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The hidden costs of the $0.99 ebook

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There has been a lot of debate about whether self-publishing is killing the book industry, whether bad books are driving out good books, and whether self-published books are diminishing respect for books overall. I can see why these issues generate so much heat and controversy, especially among authors and industry watchers. But I think these are the wrong conversations to have. Because there will always be a lot of bad books. There will always be competition and cannibalizing among different sectors of a market. And there will never be as much respect for books as authors and devoted readers would like. We can live with all that. What we can’t live with is an equilibrium that drives out the very players who are providing us with quality product.

As I write this, the top-selling Kindle book in the romance category costs $0.99. That same book is in the Top 10 list for all Kindle books. 4 of the top 10 Erotica Kindle books are $0.99, and in the gay and lesbian bestseller list, 4 of the 10 books are available to borrow for free (or purchase at the still quite low price of $2.99).

Right now, both readers and authors have more options than ever before. Readers can find traditionally published, small-press, and self-published books at every price point, and authors can ignore traditional publishing’s barriers and self-publish as widely or narrowly as they choose. But as with every major upheaval, there are tradeoffs. What are the tradeoffs that come with the new $0.99 price point?

The $0.99 (and even the $2.99) price points are not unmixed blessings, even for readers. Price is just one component of the cost of buying and reading a book, and the proliferation of low-cost and free books shapes short- and long-term patterns in the supply of and demand for fiction.

(1) The $0.99 price becomes a reference point or “anchor.” Jane has written about anchoring before. As purchasers, we become used to certain price points as “normal.” If $0.99 or even $2.99 is the new normal, then $4.99 and up start to look expensive. That happened at the upper end of the ebook range when the Big 6 fixed prices at $6.99 and $7.99. Some of us paid the higher prices, but others found new books to read. If you’re used to paying $0.99 or $2.99, then even $5.60 may strike you as too much. Never mind that the price reflects a discount from the list price; you know you can read something else for a lot less. This shift to a lower price point might have the long-term effect of encouraging publishers to take more chances and produce a wider variety of fiction. But it might also result in an emphasis on quantity and a reduced attention to quality, if authors, publishers, and readers all privilege the dollar amount over other considerations.

(2) Buying and reading a book involves both time and money. The $0.99 book in the Top 10 is over 300 pages long, which means that if I read the entire book, I’m spending three or four hours not doing something else. If I enjoy the experience then I’ve spent my time well. But if I don’t, that’s a few hours that I could have spent doing something that I would have liked better. So when I think about reading a free or almost-free book, I need to factor in not just the money I’m spending, but the opportunity cost of my time. But often, we as readers ignore the opportunity costs because the price point is transparent and alluring.

(3) Many good, popular authors cannot make a living selling their books at $0.99, or even $2.99. If you’re writing thrillers, YA, erotic or historical romance, or certain sub-genres of SFF, you can sell a lot of copies, as John Locke, Amanda Hocking, and others have shown. But if you’re writing non-UK-set historical romance, or straight contemporary, or m/m, your readership is much smaller. A popular m/m writer is lucky to sell in the thousands, whereas a popular writer in a widely read genre will sell tens or even hundreds of thousands. From a reader’s point of view, they’re all books and authors competing on the same playing field, i.e., the reader’s interest. But the long-term consequence of expecting small-market books to be priced the same as large-market books is likely to be that authors who want to make a living at their writing will leave the genre, either to do something else or to write books that sell more widely. It’s true that niche genres like m/m have gained a bigger and more broad-based readership over the last few years. But they still have a long way to go before more than a handful of authors can be full time m/m writers. And for all we readers talk about wanting non-Regency historical romance, it doesn’t sell as well as the standard model. It just doesn’t.

(4) Readers know from experience that higher prices do not necessarily mean higher quality. But lower prices often mean lower quality, because the author justifies cheaper (or non-existent) content editing, proofreading, and cover costs as acceptable given the low price. And readers reinforce this tradeoff when they accept proofreading and grammar mistakes (let alone continuity and character development) in cheaper books. If you look at reviews here at DA for inexpensive romances, you’ll regularly see discussions about the bad editing, but readers buy and praise the books anyway. This is a marked change, I think, from a few years ago, when small presses that charged mainstream prices were harshly criticized for grammar and copyedit mistakes. The more that flawed $0.99 books are positively reviewed and recommended, the more some authors will believe they don’t need to clean up their typos, grammar, homophone errors, and incorrect word choices to sell well. And some of them will be right, because their books hit enough readers’ sweet spots in spite of the many flaws. There are flawed books that are great reads, and polished books that die on the page. It’s entirely understandable when a reader prefers the former to the latter.

  • Caveat: There are some beautifully produced books that have low price points; I’ve reviewed quite a few here myself. But these are sufficiently unusual that they are remarked upon, and readers can’t predictably or easily find them. I can name well-produced, low-priced or free books in all the genres I read, but there are far more weighing down the other side of the ledger. I was about to write that there are more well-produced books in high-volume markets, but then I remembered that there are authors in low-volume markets whose self-published books are first-rate. I doubt they recoup the money and effort they invest, but I’m immensely grateful that they respect themselves and their readership so much.

I’m not arguing that books should never be priced at $0.99. Loss leaders can be effective ways of generating interest in new authors, introducing new readers to older series, or introducing a new venture for an author (e.g., a new series or a new story in a different genre). There is no question that authors who pursue such a strategy based on their specific markets and goals can leverage a low-priced or free book to their advantage. The  problem arises when the free and $0.99 books become the norm rather than the strategic exception, because the need to produce at volume can override the desire to produce a high-quality product.

For me, the big questions revolve around whether good, well-reviewed books can generate enough sales and revenue to allow a subset of authors to be full-time, professional writers. In the old regime, blockbusters (however disrespected some of them were), helped subsidize midlist and small-readership authors. Now more and more authors have to subsidize themselves. There are plenty of very good part-time authors out there (as there always have been). But I cannot believe that moving to a model where almost every author has to have a day job or a patron is good for our literary culture. When we not only expect authors to produce imaginative and interesting work, but also to package it in a high-quality, error-free product, and we expect that they do all this in their “extra” time, we’re asking too much.

I’m not saying that readers should subsidize authors. But I do think as readers, we should care about our genres. And I worry that the race to the bottom, in both price and craft, may both drive out the good authors we have now and discourage new authors who could be really good from entering the market at all.

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

125 Comments

  1. Nadia Lee
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 04:35:25

    This shift to a lower price point might have the long-term effect of encouraging publishers to take more chances and produce a wider variety of fiction.

    Do you mind explaining why you believe this? My thought is that it’s the exact opposite. The low price ($0.99-2.99) means publishers must be even more conservative and publish something that’s going to have even bigger mass appeal to make enough profit to justify the cost of editing, cover, formatting.

  2. Jane Lovering
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 05:14:04

    I would love to be able to make a living from my writing. Sadly, despite the fact that my books win awards, I am still scratching around on benefits (I’m in the UK) and working a part time job in order to pay the bills – writing is something of a luxury. I’m not blaming the cheap or free e-book market, of course not, it’s my choice to do this, but it is a lot harder to sell when your books are pushed way (way, waaaay) down the Kindle lists by free (or nearly free) books. Many readers are still equating ‘top of the lists’ with ‘good fiction’ (if so many people are reading it, it MUST be good, mustn’t it?), and this is what is driving so many of us to self-publish and take the money.

    I was doing a signing last week, sitting in front of my own pile of books and watching the crowds come in and pick up paperbacks saying ‘oh, I’ve heard of this one’ and ‘this was on the telly’. Which seemed to prove to me that people are sheeplike when it comes to books, they drift towards books with high profiles (and I’m including Top Sellers on Kindle in this, they are the books Amazon tend to push hardest, however low the pricing). Those of us floating around in the midlist had better keep the day jobs…

    Rant over. Suppose I’d better stop talking about it and actually write something now. Damn procrastination!

  3. Aleksandr Voinov
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 05:56:50

    As an m/m writer and co-owner of a publisher, I can only say “Amen to that.” I’m using some free fiction as a “loss leader”, but I need to charge more for my novels than $2.99 or even $.99, because I do want to downscale my day job so I can write more, attend more conference, and even respond to reader emails (which are all taking bites out of my “real life” and writing time). I’ve definitely been tempted towards the mainstream to “subsidize” my m/m writing. I’m definitely going to submit a novel I’m working on to the mainstream publishing process first because of potential higher sales and higher exposure.

    And if you venture outside m/m contemporaries, then gods be with you. Writing a historical novel is not only so much more research, but sales are low (same goes for fantasy and sci-fi) – incidentally, those three genres are some of my absolute favourites.

    So part of me expects I’ll never generate enough from my writing to be able to quit the corporate world. And that means less books for my readers, explorations of alternative jobs and ventures to yield cash, and periodic bouts of despair as the Muse is blocked by thoughts of “will this sell?” I freely admit that I’m more likely to write a sequel of a book that sold well rather than the one I might love more – though I hate to think like that. I’ve also killed interesting projects in their infancy as they would have been interfering with a more commercial (or potentially more commercial) project.

    So, yeah. Full amen to that.

  4. shauntih
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 06:13:52

    I’m not a writer – just a reader. I’m a technical person, not creative, and I am so glad writers are out there to take me away from real life. Thank you writers for doing what you do!

    For me, the $.99 books introduce me to new authors. Once I find one I like, I tend to buy everything they have published. I don’t expect t$.99 to be the norm, however, I do have an issue with expensive prices for e-books. I love J.R. Ward, but I am NOT paying the same (or more!) for an e-book that I do for a physical book, so I have yet to purchase her new BDB book. There is just too much risk involved with e-books for me to do that. So far, I won’t pay more than $10 for an e-book. I don’t have a problem paying $7.99 for a full length novel. I do have a problem with someone charging $4.99, or even $2.99 for books less than 80 pages.

  5. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 06:42:59

    I do feel pretty strongly that no one is owed a living. Everyone is entitled to write books of any quality they want and do their best to sell them. As a reader, I’m going to want to read books I enjoy at the best price I can find them. As a writer, I’m going to work out the price point which maximises my revenue (not sales but revenue). For me, $2.99 has been more profitable than $0.99. My books are category length and I haven’t tried going above that level. Maybe one day I’ll try that. But also, many writers were not able to make a living before the onset of ebooks and cheap ebooks. The reality of the industry is that very few writers make a decent living. If writers aren’t happy with that, they’re free to seek another job. That’s always been the case. I don’t think you can blame it on the 99c books.

    The same is true of the opportunity cost. I can waste several hours reading a bad 99c book. I can also waste several hours reading a bad $9.99 book. The difference is that I’ve also wasted another $9. If I’m not sure I want to read a book, I read a sample or I read reviews. I don’t think the time wasted on a bad book can be blamed on the 99c price point. If you’re not enjoying a book, you can always stop reading, and the less I’ve spent on a book, the more likely I am to stop. I’m okay with that.

    I do agree that there are often lower production values on a cheap ebook. I wish this weren’t the case, but it is. You get what you pay for. Just as some print publishers have begun producing more beautiful editions of some books which command a premium price, I wonder whether there’s a market for premium ebooks with greater attention paid to the presentation details. But also, pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap, seems to be working well for some authors and that’s fair enough. If people are prepared to buy the poor quality product, that’s up to them. If you buy stuff at the dollar store, you don’t expect it to be the same quality as at the premium brand.

    I think the 99c book is here to stay, but I think there is room in the market for more variation between prices. People will pay more but there need to be clear differentials between the higher and lower priced products. If you’re pricing your ebook at $9.99, what are you offering the reader for that premium price? Maybe it’s simply the content. If you’re Nora Roberts, the hook is simply your writing and the guarantee that gives of a great book. If you’re not, are you guaranteeing your reader a beautiful, seamless reading experience? Have you invested in editing and copyediting and great cover art? Are there bonus features in your book? How are you communicating the premium quality of your book to potential readers? Because if you’re not, a reader has no reason to think your book is worth any more than the 99c books out there.

