Authors and publishers of e-books, this is your reader speaking


I want to tell you how I got sucked into the George R.R. Martin Game of Thrones (or Song of Ice and Fire, whichever you prefer) series. I happened to be in the local bookstore one day and right there on one of the front tables (the chief spot for sucking in browsers and impulse buyers) was A Game of Thrones and it was only $3.50. I’d never heard of this author or this book, but it looked interesting and the price was right, so I bought it. I finished it in two days then ran out to buy the next book, A Clash of Kings – also in paperback and reasonably priced. I thought this series was a trilogy, so I made short order of the second book, then ran out to get what I thought was the last one, A Storm of Swords. I distinctly remember staying up until 2 a.m. to finish this book, then almost screaming out loud as I realized this was an ongoing series, not a trilogy. It was a pleasurable pain moment. The pleasure was knowing I’d get to read more of this fantastic story. The pain was finding out that the next book wasn’t even done yet. The bottom line is that by the time the fourth book, A Feast for Crows came out, I didn’t care what I had to pay to get it. I happily forked over nearly $20 for the hardback, just as I recently forked over $18 for A Dance With Dragons, the latest installment in the series. What had started out as a fairly inexpensive book mushroomed into an investment of now over $50 in books, which I will happily continue to pay out as long as Martin keeps writing this series the way he does. The low price on that first book was brilliant marketing and now not only does Martin have people snapping up the latest installment, Game of Thrones is an HBO original series.

My complaint about e-books has always been the pricing. Obviously, I don’t have a problem paying full price for a book from an author I know well. Would I pay the $14.99 for the Nook version of A Dance with Dragons? I don’t know. I bought the hardback at Costco for right around $18, which is only $4 (more or less) more and I have something tangible that can join the other books on the shelf (or could if my son hadn’t taken them!). On the whole, I do prefer e-books. I discovered when reading A Dance with Dragons that I was annoyed at having to read near a decent light source. I’ve become accustomed to turning out all the lights when I read in bed at night, and if I fall asleep, the e-book reader turns itself off.

Stick with me here – I do have a point to make and I’m getting there.

How much would I pay for an e-book otherwise? I love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher stories, but I’m not going to pay slightly less than hardback price for the latest installment. I might (and I can’t emphasize that might enough) be willing to pay same as paperback, but a low-priced paperback. The difference here is that as much as I love the Jack Reacher series, I don’t love them so much that I’m waiting for the hardback to hit the shelves so I can run out and buy it. Which means I’m also not waiting with bated breath to download the e-book, either. And I’m not going to pay the same price as paperback when I can get it used – including shipping – for less than the paperback or e-book price, or get it on trade at my local used book store.

Authors and publishers, ask yourselves these questions:

  • How much do you make when someone sells their print book in one of the many online resale venues?
  • How much do you make when someone trades their print book for another book at a used book store?
  • How much do you make when someone gives a print book to a family member or friend?

Big fat $0, right?

If I have to make a choice between paying more for an e-book, many of which cannot be traded and certainly cannot be resold, than I pay for a paperback, I’m going with the paperback. I can sell it, trade it and give it away, which (to me, at any rate) adds value to the book. But if an e-book is priced right, I don’t even care that I can’t lend it, much less resell it. For a well-known author, that price would be no more than the paperback, preferably less. I’m no dummy – I know the cost of an e-book is less than a print book. There’s no printing, no shipping, no returns and the distribution costs are lower. For that reason, I expect to pay less than paperback. For unknown authors or lesser-known authors, the price point for me is about half the paperback price, at least initially. And I’m thrilled when I can get books from a well-known author for half the paperback price. (And even more thrilled when I find a diamond of a book for free, such as Mark Chisnell’s The Defector.)

In case authors and publishers haven’t figured it out, you’ll sell a lot more e-books if you price them for less, and you’ll take a lot of print books that can be traded, given away or resold off the market. Do I need to remind you that you’re currently making $0 on those?

