Years ago, I wrote about the similarities between what was happening with e-books now and what happened with mass market paperbacks in the forties. This is a much-covered topic now, so there’s no reason to go over it again here. Back in the forties, there was a huge divide between hardcovers and paperbacks. Hardcovers were real books and paperbacks were for the masses. What’s important to keep in mind is that, matters of snobbery aside, this system worked very well for nearly four decades. Hardcover publishers had their business, paperback publishers had theirs, they played nicely together for the most part, and the industry thrived. It only stopped working when bookstore chains and mass merchants started handling books in a new way, a way that completely favored the paperback (and ultimately hard/soft) model.
If there’s a new divide now, built along lines of price, it’s important for writers to align themselves properly. We’re still learning about the e-book consumer, but what we seem to be discovering is that how readers regard their e-books relates closely to what they pay for them. There are some strong indications that people who buy books priced at $2.99 or less tend to have very short memories about these books and even shorter memories about the authors. There’s also some good evidence to suggest that readers who pay $7.99 or more for an e-book tend to be more loyal to the authors and quicker to pick up backlist. This is all anecdotal at this point. However, there’s some logic to it. Readers buying at the low price point need to sift through lots of books that might not be professionally written or edited, while that’s much less likely to be true at the higher price point. (Before you start screaming, I’m well aware that there’s a great deal of very good fiction available for less than $2.99. However, there’s also a great deal of stuff that’s barely readable because it’s so easy to publish now, and it isn’t always easy for the consumer to tell the difference before buying.)
Many writers have found very loyal audiences at $2.99 or less. I can’t think of a single case, though, of an author who did so without publishing with great frequency (four, five, six, ten books a year). If that doesn’t describe you, then going the other way might be the best course. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that you’ll never gain traction. I’ve seen several instances of writers who had success with a book at $2.99 and then came back to the market a year later to discover that they were essentially starting over. It appears that bookseller algorithms are prioritizing price now as well, so the divide is likely to become more extreme.
I suppose my editor friend was right, then. She publishes serious fiction and nonfiction. I publish a novel every eighteen months or so. For us, low pricing isn’t the answer. For others, it’s ideal. In the forties, hardcover original was the right path for some, while paperback original was better for others. It’s just important that you know which side of the divide you should be standing on.
Lou Aronica is a New York Times bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction, former President of Novelists Inc., former Publisher of Avon Books, and current Publisher of The Story Plant and Fiction Studio Books. You can reach Lou at .
Winter Institute 8 Increasing Romance, Sci-fi, & Mystery Sales Panel Panelists Jason Kennedy of Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis., Cheri LeBlond of Mysteryscape, Overland Park, KS, and Kit Little of Towne Book Center, Collegeville, PA, emphasized the importance of booksellers having a healthy genre inventory. While they talked about displays drawing attention to genre titles they also endorsed the need for staff that are passionate about specific genres. Other sources cited were working with sub-genres to get beyond the obvious and knowledgeable customers.