  6. Kate Hewitt
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 06:45:08

    I think when you’re buying a lot of books at .99 or even getting them for free, that becomes the new norm. I’ve noticed a trend towards price rather than quality–self-published books with grammatical errors, poor spelling and formatting, etc, are selling well because they are priced low. It’s the Walmart effect: ‘as long as it’s cheap…’

    As an author, it is dispiriting, and I wonder what the next few years will look like for the big publishers (as well as my own royalties). I am glad that at least self-publishing is an opportunity available to everyone–for now, anyway.

  7. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 07:05:11

    @Ros: My feelings on this are a lot like you Ros. I’ll suffer through an entertaining story if there are a few errors, but I really appreciate a quality book. If a book that is low priced is also poorly edited, I have to put an asterisk next to my recommendations. However, it doesn’t stop me from reading or buying.

    I notice the price differential the most in YA because YAs are largely hardcover or trade and so it’s either 9.99 or 2.99 and under. For 2.99 and under, I’d rather take the chance because I can buy 4-9 of them for the price of one 9.99 book.

    But I’ve seen poorly edited books from all spectrums of pricing from the 4.99 to the .99. I’m not sure what you can do about it but I do know that Amazon will pull a book after sustained complaining about quality. That’s one thing that readers can do.

    I try to mention in reviews about typoes, mistakes, and the like. But I won’t stop reading them. There were two self pubbed books that came recommended and that I tried last week: From Rags and Beautifully Damaged. They were so poorly written with such bad grammar, that I finished neither of them. But they are both really highly reviewed. For some readers, it truly is *all about the story*.

  8. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 07:14:11

    @Jane: I did not know that about Amazon. That’s a really good thing. I also think that not enough readers (me included) remember that you can return a kindle book after you’ve bought it. I’m not sure how long you have – maybe a week? I do normally read books pretty soon after buying, so if they aren’t a good standard for the price, I should return them.

    I would love to see more authors/publishers being proactive about promoting the high production values of their books. That way, readers would know why they are paying more and also be able to hold them to account if the book didn’t live up to the hype.

  9. Estara
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 07:17:28

    Sherwood Smith sees this period as similar to the time that novels became more widely available and cheaper priced and people were experimenting with that.

    Are there quibbles? Sure. Any book has them, no matter who publishes them—both typos and places where maybe the story falters, though the latter will vary from reader to reader, again, as in any book. Yeah, I wish the books had a better proofer, but, um, as I go through one of my own right now, and find embarrassing arghs, (and the major publisher issued book I was reading last night furnished more arghs) I am not about to start slanging self-published books for being somehow less.

    My own feeling is that the giddy new world of self-publishing reflects the giddy world of cheaper book production in the 1700s, when all kinds of methods of self-publication were tried, including subscription (or as we would say now, crowdfunding and Kickstarter). Everyone is experimenting, the problem is really how, with the wild numbers of new books appearing every day, readers can find what they are looking for. Word-of-mouth is reinventing itself as fast as publishing, meantime, I do hope that Höst gets discovered by one of the juggernauts just so she can earn enough to write full time. Source

    I agree with her idea of the problem being more the gatekeeping – t hat’s why review blogs like DA or Booksmugglers will continue to be important – honest review blogs. As for price – once an author becomes auto-buy I’m willing to put down a lot of money to support them. I buy BAEN eARCs or ebooks at Hardcover prices – but that is only for the favoured few (not being independently wealthy).

    I can say that if a Iike a new low-priced book by an unknown author, I’ll go after their backlist (I now own all Andrea Höst’s available books), I may even do that with other genres of the author (like I now own 8 Eileen Wilks category romances because I enjoyed my partial reread of the World of the Lupi books so much). There’s no one true way yet (if there ever will be) but the market will find new ways as long as people want to read and write books.

  10. Bob Mayer
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 07:49:11

    I’m so numbed out by this and similar posts that have been going up for years. I’m not you and you’re not me. Every author is not in the same situation. Every reader is not the same.

    Trad publishers are actually raising prices. So are indies– the successful ones

    .99 is a tool. How one uses it is up to them. Same with Free. Same with Random House merging with Penguin. Yeah, those gatekeepers. I hate that phrase. Who published Snooki? Gave Johnny Depp, literary genius and expert, an imprint?

    Everything old is new again is my new/old phrase for publishing.

  11. Kate Hewitt
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 07:52:48

    @Ros:

    But if you actually read it, do you think it’s ethical to return it? Kindle returns are deducted directly from authors’ royalties, at least for self-published books. I have returned books I read a few pages of and decided I didn’t like, but if I make it through the whole book I feel like I should pay for it. I do wonder how many people are using Kindle like a library–returning books they’ve read and enjoyed.

  12. Sirius
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 07:54:29

    I do agree that $0.99 cents for a novel is low, way too low. However I think it is an excellent way for unknown author to market their book. In mm genre let’s take Latakia, which I loved and I believe you did not care for. Granted, part of the reason I bought it was because I already read his first novel, which was also priced for 0.99 cents and loved it too. However, I know that several of my friends who bought it did it partially because the price was so low. People are very careful these days with the new authors and 0.99 cents is a great price to try.

    I would have paid seven bucks for Latakia easily now. But that’s because while I see that it is not perfect in quallity, for me, it is way above in quality than many free and other 99 cents books and I do think that the writer has tons of potential.

    As to making a living, I do agree that nobody owed it, at the same time, I wonder. I check top list of gay and lesbian bestsellers on Amazon practically every day to hunt for new freebies (and most of them are so awful that I delete it right away, but sometimes I do find gems), Latakia was in the top ten paying books for months, so maybe quantity of how much he sold let him sell quite a lot?

    Just speculating here, because of course I do not know how much he sold.

    So to sum up, I think 99 cents is too low, but I certainly applaud an author who made it part of his marketing strategy and I think in his case (plus word of the mouth) it paid off.

  13. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 07:57:12

    @Kate Hewitt: I feel happy returning it if it’s not of good quality, just like I would with any other product. So I wouldn’t return a book just because I didn’t enjoy it. I’d return it if it was poorly formatted, poorly proofread etc. I know (it’s happened to me!) that authors lose out on those royalties. As a customer I can vote with my purse about the kind of books that I want to see more of. I think that (even more than poor reviews) might make authors/publishers review their production standards.

  14. Kimber An
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 08:09:13

    “But the long-term consequence of expecting small-market books to be priced the same as large-market books is likely to be that authors who want to make a living at their writing will leave the genre, either to do something else or to write books that sell more widely.”

    Yeah. When I consider the incredible amount of stress and humiliation and work and Advil that goes into writing a novel, I really have to ask myself if it’s worth it. I can go back to writing leisurely, self-publish, and make the same amount of money. So, what’s the point in finding an agent? I’m sure the world wouldn’t miss me, but there’s got to be a lot more awesome authors out there who will never write some classics we all might have adored. I have no suggestions to fix this.

  15. Angelia Sparrow
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 08:15:13

    I don’t mind having short stories sold at 2.99. I object to having whole novels sold at that price, and definitely at 99c. One of my publishers has knocked 90% off an anthology I’m in. I get 2c/copy. I can find more than that walking across the Wal-Mart parking lot. When royalty statements start feeling like insults instead of paychecks, there’s a problem.

  16. Jane Lovering
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 08:32:18

    @Kimber An

    That was my point. Yes, we are all free to write, or not write, as we please. But do we want a world in which all books are either written as ‘fun’ books (I was a bit bored and I had an idea, so I decided to write a book!) or by the independently wealthy, who have no need of spending hours every day at a job they hate just to fund their writing job? How can writers improve, by writing loads of stuff they then discard (well, I do this, maybe everyone doesn’t) because it doesn’t work, or read, read, read everything they can – when 40 hours a week is dedicated to keeping food on the table and the bills paid?

    Yes, I’m not pleading a special case for authors, my publishers pay me a fair royalty for my books, and I could always self-pub if I wanted to, etc, but… just sometimes I think I’d be better off quitting the day job, living on state handouts, and using my time to improve my vocation, which is writing. I prefer to work and earn my money (but am lucky enough to have my pathetic day-job wages topped up with benefits, because I have children to feed and clothe), but it would be even better if I could earn a living wage through my writing. There can’t be many jobs, after all, where one can improve, work hard, and still get paid less than a stripper selling the story of the time they slept with a footballer….

    Er, that’s my writing I meant there. Not my day job. Obvs.

  17. aleksandr voinov
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 08:37:04

    @Jane Lovering: I’m in full agreement. Also, to train a writer who produces anything remotely readable is an investment of years of hard work (conservative estimation: 3-10 years, with most writers probably falling in on the 4-6 year mark). Personally, I’m now in my 20th year of studying the craft and getting a sense I’m getting somewhere, but have a lot of learn still.

  18. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 08:43:13

    @Angelia Sparrow: I’d love it if my publisher discounted my books! The category romances are already priced low, but I’ve asked for a promotional freebie re-release (and didn’t get it).

    My full-length books have been $7.99 and my feeling is that this cost is prohibitive for a new or not-yet-popular author in the current climate. I just saw Aftershock, my upcoming release with HQN, discounted to $6.39 on kindle and I cheered. DISCOUNTS YAY.

    As a reader, I think $1 per 10k is fair. Even so I hesitate to spend more than $5 or $6 on a new author (in ebook). I don’t blame 99 cent price points, but my own tendency toward frugality and my used bookstore upbringing. Back in the day I paid 5 cents for paperback romances by the truckloads. :)

  19. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:00:28

    @Jane Lovering: I think that’s basically always been the world we live in. Midlist authors have always struggled to earn a living wage. A couple of years ago the UK-based Society of Authors announced that the average income of authors had dropped from £8000/annum to £4000/annum. That’s a big drop, it’s true, but that includes a lot more self-published and small-published authors earning tiny amounts. My main point, though, is that £8000 is not a living wage. And if you consider that it’s skewed by the few millionaire authors, the majority of authors were already getting much less than that.

    I don’t think there was ever a golden age when it was easy for authors to earn enough to live on. The rise of the super-cheap ebook may have made some difference, but I don’t think it’s been that much of a game-changer. I am certainly not willing, as a consumer, to subsidise authors while they learn their craft. You put out a product for sale, I’ll judge it on its merits now. If it’s worth the price to me, I’ll pay it and if not, not.

  20. Mel
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:04:09

    I have to wonder how many of the authors complaining about the free and .99 cent books are making poor marketing decisions? I have read and enjoyed several series that I have never paid for. Every book in the series has cycled through as a free promotion. On one series the books were free one a week for five weeks so they were even timed so I finished one and picked up the next without having to think about looking to purchase. That author was actually preventing me from giving her money.

    From a completely average reader here is how to get my money. Give me the first book free. Make book two cheap, maybe $1.99. If I was so-so on the first book I might grab the second one for cheap to see if you improved. All of the rest should be in the $4.99-$6.99 range (not dirt cheap but more appealing than the big publisher’s $7.99-$24.99) and left there. If the first two were good enough I will pay and if they weren’t it doesn’t matter. Leave the prices alone and spend your time writing.

  21. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:06:35

    I agree that no one is owed a living as a writer (any number of countries and signatories to human rights treaties assert that individuals have a right to a basic standard of living). But if the ability to earn a living as a writer is systematically different for individuals of similar talents and work ethic but of different socio-economic classes, genders, and/or ethnicities, then I at least want to take a harder look at what we’re doing to bring about and perpetuate that system. Historically and in many places today, women and members of minority groups have less access to patronage and other types of support, and women have borne the brunt of inside-the-house work and child-rearing, which cuts into that “extra” time.

    Just to reiterate, I don’t think that the $0.99 price point is inherently bad or wrong; it can be part of a very effective marketing strategy. And I agree that readers have every right to read badly produced books (and authors have every right to write them). My point is that rational, normatively acceptable individual behavior can have long-term negative outcomes in the aggregate. In other words, I see this as your basic tragedy-of-the-commons, race-to-the bottom social choice/collective action situation.

  22. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:09:51

    @Sunita: Is it your argument that readers should be concerned with what authors make? Because is that our role as readers? I know that you talk about the ecosystem of publishing and how readers are part of that, but is it our role to think of the author in buying books?

