Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

How to Increase E Book Pricing and Availability

images.jpgA couple of days ago, I made a recommendation for a book and one of our readers, Anji, asked whether it was in ebook form. It is not. Penguin is not ready to release all of its books in ebook format and when it does release the books in ebook format, the price is punitive (meaning it punishes the ebook reader for preferring one format over the other).

It was suggested to Miki, another reader, that the reason for the higher pricing or even the lackadaisical attitude toward ebook releases was the fear that the ebook sales would cannibalize paper sales thus decreasing a writer's chance of getting on the bestseller lists. This is in concert with what a publishing insider told me a while back. The major lists such as New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and even Bookscan, do not take into account ebook sales. This provides a huge deterrent to authors and publishers to provide readers with a same release day, reasonably priced ebook.

I would argue that sales strategies that are employed by Penguin and other companies actually serve to encourage piracy instead of deter it. Publishers like Harlequin and Simon & Schuster take a different strategy.

Simon & Schuster has an early release program in which one or two books are put out in ebook format approximately three weeks before the print release date. This month's early release is Kresley Cole's Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night ($3.89). The concern over ebook sales eating into Cole's bestseller status must be outweighed, in S&S's mind, by the chance for early buzz. The best part of the Simon & Schuster program is that its books are 35% off. They used to be 40% off but sometime in the past year, changed to 35% off. The discount generally means that every romance book sold by Simon & Schuster is under $4.00. It makes it easy to take a chance on an author or buy e copies of print books I already own.

Harlequin releases every single book it publishes in ebook format. The prices are 10% at the e Harlequin site but are often found cheaper at places like Books on Board and Fictionwise. It also has an early release program for every one of its series books from the Harlequin Historicals that Jayne likes to the Silhouette Special Editions that I like. All the series books are available one month in advance, but only at the Harlequin site, as far as I can tell. Harlequin hedges its bets, though, by not including its single title mass markets in the early release program.

HarperCollins toyed with the early release a while back for one book, if I recall, but it hasn't offered a program like that in recent memory. Most Avon romances are offered in e-format but the digital program is not pervasive. I.e., EOS books, the science fiction/fantasy imprint for HC, does not offer its full release schedule in e-format. Lois McMaster Bujold's The Sharing Knife: Volume One was not immediately available in e-form but The Sharing Knife: Volume Two is, but at a punitive price.

If the reluctance to release digital versions of print books is due to the fear of e sales reducing the numbers of print sales and thereby harming an author's chance for placement on the bestseller list, it makes sense for authors, publishers and advocacy groups for the publishing industry to push for e-sales recognition. A sale is a sale is a sale and should be recognized as such.

According to reports from the Frankfurter Book Fair, the world's largest book fair, 44% of industry professionals believe that digital publishing was a “key growth” area. Digital publishing is taking place right now though from small, independent e presses like The Wild Rose Press, Amber Quill Press, Drollerie Press, and Samhain to large, established e presses like Harlequin and Simon & Schuster. Why not recognize those sales now instead of five years from now. The industry should stand up for themselves because "e" does not mean inferior.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Anji
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 05:50:45

    I buy almost exclusively ebooks now (can I just say that I was running out of space for all my books, and just for that alone, ebooks are an awesome solution). The last non ebook I bought was a Dorchester book, cause they – booo – don’t put out any ebooks at all. And even so, the book – Lord of the Fading Lands – was highly recommended in a whole bunch of places, before I considered buying it since it wasn’t an ebook. I’m more likely to experiment with ebooks, especially with new-to-me authors, and I actively look for ebook recommendations. For me, the Simon & Schuster and Harlequin ebook approach totally make sense, since I look at their releases and books that have built buzz when looking for new reads. Last time I bought a paperback before that? Uhmm, can’t remember, definitely a few months ago. Last ebook purchase? Yesterday.

    On the one hand, publishers are interested in digital publishing. But then they make half-hearted efforts, and when they don’t find significant e-sales, they see it as proof that the whole ebook thing won’t work out, or that it’s just a minor share of the market. It would be nice if they thought their business model through! And publishers should push for inclusion of esales in best-seller lists.

    Can I just say how frustrating it is to find some of the books in a series in ebook format and not the others? And it’s also frustrating when they are inconsistent in format – I was looking for the Nora Roberts ‘Dream Trilogy’ – I wanted to get them in Mobipocket, but ‘Finding the Dream’ is only available in MS Lit and Adobe, while the other two books in the trilogy are available in Mobipocket. What’s that all about?

