The Care And Feeding Of Your Favorite Authors

Mmm. The $0.99 e-book kerfuffle continues, and continues. And also: continues.

Some required reading, before I yammer.

Zoe Winters asks, “Does low-balling attract the wrong kind of reader?

Cat Valente points out that if you’re willing to plunk down $5.99 for a latte, you should be willing to shell out more than a piddly buck on an e-published novel.

And finally, sticking the landing, Scalzi makes the electronic publishing BINGO card.

Go on. Go, read those.

I’ll wait.

Back already? Excellent. Here, have a cookie and a coconut water.

So. Do I think that, at its core, a buck is too cheap for novel-length fiction? I do.

Do I think that self-publishers saw the larger prices put forth by big publishers and decided to counterbalance too dramatically with a race-to-the-bottom price? I do.

Do I think that $0.99 represents something of a slippery slope for book values? Do I think readers are accustomed to, even in the cheapest used book format, paying more than a buck for fiction? Do I think that publishing is a totally different ball-game than the music industry and that ultimately you can’t compare the two meaningfully in part because musicians have other ways of earning out while writers have only one, which is the value of their words, and nobody long-term can sustain bottoming-out story values? Do I think that alpacas are part of a giant fuzzy-headed pyramid scheme?

I do.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Really, this is inside baseball. I’m sure readers at some level are aware of this and have an opinion, but the larger readership does not yet understand it. My mother doesn’t know about it, and my mother is a voracious reader. None of the authors she reads price their books like that. Frankly, they may never. Will we start to see Jodi Picoult and Stephen King throwing around $0.99 e-books? I’m not sold on that.

What this is about is that it’s hard out there for a pimp writer.

I don’t have stats, but from what I can tell, it’s getting harder to make a living as a writer. The money is down. The work isn’t there. Part of it is the recession, but it goes deeper: the Internet democritized content and creation but it also softened the value of that content. Maybe it’s a supply and demand thing. The marketplace is flooded with storytellers. At this point we’re like wandering troubadours. We swarm your town. You throw us your bread-scraps and we move on. Maybe it’s an illusion. Maybe we’re all floating around on yachts and I just didn’t realize it.

It may be true that you consider a dollar a reasonable price point for fiction. It may be true that you don’t feel any responsibility to the marketplace now or in the future.

But hopefully, it’s not true that you don’t care about authors. Authors are awesome. Batshit crazy, maybe. Functional alcoholics, most certainly. But they’re fulfilling a critical task that mankind has needed filled since forever: they’re telling stories. And that’s some pretty nifty shit.

Here’s what I’m exhorting. I’m asking that you take care of your authors. Think of them, perhaps, as little whisky-guzzling Tamagotchi. They require care and feeding lest they wither and die in a cubicle farm.

If you find an author you like, support them.

What does this mean?

It means, if they have other books? Buy ‘em. Now. Right away. It means, get on social media and say, “Hey, this book, this author? Some hot shit right here.” Ultimately, it means you’re spreading the word and trying to keep it so that they can buy things like food and mortgages and Bourbon. See an author at a con? Buy him a drink. Does the author have a Cafepress store? Buy something from it. Or donate on his donate button. Become a fan. Expect good storytelling in return. This is doubly true if you’re buying books at a bottom-dollar price. You do that and you like what you got out of the deal, then it’s up to you to make sure they don’t starve in a gutter somewhere while wasting away from a Bourbonless life tuberculosis.

Writers are part of your creative ecosystem. Don’t damage that ecosystem. Give back to it. I know that writers need you. I hope that it turns out that you need writers, too.

This has been a public service announcement from the Bourbon Distilleries of America.

57 comments

  • I don’t think that $0.99 is too low for an ebook, but I don’t think that the novels are necessarily “worth” that price either. I see $0.99 as a marketing tool for people who have more than one book out there (typically 3+) or a series. Unless you’re incredibly special, $0.99 books aren’t going to pay the bills, but $2.99-4.99 just might. Sure, you’ll have fewer sales and reach fewer people, but the profits make up for that.

    $0.99 is a great introductory price. It’s easy to buy and hardly hurts at all to click “purchase,” so I look at it as the gateway drug of ebooks. If there’s a series I want to try, I’ll toss a buck at the first installment. I might not if it’s $2.99 or higher. By pricing the first book in a series or a lead-in book (or books) to the rest of your library at $0.99, you’re not only grabbing the “hoarders” that Winters talks about, you’re also opening the door for legitimate fans who will pay you for the rest of your work and smile while doing it.

    I have a big problem with Winters saying that she doesn’t want those kind of readers. As a writer, I want everyone reading me i can get. Sure, not everyone will become a fan, nor will everyone who buys a $2.99 or higher ebook. By having SOME of your books at that price, you can reach a much broader audience than you could by just being at $2.99 or higher. I think that’s worth it, honestly. Take a “loss” on a couple pieces of fiction in order to make big gains by building a fan base. Just makes good sense to me.