  23. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:10:45

    @Mel: Yes, I don’t understand at all the point of having all the books in a series free, or having a random book in a series free (for temporary periods in both cases). Many readers prefer to start with Book #1 in a series, so why not make that one free, assuming the author has control over it? Or explain why it’s not Book #1 on your website.

  24. aleksandr voinov
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:10:55

    @Sunita: Exactly, and authors talk. If they see that a peer, who did not invest in a good editor or a good cover, sells shedloads of $.99 ebooks, then they *might* just be tempted to do the same thing. (Hypothetically. I inhabit a niche inside a niche inside a niche, so for me it’s a totally different game anyway…)

  25. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:16:17

    @Jane: Yes and no. I don’t think readers have any obligation to think about what an individual author makes. But in their own interests they might be concerned about what authors in general (or the “average” author) makes. Can any authors make a living writing books that are good, product- and craft-wise? To me that’s an ecosystem question rather than a question about individual authors. All of us probably privilege the story over the craft (to greater or lesser degrees). But I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where the craft has been lost and all we have left is good and bad stories, all badly written.

  26. Sirius
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:17:24

    @aleksandr voinov: If those hypothetical authors could engage me as much as author of Latakia did (and I do not know if he has an editor or not, in some ways his book was cleaner for me that a lot of other books with more expensive prices, but sure it could have benefitted from some cutting), but at the same time the story which made me laugh and cry and characters I never forgot, then sure, maybe they could try to do that and succeed. But again, as I said, I will buy from the author of Latakia the novel which would cost six – seven bucks no problem. All I am saying that it is a good starting point for unknown author, that’s all. I wish he would increase prices for his books now actually, but that’s me, a total stranger who never even emailed to this author talking. I surely cannot tell him what to do. I keep talking about this writer only because for me he is the only one whose 0.99 pricing strategy was a smashing success. I recommended his books left and right. My first words was that those a great stories and my second was just look at the price.

  27. Patricia
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:23:14

    Speaking purely as a reader, I have gotten to the point of avoiding $0.99 books because the quality of the stories tend to be so low (in my opinion). It’s a shame, because I know some quality authors use the $0.99 price point as a promotional tool, and I certainly like saving money, but I don’t have the time or patience to buy lots of cheap books and sift through them for the few gems. Unless the book comes highly recommended I will most likely pass it over. I am somewhat less skeptical of a self-published book priced at $2.99 or higher. It seems to indicate the author has confidence their work can sell based on quality and not just price.

    One other result of the move towards the $0.99 price point has been that the best-seller lists are losing value for me as a reader. Presence on the list becomes less a sign of widespread popularity and more a sign of people’s willingness to gamble a buck on a book in hopes that it might turn out to be at least okay.

  28. Liliana Hart
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:23:57

    The $0.99 price point isn’t new. In fact, it’s so old that I would never advise anyone who is self-publishing to price at $0.99 unless they have a loss leader going into a series. $0.99 is a tool. That’s it. Just like free, or KDP Select or Nook First.

    My bestselling self-pub book is $6.99, and it’s sold between 150-200 copies a day for 5 months. Everything in this business is about successfully getting your product to as many readers as possible. If you don’t have a good product, it doesn’t matter because you won’t sell books. But if you do have a good product, and a combination of business and marketing savvy, you’re going to do fine. Me making a very good living selling my $2.99 books is very different than traditional publishing houses being able to survive at that price point (not until they make major changes at least). I’m still putting out a quality product. And I’m completely fine with making a million dollars in a year on my own. I don’t see that as a race to the bottom at all.

  29. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:29:45

    @Sunita: But I think this goes back to Ros’ point. In the history of publishing less than 5% (and even smaller) have ever made a living writing novels.

    I think another way to look at this is whether higher prices will actually result in better quality. The reason I am unsure if this is because several authors who are selling gobs of books are putting out fairly low quality books but the pricing is at 2.99 and 3.99. So is your argument that 99c is the problem or that 2.99 is the problem or 3.99 is the problem? Is it really price that is the driving factor in producing quality? I almost view price as a post hoc justification for not editing (or using only beta readers or whatnot) rather than a conscious part of pre publication planning.

    It might be different if it is a publishing house. I.e., I think Loose Id and Ellora’s Cave books are outrageously priced. Ditto for Riptide. I would never take a chance on a new author at the prices those houses charge. Someone recommended a Loose Id book and it was $5 for 100 pages. No thanks.

    But I don’t think that self pubbed authors are making the same cost analysis decisions. I think they are looking at price v. volume of sales.

    Moriah Jovan has had some thoughts about how authors are using inappropriate terminology if they are truly a business center. I.e., it wouldn’t be royalties, it is profit. But how many authors are doing the Profit/Loss sheet for each of their *authors.

    Edited to add *books. I meant books here.

    It reminds me a bit of when I was a contingency fee lawyer. We were urged to keep track of our time so that we could better analyze which cases were making more money for us even though our cases earned money only when we won a verdict or reached a settlement.

  30. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:43:34

    @Jane:

    But I don’t think that self pubbed authors are making the same cost analysis decisions. I think they are looking at price v. volume of sales.

    Exactly this. Because it’s so easy to change the price of a book these days, it’s easy for authors to test the waters and work out what price will maximise their revenue. That’s not about cost of production, it’s about the elasticity of the demand curve. Now it’s possible that investing more in the production of a book will shift the demand curve so that you can get away with charging more, but I don’t think this is always the case. And I think it would require some savvier promotional work to make it the case.

    It’s hard for authors to do that kind of profit/loss analysis on ebooks though, because there is no marginal cost for each unit. You have to set an artificial time frame within which you want to see your investment back, but I wouldn’t know what a reasonable time frame is. My self-published books earned me more in the last quarter than they had in the previous year. If I’d set a 12 month time frame, I’d have been running at a tiny profit. As it is, it’s a comfortable profit and every sale from now on is pure profit.

  31. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:45:26

    @Jane: I agree that very few authors can make a living at it. I don’t know if we can increase the 5 percent, and that’s not really my concern; my concern is that the 5 percent drops to 1 percent because everyone is on their own. The people who are most likely to be able to make a living are: (a) those whose books hit a reader sweet spot, which is anyone from Stephen King to Nora Roberts to various thriller writers; and (b) those who write half-a-dozen books a year, which attract a smaller but loyal following. In the old model you had people who wrote less frequently and had smaller readerships but could manage on advances. Those days are just about gone. I’m interested in who is replacing that last group.

    I am willing to pay more for an author in a niche category because I know that the author’s potential reach is smaller, so if I want to keep reading those books I’ll have to pay more. It’s not that the books are necessarily *better* than other books, but they are sufficiently *different* and desired by me.

    I don’t think higher prices guarantee higher quality by any means, but I think readers will cut less slack with a low-quality book at $3.99 than at $0.99, so over time and across books we should see less low quality (unless the storytelling is really good). I think $0.99 is definitely a problematic anchor for full books. I think $2.99 is probably too low for a full-length novel for all but the higher-selling genres (although I could be totally wrong on this). $3.99 seems like a reasonable anchor for full-length novels, but again, I could be wrong.

    I take your point on the need for authors to pay close attention to what is economically sensible for them. But I still think we can get to an aggregate outcome that is suboptimal. If The six-book-a-year authors set the price points, then the two-book-a-year authors aren’t going to make it. That affects overall diversity (and probably quality).

  32. Shannon
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:46:16

    Of course readers should “subsidize authors.” It’s called paying for a product what the product is worth. I’m a writer and what I do is labor. Why shouldn’t I expect to be paid?

  33. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:50:35

    @Shannon: Because what the product has cost you to produce, and what it is worth to me to buy are not necessarily the same amount. If I think your price is too high, I’ll walk away and find something else to spend my money on. That’s how the market works.

  34. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:57:40

    @Nadia Lee: Sorry, I missed your comment in my email feed!

    You’re right, it could go the way you say. But I was thinking in terms of increased per-unit sales on the popular books, which might make the publisher willing to throw a high-risk book into the mix, since its manufacturing cost is lower because there is less spent on editing, cover, etc.

  35. Stephanie Doyle
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 09:58:30

    @Jane: It has to be price driving quality to a certain extent because the bottom line is there is cost involved in producing a higher quality book.

    You need a content editor. You need a copyeditor. You need marketing/cover art. Can an author fill all those roles – no. I know many think they can – but it’s a rare person who can do all three. Because authors can’t be that objective. Can you find friends to do it for free? Sure.

    But imagine you have a friend who will offer to paint your house. Or a professional who does nothing but paint houses for a living. Which would you put your trust in?

    I’m certainly not saying anyone can’t publish anything for the price they want. But readers have to realize that a quality book requires a team. You’re not just paying the author or paying for them to make a living – you’re paying for the team of people who put that book together.

  36. Shannon
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:01:22

    That’s fine. You’re perhaps not my customer. But books aren’t just widgets. It isn’t like other “markets.”

    The thing that strikes me as flawed about this whole piece is the idea that people choose to buy books on price point. I’m an avid reader and I certainly don’t.

    I choose books based on whether I already like the writer’s work, whether people whose taste I share and/or opinions I trust recommend the book, what the publishing standards seem to be (whether or not anyone else seems to have invested in the book, in other words) and by flipping through it and reading snippets of the writing to judge its quality for myself.

    I may choose NOT to buy a very, very expensive book I’d otherwise like to have, but I will never choose a book because it costs a dollar when another book costs four dollars.

    If the book I wrote costs 10 dollars, I expect any number of people who want to read it, will buy it.

  37. Grace Burrowes
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:01:45

    Another hidden cost of the $.99 download–the books I’ve had on deep discount were highly reviewed prior to the deep discounts, received awards, and sold fairly well. After the deep discounts, the percentage of reader-reviewers very happy with the books declined, and thus the books’ ratings declined, to the point that these “bestsellers,” now have the worst popularity ratings of any of my books (though still fairly decent). This is a phenomenon I’ve heard other authors lamenting, though as far as I know, our experiences remain anecdotal. The discounted book thus is less attractive to new readers after the discounting period than before.
    Presumably, readers shopping based on price are risking a worse fit than if they’d shopped on some other factor, but there are so many variables associated with the books sales scenario, I wonder if anybody will ever make sense of it.

  38. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:01:45

    @Shannon: I’ve just read your comment again, and I think we’re talking at cross-purposes. Of course authors should be paid for their product. But subsidy is not payment. Subsidy allows prices to be artificially inflated beyond the market rate because of some perceived greater benefit. American farmers are subsidised, for instance, because it’s thought to be important that they can continue to make a living, and compete with international produce. I don’t think, though others may disagree, that authors should be subsidised. If they can sell enough of their product at a good enough price to make a living, that’s great. If not, I don’t believe that artificially raising prices is a good strategy.

  39. hapax
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:02:03

    @Shannon:

    I think that our society’s relationship with authors and books is changing. I don’t know whether it’s the rise of self-publishing or fanfiction or geek culture or what, but all over the internet I have been seeing a general devaluing of what writing — good writing — actually means.

    More and more I see readers talking about their devotion to “the story” (especially in long-running series or shared universes) and viewing the writer as incidental, as some sort of passive conduit for the real significant relationship: between the reader (consumer) and story (product).

    This is especially powerful in the speculative (science fiction and fantasy) community, to the ridiculous extent that some readers complain that the writer “got the story WRONG” (e.g., the vitriol heaped upon J. K. Rowling by the Harry / Hermione shippers).

    I don’t think that’s as powerful in the romance reader community yet (although, e.g. Suzanne Brockman may beg to differ) but I do think that if .99 becomes the anchor price point, it will lead to an even greater devaluing of the talent, craft, and artistry of the writer.

    Because when the readers claim ownership of the story, and reduce the writer to mere delivery mechanism … no, you “shouldn’t expect to get paid.” You should humbly volunteer your services as priest to the Great and Sacred Story, and be grateful that we pay you any attention at all.

  40. hapax
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:14:54

    @Ros:

    Of course authors and publishers are artifically subsidized right now. What the heck do you think public libraries are?