  2. Angela James
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 07:34:36

    I think you’re right about not putting the books in e format actually encouraging piracy. I Googled a combination of three words (I’m not going to tell which to make it too easy for people who might take advantage of it, lol) and the third hit on the page was book one of Bujold’s Sharing Knife, which you said is NOT available in ebook format. That means someone went to the trouble of making it via scanning it in. And if someone is desperate enough to read it but only wants to read it in ebook format (as we can see from Anji above, there are people like her–and me!) then they may consider the pirated copy because there’s no other way for them to get it when they very well may have otherwise paid for it.

    Think of how much money the publishers/author of Harry Potter books are losing. They won’t put the books on sale in ebook, but there are multiple, multiple versions of the book available for illegal download. People will find a way, so why not give those who want to go pay for it the option to do so?

  3. LinM
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 08:42:05

    There are a number of series that are only partially available in e-format ( eg: Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series). However, both volumes of “The Sharing Knife” are available as ebooks (I know because they are both sitting in my wishlist while I wait for the second book to be released at paperback prices).

  4. Lois McMaster Bujold
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 08:47:58

    Correction of fact, TSK#1, _Beguilement_, is indeed available at, and at a reasonable price. TSK#2 is also, but still at the punitive hardcover price; it’ll go down to something rational when the paperback comes out. E-releases of my Eos books have been erratic, for reasons I don’t quite understand but which may have something to do with a combo of my place in the pecking order and a somewhat beleagured e-books division.

    The theory that some publishers fear competition of e-sales with their bestseller lists placements seems to be dead-on from where I sit, and getting a count of e-sales onto those lists might indeed be an excellent solution. Nevertheless, e-books are still pizza money for me compared with treeware sales, and my e-books supposedly sell “well” for the medium. It would be interesting to hear how other writers are doing in this area.

    I agree that slow and overpriced e-releases encourage piracy; or at least that timely and rational releases would at least *permit* e-readers to be honest! *Convenience* of e-book purchases is also a biggie, I suspect; the easier it’s made to buy them, the more will sell. And, finally, training the readership both in reading e-books and in protocols of on-line shopping; I suspect a generation-gap thing going on here. (I confess I’m still on the trailing side, myself.)

    In other news, I noticed my public library system is now offering some audio books as internet downloads. !!!

    Ta, L.

  5. Jane
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 09:31:22

    Thanks for the correction. Weirdly the HC site only lists the second sharing knife volume as being in ebook format.

  6. sybil
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 09:35:04

    Well they can’t even get the print books out in the store on the ‘right’ dates to count on the stupid lists…

    We have authors creating ‘first week clubs’, posting to message board, yahoo groups and what not asking fans to not buy early copies and repeatedly saying the book comes out on THIS DATE playing a game of lets pretend it isn’t in the store NOW two weeks early.

    This type of stuff doesn’t lend itself to thinking people can or will take steps to add something new into the mess they already can’t fix. Even though if you think about it, ebook book sells like those are Harlequin and S&S, only selling early at your site gives you control over knowing your ‘true numbers’.

  7. sula
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 10:04:14

    It seems weird to me that they wouldn’t count e-sales in the total sales for purposes of best-seller lists. A sale is a sale is a sale. People are reading the material, regardless of what format it came to them.

    I myself am not a huge reader of e-books but that’s mainly because I don’t have a reader and just have to use my laptop which is bulky. I see that changing in the future because I do travel a lot and read voraciously. It’s the future, baby!

    Lois, my library just started offering free downloads of audio books too, and I’m loving it! I just wish they had a more extensive offering, but I’m hopeful that if they see people using it, they will expand the titles.

  8. Anji
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 10:21:51

    Same with my library – you can borrow Audiobooks and ebooks, it’s pretty awesome! And they do expire at the end of the borrowing period. They’re really good about adding new titles, and have a continuously growing romance selection.

    As to the training of readership – I didn’t have much of a clue when I started out buying ebooks. In fact, I bought a few in PDF format… But the Dear Author posts on ebook software and ereaders were really useful and helped me make sense of all the different formats etc. But if you don’t know where to start, yeah, ebooks can be intimidating.

  9. Jennifer McKenzie
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 10:54:37

    I love ebooks. I don’t have to worry about my dog eating them or my kids destroying them.

    I’m still searching for the perfect ebook reader and I HAVEN’T made sense of all the technology yet. BUT I’m willing to sit and read them at my computer. I love the books coming out from Samhain and I’m published with The Wild Rose Press, so I read a lot of small press stuff.