    I buy a lot of $0.99 books when I see something that sounds interesting (the last one was Tim Pratt’s The Nex), but I do that for $2.99+ ebooks, too (I did that with Irregular Creatures, actually). But in both of these cases, I was familiar with the author’s style and could be pretty sure I’d like the books (from Pratt’s “Impossible Dreams” short story and your blog, respectively).

    • On the “wrong” kind of readers argument –

      Winters’ argument is on the anecdotal square of the Bingo card, but I think there’s something to her points.

      Consider, oddly, food.

      Food is too cheap.

      I know that’s not a popular sentiment, but I believe it. Food is too cheap. A lot of it, anyway. What she calls Walmartization is there in the food industry. Corn is subsidized, so most of the heartland grows cheap, cheap corn instead of, say, vegetables with nutritional value. But because we want everything Fast and Now, we’ve created a powerful niche where processed food, fast food and otherwise crap food (corn in everything!) is cheap. Unfortunately, that’s all the poor and lower-middle-class can afford — and yet, that would seem to go against my assertion that “food is too cheap.” Because if we up food prices, they won’t be able to afford it. Right? Ah, but here’s where the “wrong kind of buyer” comes into play — it’s *our* desire as middle-class-assholes to see cheap food that has driven prices so low that the quality cannot sustain. So, what they can afford is food, yes, but food of dubious value, food that causes high cholesterol and obesity and diabetes. (Which then cascades through the system and causes a health care crisis and an insurance crisis and hospitals are taxes and employers can’t afford to pay worker health care and blah blah blah.)

      Cheap food means low quality food.

      Cheap food means that those who want to make higher-quality food don’t have that kind of choice anymore. It’s a niche. And even the producers of cheap food find themselves struggling. Bad buyers — us jerks who say, “I’m not paying $2 for a head of broccoli when I can get two whole *hamburgers* for that price* — have set a trend. A dangerous trend, at that.

      (I have little idea if I’m making sense here. I’ve not yet had my coffee. Pretend I’m making insightful points!)

      Back to books.

      Let’s consider readers who either think that all an author’s books should be a buck or that an author’s *first* book should be a buck.

      Authors going the traditional route already have a hard time making it and earning a living wage. But now we’re telling them that the book has to be a buck. A book that will take you weeks or months to read it has to be a *dollar.* A dollar is, by the way, a value we don’t assign to much in the world outside digital content: even in a dollar store taxes bump cheap, shitty plastic items up to $1.06 or so.

      So now we’re saying to authors — “Hey, you know how it was hard for you to make a living before? Buckle down, penmonkey, because it’s going to get a lot worse because I want — nay, demand — cheap fiction or I ain’t buying.”

      That’s the wrong kind of reader. A reader who says, I need it cheap or I’m not buying it. A reader who says, “I care about me getting cheap fiction, but I don’t care about your ability to live on the cheap fiction I buy.” A reader who says, “Quality doesn’t matter as much as quantity.” A reader who says, “I know 30 years ago you couldn’t buy a book for a buck, but fuck it, I don’t care, I NEED IT CHEAP OR I’LL KICK A HOLE IN THE INTERNET.” (I have a copy of an old paperback version of The Exorcist from 1971 — *40* years ago, and it was $3.95 back then.)

      $2.99 — which is low, but not bargain basement low — nets an author about two bucks. Cool.

      $0.99 — which is the bottom of the barrel — nets an author about $0.30. Not so cool.

      I have sold, in two months of release, about 500 copies of IRREGULAR CREATURES. Now, some of those sales are from the $0.99 sales (two of them). The majority are from the three-buck price point.

      If I charged a buck the whole time, I’d so far have made $150. Which doesn’t even cover my cover artist.

      So, here’s what happens at a buck price (consistent, not sale-price): I don’t self-publish again. That price is a price that potentially convinces me, “This isn’t worth it, it’s not sustainable.” I come from freelance writing where I get paid five to twenty-five cents *per word.* So, the money I make on a buck e-book ($0.30) is equivalent at my lowest pay-rate to *six words.*

      The problem with bargain basement prices is that it’s tough to sustain unless you’re really prolific or suddenly and swiftly popular.

      And yet, it’s happening, and authors are in some cases forced to deal with it. My hope is that the trend swings the other way. My hope is that the audience wakes up and says, “If I pay a buck for fiction, I’ll give back to the author in other ways.” Or the audience says, “You know what? I value quality and so I’ll go out of my way to buy books that aren’t sitting at flea market prices.”