    Taxpayer subsidized libraries are often the biggest customers of midlist fiction, experimental genres, expensive scholarly and reference work because there is a perceived general benefit to making these works available for no or little cost to the general community.

    (Admittedly, this perception is precarious now — I don’t know how many libraries are coping with city governments trying to slash their budgets because “everything’s on the internet now.”)

    But the current public library model depends upon the publishing industry to survive. Our technical ability to collect and circulate e-books is limited (for various reasons, not ALL of which are caused by publishers’ short-sightedness and greed). If books — carefully edited and produced books that have survived some sort of gatekeeping system, no matter how flawed — become a high-end expensive niche market, if “publishing” becomes a “let the buyer beware” Wild West of sloppy uncurated slushpiles governed by a race-to-the-bottom price point, public libraries simply can’t survive.

    And both writing *and* reading will revert to a luxury reserved for the leisured and privileged.

  41. C
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:17:17

    As I reader, I have no problem spending up to $7 or $8 on a book. In fact I am wary of novels priced at 99 cents as I can’t help but wonder about the quality, and I’ll usually have to read all the negative reviews I can find and see if they are reasonable or not before I buy. But thats the thing, if I spend that much I want it to be a full book- not a short story or a novella or whatever they are called. I feel ripped off paying $1.99 for a short story a couple of pages long or $3+ for something thats only around 100 pages.I think that price should reflect length in a way. So, bring on the 99c novella or short story. But I would not expect books to be so cheap unless they were used.

  42. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:19:15

    @hapax: That may well be true. I have no idea how the library system works in the US. To be honest, I’m not sure I know all that much about how it works in the UK and how much it contributes to authors’ incomes. My understanding, though, is that libraries pay the same price for books as anyone else, so they are not contributing to artificial price inflation.

  43. Shannon
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:29:16

    The fact is that the book world is becoming like the rest of the world in the expanding gap between the haves and have nots. Either you’re a blockbuster NYC Big Six bestseller, or you’re a .99 self-pubbed e-book.

    That really worries me. Without subsidies, the high-quality midlist disappears. The high-quality midlist is what keeps variety on the shelves. Increasingly in 3D stores, I see fewer and fewer actual titles no matter how many pieces of book are on the shelves. There might be 500 copies of the three bestselling titles and not much of anything else.

    I tried to find some Gertrude Stein in a Barnes and Noble recently. Her picture was on the wall but not a single one of her books was on any of the shelves.

    If we don’t support writers who write really well, whose work deserves to be read and that readers deserve to enjoy, they’ll disappear.

    I’ve been working to break into traditional publishing for about three years now. It will probably take me at least two more. That’s work for no pay. I homeschool my kids so my time is flexible but is also quite full. I can’t really afford to spend much more of my time uncompensated financially.

    Maybe the world will not suffer if MY books don’t find their way to B&N or to your e-readers, but if all the people just like me suffer the same fate, it sure as heck will.

  44. hapax
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:34:08

    My understanding, though, is that libraries pay the same price for books as anyone else, so they are not contributing to artificial price inflation.

    Well, I don’t know much about the UK library system (except that authors are paid a tiny but real royalty on the circulation of their books, which is AWESOME), but in the US, no, libraries usually purchase physical books at a significant discount, because we purchase through “jobbers” (distributors who negotiate price discounts through bulk purchase). Jobbing would no longer be cost effective if the distributors had to negotiate with millions of self-publishers, rather than relatively few publishers. (That’s the most important reason that you don’t tend to see self-published books in libraries, aside from the difficulty of simply *hearing* about them.)

    E-books, on the other hand (along with certain other formats, such as audiobooks produced in special extremely durable editions) tend to be much, MUCH more expensive for libraries to purchase — up to one hundred times the retail price — in order to get the rights to circulate.

    That is, when libraries can get them at all. Which we can’t, from most major publishers. :-(

  45. Courtney Milan
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:38:10

    @Ros: It’s hard for authors to do that kind of profit/loss analysis on ebooks though, because there is no marginal cost for each unit. You have to set an artificial time frame within which you want to see your investment back, but I wouldn’t know what a reasonable time frame is.

    So, dork alert. I do actually run profit/loss extrapolations on all my titles–in fact, on every project I take on.

    Here are three non-artificial ways to deal with this problem.

    1. If you take into account the time-value of money–and everyone who says that ebooks are forever is effectively neglecting that–a time frame makes sense, and in fact, making reasonable estimates about long term sales (they’ll go up and down, but will fluctuate around some average), and multiplying each average successive year by a time value of money, the present value of book earnings converges.

    Infinity isn’t really as long as you think.

    2. In reality, you don’t even have to run this out to infinity–you could use actuarial timetables to estimate the length of your life and add 70 years, which is the length of copyright. But in reality, I have to admit my time value of money after I’m dead is approximately zero. So another way to estimate profits is to do so for the projected length of your life, once again adjusting for the time-value of money because you don’t want to be the putz that forgets that.

    3. Both of these things take a good bit of time to come up with a number, though, and whil projecting the time-value of money isn’t horribly difficult, projecting earnings more than a year or two into the uncertain future is. What I’ve used for my other calculations is this:

    Money is finite (if it wasn’t, there’d be no point in the exercise). So what’s your best use of your dollars, if not to take on project X?

    At some point, I went through a massive exercise, and the basic rundown I got was this: It’s not worth my while to put money into a project in publishing if I project that I will not earn back my expenses within six months. That’s because at that earnings rate, I’m unlikely to beat what I could do if I plonked the money in some kind of an index fund at market rates.

    (If you’re following along at home and you’re wondering how to make the math work out–this calculation takes into account my level of financial risk aversion. Also, I shortened the timeframe somewhat because otherwise if I followed it blindly it would tell me to put all my money into publishing projects of one kind or another, and that would lead to a lack of diversification. I think the actual number without any of those shortening mechanisms was something like 3-4 years? Don’t remember offhand.)

    I’ve started using time-to-earn-back-expenses as my gold standard for determining if a project is worthwhile. I index everything against that. I don’t need to project expenses very long in the future this way–I just need to know when I hit the profitability mark.

    Oh–also–when I’m calculating expenses, I include my time as a line item.

    I have other thoughts on this, but this is the extra-dorky version of things.

  46. DS
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:38:22

    @Ros: Actually you can return an Audible book if you are unhappy with it as well. I found this out as I was about to write a 2 star review of the latest book by an author I used to enjoy. I got a pop up from Audible that offered to give me a refund. I accepted. Of course that didn’t do anything to give me back the 8 hours I had listened in increasing frustration to a badly written story. The total time was 16 hours by they way, so I made it about half way through before throwing in the towel.

  47. Stephanie Doyle
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:59:10

    @Courtney Milan: This is freaking awesome.

    But Courtney what if you ran these numbers and weren’t happy with the expected profit? Does that mean you wouldn’t write the book? Isn’t that where we cross the line between professionals back to artists. At this point I know I’m earning less than what I would consider to be worth the time/effort. But I still do it anyway… because I want to write the book.

  48. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 11:10:01

    @Courtney Milan: I’m not saying it can’t be done but that it is done only rarely.

    @Stephanie Doyle: I know that there is a higher cost for producing a better quality book but I haven’t seen any evidence in my reading forays (and I read a lot of self published stuff – almost all of which I pay for personally) wherein the higher price book necessarily results in higher quality. Once you get above a certain price point, say, $4.99, I do see a more professional produced product although not necessarily a better story.

    @Shannon: I don’t believe in subsidies for many things and not at all for entertainment products.

    @hapax: I disagree that the publishing industry is largely subsidized by libraries. If that were the case, then I think we wouldn’t be having these discussions on whether libraries have economic value for publishers. Your post has a lot to say about the print publishing model and whether the print publishing model should be subsidized which again I don’t believe in.

    Some of you are talking about the socially conscious reader and to some extent I think that’s pretty problematic. What books are we going to “save” through subsidies because you can’t save them all. Do you subsidize print because it reduces the technological divide? If so, you shouldn’t complain about agency pricing.

    Do you subsidize publisher produced books over self published ones? Or just the self published ones that are crappy? How many crappy traditionally published books get a pass before the subsidy model declines? Who gets to decide what is crappy. Does a self publishing book get a pass if it has only 10 errors? Or if we are deciding on price, does the 7.99 get 10 errors and the self pubbed one get 70 errors before it’s determined to fall below the subsidy level.

  49. Avery Flynn
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 11:18:06

    Jane – Can you provide a source on this?

    ” In the history of publishing less than 5% (and even smaller) have ever made a living writing novels.”

    @Jane:

  50. Courtney Milan
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 11:21:17

    @Stephanie Doyle:

    Well, yes. Of course that’s what it means.

    But when you consider profitability, you have to include the intangibles as well as the money. If I didn’t consider intangibles, I wouldn’t be an author at all. I would probably be working 90 hour weeks doing high-powered litigation. For instance, when I value my time, I don’t use my “true” opportunity cost of working in some law firm; I value it at a much, much lower rate, because I put a high premium on my happiness. Your preferences are allowed to have a place in business.

    (It’s also why it annoys me when people tell others that they HAVE to self-publish–even when the person says they would find the non-writing aspects of self-publishing stressful and painful, and they prefer to delegate those to someone else. It’s okay to make choices that don’t maximize money in your pocket, but which take into account what you like and dislike!)

    There are also benefits that are not directly tangible that are nonetheless worthwhile.

    As an example: When I decided to do the German translation of Unlocked, I projected I wouldn’t earn back the expenses I put in for at least a year, which normally would make it a no. I thought it worthwhile to go ahead and do it, because I valued the information it would give me on the German digital market enough to make up the difference.

    It’s those not-directly-tangible things that keep me pricing novellas at 99 cents. For one, the 99 cent price point does bring in new readers, and that grows my income on all my books. (I recognize that some readers are not brought in by a 99 cent price point–but overwhelmingly, my data suggests that if you can get a book high enough, the 99 cent price point brings people in.)

    So I don’t suggest being so wedded to a spreadsheet that you forget where you are in terms of strategy or what you want. It’s a tool, like any other tool.

  51. hapax
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 11:26:57

    I disagree that the publishing industry is largely subsidized by libraries.

    I expressed myself poorly if this is what I conveyed. I mean that *certain aspects* of the publishing industry is largely subsidized by libraries — midlist authors, certain literary genres, and expensive scholarly / reference materials.

    In fact, as near as I can tell, the publishing industry as a whole is largely “subsidized” by a handful of bestselling blockbusters, and by mass market paperback (and now e-book) reprints. Everything else loses money.

    As the price point of e-books declines, so that they will no longer serve to help publishers recoup their investments, but solely become marketing tools — well, when just about everything you sell is a “loss leader”, you’re going to stop selling stuff.

    If you think that being a “socially conscious reader” is inherently “problematic” — if you don’t think the privileged individuals who are so lucky as to have a significant discretionary income to devote to entertainment and leisure time activities also some sort of basic responsibility towards ensuring that the benefits of our culture and society are available to all of its members, including the less fortunate (witness your contemptous dismissal of “the technological divide”) — you’re correct that there’s no point in discussion. There is a basic philosophical difference between us that no amount of dickering over details can resolve.

    (And, for the record, I don’t believe that I ever *have* “complained about agency pricing.” I don’t think it was the best solution to the problem, but I still think that there is a real problem to be solved.)

  52. P. Kirby
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 11:29:45

    @hapax:

    “I think that our society’s relationship with authors and books is changing. I don’t know whether it’s the rise of self-publishing or fanfiction or geek culture or what, but all over the internet I have been seeing a general devaluing of what writing — good writing — actually means.”

    Not disagreeing with you on any particular point. But I wonder how much of that is a function of a preexisting tendency to devalue the arts, period.

    I’m an author and an artist. While I’ve made much more as an artist, I run into the same problem with my art. Which is, getting paid for the time I put into the work. For the most part, the majority of my work, sold at crafts fairs usually, is priced under $100, usually $50. Despite that, there’s still one asshat per show who sniffers under their breath, “I can get the same thing at Wal-Mart for $20.”