I was taking a look at the books I have on my various e-readers and counting up the ones I’ve purchased. I have an eBookwise dedicated reader. Most of what’s on there, I got for free, so those books don’t really count. It is pertinent to note, however, that I have over 100 books on that particular reader. Then, I have iPhone apps that I use for reading (I’m still trying to justify the cost of an iPad, which I’d love to have for reading e-books). In the Nook iPhone app, I have 9 books I’ve purchased, including a 5-in-1. In the Kindle app, I have 10 books. In the Stanza app, I have a total of 10 books, but only 2 were purchased. I have another 2 purchased books in the Ereader app. That’s a total of 23 books (or 28 if you count the books in the 5-in-1 separately). How many people have 28 print books sitting around, waiting to be read? If you had that many books on your “to read” shelf, would you go buy more? I’m sure I’ll get around to reading all the books I’ve paid for (eventually). I’m also sure I’ll probably not be able to resist adding more to the extensive wish lists I have going for all of them and I’m sure I probably won’t be able to resist actually buying more before I’ve done much to whittle down the number of books waiting to be read. If the price is right! Send me a coupon for XX% off, and I’ll go buy books from my wish list, regardless of how many unread ones are still sitting in those apps. I’ve had 50 books on my iPhone before. They don’t take up physical space; in fact, until I download them, they don’t even take up memory. (Oh, and Barnes and Noble? Stop sending me coupons that exclude Nook books. It’s just plain stupid marketing, in my opinion.) Net result to authors, publishers and book sellers: More sales.

So, authors – what are the lessons to be learned here?

  • ¬†When pricing your e-books, give some thought to higher price/lower volume v. lower price/higher volume. In today’s book market, price points are crucial to sales volume.
  • Ask yourself what you’re not making money on and whether or not pricing your e-books lower will eliminate that hidden, unpaid competition.
  • Just because you’re a popular author doesn’t mean your readers are willing to get reamed. I’ve been in the local used book store and found your books the day after they went on the shelf, and they’re as good as new. I can exchange a paperback book by Crappy Author for yours and pay sales tax only – and you get paid nothing. No hardback sale, no paperback sale, no e-book sale. I’ll do that before I pay more than paperback prices for an e-book, no matter how much I prefer e-books to print.
  • Just because the barriers are now lower in self-publishing e-books doesn’t mean you can be sloppy. There’s no point giving away a book to gain readers if the book is crap. You’re going to get crap reviews and you’re not going to sell many books or many subsequent titles. In the new world of self-published e-books, reviews are going to be more and more important. You want GOOD reviews; this is not a case where having people say bad things about your book is better than them not talking about your book at all.
  • I am personally tired of typos, grammar and spelling errors, not to mention the garbage characters thrown off by incompetent e-book formatting. Self publishing does not relieve you of the need for an editor and a proofreader. Self publishing does not relieve you of the need to format your book correctly for each of the most popular e-book formats. If the book is free, it merely annoys me; if I pay for it, I find it offensive.
  • I am more than willing to read completely unknown authors. I do have criteria. If a book is free and sounds like something I might like to read, I will absolutely download it and read it. For $0.99, I might read reviews before purchasing, but reviews aren’t critical to my decision if the book sounds interesting. In the $1 to $3.99 range, the title needs to have plenty of good reviews before I buy it. Over $3.99, the majority of reviews better be raves.
  • For well-known and favorite authors, I’m willing to pay up to paperback price (think Costco paperback prices). I draw the line somewhere around $6. Obviously, for George R.R. Martin, I’ll make an exception, but it’s a rare exception. I don’t own many paperbacks that aren’t cookbooks.

For the readers out there, I hope this helps you make a decision about e-books. I thought I’d hate them; now, I prefer them over print. The selection is getting better and for the most part, the prices are getting more reasonable. If you’re already an e-book fan, please share your criteria for selecting an e-book, where you get them, and what you’re willing to pay. If you’re an author or publisher, I’d be interested in your input on price points and e-book sales.

2 thoughts on “Authors and publishers of e-books, this is your reader speaking”

  1. I don’t own an e-reader, except for the app on my phone and that screen is just too small for regular use. However, my mother has expressed an interest in an e-reader for Christmas. She’s tech challenged, so it has to be very, very simple to use. Any suggestions?

  2. Cindy – at this point, I’m recommending iPad rather than a standalone e-reader. It’s more expensive, but it can also be used for something besides reading books. I have a dedicated reader and I much prefer the iPhone apps, even though the screen is smaller. Almost daily, I have to resist the urge to get an iPad just for reading e-books. One of these days, I’ll give in to that urge.

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