      It’s like we psychologically shit the bed in terms of expectant pricing. I saw GAME OF THRONES the other day on Kindle for five bucks and, to me, *that* is a killer intro price. Done. Sold. Bought. We went from paying $8-28 for fiction to, what, banging the gong and demanding $1-3? The floor fell fast there, didn’t it? I believe that e-books should be cheaper than physical books, but I also think writers need to eat.

      Anyway, this was a long, rambly comment and largely off the point.

      The point is, if you see an e-book for a buck and you buy it, give something back to the author if you liked it. Give back promotion, write a review, give back some love, but even better, give back a little dough. Buy their other work. Donate. Do something to help them continue to be what they are, which is an author.

      – c.

  • If I saw a full-length novel for $0.99, whether paper or e-book, I would assume it was rubbish. That the author was crap and couldn’t sell their work for anything more because it was crap. That I would probably have more fun reading my children’s school newsletters than anything written by someone who had to flog it for such a low price. That if it was any good, they would be charging a lot more. So I wouldn’t buy it.

    Just my opinion.

  • Maybe I am just pulling this number out of my butt, but $2.99 seems like a happy medium to me. It’s about what I’d expect to pay for a used book of decent quality.
    I agree with Natalie that pricing a book at $.99 suggests the book is probably not all that great. Maybe if I spun out something in three months that was total pulp and only 30k words I might charge that much. Otherwise, $.99 seems lore like a short story price.
    Do people even sell short stories individually wrapped?

    Another side note: They had to cap iTunes app prices because people figured out that they could sell an app for $300 and make more money in a month than they could pricing it for $3. Apparently there are people out there who are willing to shell out $300 for an app. Apparently there are enough of them that you can make a lot of money selling a few items for a ridiculous price. I’m not sure if the same has been attempted for e-pub books yet.

    Any takers?

  • I’m still aspiring (read: not yet drunk, only partly crazy) so I’m watching this ebook business closely.

    I think a buck is too little too, for all the reasons above, but also because things I buy for a dollar are usually 1. Food, 2. Junk

    I like the price point between 2.99 and 7.99 depending on the book.

    @MKS I don’t know if I;d pay $300 for a book…unless it came with something really cool, like dinner with the author…or the author promising not to follow you home (depends who you’re talking about…I don’t know if I’d want Warren Ellis lurking on my doorstep).

  • Just for the record, there is a growing base of single-shot short stories on Amazon at $0.99, often then also bundled into collections around $2.99. I understand the benefits of the $0.99 price point as a throwaway risk purchase, but it seems to me that should net you less than a novella. Even as a deliberate promotional shill operation, I still wouldn’t sell something longer than 35k at that price.

    But I very firmly agree with Chuck — by far the best thing you can do is spread the word if you find someone who’s writing you like.

    • @Tim –

      Yeah. If one must absolutely draw a parallel between music costs and novel costs, I’m on Valente’s side here that the more apt comparison feels like song = short story, novel = album.

      – c.

      • I wrote this comment as a response to another poster at Valente’s site, felt like reiterating it here:

        “This strikes me as fundamentally an empirical question rather than a moral question. If 10,000 people would be willing to buy your next ebook for $5.99, but 50,000 would be willing to buy it for $1.99… you may wish the other 40,000 valued your work more highly, but if you ended up with more in your pocket at the end of the day, you’d rather take their money, right?”

        A small point here –

        In terms of e-book pricing and royalties, you’d actually still make more money at 10,000/$5.99. That isn’t true if the author nets the entire value, of course, but felt like that’s worth noting. Amazon only gives the 70% royalty on $2.99 and up.

        The meaningful divide here is $0.99 versus $2.99.

        Let’s say I want to make a thousand dollars from my e-book. I’d then need to sell ~3,330 to make that.

        To make a thousand dollars at $2.99, however, I’d need to sell ~483.

        Pretty significant difference. The ninety-nine cent price point only works if we’re assuming that the dollar confirms I’m going to sell a metric shitload of copies.

        Anyway. Just my two cents. Which means you’d need to buy 50,000 of this comment for me to earn a grand. ;)

        – c.

  • Hi! I’m a reader not a writer. I do know that writing a novel / story is hard. It’s not something that you pull down from the sky. It’s a part of the writer, the imagination, the creativeness, the words, the hard work, the money used to get some bourbon ;)

    I think 0.99 cents is too low!! I’m actually a little afraid that there will come a time when we can’t find a good nice paper back novel :(

    I love a book that I can hold, and smell the new pages. You can’t do that with e books :( I’m afraid of what sort of bugs reside on my laptop screen that I might inhale trying to sniff my new e book!

    At the same time, I also understand that not all writers out there want to or can get published with actual books and publish their stuff on line…but whatever the manner of publication I still think it’s sad if authors are willing to put their stories “down” be selling it for less than a dollar!

    Just my 1 cent thoughts :)

  • Was it you that said people are used to paying for the format, not the content? I think it was you.

