So What’s Up (and Down) with Ebooks?
So now that Hachette and Amazon have settled their epic feud, and we’re seeing the results of publisher negotiations with the retailer, we seem to be witnessing the revenge of traditional publishers when it comes to digital book pricing.
Last week I enthusiastically searched at Amazon for two books I could not wait to buy – so much that I was willing to pre-order them almost six months in advance of their release. The two books were Lisa Kleypas’s long-awaited Travis Family finale, Brown-Eyed Girl, and Daniel O’Malley’s Stiletto, the sequel to his highly entertaining and unique debut, The Rook. Kleypas’s book is published by Macmillan, O’Malley’s by Hachette. And both were $12.99 in Kindle format. Cue the sound of screeching brakes and a substantial thud as my enthusiasm crashed right against that pre-order button and skidded right off of it.
$12.99. For a pre-order. For a digital book.
The Kleypas I can almost understand, given the anticipation for the completion of her contemporary series. But the O’Malley? That one was more of a head-scratcher for me.
Sure, publishers say, digital books have costs built in, just like print books. And I agree. But, publishers say, we should value the intellectual property completely aside from the format. And I agree. Still, publishers say, creative content providers should be valued for their work. And I agree.
But I still think $12.99 for a digital work of commercial fiction is ridiculous. And baffling, especially in a market where for some traditional publishers sales are consistently down. And where you can get high quality, well-written, professionally produced books from small, digital only, and indie publishers and authors for $3, $4, or $5.
In fact, it’s even more curious when you look at the number of indie authors who are talking about their own plummeting sales. Check out this post from Carey Heywood, whose sales built and built until her fourth book, where she broke out and made it into the top 100 on Amazon. Her book went to #11 on Amazon and even made the NYT and USA Today lists, and she kept going:
By the time I published my fifth book, a follow up with decent buzz to my bestselling fourth book I had around 6,000 Facebook likes and 3,000 twitter followers. I had a professional cover, I had beta readers, and I had a blog tour (this time with one that was highly recommended). There is a statistical drop off expected for the second book in a series.
I hit publish on my fifth book.
I sold 1/10 the amount I did of my fourth.
By the time she publishers her sixth book, she had a PR firm and still the book, in Heywood’s terms, “bombed,” selling less than her debut. Books seven, eight, and nine also “bombed.”
For every author who seems to be doing really well in this new marketplace there’s another who is lamenting diminished sales. We hear that Kindle Unlimited is serving some authors really well, others not so much. And still more authors are entering the marketplace.
So what’s going on here? Is there any rhyme or reason, or is it just every author or publisher for themselves and whatever a reader is willing to pay is what they will pay?
I know there are many different issues going on here, and I don’t want to in any way suggest that they’re all related in any causal way.
Still, all of these scenarios have one thing in common, and that is reader behavior in purchasing and reading books.
So that makes me wonder how other readers are engaging with books – and with other, competing forms of entertaining – these days. Are you buying more print books; are you using the library more; are you turning to Netflix or Scribd or Kindle Unlimited instead of buying every book you read individually. How much are you willing to spend on a book, and are you buying more or less right now, and from where.
I’m not paying $12.99 to pre-order a digital book. Not only do I refuse to pay that, but that price makes me feel so disrespected and exploited that I’ll either borrow it from the library or buy a used print copy. Because instead of trying to cultivate the loyalty evident in my willingness to buy a book six months in advance, I feel that $12.99 price is akin the publisher waving its middle finger at me. And so my pre-order finger is going to wave bye-bye.
If a publisher wants me to pay a price nearly commensurate with a hardcover copy from Target or other big box chain, I expect the same rights to come with the digital copy, including, the right to lend or borrow, the right to re-sell, and the right to own my copy outright without limitations like DRM. I was willing to swallow $9.99, but 30% more for the same diminished rights? No. Way.
I am the kind of reader who will routinely purchase anywhere from three to five books at a time. I have no problem spending my hard-earned money on books. Lower-priced books have resulted in more book purchases from me, especially spontaneous purchased. Anything below $4 or even $5 requires very little internal debate.
And yes, I have a Hulu account and am considering a Netflix account. I belong to Amazon Prime, but I haven’t sacrificed my book budget for video streaming or movies. And actually I’m buying way more audiobooks now that I have an Audible subscription and a substantial commute to work, so if anything I’m spending more on books overall.
I love my Kindle and even have a membership to Kindle Unlimited, but I still buy the vast, vast majority of my books. And I buy a lot of books. I don’t even seek out ARCs anymore; if I want to read a book, I buy it. What’s most frustrating to me is that there are SO MANY backlist titles I wish I could buy in digital that I have to buy used in print, while there are digital books that I find so ridiculously overpriced that I will buy them used in print, even though I’d way rather have them in digital. Even though I’m willing to buy them months in advance in a format where I abdicate numerous intellectual property rights that inhere to the reader through the First Sale Doctrine.
What I want to know is who the hell is paying $12.99 for a digital work of commercial fiction? Are these power readers or readers who buy one or two books a year? And what’s up with these authors who are going from substantial sales and list-making to substantial loss? How are reader patterns changing to result in these fluctuations?
So how are you acquiring books, and have your reading and book buying habits changed? Are other forms of entertainment taking some of that time and money? Has the availability of digital library books made any difference in how you’re getting books and reading?