    I was just researching pdas again (It’s Christmas list time) and I still can’t figure out what I need to take all my pdf versions of the 100+ ebooks I have and put them onto a small reader to take to bed with me. But I’m going to keep looking.

  10. LinM
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 11:02:01

    I don’t know much about mainstream publishers and their motivations. According to Jeffrey Ettingham, Digital Publisher at Penguin, they are at the “start of the great ebook adventure”. Baen and O’Reilly have been publishing digital material for almost a decade – I suspect that they would say that the start was a long time ago. I cheer for the publishers who produce ebooks and rant against the ones who don’t get it.

    I was struck by comments by Jane and Anji about buying e copies of print books I already own. In the aftermath of Cory Doctorow’s article on releasing ebooks to generate pbook sales, posted a survey:

    Love a free Creative Commons e-book? What are the chances you’ll buy a p-edition?

    I wanted to answer: Never, but I might buy the ebook to support the author. The Teleread response was:

    Never. What a sucker—giving a book away! If it’s any good, people shouldn’t be able to get it free in any form.

    So I didn’t answer the survey but I’ve always thought that Teleread got the question backwards. Love a p-book, what are the chances that you will buy the e-edition? Since Harper-Collins is committing some resources to digitizing their back-list, they must be betting that there are a number of old and new readers who will purchase the e-edition.

  11. TeddyPig
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 11:12:18

    Jennifer honestly take it from a geek, to get the best eBook PDF reader right now just get the smallest lightest laptop you can afford. That way it does something else like make you more productive so you can afford to spend a bit more.

    Latest word from my dear friend inside Verizon is Nokia is unleashing an iPhone killer PDA. There is always hope this might be the eBook reader to have. Oh get this, new buzz word… infotainment system.

  12. TeddyPig
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 11:18:33

    LinM I always wonder …

    Why don’t established authors make this a sticking point in their contracts? I would want to be available in eBook or I would take that part of the publishing rights to say a Samhain or Loose-Id so that it was handled better than the traditional publisher who cannot be bothered with eBooks like Penguin.

  13. Jane
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 11:27:34

    That’s an interesting point, TP. I read one fantasy author’s frustration at the fact that Tor insists on ebook rights from its authors but never does anything with them.

    But, my guess is that when you want your book published, demanding the ebook be released isn’t high on the negotiation table, particularly when ebook sales are “pizza money.”

  14. LinM
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 11:31:43

    TeddyPig: I don’t know anything about the author/publisher contracts. Some romance authors have waited until their rights have reverted back to them before arranging for an e-edition. I know that Baen publishes the e-editions of many books where the p-editions are handled by another publisher. I don’t know if the e-book contracts are with the individual authors or with the p-book publishers. For example, Baen now has an arrangement with Subterranean Press to produce e-editions of some of their books. (This is one time when I may want the p-book. Some of the limited edition Subterranean Press books are gorgeous.)

  15. TeddyPig
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 11:53:22

    demanding the ebook be released

    Well I am not a demanding person like that. But… if the publisher made a public stance like Penguin does to NOT publish eBooks properly then why would I sell them eBook rights.

    They do not simply deserve rights to something they do not support and business is business. If they have issues with eBooks, no eBooks rights for them.

  16. Sarah McCarty
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 13:25:08

    I think the ebooks becoming popular among older generation has more to do with a mobile lifestyle than anything else. A very large portion of baby boomers do the RV thing, the Snowbird thing, etc. It’s wonderful to be able to take your keeper shelf with you. I know I’m converting over mine to ebook because of a mobile lifestyle. Nothing worse than being a thousand miles away from the book you want to read. Nothing more wonderful than having your entire library at your fingertips.

  17. Christine Merrill
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 13:30:36

    “Well I am not a demanding person like that. But… if the publisher made a public stance like Penguin does to NOT publish eBooks properly then why would I sell them eBook rights.”

    Well, I can’t speak for every author in the world, but I can tell you, in a general sense, that the answer is probably:


    How the rights get sold is something that gets worked out between publisher and agent. A good agent will try to hang on to as much as possible, but some things are just not negotiable. And there are other things that can be fought, but will not gain you a whole lot, financially.

    If you have a hypothetical contract from Big New York Publisher, with a huge advance, it might be in the best interest of the author to give up the e-rights and take the cash. If B NY P: doesn't plan to exercise the e-rights, but will take the deal off the table if you fight for them?

    Then you can go elsewhere.

    But e-sales are still a small piece of the pie. If you go with a smaller publisher, you will probably lose sales numbers and the guaranteed income from the big advance from B NY P. You gain ‘the high moral ground.' But you end up working as a greeter at Wal-mart, because you really wanted to keep the e-rights, which are growing, but which are still small potatoes, compared to print rights.