    Either way, I agree that a buck is way too cheap for an ebook, but it seems like a lot of people are overcharing, too. I know I’m part of the problem since I hate paying as much for an ebook as for a paperback, but I’m sure that’ll change as I get more used to the idea and stop feeling cheated for not being able to hold my new possession.

    How much do you think an enovel is worth?

    • @Danielle:

      I definitely think people overcharge. And I think undercharging is a helluva lot nicer than overcharging, and also to be clear, I’ve no negative feelings toward authors who charge a buck for their work. Or who give it away for free. They’re doing what they feel is the best course of action in terms of getting their book exposed and making some potential scratch. The point to this post is more about, when you encounter those authors, reward them. They charge you a buck for fiction, that’s them being awesome to you as an audience and so we should pay them back however we can. Drinks, donations, recommendations, reviews, further purchases, whatever. Hell, you see a $0.99 ebook and love it? Buy three more and gift ‘em to some friends.

      Anyway, off on a tangent, there.

      What is an e-novel worth? I’m not smart enough to say. Right now, I only have the costs of the printed book as comparison, so I’d say that the e-book should or could be between 50-75% of the printed copy. That might seem like too much, but I’m talking on average, here. If an author’s newest is $20 on Amazon, I’d comfortably pay $10-15 to get it on my iPad that day.

      For self-published authors, I’d only argue that they should try to float around the $2.99 – $5.99 price point for a novel.

      Here, for me, are the perceived values of that price point:

      a) It’s low enough to encourage new readers.
      b) It’s not so low that you can’t drop the price a little to encourage a spike via a sale.
      c) It’s not so low that the author can’t earn out.
      d) It doesn’t train readers to expect the same price for their fiction as they’d pay for a bag of shitty gummi worms or something.

      – c.

  • I’m an e-reader holdout, so some of this discussion is over my head. Although, as one of legions of “aspiring writers” I should probably be paying more attention to the longer-term ramifications. Right now, either way, I write for free. I may never be paid to write. I respect the authors who have managed to be successful and also *good*, and I share my favorites with as many people as possible. (Word of mouth is more important than a blurb from any critic I think.) Oprah’s Bookclub may move inventory initially, but a loyal fanbase gives a writer longevity.

    What I’m willing to pay for a book depends first on how familiar I am with the author and then the quality. I won’t pay more than $7 for anything by certain authors, but others I’ll pay full retail for their latest hardcover in a hearbeat. Some others I’d pay a premium for their grocery list like the crazy fangirl I am. I do agree that the market is over-saturated because of the technology that is available and things like NaNoWriMo (a great program, but not everyone is cut out to be a writer, much less a novelist).

    To me, the dollar price-point would be perfect for buying short stories or a couple dollars for novellas offered by writers really just trying to break into the market. But I think anywhere from $5 – $8 is fair for a full-length e-book, although I’d probably willingly pay a little more than that, if the experience were taken to a slightly more interactive level (such as a ‘behind the scenes’ type of option, where you can open up a multimedia file of the author discussing the process and the inspiration behind the story, or a scan of their notes – that type of thing).

  • Good Morning! I’m new to the writing world and I LOVE to read. I am that person who will buy a 0.99 to 14.99 ebook. Normally if I pay the higher price its because I know the author and have been anticipating the release. If I like the book enough I will also hunt it down in the book stores to have it’s glorious pages in my greedy little hands.
    I have also found gems that were priced at 0.00 because another book in it’s series was coming out and then purchased the entire series.
    I have been know to buy multiple copies of a book and hand them out to family and friends because I thought it was so wonderful.

    One of the comments that I saw was that if someone could afford a kindle they could afford to pay more for the e-book. Kindle App is not only for the Kindle and just about every household in America has a computer these days

    I think prices should be based on what your trying to sell and to whom. Kids with the free Kindle Apps on their lap tops and Ipod touch’s are going to have a hard time explaining to their parents why they spent so much on YA books on kindle.

    I am that person who grew up eating that crap corn filled food because it was cheap and my grandmother thought corn was better than empty little tummys. In Philadelphia the public schools would have the book trailers that would come about twice a year and let you pick one free book to keep. It was great. We only had a little tv and no cable so if you wanted something good you had to read.

    The reason I’m saying this is because even though those days have passed for me and now my home is full of books in every format possible (and big fat leafy greens and vegetables with two syllables. Yaay me!!!) I know there are still others out there who are in similar situations. I’m not saying all books should be 0.99 but I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

    And Chuck everyone I know, knows about you. Thanks for your awsomeness!!!