    No, you can’t. My pieces are one-of-a-kind, made by an American who likes eating a couple of square meals a day; with a mortgage and the same expenses as you. As it is, I’m still undercharging–grossly–for my work.

    Anyway, I’m inclined to think that existing fallacies about working in the arts — i.e., it’s easy, you just write a book, paint a picture, etc., and voila, the money rolls in — combined with realities of the new media age contribute to the devaluation of artistic pursuits.

  53. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 11:37:40

    @Courtney Milan: That is awesome. *bows at your feet*

  54. Laura Florand
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 11:52:23

    This is a timely discussion for me, because I just decided to put a novella out last week for 0.99. I don’t know…I really went back and forth, because on the one hand, I absolutely believe in the worth of my writing, and that tends to the $2.99 price point for a novella. But on the other…all my traditional books are at a $14.00 price point, which I personally consider prohibitive–I spent many years of my life on a tiny graduate stipend, on which I tried to travel all over the world, read lots of books, and eat lots of chocolate. And it’s Christmas, and I love this story so much I wanted to share it as widely as possible, and sometimes it’s just nice to give people something. (As far as I’m concerned, 0.99 is really giving your work away. I know people can disagree about that, too.) And yes, I certainly hope it has the benefit of making it easy for new readers to discover my stories.

    Ilona Andrews is doing serial on their website right now, and I entirely understand the impulse they describe that just made them say: You know what, this makes people happy, and it makes us happy, and we’re going to write this serial and put it up for free. We’re storytellers, after all. And we love having people come to our site and say thank you, thank you, you made my day, this is wonderful.

    And it does make my day. I love finding another installment up. And once they finish it, polish it, package it, and release it on Amazon, I’ll almost certainly buy it to have a full copy all in one place that I can flip back through easily.

    They are already doing extremely well, I think, but the gesture might also help them do even better. I’m sure that factored somewhere into their thoughts about writing the serial this way, but I also think their primary motivation was not “will we do better by doing this?” but, “This makes us happy and our readers happy, so let’s do it”.

    All that said…this question of pricing and ebooks and quantity and quality is very relevant and very complicated. It’s really too early for me to know what I think about it, and until this novella I didn’t have any influence on that kind of thing anyway.

    So that makes this an interesting discussion and particularly pertinent for my own case this week. Thanks for engaging in the discussion!

  55. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 12:32:31

    @Jane:

    I don’t believe in subsidies for many things and not at all for entertainment products. … Some of you are talking about the socially conscious reader and to some extent I think that’s pretty problematic. What books are we going to “save” through subsidies because you can’t save them all. Do you subsidize print because it reduces the technological divide? If so, you shouldn’t complain about agency pricing.

    I quoted these together because for me they are related. What you are calling entertainment is what I call cultural information. People who lack access to cultural information lack important tools to develop broader cultural knowledge. It’s one thing to choose to ignore aspects of popular culture, but it’s another to be ignorant because you can’t afford access. That affects your ability to be socialized and participatory in ways you can’t control.

    We’ve had agents who subsidized art and popular culture for the masses for centuries, whether it was through feudal lords, churches, governments, or industrial tycoons (I’m using the term in a way that incorporates more than artificial price inflation, which is only one part of the definition). We might decide that subsidy is the wrong way to go today, but it’s not a new idea. And it encompasses a lot more than the agency pricing model, so I feel pretty comfortable criticizing agency pricing while thinking about ways that literary culture might be sustained.

    [edited to close tags]

  56. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 12:36:08

    @Sunita: I’m interested to know who you think might subsidise authors. I talked about price inflation because the only people I can think of who might do that are customers/readers.

  57. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 12:41:27

    @hapax:

    If you think that being a “socially conscious reader” is inherently “problematic”

    Far be it from me to speak for Jane, but I believe she is talking about readers who make purchasing decisions based on the author’s financial needs.

    Moving on to random thoughts…

    Yes, I despise the term “royalty” as applied by Amazon et al to what they pay the publisher. The fact is, it is NOT a royalty, because they are not licensing your work for publication. You are a seller in a flea market and the cut Amazon takes is your stall fee. I said my piece on that years ago and left it alone because I got tired of arguing with asshat douchebags who think they’re God’s gift to self-publishing after having trashed it for years. (I also don’t have a clue how to go about getting Amazon et al to change this. For me, it’s a tax issue.)

    ***

    Also, what Courtney said, with minor differences for risk tolerance. For instance, I have published (very niche) books not my own, none of which have earned their costs back. The difference here is that I KNEW they wouldn’t earn their costs back. I published them because I felt they were works needing to be on the market and more than deserving of publication. Likely no other publisher does that, but I knew my book sales and my author services could subsidize those books.

    ***

    My first book is 99c as a loss leader. It’s a 280,000-word epic family saga. That price point makes me ill every time I look at it, but, like a financial magic trick, sales of my other books went up, so I grit my teeth and let it be. With that in mind, I get very angry with books priced over $1.99 and come to find out they’re a novella or worse, a short story.

    ***

    Laura, I have a serial going and it’s picking up A LOT of steam. There have been other benefits I can’t really talk about right now, but it may have turned out to be the best decision I’ve made on this journey.

    ***

    Lastly:

    Stephanie Doyle: I would write and publish no matter what, though I would be bitter every time I looked at my bank account. Thing is, I just can’t not write. And if I can’t not write, I then can’t not publish.

  58. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 12:47:33

    @Ros: Well, as Hapax has pointed out, public and university libraries have long supported certain sets of authors by buying their books and circulating them. In the UK, the government pays royalties to authors for library circulation.

    I know for a fact that university publishing has changed a great deal even in the last two decades, as the standing order list has shrunk (far fewer libraries buy the full lists of publishers today because of revenue cuts). This creates disincentives for publishers, which creates higher barriers to publication for scholars, which leads them to write articles (if their disciplines allows it) rather than books. The articles are then collected and published in very expensive journals by for-profit publishers, which restricts the dissemination of knowledge.

    Obviously this is not an identical situation, but it does suggest a process by which the removal of a subsidy (offered either by the government or by other revenue streams within the institution) is changing the form and public availability of a product. It’s not necessarily restricting scholarship, but it’s changing the way it is disseminated, and I would argue that the change is for the worse.

  59. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 12:48:28

    Oh, I forgot something regarding subsidized art:

    @PKirby said:

    I’m an author and an artist. While I’ve made much more as an artist, I run into the same problem with my art. Which is, getting paid for the time I put into the work. For the most part, the majority of my work, sold at crafts fairs usually, is priced under $100, usually $50. Despite that, there’s still one asshat per show who sniffers under their breath, “I can get the same thing at Wal-Mart for $20.”

    That. I’ve done that and learned very quickly (to my dismay) that most art will NEVER be financed at its true value when time is taken into account. Likely Handel and Bach were paid well for their services (although Bach was technically employed with, I assume, a lesser degree of artistic freedom). I would assume da Vinci and Michaelangelo, too. And look what we got out of it!

    But those situations are few and far between. How many of us who do art could ever rise to that level of mastery (I would even go so far as to say divine inspiration) even under the auspices of a well-paying patron? I certainly wouldn’t.

  60. Stephanie Doyle
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 13:38:43

    @Laura Florand: Laura – I read Chocolate Thief from a recommendation I saw on this site. Loved it!

    .99 cents for a novella from you is a steal… but I’ll take it!

  61. Laurie
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 13:49:20

    A 99 cent price point is a marketing tool. If I like that book, I will often glom onto the writer’s entire collection, and I certainly don’t expect that subsequent books will sell for that price as well. Some authors such as Courtney Milan and Lindsay Buroker effectively use low price points to increase sales of other books. Others (such as the author example listed here who gave away her entire series in consecutive order) do not. This is not the consumers’ problem.

    Higher price is never a guarantee of higher quality. I have purchased ebooks from publishing houses in the eight or nine dollar range and found them full of errors and with no cover art whatsoever. I will not pay more for a niche market book with a smaller audience but I will pay more for an author who has consistently wowed me with their product. As well, I will never pay as much for an ebook as for a print book. I cannot “flip throught it and read snippets of the writing” (@Shannon), nor can I resell, loan, or in any way, tranfer the book.

    It is difficult for many of those who create to make a decent living, but again, this is not the consumers’ problem. Let’s pretend I make quilts for a living. There are three costs involved – creation time, cost of materials, and marketing time. I may have spent hundreds of hours making that quilt and at minimum wage, that would put the cost of that quilt in the thousands of dollars, a price that few are willing to pay, especially not for a first-time quilter, so I sell my quilt at a much lower cost (usually with no consideration for the time that I have invested). I am guessing that no one here would want to subsidize my work. But after years of quilting,learning my craft and establishing a market, I can begin to sell my quilts at much higher prices and perhaps even make a living at it. And yes, anyone that could make an equivalent quilt faster would make more money (@Sunita “If The six-book-a-year authors set the price points, then the two-book-a-year authors aren’t going to make it.”)

    The book industry is no more special than the quilting industry (and I am a confirmed bibliphile). Both involve a learning curve, the arts, and work which is not always paid a living wage. Those who write better, faster, appeal to a broader audience, and who market well will probably make more money. And remember, unlike the quilter, you CAN sell your work more than once.

  62. pooks
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 13:52:12

    @Ros:

    Returning books because they are poorly edited or produced probably won’t have the result you intend because the publisher and author don’t know why you returned it. It could have been bought by accident and returned immediately. All they know is that it was returned.

  63. Kimber An
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 14:02:05

    “But Courtney what if you ran these numbers and weren’t happy with the expected profit? Does that mean you wouldn’t write the book?”

    Not Courtney, but yes I wouldn’t write the book. The story still exists in my own imagination and I derive a lot of enjoyment from that. I don’t need to see it in print to be happy. It saddens me to know I can’t share it, but writing down a story that will sell is just as satisfying.

  64. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 14:33:32

    I’m just generally going to respond to some comments here.

    1) Socially conscious readers: When you attach morality to the price that someone pays for a book, this creates a number of problems. If a reader can only be said to be socially conscious when paying 4.99 and above, then whenever she buys a book for under that price, she is engaged in a) tearing down the ecosystem or b) devaluing authors? What happens when the price of the book is on sale? Is it then okay to buy at the lower price? Does the retailer or publisher determine the morally/socially correct price?

    2) Higher prices do not equal higher quality of books. I’ve yet to see any evidence of this. For example, Kristen Ashley sells regularly at 3.99 and 4.99. Her books are in serious need of an editor. Yet, despite her selling at a higher price, she has made no move toward improving the quality of her books. We still will buy them because she is telling a compelling story. There are higher quality books for low prices. I.e. Entangled Publishing books are professionally packaged and I have yet to see them priced at more than 2.99. Loose Id and Ellora’s Cave books are professionally packaged yet charge 8.99 for their full length books and I’ve rarely been able to find anything decent to read from them. There have been many comments about the declining quality in mainstream publishing despite the 7.99 and above price points for books.

    Again, I’ve yet to see evidence from the self published ranks, in particular, that higher prices equal higher quality. If you look at the self published books acquired by traditional publishing, there is very little editorially that is changed when the book moves from self publication at the .99/3.99 price point to the 7.99/9.99 price point. Sometimes, they are just adding foil to the covers.

    3) How does a reader know when to pay the higher/subsidized price? Do we assume going forward that all books in excess of 5.99 are going to be well edited, well proofed, with good grammar? When you read the reviews of say Abbi Glines, there are few people who talk about how poorly edited they are despite the fact that the blurbs oftentimes are grammatically problematic. There are 99c books that have great editing. There are 2.99 books that have great editing. It’s very difficult to tell by the price of the book whether it is going to be of “quality.”

    4) “People who lack access to cultural information lack important tools to develop broader cultural knowledge.” Subsidizing access to knowledge is a lot different than subsidizing books in general. The subsidizing of cultural institutions that provide broad access to cultural information is important. However, increasing the price of books does not create greater access to cultural information. Instead, it increases the revenue taken in by the manufacturers of books. I see absolutely no correlation between increased book prices and corresponding increased access to cultural information. In fact, one could argue that lower prices increases broader access than higher prices. Or, readers who spend less on books can give more money to their local cultural institutions.

