Saturday 9 February 2013

The price of e-books

I recently read a superb young adult book that I had loaded on to my Kindle. It was one of those rare books that took me out of my editing head – so well done that author. That is a real achievement when your reader is a writer, a writing teacher and a publisher. It got a 5* review on my blog, on Good Reads and Amazon. I was actually appalled when I posted the review on Amazon to find that its only tag was along the lines of “this is an extortionate price for an e-book” 
Well, anxious to counteract this negativity, straight away I put on some other tags. 
The Kindle edition on that day was £4.10.  The paperback retails at £6.99 so there is clearly still a saving.
Because we’re a small press we’ve done the Amazon Prime scheme. We’re set up financially so that we can’t lose money and this is a form of free publicity. Oddly, one recent promotion actually sold ten books that might otherwise have not been sold. The visitors got to the site too late or too early and thought “what the heck” and bought the book anyway. And we only do it occasionally.
It’s the 77p and 99p books that bother me more. They’re probably mainly self-published. I’ve read quite a few of them. I have to say, those by some of my writing friends and people I’ve actually published are pretty decent. A lot of the others are dire and make me cringe. But still there is the question of the economics of it all. The author will get about 34p to 74p on a 99p book. Think how many downloads a month you would need to make a living at that rate. Self-publishers will not have the marketing strength of the big publisher behind them.
Sure, the publisher no longer has the print or warehousing costs, or the wholesaler’s and retailer’s cuts. But for the big publisher these costs are not all that significant. A unit cost tends to be 20p, so the £6.99 rrp easily allows them to offer the 45% to 55% discount needed to please the wholesalers and distributors. The author is offered a 40% to 50% royalty on an e-book so often earns more than on a paperback. Some overhead costs are the same for e-books as for hard copy books: staff salaries, marketing and premises, for example. In addition, texts have to go through another level of design to work successfully as e-books. The designer for this process must be paid.    
Amazon and similar providers, of course, take their cut. And why shouldn’t they? They employ people. They have developed the technology. Yes, it could be better, but even to this stage has taken development and it works to a usable level. Possibly it will improve more rapidly if books are sold at a realistic price.
I’m afraid the public attitude that e-books should be free or very cheap irritates me. It undervalues the work not only of the writer but of editorial, marketing, publicity, design and IT staff.                   

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