  • I have not bought into the whole eBook thing quite yet. Yes, I have published my books as eBooks (AFTER I have published paperback and distributed) but they are definitely not $.99. Those books took me too long to write, and I love them too much to offer them like cheap prostitutes. Nope. They’re less than half the cost of my paperbacks, actually, almost 1/3 of the cost (simply because paperback costs so much to produce), at $8.99. I have my sales here and there, but I would rather sell fewer books to those who care to try a new author, or to read what I consider quality. That’s my opinion.

    Also, going with the food analogy, we can drop $20 easily on a couple of meals at McDonalds and forget two hours later that we even ate it. Or $6 on a Starbucks coffee. Whatever. I am definitely a quality over quantity person. (And I am not going to pay for two hamburgers instead of a head of broccoli because I know what’s good for me and I would rather get quality over quantity, as I just said).

    About supporting the author. I paid $40 for Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Yeah, that’s a lot. But I love his writing, so I paid it. If it was $50 I would have paid that. Great to have sales with the cheap pricing. To each their own, but I am not jumping on the bandwagon. I may reduce my books to $7.99 at some point, maybe even $6.99 if I feel more ‘greedy’, but I’m not as concerned about selling copies of books as I am about writing because I NEED to write, and in turn offering it to the public, whom I believe may enjoy it as well.

    My opinions, of course ;)

  • I actually re-wrote my comment a couple times to avoid coming off as a douchenozzle, but I think I may have anyway? I apologise. I don’t think you have any negative feelings towards anyone for selling their shit cheap.

    Oh yeah, I’d pay $15 for an ebook the day the hardcover comes out. But if the paperback is out, and it’s $8, I don’t really like paying more than $5 for an ebook. I’d like to pay $3 more, but I doubt that’ll happen. And maybe that’s a good thing? I don’t rightly know.

    Paying $10 for an ebook when the paperback is $8, though, makes me want to kick babies. I feel like I’m being charged extra to discourage me from buying electronically.

  • I wince when I see self-pub authors whoring their work out for a buck – the truth is that they only get 35 cents of THAT when it adds up high enough for Amazon to pay out (and they make interest on the amounts while waiting for it to hit the mark) and usually said author has spent LOTS of MONEY getting artwork, editing, etc. That’s a whole lot of ebooks you have to sell just to break even, nevermind make a profit.

    I’m with a small publisher that sells my ebooks for under five dollars, depending on which site you buy it at. I tell people that if you’re willing to spend five bucks on a latte at Starbucks, you should be willing to pick up an ebook that’s got faboo cover art, excellent editing and a good publisher standing behind it for the same price.

    And I make darned good royalties. My book selling for under five bucks makes me between a buck and a half and two dollars plus, depending on the site. And I’m not screaming my head off on Twitter, FB or spamming forums asking for someone, anyone to buy my book.

    The race to the bottom sucks, in plain words. Not everyone is going to be Hocking or even Konrath, no matter what he wants to believe. Only a few make real money at self-publishing and more and more money goes to the support industries such as selling cover art, editing and publicity out of the author’s pocket.

    As I’ve said before: I may not have gotten into writing to get RICH, but I sure didn’t get into writing to get POOR.

    ;)

  • Excellent points, Chuck. I think a lot of people trying the $0.99 e-book pricing are basing their strategy on the Apple application store. And one trend I’m starting to see in Apple’s app store is for a good app to be in the $1.99 to $3.99 range (sometimes more for particularly complex and/or business-worthy apps), then every once in a while there will be specials that drop it to $0.99. PopCap did this last weekend with their apps for the Japanese relief effort, for example. I would like to see that pricing trend in e-books too.

    A better cue I think e-books could take from mobile applications is in marketing. One very common thing I hear about apps is that for just a few bucks, you get many hours of entertainment. That’s a much better bang for your buck than spending $12 on a 90-minute movie.

  • As a book buyer, I tend to weigh the long term value of what I am paying for. If it is a book that I know i will enjoy for weeks, I am more than happy to shell out $5. Hell I’ve paid $15 for a hardcover from authors I know I’ll like.

    If the author is relatively unknown to me, $.99 honestly sounds desperate. I have no problem paying 3 bucks for an author I’ve never heard of. I do that regularly on Amazon anyway when you add on the shipping.

    On a completely unrelated note: Danielle, you have a cat crawling up your torso. I wasn’t sure if you were aware of this or not, but I thought I should warn you.

  • Count me on the .99c bandwagon. I see all these arguments as reasonable and valid, however, I mostly write shorter fiction. Roughly 6-8k words. I’m not going to put that out at $2.99. No one would buy that. 99c, though? Sure. That said, when I finish out a set of stories in a theme I’ll put out a collection and THAT’ll be about $2.99 or so.

    I’m sorry if some of you automatically think my stuff is going to be crap because it’s 99c, but I think length is something that needs to be taken into account in this discussion.

    • @Michael:

      My feeling is that nobody’s really talking about $0.99 for short fiction — a buck for a good short story is, from my perspective, right on.