    5) “If you think that being a “socially conscious reader” is inherently “problematic” — if you don’t think the privileged individuals who are so lucky as to have a significant discretionary income to devote to entertainment and leisure time activities also some sort of basic responsibility towards ensuring that the benefits of our culture and society are available to all of its members, including the less fortunate (witness your contemptous dismissal of “the technological divide”) — you’re correct that there’s no point in discussion. There is a basic philosophical difference between us that no amount of dickering over details can resolve.”

    Wow. My contemptuous dismissal. Nice. I’m going to respond to you as if you haven’t tried to robustly insult me given you have no idea about my personal feelings toward the technological divide. Instead I’m going to respond as if you want to engage in a real discussion without insults. I believe strongly in the support of institutions. For instance, the existence of libraries are a vital part of local communities not only to provide access to literature, computers, but also to provide safe havens for individuals who might not otherwise have it. Libraries have become more community centers than in the past and I think they should be fully funded. That said I don’t see a correlation between low priced books and an increase in library funding.

    One of the ways I think the technological divide can be breached is by reducing the per unit costs of technological devices. I’ve been a strong proponent of one laptop per child because technology isn’t going to decrease its influence in our day to day lives. But again, solving the technological divide isn’t empirically tied to increasing the costs of books so that there is higher quality fiction. At least I have yet to see a study that suggests there is.

  65. wikkidsexycool
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 14:41:50

    Great discussion. Just thought I’d add a bit of a different perspective on all this.

    “But Courtney what if you ran these numbers and weren’t happy with the expected profit? Does that mean you wouldn’t write the book?”

    I’m not Courtney either, but yes I would still write it :)
    I’m new at all this, but I ended up deciding to create multicultural works (paranormal, historical) especially for teens because I feel there is a need. I usually buy stock photos and edit them to suit the character. I couldn’t find a Latina Valkyrie, so I created one via stock art. Same with a Maori/African American She-wolf, or Chinese Gargoyle. I learned photoshop (my daughter was a big help) and I find I enjoy doing the covers as much as working on the books.

    I’d still want to share a story if it meant inspiring a child to read because they saw someone who looked like themselves on the cover, or anyone wanting works with a diverse lead and cast of characters.

    I have a pretty good job and make time to write when I’m at home, but I think the difference is I realize what I write is considered a niche market, so I’m not looking to make a living at this.

  66. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 14:45:38

    @Avery Flynn:

    The situation of these authors matches the experiences of Jessica Faust, one of the founding literary agents of Bookends, Inc. When asked what percentage of her literary clients make enough to live off of, she estimated fewer than 10%.

    http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/advancesroyalties.html

    This amount, however, is significantly skewed by the top earners, with less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/may/24/self-published-author-earnings

    Tobias Buckell’s non scientific survey of SF/F authors

    http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2005/02/07/how-much-does-a-science-fiction-or-fantasy-writer-make/

    Another non scientific poll at Absolute Write:

    http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=243247

    This is an old article but

    “Despite those two caveats, if you fiddle around with those numbers, you can see that only a bit more than 10% of the books published in any given year will sell over 5000 copies.”

    http://declanstanley.com/writing/making-a-living-from-writing/

    So in sum, maybe 5% is undervaluing it, but it’s fairly low.

  67. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:00:00

    @pooks: That’s true, but if everyone did it, it would soon become clear which books weren’t acceptable quality to readers. The mistakes would average out.

  68. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:03:34

    @Jane: I agree. I was thinking about the 99c price point. If that did truly become the ‘standard’ ebook price, surely that makes books much more affordable, and thus more accessible to most people. The only stumbling block is the cost of the reading device. Kindles are already sold at a loss (I think?) and I only see the prices of such things going down in real terms.

  69. Tamara
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:12:03

    “When we not only expect authors to produce imaginative and interesting work, but also to package it in a high-quality, error-free product, and we expect that they do all this in their “extra” time, we’re asking too much.”

    I don’t think you’re asking too much. Authors should be not only willing but determined to publish only their best work in the cleanest, most well-packaged form. An author driven to write is going to produce a story even if she has only ten minutes a day to work on it (of course almost every free minute she can’t be at the computer, she’s working on the story in her head) and if it takes her five years to finish a book, that’s how long it takes.

    I’m also not convinced that new authors can be discouraged from entering the market, not if writing is something they need to do.

    I’ve resorted to price-lowering. I often regret it because I don’t think it’s unreasonable to pay 3.99 or 4.99 for a novel. But I know I won’t be heard above the marketing din, even if I knew how to market my work. I don’t know how else to draw new readers.

    The reality is I’ll never make a living, writing what I love to write, and writing will always be last on my to-do list because I can’t financially justify putting it first. But that’s not because of what readers choose to read. That’s because of what I choose to write.

    I’m not sure what the average reader could do to improve upon that situation. Or if he should concern himself with doing anything other than pursuing the fiction he loves to read, whatever the price or quality.

  70. Estara
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:12:24

    @Laura Florand: Well you sold me into trying your work with the price point and the excerpt when I read your post on the November Authors Thread. If I like your voice as much, I’ll be checking to see if I have a code for Kobo or something similar to try your books. I liked the reviews of them so far.

  71. Carrie G
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:27:23

    @Patricia:

    What she said. I avoid .99 books unless they are “daily deals” from authors I already know or someone has recommended. Same with “free.” I don’t load my kindle up with free or cheap books. Usually the quality is low and my time is limited. Also, no matter the arguments, until I can trade, resell, give away and loan my ebooks, I refuse to pay the same price for those that I do for paperbacks.

    That said, I rarely buy full priced books, whether in paper or kindle. I read 200-250 books a year and I can’t afford to buy them all retail. I use the library extensively, I go to used book stores, I buy from Better World Books online, or I look for book Amazon has discounted. I routinely request my library system to buy books, and they are usually accommodating. There are some authors I try to support by buying their books first week out at retail, but those are relatively few.

    I then donate dozens of books a year to my local library. Sometimes they keep the books, but usually they are sold on site or in twice yearly sales to generate revenue.

    The one place I “buy new” is on Audible for my audiobook, but that’s discount as well.

  72. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:32:35

    @Ros: If $0.99 became the standard ebook price, for full-length novels, we would live in a world of bad books. Or, perhaps more optimistically, those and also some decent books that had the widest possible appeal to the largest number of readers.

    Having access to something you don’t want isn’t really that useful.

  73. ShannonS
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:49:28

    I don’t judge a book by its cover price. Sure, there can definitely be a quality issue with self-publishing but I will overlook it for great storytelling and voice. I look at pricing of self publishing vs NY publishing not as a quality issue but as two different business models. A NY publisher is not necessarily charging you $7.99 or $24.99 for quality (yes, you know there’s a guarantee of editing, professional artwork, etc.). That higher price reflects the publisher’s cost to do business — overhead (NYC rent, utilities, taxes, salaries, benefits, bonuses, etc).

  74. Laura Florand
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:55:13

    @Stephanie Doyle: How sweet of you to say, Stephanie! Thank you. :)

  75. Ridley
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 15:56:00

    I’m a business idiot, so I don’t really have anything substantive to add. I will say, though, that if successful webcomics have earned their creators a legitimate and sometimes even comfortable living despite being posted for free on the internet, I don’t see why a $.99 ebook would be the end of written fiction’s profitability.

  76. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:00:59

    I wonder if the Humble Bundle business model would be appealing to some. The idea behind that is the reader pays what she thinks is a fair price, apportioning the $$ to charity or to the author. Those that want to support the author in a higher amount can.

    My own personal way of subsidizing an author I like or a book I love is to give multiple copies away. The problem is usually that going into a book, particularly by a new author, I don’t know if I want to subsidize it yet.

    Edited to add: I’m not sure whether there is a business model that can guarantee increased quality unless it is the traditional publishing model.

  77. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:10:31

    @Ridley: The webcomic model would definitely work for some authors, especially those (like JR Ward) with crazy-strong fandoms. The bulk of their revenue seems to come from advertising and tie-in merchandise, including books. This article is an interesting read on the subject.

    @Jane: I would definitely do a Humble Bundle of authors I wanted to try out and/or read again. There’s a piece of software I use that is a pay-what-you-want system. You can also buy it at the Mac App store. On their site, the minimum is less than the App Store price, but the average individual payment is quite a bit more. I thought that was interesting. Similarly, when Radiohead did its pay-what-you-want a while back, I think people paid fairly close to the retail price, on average.

  78. Laura Florand
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:24:16

    @Estara: Thank you! I hope you enjoy it.

    I think that goes exactly to the heart of the price point discussion. There are a lot of barriers to trying a new author. Most of them (for me) are emotional: I really don’t want to waste my imagination on a story that lets me down. Another is time, which I think people often conflate with what I define as emotional investment. But price is a last one. In some ways it’s the smallest one–if you know you like an author, it usually doesn’t matter, unless times are particularly tight or it’s a hardcover v. paperback type of price difference. But if you don’t know, and you’re already afraid of wasting your emotional energy/time, it’s one more barrier.

    So…I really don’t know what my thoughts about this will be six months from now. But for now, I know the novella was something it gave me a lot of pleasure to put out, for many, many reasons, and it just seemed right to put it at 0.99 at least over the holidays.

    I hope you enjoy it, Estara! Thanks for giving it a try. :)

  79. CLG
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:25:04

    @Ros: I understand that Amazon is pulling some ebooks if there are complaints/returns due to problems with the quality of the book. This is a C&P of part of an email that a publisher reported receiving:

    ‘We’re writing to let you know that at least one of your readers has reported some problems within your book. We confirmed the problem and have temporarily removed your title from sale to prevent new readers from experiencing these issues.

  80. Charli
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:27:20

    (This opinion does not apply to print books. Even though, essentially, ebooks are yours once purchased, to me, it’s not the same as holding printed paper in your hand. Thus, the following opinion applies to ebooks, only.)

    I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, Sunita, but I also must point out that quite a few authors sell sequels to their first, $.99 ebook, at higher prices. Once a reader is engaged, a second ebook may sell for $2.99, then a third, at $4.99, or even higher. I’ve paid as much as $7.99 for a latter ebook in a series, and I try to never pay that much for an ebook. The book has to be, either an author I can’t live without, or a really great book. I don’t usually pay higher than $3 of $4 for an author I’ve never read before but, if the synopsis sounds good for a book by an author I’ve loved in the past, I have no qualms about spending more.

    One complaint I do have, is that the majority of YA ebooks seem to be priced way higher than other genres. $9.99, or higher, for an ebook, is way too high, in my opinion. I don’t care how great the book is. I’ve even seen YA ebooks priced higher than the print versions. I refuse to pay that price when I can get lesser-priced ebooks that are just as enjoyable. I know authors work very hard to produce their product, I’m a novice author myself, and I agree that it would be wonderful if they could all live off of their writing but reading is one of the few pleasures that is equal to us all. Pricing ebooks so they are unattainable to some, in the long run, will eventually make them unattainable to us all.

    And, for the record, I don’t consider any book, a waste of my time. We learn to appreciate the really great by reading the not-so-great. Great, and not-so-great, is also an opinion to which we are all entitled. Even the not-so-great was created with someone’s heart and tears.

    Best wishes for happy reading!
    Charli

  81. pooks
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:30:43

    I will generally pay up to 6 or 7 dollars for an ebook without much thought about it. [I’ve paid more, a lot more in some cases. I’m just talking about the price point I’ll pay without debating it.]

    I’m not comparing it to the price of a .99 bargain or a freebie. I’m comparing it to the price of a fast food meal or a movie ticket, neither of which last as long as it takes me to read a book, and neither of which will still be there for me to return to if I want to repeat the experience.

    I’m also relieved not to have to store the darned things. I do have a lot of books anyway, but they are either research materials or books I love and want to possess and caress. I’m thrilled to have all the other books stored digitally, and think that is worth more money to me rather than less.

    I recognize that I’m in the minority on this.