    The high moral ground isn't worth much, if you need to feed the kids, and replace the brakes on the van. Writing is a job (with irregular and unpredictable income), and there are bills to be paid (all too regular, and probably increasing).

    The majority of writers, if the are lucky enough to get one, are not going to turn down a juicy contract from B NY P, over rights to e-sales. For the most part, writers do not pick the publisher. The publisher picks them. If a writer A turns them down, they will find someone else to write books, and Writer A can get a day job. They do not care. There are more writers than publishers.

    If writer B is lucky enough to have a choice of publishers, then his/her agent is going to be looking at the whole package, and going for the best deal, even if it loses the e-rights. Limiting your rights to a project in exchange for money, is something you do the minute you sign a contract. It's just a question of which rights, and how much they'll pay you.

    But when you hear agents shunning Penguin because of their policy on e-books, then you know that the audience has increased to the point that there is serious money involved.

  18. Robin
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 14:18:54

    I think this is yet another example of publishers putting themselves in the position of follower rather than leader. In this case they’re following the formulas of the various bestseller lists by punitively pricing certain ebooks. But Sybil makes a good point, too, abut the variation in print book release dates (i.e. that only some authors have paid-for lay down dates), which leads me to believe that publishers are just fine with the rules as they currently exist. When ebooks become a bigger part of the book market, though, just watch all of these organizations scramble to change the rules, while publishers will jump, yet again, to adapt, all the while completely ignoring their own role in shaping the marketplace. For example, if publishers actually used ebook pricing more creatively, they might be able to leverage a change in the way the bestseller lists are compiled. But instead they play along, and then, ironically, IMO, use those very lists to determine the future contractual well-being of authors.

  19. TeddyPig
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 20:36:30

    I just think modular, not the package deal. You want eBook rights then you better support them properly including the stupid moves you make with DRM.

    I do not buy that eBooks are small potatoes bull crap that I keep hearing. If that were so, I do not believe smart people would be so involved and I see some very smart people doing eBooks.

    Hey, if Penguin does not want to play, quit giving them access to the playground! Let someone who knows what they are doing and is not promoting some idiotic “big adventure” when people are already doing this shit. Penguin is only insulting their own authors with this crap. Take the big kitchen knife and start slicing and dicing the rights. Cut the idiots out.

  20. Grrrly
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 00:14:07

    And it's also frustrating when they are inconsistent in format – I was looking for the Nora Roberts ‘Dream Trilogy' – I wanted to get them in Mobipocket, but ‘Finding the Dream' is only available in MS Lit and Adobe, while the other two books in the trilogy are available in Mobipocket.

    The MobiReader desktop reader will convert PDF files to MobiPocket files; you just click and hold and drag it over. I find it useful when I’m reading something in PDF online and want to take it with me. Adobe reader on my Palm TX handheld, well, I just don’t like it. I’ve never tried it with a PDF file that was purchased though, so I don’t know if there would be any DRM issues there. There are also programs that will convert MS Lit files to HTML, which can also be dragged over to the Mobipocket desktop and converted. Now, as to the legal and ethical rightness of all this format-hopping, I count myself blissfully ignorant. I figure once I purchase the book, it’s mine for personal use as I see fit, outside of sharing it.

    I read just about everything in ebook format if I can, too. It’s so much easier than paper books, and with a lot of covers, especially erotica from Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id, and that ilk, a lot less embarrassing. I find the books I want, get them into Mobipocket, hit the hot sync button, and slip my Palm into my back pocket on my way out the door. No worrying about which of the two or three books I’m reading at the time to make room for in my bag, no second guessing myself if my mood turns and the one I want is at home, and I can literally whip out a library’s worth of books from my pocket any time I get a free minute to read. If it weren’t for the fact that some of the books I really look forward to aren’t in ebook format as soon as they’re published, I’d probably never pick up a paper book again. The one and only thing I miss of paper books, is the ability to flip back to a previous passage if i need to remind myself of something. Trying to flip back along a status bar and hit the right “page” for that “oh yeah, that’s who that guy is” moment is much more difficult.

  21. Anji
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 04:11:18

    The one and only thing I miss of paper books, is the ability to flip back to a previous passage if i need to remind myself of something. Trying to flip back along a status bar and hit the right “page” for that “oh yeah, that's who that guy is” moment is much more difficult.

    I’ve been using the Annotate function to add a bookmark for favorite sequences or places I want to be able to flip back to easily. Much better than the status bar.