      Mostly we’re talking novel-length stuff. At least, I am.

      – c.

  • An excerpt from my blog post yesterday at http://www.jakekerr.com:

    Ultimately any discussion of pricing will come down to the consumer. The price will be set at the price that consumers are willing to pay. It is pointless to say “books are worth $10″ or “books will inevitably be 99 cents.” Books will be worth what books are worth. The fascinating thing is that this pricing is still in flux, as Joe Konrath’s blog entries illustrate well. It is misleading to read into his sales figures as defining which price is right. We all know that more consumers will buy stuff at 99 cents than at $4.99, but is that the right price point? Well, that depends on the return. The more books you can sell at the higher price point, the less value you will see in the lower price point sales. In real world terms, It makes no sense for J.K. Rowling to sell 20 million copies of Harry Potter at 99 cents when she could sell 10 million at $9.99.

    This push and pull of price and income is what I think will define the next few years of the e-publishing industry. We may see new writers and lesser known or prioritized books priced lower, while major releases have a higher price point. We may see (in fact we already see) first books in trilogies sold at a lower price point to engage readers to buy the later books at a higher price point.

  • @natalie It is foolish to say that you would ignore novels priced low. George R. R. Martin’s Game Of Thrones was priced at something like $2.99 last year in a bid to draw people into the full series. So you can’t really say that low price = inability to sell. Sometimes publishers will price the first book in a trilogy low to pull you into the full series. That’s smart marketing.

    @all those who say 99 cents is too low. If you read my blog post referenced above, I clearly agree, but placing some kind of psychological smear on the low price is a major mistake. There are absolutely stunning works of art priced at 99 cents due to their rights being in the public domain. You could argue, “Yeah, but that’s different,” well, it’s not if you’re going to say cheap = Walmart. The real issue isn’t what we as writers feel our books are worth or really anything to do with perceptual “worth” at all, what it really comes down to is a cold hard business decision as to what price point delivers you the highest return. If 99 cents delivers you more cash than $6.99, why would you complain about that?

    As with so many things it is often difficult to separate the emotion from the business. The discussion of ebook pricing really should be considered in the context of how it impacts the author, and nearly every attempt at moving the price point of books up and down has been done with maximizing the return as its intent. Being appalled at what has really been a business experiment is not in a writer’s best interest.

    • @Jake:

      I certainly wouldn’t say that ninety-nine cents guarantees a lack of quality. Not at all. I’ve bought some astonishing work at that price point: Chris Holm’s 8 POUNDS, Anthony Neil Smith’s CHOKE ON YOUR LIES.

      My point with this post is, when you see that price point and you buy it and you like it, reward the authors in a more meaningful way. If there’s a stigma, push past it and give back to the authors who only asked a buck for their hard work and efforts.

      – c.

      • To continue the point, my “Amazon recommends” feed is full of $0.99 books by Allan Guthrie, James Melzer, Nigel Bird, Victor Gischler, Jennifer Hudock. None of these are of sub par quality. In fact, I’d say the only sadness here is that each is *easily* worth a fiver, and frankly, I’d pay more.

        The point I’m making is, and this is especially true of inexpensive fiction offers, the audience should endeavor to remember that writers need to eat. So, pay back. You got a great fiction collection for a dollar, well, let everybody far and wide know. Buy their work. Give back somehow. Foster a healthy ecosystem for both reader and writer.

        – c.

  • @_@

    I wish somehow we can go back to good old days when writers can just worry about writing. You know, back before electricity was discovered.

    I just want to write stories without the threat of filing for bankruptcy. Why must it be so complicated?

  • I definitely don’t think $0.99 works are crap (maybe some) but there are good works out there. And when I am looking at price, I also consider word count. I don’t think a 5-6k story should cost $2.99, no.

    Everyone simply has a different strategy to how they think they can sell what they write. Everyone also has different intentions with their works, and different senses of urgency.

    Most of us us that write do it because it is our passion in life, and we only live once. So why let the industry deter us from what we love? If you’re surviving off of writing, I’d say already you’re doing a pretty good job.

    What indies need, like Chuck said, are people to encourage, fund, spread word of the good authors, regardless of what their books cost. Cheap books don’t necessarily get one any further ahead than more expensive books, so it seems to negate a right or wrong.

  • ::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::
    I’ve watched the photography industry erode for the very same reason. Five years ago, paying for a customer photographer was expensive…. for a reason. The investment in equipment, time, etc. all added up.
    Writing is no different, just that the tool is the mind and the hours it takes to create one piece of work worth reading is immense.
    I hope (for both writers and photographers) that this trend turns around and people start to see the value in the work, not just the price. :)
    ::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::::clapping::

  • Your right Chuck. It seems people are more appt to complain about a bad book than support and recommend a good one regarless of price. Reviews these days are like listening to a bunch of grumpy old men who haven’t had their fiber. It’s sad.

