Bransford’s final question in his essay was this:
Are we headed to free for e-book prices or will we find a way to charge as much as people are willing to pay?
Is he kidding? Of course the answer MUST BE the latter! This writing business may be creative/touchy-feely/artsy fartsy and all that, but at the end of the day, the bottom line always ends up being the bottom line. Can we make enough to live on so we can keep on being writers? Joe and Barry can afford to give books away. Evanovich and Patterson and Clancy and Dan Brown and all those other heavy-hitters could afford it. 98.9% of the rest of us would be seriously unwise to do so.
All of these people who are trying to make a name for themselves now by giving away free copies and 99-cent copies aren’t doing themselves or anyone else any favors. They may be capitalizing on the “Tragedy of the Commons,” but only those few who got their foot in the door early on will benefit. The market is flooded more every day. It’s also unfortunate to have to say that, as far as I can tell from a random experiment, far too many of them are giving away crap. (Pardon my "French.") I “bought” a couple dozen free and 99-cent books from unknown authors, and the vast majority were really odorific smelly stinkers!
This $2.99 to $9.99 price scale that Amazon has jammed down everyone’s throats is all well and good at the moment, but that means that $9.99 is being set up as the future top-end cost of a “book” (print or digital). Why are we letting readers get accustomed to that level when actually a hardback (at $25) or trade versions (at $13-16) have been underwriting the e-book process all along?
It’s clear and verified now that as every day goes by, print books are selling fewer copies and yielding smaller revenues while e-books are increasing in sales volume. But, because the price point has been set up arbitrarily, most publishers will have declining revenues – even if they sell more e-books than print books. The cost of producing and distributing a printed hardcover can’t settle at $9.99. It can’t be done that cheaply with the overhead a big press has.
This point cannot be overlooked: E-books from many publishers have been cheap so far because the physical book had already been created and it wasn’t too hard to convert it from the printed book’s digital file.
Some say NY will save money in e-book creation compared to print books because they don’t pay warehousing or for the returns process. I have to argue that all the funds saved from the cost of printing/warehousing will have to be allocated to pay someone to format, upload, and test the e-book product. Instead of paying the printer, publishers are now having to hire whole staffs to set up and administer the e-books.
So where is the big savings that warrants NY charging $9.99? There’s not enough room in the equation to pay for the expenses from initial acquisition through editing/cover/rollout to promotions all the way up to e-book promulgation to the various sales outlets. This is why most presses are trying very hard to pay 8% and 10% or maybe 15% NET INCOME to the author for e-book royalties. How else can they survive if the writer doesn’t take the hit? I’ll spare you the math on Net Income for even 15%. It’s not pretty. (Along with Dean Wesley Smith, Joe and Barry do a great job discussing this: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/04/ebooks-and-self-publishing-part-2_03.html).
The time is coming where big presses simply will not be able to afford to support the structure as it’s currently set up. Not to mix metaphors, but a lot of what I see happening lately in publishing is the fretful rearranging of deck chairs and book and magazine supplies on the Titanic. The center will not hold, and the iceberg of expectations and ignorance is about to crash into NY – which also includes everyone who is published by the big houses. The financial foundering, bankruptcies, and closings of Big Box stores is just the beginning. Indie stores are feeling it too—even if they do have dedicated readers to whom they cater. The NY publishing houses are next.
What will take the place of NY, which busily anointed numbers of authors and distributed their print books? How will the readers find books without the (seriously inaccurate) NY Times Best-Seller List?
And the big question: how fast is it coming on? In 1983, compact disks and players became available and sales grew steadily as people adopted the new technology. In 1985, David Bowie put his records on CD, kicking off a rush by other music houses to get their “Big Artist” backlists up.
I bought my last record album in April 1987. In 1983, I said I’d *never* give up my LP albums to buy CDs. I now have over 2,000 CDs, some of which duplicate my old LP collection (which is mostly long gone). Once again, new technology is on the rise and now I’ve also got several hundred digital music downloads. I say today I’ll never want to get rid of my CDs….but I suspect the day will come when they’ll all be digitized, and I’ll have moved on to the next technology.
Just like the people who are now adopting e-books and eReaders.
But to answer Nathan’s question: Many early adopters of this new technology (including me) are making enough to live on with the 70% of each $9.99/book sold, but I’m not able to sell any cheaper anytime soon. If the price goes up, I’ll be perfectly happy to go with it.
Lori L. Lake is the author of six novels, two short story collections and is the editor of two anthologies. Her most recent book, Like Lovers Do, was released on May 10. For more information, see www.lorillake.com.