can have what you want when you want it for whatever you choose to pay. You'll get something...you won't necessarily get what you're used to.

You can of course steal it because you aren't willing to pay for it. Some do; others realize that the person who wrote the book put in time and effort, and so did the people who worked on formatting it for various readers--so they read the book in a library if they have no money, buy it from a used bookstore if they can't afford it new, or buy it new if they can. If you steal it because you don't want to pay for it--then you're a thief. Don't expect me to sympathize with thieves, or defend your right to steal, when you don't give a damn about writers, editors, illustrators, etc..

C) There is still a healthy horse and buggy industry. Funny you didn't know that.