  • I keep reading these articles about eBooks and it kind of makes me feel like I’m an alien observing earth through a telescope (okay, I feel like that a lot anyway, which is why I write, my stories are reports back to the alien overlords about the things these weird human creatures do… but so not the point right now) I keep wondering who these people are who actually buy eBooks, I don’t, because reading stuff on a screen feels like work, whereas reading a book feels like fun (even when it’s technical and being read for research), and when I say that I don’t just mean I’m unwilling to try out new authors, I’m not even really willing to buy eBooks by authors I already know I love, I’d literally rather wait for four or five years to see if a series I love (as in my current ‘favorite ever’ series) will be republished in omnibus form with the short story included and rebuy the whole series as a book than buy said short story electronically when it comes out next month. All right, call me a luddite, but when I buy a book, I’m not just buying the words I’m buying the experience of reading it and eBooks just don’t hit the same pleasure receptors.

    Does this add anything to the debate? possibly not, except to say that for some readers (like me) even publishing at 99 cents isn’t going to draw them in, not unless you point at a link which says ‘And for the print on demand version which costs four or five times as much and will take a month to get to you click here’.

  • I’m totally with you Chuck in terms of giving back after a great read, and you outline excellent ways in doing so. If a person reads a book at 99 cents and loves it. I would hope that he or she buys the other books by that writer. That he or she posts a good review on Amazon and Goodreads. That he or she becomes that loyal fan.

    Of course, not all will, so it’s nice to remind them. :)

  • I’ve always paid bookstore prices for books; always paid for CD’s too. I guess I’m too old school to “trust” any other medium. I DEFINITELY don’t think authors and musicians are WORTH $.99 or even $2.99. True, I don’t really know the dynamics of finace…if I pay $10 for paperback or $30+ for hardcover…just how much of that does an author get? I always assume he/she gets a good chunk of that..I dunno. Maybe paying that price I am just feeding the publishing house..but if so..then I am feeding the beast that feeds the authors, right? I hope so.
    But when it comes to other formats..I don’t think I’ll ever change. NOTHING, in my mind beats a full sized copy of a book you can take to bed, snuggle with..you smell the paper, the FEEL of different paper, the firmness of hardcovers, the familiar soft puttyness of a paperback you’ve read a million times, that crinkle-crick of the binding, the “fwip” of the page. That sensation of getting SO into the book you can’t turn the pages fast enough. And I LOVE the entire process of meeting an author having him/her sign a book. These are things you can’t do with an e-book.

  • Chuck, couple of things (or actually three):

    1. Thanks for the shout out!

    2. Douchenozzle is like the best word I’ve ever heard.

    3. Those who are upset about 99 cents being smeared, shouldn’t be. If everyone thinks all 99 cent work is crap or short stories, then everyone writing something longer than a short story who isn’t writing crap will raise their prices, which is good for the whole author ecosystem.

  • The first ebook I bought was $6.99. I read the sample on the author’s site, loved it, loved the cover art, and didn’t bat an eyelash dropping that money.

    I bought Chuck’s short stories because I like his voice on his blog and his sample stories. I think $2.99 is a great price for the set.

    I downloaded a bunch of free novels onto my Kindle a few weeks ago. I’ve read none of them, because I bought some other books I really wanted to read, and they took precedence.

    What this boils down to is (in my experience) I read books because I’m interested in what’s in them, not because they’re cheap. I spent $12 last week on a book that’s been out of print for years and had a cover price of $4.99. But I WANTED it. People will pay almost anything if they think it’s worth it. Our goal as writers should be to make people feel that our writing is worth what they pay, not to price it down to where they’ll buy it even if they aren’t interested in the content.

  • Personally I’m happy to pay around 75% of the paperback price for an ebook from a commercial publisher, because I know the content will be the same quality (give or take the occasional formatting glitch) as the paper version in the bookshops. In a sense, I’m paying for the privilege of keeping a book without it taking up valuable shelf space in my small modern house.

    @Kfirah – about half the cover price of a typical commercially published book goes to the *retailer*. The rest goes to the publisher, who either pays a modest percentage to the author or (more likely) sets that sum off against the advance on the book. A self-pubbed author gets more in royalties, but they don’t get that guaranteed payment before the book even comes out.

  • That’s a great point, Chuck, about making sure you give back. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, and while it may not be much, I intend to review on my blog every ebook I read for a while, especially if that’s from an author I’ve never written about or read before. It might not be much, but it’s something.

    I’m sure I’ll get to Irregular Creatures this summer, and The Nex, and the three review copies of other books I have waiting on me.

