“...The sales of electronic books (with exceptions of major series) for major publishers has almost flatlined in growth. That, in my opinion, is caused by the growth of the indie side [of e-publishing] and better indie covers and such, allowing more quality choices to the readers.... In essence, indie publishers, in many cases, are playing on the same field with the same tools as major traditional publishers, thus holding traditional publishers’ e-books sales level.”
This surmise, though arguable (and I’m sure it’ll be argued for some years to come), certainly reflects my own anecdotal experience as a book consumer. Before sitting down to write this piece, I looked at my ebook purchases for roughly the past year and discovered, without much surprise, that I’ve so far only bought e-books priced $7.99 or lower; and more than half of my purchases are self-published.
I’m a big fan of the free-sampling function on my e-reader. But I find that when I like a book sample and click the “buy” link... I typically change my mind if I see a $9.99–$13.99 pricetag. (Sometimes I then put the book on my library list. Sometimes I leave the sample on my e-reader as a reminder to check every so often for a sale or a price change. And sometimes I decide that with roughly 300 books in my TBR pile, I can live without reading this one, after all.) I’m also monitoring prices on two to three dozen favorite backlist e-books released by their print publishers; I want to replace my old print copies, but not at the current $9–$12 price of the e-book editions.
In other words, the various e-books I want but choose not to buy are traditionally published e-books whose prices are above the sweet spot that DBW has cited in purchasing patterns.
I won’t spend $9–$13 on an e-book, because those elevated e-book prices don’t offer me superior or additional content, nor do they offer a superior format (the e-book format of a $12.99 novel is indistinguishable from thousands of e-books priced in the sweet spot). Those higher prices are about overhead.
As a writer, I recognize that publishers have overhead they must pay for, and this is why they’ve kept 90%–94% of the income for my books throughout my career. But as a reader, I choose not to pay a higher price for an e-book just because a corporation with high overhead publishes it.
Now consider how many popular writers in the indie market have never written for a traditional publisher; how many traditionally published writers are self-publishing their own backlists and their never-published projects; how many writers have turned to self-publishing after being squeezed out of the traditional market; how many writers are choosing to walk away from new contracts because they’ve decided to self-publish their frontlist from now on; and how many writers are building their self-publishing business with a view to walking away from traditional publishing in the foreseeable future. That’s a lot of writers releasing their own e-books, and the number is growing.
And one thing that these e-booking writers all have in common with each other is: low overhead.
Whether your self-publishing venture is a budget-conscious DIY process, or whether you subcontract people for editing, formatting, cover design, promo, and sales management, your overhead expenses for your self-publishing venture are drastically lower than those of a traditional publisher. And this is a crucial factor in your being able to price your e-books comfortably in the $3–$8 range; just as it’s a crucial factor in publishers declaring that $9.99 is too low a retail price for many of their e-books.
“So, the problem for the publishing industry is what are publishers going to do?” writes Henry C. Lucas, Jr. in his recent book The Search For Survival: Lessons From Disruptive Technologies. It’s a book which examines the collapse of Kodak in the age of digital photography, the collapse of Blockbuster in the age of streaming video, the mistakes of the record industry in the digital music era—and, oh, yeah, there’s a whole chapter on the publishing industry and the e-book revolution.
Lucas writes, “Publishers are relatively high overhead operations compared to authors with a do-ityourself model on the Internet. The traditional publisher incurs expenses in editing, production, printing, distribution, and marketing books, and many of these expenses are minimized or disappear for the selfpublishing author on the Web.” (Lucas neglects to include the cost of leasing office space in New York City.
An old friend recently reminded me that back when I was a zygote, I came home from my first visit to the Midtown Manhattan offices of my first publisher saying, “No wonder they only pay me a 6% royalty rate!
Their offices must cost them a fortune.”) Lucas also mentions that Amazon reports that books priced $11.99–$14.99 sell more slowly than books priced lower. And he points out that publishers setting their own e-book prices isn’t the same thing as