    Thanks for the PDF suggestion! Although I doubt it works with DRMed PDF files.

  22. heather (errantdreams)
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 09:00:55

    Given that I still prefer to read a solid book rather than ebook for various reasons, an ebook is something I don’t purchase unless it’s noticeably cheaper than the hardcopy. I do think one of the ultimate uses for ebooks is trying out new authors, and I really appreciate when publishing houses give you that as an option.

  23. Lois McMaster Bujold
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 12:08:24

    TeddyPig wrote above:

    “I do not buy that eBooks are small potatoes bull crap that I keep hearing. If that were so, I do not believe smart people would be so involved and I see some very smart people doing eBooks.”

    So, I went back through my actual numbers from Baen and Fictionwise from the first half of this year. I find that for roughly the same list my treebooks outsell my e-books by 20:1.

    These are actual numbers, not an opinion.

    Yes, more people are starting to read e-books, a discernible demographic shift. But meanwhile, Fictionwise, for an example, is adding a blistering 200+ titles a *week* to their list. 10,000 books a year, atop all the older titles. A boom time for readers; certainly a boom time for Fictionwise (these would be the smart people mentioned), who collects 60% of the bucks for every download sold, regardless of what it is or who wrote it. Each individual writer’s market share, however, may be expected to decline as titles are added; a much thinner slice out of a much larger pie. Because in addition to the hard limit of 24/7 on customers’ reading time, books must compete with all the other entertainment out there — DVDs, TV, games, the Net itself.

    My life as a Content Provider, sigh.

    Make no mistake, I’m very happy to get that 5% numbers hike. But for most writers, e-books are not going to save the farm.

    Ta, L.

  24. MaryK
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 12:59:34

    I was struck by comments by Jane and Anji about buying e copies of print books I already own.

    I do this. I like ebooks, but I prefer print books. It’s an aesthetic, reader experience thing for me. Currently, I only buy ebooks as a second, convenience copy or when e is the only published format. If one of my favorite epublished books comes out in print, I’ll likely buy a print copy.
    I expect and plan that my library will last for my lifetime, so I’m very reluctant to rely on ebooks to build it. Barring a nature disaster, print books endure whereas ebooks are vulnerable to hard drive failures and hardware/software obsoleteness. I’ve already lost some early DRMed ebooks when the publisher folded.

  25. MaryK
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 13:15:22

    My life as a Content Provider, sigh.

    I tried to restrain myself, but the fangirlitis overcame me. The Curse of Chalion is one of my favorite books. I could listen to the Lloyd James audio version pretty much indefinitely.

  26. Jackie L.
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 14:02:46

    Ooh, Mary, I wanted to do the RFG gush–addicted to Lois McMaster Bujold since Spirit Ring. Glad somebody else did it first. Ms. Bujold the content you provide is some of the best I’ve read (and I read a lot). Please keep providing.

  27. Stephanie
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 14:14:27

    I dunno; having read Cory Doctorow’s Project Gutenberg-available books makes me want to go buy paper copies of them. Mostly because I enjoyed the books a lot, but partially because of this line of his: “The worst technology idea since the electrified nipple-clamp is ‘Digital Rights Management,’ a suite of voodoo products that are supposed to control what you do with information after you lawfully acquire it.” (from a prologue that is probably at the start of all of his books)

    Well, it’s funny to me. Obviously authors have vested interest in having their digital rights protected; I’m a reader, so lines like that are humor, not a challenge to my chosen profession.

    (Also, as my boyfriend pointed out, “Well, there are probably more people who enjoy electric nipple clamps.” I’m sure even writers get annoyed when their computer becomes ‘de-authorized’ and all of a sudden none of their iTunes songs work properly.)

    I read ebooks from the library quite often; to me it’s a nice, easy way of getting a recently new book without having to get up off my rear end. Sometimes I get hard copies. Sometimes not. I have gotten annoyed with the apparent randomness of what gets put into e format and what doesn’t, though.

  28. Shannon
    Oct 15, 2007 @ 22:05:41

    I definitely agree with your comments re: piracy. As a totally blind reader, I have access to a couple of different places where I can legally acquire ebooks because of my disability in addition to publisher websites and fictionwise, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The amount of books available for someone like me to read is staggering when you consider that even ten years ago, all us print-disabled people had was the National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped. But the day is definitely not here yet where I can read any book I want, completely legally, the way a sighted person can.

    And don’t start me on the DRM thing. DRM software pretty much guarantees a book won’t be accessible via a screenreader, and my resources are rather limited, so I don’t like surprises like that.

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