  • Yeah, navigating through the e-book economy, and the e-economy in general, is a tricky business and it doesn’t seem to be getting any less complicated, especially in pricing department. Knowing exactly what to charge seems to be just as much a factor in how well an e-book sells as the actual quality of the e-book. Sad but true.
    There’s actually a really good book out there that deals with pricing issues called “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” that although it doesn’t go into e-books per say does have a lot of good ideas for how to market your goods. It talks about how giving out sample stuff for free might be even more of benefit in the long term than charging a low fee for it, such as the whole $0.99 deal.
    Take Irregular Creatures for example. A good idea to boost sales might be to offer one of the chapters on Amazon as a free download, a sample of book to lure in potential buyers and then charge the regular $3.99 price for the full book. In this case you’re not losing out on attracting the wrong market by lowering the price of your book and not really losing out if they only download the free chapter.
    Just a thought really, and one I only really came up with because I hang around Business majors a little too much. :P

    P.S. That Free: TFOARP book I mentioned before? Free on iTunes.
    P.P.S. I’m not shilling the book because I wrote it or because I’m friends with the guy who wrote it. I just really like the book.

  • I wasn’t aware of that, and now that I notice the other stories on the site I’m definitely going to check them out.
    I still want to emphasize that I think that there’s a lot more opportunity in given out samples to increase sales of an ebook rather than reducing the price. Lowering the price of an item a lot of the time decreases the value people see in it, while offering parts of it as a free samples retains the value. Weird bit of marketing/psychology but true.

  • Ironically enough, at the Campus Sci Fi library today, someone was reading a mass market paperback version of The Exorcist from 1971. The price on the side? $1.25. 40 years ago at this point, the cheap pulp version of exorcist went for $.26 more than a lot of stuff goes for now on Amazon. Kind of terrifying :D

  • I know Chuck already has heard me say this before, but this comment is more for the benefit of my fellow commenters:

    I dropped all of my releases down to 1.99 this year. I’m now making double what I was last year.

    I’m not “whoring out” or “racing to the bottom” — I don’t determine the worth of my releases by what they’re priced at — I determine their worth by how much money they make me.

    By that measure, my stuff is now “worth” twice as much as it was only 4 months ago, despite being priced (on average) 1/4 of what it was.

    It’s counter-intuitive, it’s counter to what many of us in our 30s-and-40s were raised and trained to believe. It’s the New Math, on steroids, and applied to economics.

    Stop kneejerking, and LURVE it. The money spends the same. (and there’s more of it)

    • @Gareth:

      My only comment is that, while I think you’re right that whatever method earns out the best is the proper method despite intuition otherwise, do remember that for most authors the cut from, say, Amazon is far better at $2.99 than it is at $0.99. 35% versus 70% is a notable hop in one’s cut.

      – c.

  • @Chuck– Absolutely. You have to tailor to the facts where the “boots are on the ground” so to speak. In the case of tiered earnings like Amazon has set up, it absolutely makes sense to have most of your effort behind the 2.99 price point.

    But, that said — having a few titles (especially first titles in a series) at an “introductory price” of 99 cents is also a good move: essentially, giving up 35% of your cut, as “seed money” to reach a wider initial base.

    The model, at this point — whether in writing, music, filmmaking, art, etc. — is to create a fan base, and then monetize from that base. 99 cent intro books to attract a wider initial pool is not really that much different from the older model of mass advertising. You’re aiming at a large segment, in the hopes of sparking a smaller percentage, and converting them from consumers to readers to hardcore fans.

  • My father used to write a pulp novel in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and live off the money–just the advance!–until the following Christmas.

    It is a very different world now.

  • My Web Goddess – who, among other things, was instrumental in convincing me to join Twitter – has been suggesting that I take one of my self-published in print books (I have three) and offer it as an e-book. I have been hesitant for a lot of reasons (I’m not sure which e-reader will be around in five or 10 years, for instance). When I overcome the inertia and do publish one of the books as an e-book, I will probably price it at the higher end of the spectrum (ie: $4.99 or $5.99). The seems valid to me for a psychological reason: people expect digital books to be less expensive than print (because so many of the costs of print do not apply), but they also place more value on things they have paid a reasonable price for.

    My situation involves other calculations, as well. The books in print are collections of stories that are available for free on my Web site. (In fact, when I sell the books to people at science fiction conventions, I tell them to check out the Web site, where the next collection of stories takes shape over time.) Because this writing is already available electronically, I must admit that I feel no urgency to make it available in other electronic formats. I’m not too concerned about undercutting the book sales of the collections by publishing them online first. Corey Doctorow’s experience appears to be that enough people prefer print that it is possible to make a living doing this.

    Who knows. We’re all groping in the dark hoping to find our way to getting the audience we feel we deserve.

  • I have some of my favorite words in common with you. BTW, one of the coolest sites out there devoted to words is FavoriteWords.com

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