  82. Ridley
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:36:35

    @Sunita: I don’t think books need to or will follow the webcomic model, necessarily. I just see what they’ve done as an example of people paying money for what they value. People will pay for books they want to read. And is the $.99 ebook so bad when used book stores are going out of business en masse? Are readers actually stingier now, or does it just seem that way?

  83. Charli
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:38:36

    @Jane Lovering:

    You make a great point, Jane. I’m thinking, with price contributing to ‘best-selling’ instead of quality, Amazon (et al) may need to consider ranking books by star rank, rather than sales. For the record, I always look at how many stars a book has received and, if low stars are given, I read the review to see why. Sometimes it’s something stupid like, it took two weeks to receive my book. Which, of course, has nothing to do with the quality of the book or talent of the author. There’s no win-win, unfortunately.

    Best wishes to you.

  84. Charli
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:50:33

    @Ros:

    You’re right, Ros, you have 7 days to return a Kindle book. I’ve also returned them later than that simply by emailing them. You must give a reason and I have returned a few for bad quality. I think that, if more readers did this, authors would be more apt to put more effort into editing.

  85. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:55:31

    @Charli – I regularly report books for poor editing.

  86. Kris Bock
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 17:09:16

    You make many excellent points. However, in contrast to expectations about what free and $.99 books should do to the market, the weekly top 25 e-book bestsellers, according to Digital Book World, contain many books over five dollars and some over $10. (Of course, these are mainly very well known authors/titles.) Here’s a recent example: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/fifty-shades-and-hunger-games-move-down-best-seller-list-making-room-for-new-titles/

    In addition, when I was at the Left Coast Crime convention a year and a half ago, I heard several mid-list authors say that they were making a living from their writing for the first time ever, because of self-publishing. Most of these are publishing at $.99 to $2.99. Also, I’m on a marketing listserv with many mystery/suspense authors who report better sales after giving away a book for free. The situation may change as the market gets ever more flooded, but given that traditional publishers have been lowering advances, many authors who have previously been published traditionally (including myself) are finding that self-publishing inexpensive e-books is a better path.

    I would like to see the expected price of books go up a little, but so far lower e-book prices seem to be an advantage for authors and readers.

  87. Avery Flynn
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 17:20:17

    @Jane: Thanks for the references! Off to read, however, prior to click through these seem to be talking about recent times not historically. I’m curious to know how authors dealt with this in the past. Were they scribbling at home after plowing the fields? Did they have patrons? Could Jane Austen have become Jane Austen if she’d been a washer woman? It’s a bit off topic, but that is where my mind jumped when I read historically.

  88. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 17:36:31

    @Ridley: I don’t think readers are stingier than they used to be, but hardback and mass market paperback prices have remained more constant than I expected.

    I went and looked up information on the constant-dollar prices of books. This article suggests that hardcovers seem to have stayed about the same. If you date MMPBs from their origins as Pocket or Penguin books (25 cents in the 1930s and 1940s), they’ve increased quite a bit. But most of the increase happened quite a while ago. I pulled out a Berkeley MMPB of Heyer’s The Foundling from 1977. The cover price is 1.95, which translates to $7.45 in 2012 dollars. A 1982 Harlequin Presents was 1.75, which translates to $4.20.

    The big shift is to trade paperbacks, which again started earlier than I thought, back in 1953. The jump here is significant. According to this article, they were introduced at $0.65 to $1.25, which would translate to $5.63 to $10.83. $10 is the low end for TPBs now.

    [edited to fix tags]

  89. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 17:46:48

    @Avery Flynn – my guess is that the percentage of writers that made a living off their writing was even smaller in historical times.

  90. Jane
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 17:51:12

    @Sunita – It’s not that I don’t think that there shouldn’t be an increase in the quality of books. I would love that. I think of the book From Rags which had such a great concept for a heroine, one who was unabashedly abrasive but it was virtually unreadable. There was head hopping that occurred within the same paragraph. Nutty! So yes, I would love to see authors up their game and I am ready and willing and able to pay more. I don’t know how you get authors to increase their quality if they don’t feel the need to engage in pre publication editing. I like that Amazon is willing to take down a book based on complaints. Maybe we should be targeting retailers – the current “gatekeepers” of self published books.

    I definitely think that we reviewers should comment this as much as possible. I downgrade books for editing issues. I.e., the Kristen Ashley books. I can never ever recommend those to people without providing caveats about the writing.

  91. Jackie Barbosa
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 18:09:35

    @Sunita: I don’t know if we can increase the 5 percent, and that’s not really my concern; my concern is that the 5 percent drops to 1 percent because everyone is on their own.

    Perhaps paradoxically (since I am neither a Nora Roberts nor really an author with a particularly loyal following), I am far closer to making a living at writing since I began self-publishing than I ever was before. It’s still not enough to replace the income from my day job (especially when I factor in my health care and retirement benefits), but I can actually project the possibility that it might, and fairly soon.

    Part of the reason for that is that I price my books much lower than my publishers did/do, with the result that I sell far more copies of them. Even though I’m only earning 35% on most of my titles (because they’re short stories/novellas priced under $2.99), I sell so many more copies that I wind up making far more money. And one of the reasons I was willing to sign with Entangled for a couple of books is that their pricing is about the same as what I would charge for a book of similar length…with the added bonus that I don’t have to pay for production and they seem to have a great track record with their category line books.

    My point here is that, ironically, I think the lower price points on digital books may have absolutely the opposite of the expected effect–I think they may well lead to *more* authors being able to support themselves by writing as opposed to fewer. I have my doubts that 99 cents is going to become the de facto price point for novels, but somewhere between $2.99 and $3.99 definitely seems to be a sweet spot, judging by the recent self-published success stories. That said, a 99-cent novel that hits a bestseller list is clearly turning a far greater profit than the $11.99 one that barely manages to sell 1,000 copies in a year. Scale matters.

  92. Ros
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 18:28:52

    @Jane: And the total number of writers was comparatively tiny, too. There were very few full-time novelists living off their earnings in the nineteenth century. It’s always been a rich man’s game, more or less.

  93. Avery Flynn
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 19:11:59

    @Ros: It makes sense that present day authors are actually doing better than those who came before. Still, I’d love to see a research paper on the subject.

  94. Charli
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 19:27:21

    @Jane: Good to know, Jane. I’m going to be a little more consistent in reporting books with bad editing, as well.

  95. Nadia Lee
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 21:18:18

    @pooks: Not if they get an unusually high level of returns.

  96. Nadia Lee
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 21:32:12

    @Jane Lovering: Amazon’s currently calculating its BSlist by incorporating the effect of cover price. So if your book is super cheap ($0.99), you have to sell more copies to hit higher than another title priced at $2.99.

  97. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 22:14:08

    @Jane: I totally agree. I think of, say a Kristin Ashley book; so many readers enjoy her books so much, but she could have even more readers if she edited better.

    I think you’re right; you’ve regularly called out books with bad editing, but we also need to point out the role of retailers. It’s ridiculous for Amazon to say they’re just a retailer when so many of their decisions (and secret sauce algorithms) affect the way authors behave.

  98. Nadia Lee
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 22:56:30

    @Sunita: What do you want Amazon to do? It cannot possibly read and review every single KDP books to make sure they’re properly edited.

    It’s like saying that WalMart should use every product it sells in its store to make sure that everything’s high quality. Ditto for BN. Should BN check every print book it carries in its stores to make sure the binding & copyediting are good?

    I think we can blame Amazon for affecting author behavior, but we can also say that reader behavior affects authors too. Ultimately, if readers shun poorly edited and formatted books, authors will realize they need to do something about the production quality of their work. But so long as readers buy and recommend their books, authors have no reason to change, esp. if they’re selling tens of thousands of copies of each title per month.

  99. Venus Vaughn
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 04:23:22

    Interesting perspective. I can’t say I disagree with any of it, but being an odd duck, I’m inclined to have a slightly different point of view.

    When browsing for a new e-book, I go for free. That’s it. Free. Having purchased a few $0.99 titles and been sorely disappointed, I would rather save my pennies for a “real” paper book than purchase a few throwaways that waste my reading time.

    I cherish the continuity and quality a good editor can give a book, and I know that at a $0.99 price point, the author likely couldn’t afford an editor who actually knows the English language and is willing to reign in the author where necessary.

    I have purchased very few full-price ebooks, but they were all from authors I knew and whose product I trusted. If I could find a publishing house that didn’t want to charge me paper book prices for an ebook, AND was committed to quality, I might be willing to similarly commit to the $4.99 (or reasonable) price point.

    I will also confess that I’m stuck on owning what I have paid for. Not the copyright, obviously, but the ability to lend, trade, or give away my fairly purchased product. I do not like that I can’t package up the book that I LOVED and mail it to my best friend, or loan it to my hairdresser, or give it to that girl at work and then demand it back in two weeks because I have to read it again and it’s mine dammit

    So, for now, I remain a very active member of paperbackswap.com and the library. And when I wander into a bookstore I browse and buy and tote and loan and trade at my heart’s content.

  100. Estara
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 06:41:39

    @Jane: Scalzi did a post-mortem of the Humble Bundle and its probable effects on himself (extrapolating for other authors) and it sounded to me as if this would be not so easy to replicate again.

  101. Ros
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 07:18:15

    @Estara: That was my feeling, too. It’s an interesting idea for a one-off, but I don’t think it would work nearly as well if it became commonplace.

  102. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 07:42:38

    I’m no economist, but it seems to me that more product + less demand = low prices. We don’t just have a flood of self-published first timers, we have traditionally published authors giving away backlist titles. Every book that’s ever been written can be available and the shelf space is infinite. Readers can download free, high-quality books every single day.

    How is this different from the used book store example I mentioned above? I’m sure authors in the past have lamented those “lost sales.” The selection of ebooks is larger, but readers still have to purchase if they want new releases from their favorite authors. At the physical book store, a new romance would be $4-14, depending on length and format (trade, mm, category). Whether a reader decided to buy a book from a favorite author or try someone new, she had to pay the same basic price for a book of that size/length. Now she can try a new release from a new author for cheap or free.

    I’m not taking every variable into account, but what I’m saying is that readers have more choices than ever. They can find books that wouldn’t have been available at the library or used book store. It’s a reader’s market. Yes, there are new avenues for authors and many of us are doing well. But I also think that more authors are doing poorly than ever before.

    That said, I wonder if the percentage of authors making a living will go up or down or stay the same. If it stays the same or gets better, we certainly can’t claim that times are harder.

  103. Sunita
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 11:13:27

    @Nadia Lee: Well, yes. If the options are “read and review all” and “read and review none,” then the latter is the obvious choice.

    But it’s not a dichotomous choice set. There are plenty of things Amazon could do to improve the technical quality of ebooks, or to increase readers’ information about the books it sells. It could sample a random set of $0.99 books (or all books) for the kinds of errors we’ve been talking about. A company that came up with the “statistically improbable phrases” feature can probably manage that, with or without humans doing the evaluation. It could report the number of times a book has been returned because readers complained about editing issues. It could be more transparent about the threshold for pulling a book with a lot of errors. And so on.

    As for the Walmart comparison, people have absolutely called out Walmart for deciding not to stock certain books and criticized the reasons given. And I know Jane has written posts about the way bookstores pass off advertising (e.g., endcap placement) as “curation.” So pointing out Amazon’s decisions (as revealed by the information they do and do not provide) is hardly something new. These retailers make choices about what they sell and how they market their products. There’s no reason they can’t be held accountable for those choices.

  104. K. Z. Snow
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 11:16:16

    @Sunita: “If $0.99 became the standard ebook price, for full-length novels, we would live in a world of bad books. Or, perhaps more optimistically, those and also some decent books that had the widest possible appeal to the largest number of readers.”

    I would add to that last statement, “. . . and could be produced quickly, with a minimum of effort.”

    The issue, as I see it, is a matter of return on investment. Period. Carefully crafted works of fiction require a considerable investment of time on the part of their creators. Promotion requires an investment of time. Hardware and software upgrades, which are now hitting the market at a blinding speed, require an investment of money.

