Sunday, 24 March 2013

Why do e-books cost so much?

I have no idea. But the topic is due for an airing because there is so much debate about ebook pricing (and physical books as well).

Dean Wesley Smith's giving the subject a nudge, and it's really got me thinking about price points. Too low and readers will assume it's cheap and nasty, too high and I'll price myself out of the game.

As a reader, I had no idea what was even involved in making books happen. I thought an editor grabbed a writer and said 'here's bucketloads of money, write a story with flying turnips, I'm off to Monte Carlo.'

As a writer, I have learned the hard way how intricate and DARN SLOW the process is.

Writing the first draft - at least six, more usually nine months for me.

Then beta readers and critique partners. They are human beings. They read at the speed of words and it takes time. At least a month, sometimes more. This is 'free' in as far as they are writers I know and trust, and I'm reading their work at the same time they're reading mine, and we make lots of suggestions back and forth.

Then it's another couple of months of me pulling the story together again, making it the best it can be.

Because it's going out in public.

But as much as leaning on my writer friends for help along the way can be fabulous, if I want this book to be the best it can be, I have to hire somebody who knows what they're doing to edit it.

A good freelance editor is around $50 per hour. Editing a 60,000 word novel takes about 14 hours.

If my editor had rushed it, she would have done a lousy job. Also, $50 an hour is a reasonable rate for freelancers in Australia. It's about paying people for their skills and labour and allowing them to support their families.

Also, my first two Ondine novels went the traditional way, through a publisher. The story and structural editing took several months, then the copy editing and proof reading took another few months. By highly skilled, incredibly fabulous editors who wanted the book to be the best it could be.

The reason I'm now hiring editors for my new Ondine novels is because I want this third book to stand up alongside those first two and be just as good (if not better). It's the least the fans deserve.

But it also means I embark on self publishing with some debts to pay. If I price the books too low, I'll need to sell thousands and thousands of copies to break even. Even when all four novels are on sale (by March next year, yikes!) if they're on sale for .99c I'll get about .25c per copy so I'll need to sell at least 4,000 copies before I even start to make a profit.

I don't want to sell them for .99c. I might do this for a week or something as a special deal, but at such a low price they're likely to be treated like crap.

Case in point, several friends of mine are traditionally published, and are also releasing other titles independently.  They begin selling it at $4.99 or $5.99 and earn fabulous reviews. Not a lot of them, but the reviews are 5 and 4-star great.

But then something horrible happens. The authors put the price down to .99c to gain more traction. They sure gained traction, but also gained a whole troll-load of 1-star reviews complaining about how awful the books are. By dropping the price they appealed to a new audience - and it's not good. People who hadn't read more than the first few chapters still felt entitled to complain via the reviews, misspellings and all. Oh the irony! It burns!

So you see, I need to price my books at the $3.99 or $4.99 mark to pay debts. So do hundreds of other indie authors, who have hired editors and other clever people along the way.

But I'm also pricing the books to keep clear of people who want things for next to nothing and will never be happy.

Because I'm not doing this to make cheap strangers happy. I'm doing this for the fans, and I'm doing it to make myself happy.

And I'll be buggered if I'm going to do it for next to nothing.


Carol McGrath said...

I think this brilliant. I am with a traditional publisher wanting to e publish first. This novel was highly praised by experts as a result of my phd viva fr om Royal Holloway London. I have comment from a very famous author. I am concerned about exactly your thoughts when the publisher drops the price . I am pushing for print as well as e publishing now.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Hi Carol,
Ooooh, interesting.
I guess when a publisher drops the price, they're trying to be competitive - because of the massive glut of books on sale today.

In your case, your publisher (congratulations, by the way) needs to recoup plenty of expenses as well, so they'd be mad to drop it to something unsustainable. It's a balance of not too high. Not too low...

On the other hand, when a publisher sets the price for an ebook at $12.99 in Australia, and the same one is available in the USA for $7.99, (and I can buy the paperback from Bookdepository for about $8)... I'm left scratching my head.

Connie Jensen said...

This is of abiding interest to me too Ebony, as a small indie publisher. (Trifolium Books UK) I try to hit the right price with my e-books, so that I can pay my authors and not lose money, but it isn't easy. However, I think that the big mainstream publishers are often trying it on with e-book prices less than their paperbacks on Amazon or the Book Depository! But then, I think their model is crazy- over-printing on hardbacks, then remaindering or pulping them, then doing the same with paperbacks. In a world where waste of resources is one of our greatest sins, POD and ebooks should be the norm! Good luck and best wishes to you, and thanks for an interesting post, Connie

Connie Jensen said...

Durr- I meant "e-book prices MORE than their paperbacks"

Ebony McKenna. said...

Absolutely Connie. The number of hardbacks and paperbacks being pulped is terrible. The problem is, I guess publishers are always hopeful they'll sell all those books.

And yes, I've seen ebook prices the same or higher than hardback and paperback. This must be publishers keeping the ebook price high in the hope of driving people to the hardback release.

It drives me to the library instead.