    It simply isn’t cost effective, whatever the nature of the cost, for writers to produce quality fiction if the market grossly undervalues it. Most will end up churning out whatever they can as fast as they can while pandering to popular tastes. E-books will eventually become fodder, and a majority of readers will get so used to that diet, they’ll stop wanting anything better (kind of like American consumers slowly but surely accepting shabbily-made goods from China).

    Besides, who’s to say the price slashing would stop at .99? The pop-fiction market is glutted, and a glutted market usually results in suppliers trying to undercut their competitors.

  105. Sunita
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 11:42:26

    @KZ Snow and @Jill: The Kindle self-publishing program mashes together books with a variety of investments. An author’s newly written book is going to be more costly than a previously published book (and therefore require more sales to recoup its investment). And then there are the manuscripts that are dusted off and uploaded, either the in-the-drawer type or previously released fanfic. Those often just get a cover and a file conversion and the author treats them as good to go. A new book is going to have a really hard time recouping its costs at the $0.99 price point, while the previously published or written book’s costs are treated as negligible (sunk costs are sunk, after all). But in the KDP system they all compete on the same playing field, and readers rarely know which category they fall into. We might know about previously trad published books, but that’s only if we recognize the author or acquire the information some other way. All $0.99 books wind up equal in the eyes of the reader even though they may represent very different investments in the eyes of their authors.

  106. pooks
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 11:42:29

    @Nadia Lee:

    I suppose it’s true that if an author or publisher gets a high number of returns they might assume poor editing had something to do with it. Or perhaps if people report it, Amazon lets them know directly.

  107. pooks
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 11:45:20

    @Sunita:

    I just realized that I responded to an individual comment but not to your post as a whole, and I just wanted to say, I agree with you, was nodding my head throughout. I don’t see a happy ending for us, though. Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

  108. pooks
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 11:48:07

    @Sunita:

    Yes, THIS. An author who invests in a professional copyedit, a professionally designed cover, etc. has a monetary investment that can be difficult to recoup. Authors with a long backlist and an established readership can get into the game with a stronger splash and a cumulative result, but there is still investment involved–actual monetary investment, not just time and talent. The idea that an ebook somehow is pure gravy for an author is sadly misinformed.

  109. Tamara
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 13:00:56

    “My point is that rational, normatively acceptable individual behavior can have long-term negative outcomes in the aggregate. In other words, I see this as your basic tragedy-of-the-commons, race-to-the bottom social choice/collective action situation.”

    But how do you put the brakes on that, other than investing in a complete overhaul of an educational system that’s failing to teach children to appreciate quality writing?

    If readers (and publishers) were resistant to poorly written fiction, 50 Shades of Gray wouldn’t be on the bestseller lists. But readers aren’t resistant. This is what they want to read.

    I don’t know how you can combat it. There are too many generations who’ve been raised on television instead of books. Too many readers who are just as content with 50 Shades as with anything of quality. Too many people who scorn any trace of intellectual depth or love of learning.

    For a while, I thought things might right themselves if enough first time self-publishers gave up after finding rushed-together, unedited work doesn’t sell. But there are just too many people jumping on the self-pub bandwagon with innocent hope and far too many new writers slipping through the alleged gatekeeping at many online pubs.

    The sad thing is, so much of this mountain of fiction *might* be good, if the writers had gotten some critical feedback, had edited, had let the story simmer longer before writing it–and so on.

    This new world of publishing and self-publishing is one very big, very public baptism of fire for new writers. It’s a fascinating and wrenching thing to witness. I appreciate (and share) your desire to encourage readers to be genre-aware and protective of good writing, but that seems so fruitless in this ongoing transformation in publishing. At this point, I’m just feeling grateful to reviewers who help us pluck good stories from an ocean of bad.

  110. Jane
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 13:38:13

    @Jill Sorenson

    That said, I wonder if the percentage of authors making a living will go up or down or stay the same. If it stays the same or gets better, we certainly can’t claim that times are harder.

    I don’t know that Sunita’s post is concerned about the overall financial health of authors but rather providing a living wage for authors who are committed to putting out high qualities books. Sure, self publishing may throw open the doors to authors to whom the doors have been shut in the past but not every author’s manuscript is ready for publication. With the lower barrier to entry and the promises of ready money, authors are shoveling out work faster than ever before creating quality issues. I think I heard Bella Andre say that her level of success depends upon putting out a new book or package every 4 months.

    There are some authors who can withstand that pace but others whose works need time.

    I don’t know that ignoring 99c books is the solution to this problem. Sunita is absolutely right that there is a quality issue. I’m not sure what the solution for readers is.

  111. Stephanie Doyle
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 14:00:19

    @Jane: This is my concern exactly. To be successful in the self-publishing model I think you do have to churn out content. I think it’s why serials are starting to pick up. Send out 3-5000 words, price it at 99c, let people come back for more… all of that works great.

    Except quality is compromised. And while I agree a .99 book can be as bad as a 7.99 book – at least I know with something that’s been traditionally published that it has been vetted to a certain extent.

    As a writer I’m completely on the fence about the pros and cons of self-publishing. As a reader unless it’s a self-published book by an author I trust, or definitely recommended by a reader I trust I want nothing to do with it.

    If we give up the idea that books need copyedited, and it doesn’t matter if there is their or they’re… then I think ultimately we as readers will suffer.

  112. Ridley
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 14:22:29

    People made Fifty Shades a blockbuster despite the author being unknown, the writing being shitty and the ebook costing $15.

    That is why I’m wary of discussions like this.

  113. CG
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 16:05:27

    I may be wrong, but I’m just not buying the assertion that $0.99 (or even $2.99) is the new normal. I did a quick (unscientific) perusal of the bestseller lists at Amazon for both today and the year in several different genres and from what I saw, $0 .99 seems to be the exception rather than the rule. So while there may be more $0.99 to $2.99 books available than ever before, it doesn’t necessarily follow there are more sales. Is there any actual data to support $.99 as the new normal in terms of sales?

    For me, there could be a bazillion $.99 books available and that fact wouldn’t change how I choose to spend my money. I have my shortlist of must-have, auto-buy authors; whatever these folks charge, I will pay, up to and including selling a kidney. Farther down the list come the authors I enjoy, but refuse to pay anything over the price of a mass market paperback (subtract $1 to $2 for e-book format, which is a whole other discussion). Then come the authors I’m on the fence about, either because they are new to me or the *magic* is starting to fade; these folks I won’t pay more than about $2.50, maybe $3, or I’ll get them from the library, or the UBS.

    When I tried new to me author Kristen Ashley it cost around $1.99, if I remember correctly. That money was not spent in lieu of another author higher on my list; those authors are still getting money from my book budget. She didn’t work for me, btw, and I would have been pissed if I had spent “full price”. As it stands, I don’t feel I lost anything other than time. I did discover both Susan Ee and Lorelei James thru either freebies or loss-leaders and now James is an auto-buy and Ee would fall in the mass market paperback price-range if she ever publishes book 2. I never would have given any of these authors a shot without that initial low price-point. So the $.99 loss-leader is a great tool for discoverability and can actually increase an author’s income.

    I think whenever there is a big change/ upheaval within any given ecosystem, there will always be what I like to call the Chicken Little effect. Wasn’t there a hue and cry when paperbacks were invented? Books for the masses?! Gasp! The great unwashed will be the end of lit-rah-chur as we know it.

  114. A related question | Shuffling through a book-less desert
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 21:07:05

    […] has a great post up over at Dear Author about the hidden costs of the $0.99 ebook.  I haven’t commented, primarily because I’m not a consumer of $0.99 or free ebooks for […]

  115. Nadia Lee
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 00:14:22

    @Ridley: I believe the author used to write fanfic & created her platform that way.

  116. Nadia Lee
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 00:21:29

    @Sunita: You can do automation for formatting, etc. but even then some books with bad formatting will pass b/c the computer doesn’t know if there should be a paragraph break or not. It doesn’t know if it makes sense for a space to be there between ” an ‘ and so on.

    What if somebody was writing about uneducated characters or maybe characters who do not speak English natively? How can a computer decide which is correct?

    Editing programs, for example, usually just flag something that they believe could be wrong, but they don’t know for sure until you the author (or some other real person who can tell) take a look.

    Also WalMart’s case is different. It chose not to carry certain books, etc. Amazon’s the opposite way. It carries everything people upload to Kindle. Some are now saying that Amazon shouldn’t carry everything people upload to Kindle. But are they going to be happy if Amazon decides not to carry something by their favorite author?

  117. Robert Nagle
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 08:05:31

    The main problem with the 99 cent price point is:

    a)it is set by Amazon. Because they are market leader, they can decide a minimum price and write a condition into distribution contracts guaranteeing that their price is always the lowest.

    b)royalties are only 30% for authors 70% goes to Amazon. Basically you are enriching Amazon more than the author.

  118. Jim
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 12:15:30

    The 99 cents paid for an ebook in most instances is a lease of reading rights, rather than a direct purchase. I think ebook readers understand the difference between purchasing a physical book and purchasing convienient access to reading material. I’m not sure that authors have figured out a way to negotiate a living in this new emerging market of leased rather than purchased writing.

  119. Jim
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 12:20:01

    @Ridley:

    amen. Word of mouth rules.

  120. Sunny
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 21:05:48

    I see this mirrored in another newly-open wide-audience platform, the Apple and Android appstores. 99 cents is also a major selling point there — it’s a price where anchoring is HUGE, and $7.99 for an app is considered almost outrageous. As a game developer it is amazing to have an arena with such low barriers for entry… but only if people can actually find what it is you’ve made. Ebooks and apps/games both fight for visibility, although I’d argue it’s better on Amazon and the marketplace feels less flooded with 99-cent shovelware. It’s very, very interesting to read it from a book perspective, especially where people are intensely loyal to the authors and it’s about creating a following, than from a game perspective where people are intensely loyal to the brand/characters and don’t even know who the authors are.

    I’d be scared to see the Amazon marketplace in the state that the appstores are right now, but honestly, one of the biggest reasons I read Dear Author is for visibility on books I am going to enjoy (or not enjoy!) because I don’t get the same information from reading Amazon reviews, and absolutely trust the folks here — both the article writers and the commenters — much more than the reviews there. I’m not sure what that says about visibility, when it comes down to it, if I need to go offsite to get information that is useful for me.

  121. Chrissy
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 00:57:33

    Not all titles at the low price point are novels– in fact, a huge number of them (including mine) are not. My novellas/shorts compete on the same lists as novels, but are quite fairly priced.

    There is no way to make a comparison in print, since shorts are nearly non-existent in paper. Collections/anthologies are an entirely different animal.

    Just one thing to think about.

  122. Ronni
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 06:16:46

    @Jill Sorenson:
    I’m not a writer, though always wished I could be, (not enough imagination) but being an avid reader and also tight budget I love being able to get books for .99 or free. I used to buy books at yard sales, thrift stores etc. but now that I can’t hold books to read and have an ereader it could get pricey. It has opened up new authors to me that I would never have read for the price unless through word of mouth. I do understand that authors have to make a living but the price of books have gone up so much along with everything else, except my pay, that it makes it difficult. If I could still read “paper” books I would go to the library to save money but that’s no longer an option for me. So I say YAY! for cheaper books :)

  123. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 08:08:15

    @Jane: I don’t know that Bella said her success depends on producing books every 4 months, just that she’s noticed the time frame as being optimal. I was just discussing this on twitter. Another author, Hannah Martine, said a reader asked if her 6mo gap would hurt sales. Reader expectations are changing and authors feel the pressure.

    About the percentage of authors making a living. You and Sunita are saying that this number might go up as quality goes down. With the exception of f/f books, I’m able to find plenty of good stuff to read, so I’m not worried as a reader. As an author, I try to stay focused on things I can control. I don’t sell as well as Kristen Ashley, but I probably sell better than many literary authors, niche authors etc. Should the guy who spent 10 years polishing his masterpiece sell more books because he worked harder? It just doesn’t work that way.

    @Ronni: I totally understand. I don’t buy used anymore, but I remember the feeling of getting lots of books for cheap. It’s pretty joyous. ;)

  124. Sherry Thomas
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 20:40:01

    @Courtney Milan: I would love to know what do you use as the per hour cost of your time.

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