Pricing E-Books: How Much is Too Little?

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There are many readers in this world who are more than happy to donate the equivalent of a pint to buy an e-book, in exchange for several hours of cerebral entertainment.

Writing is a job, as well as a pleasure. It is only fair, therefore, that writers should receive compensation.

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled, “Thou shall not grudge the price of a paperback”. More recently I came across a line from Philip Pullman, Chair of the British Society of Authors, saying that the war to cheapen a book price for bulk selling is essentially cheapening the book itself, in other words, reading. And by reflection, writing.

It was a very interesting thought, and one not necessarily shared by everybody: some people accused him of wanting to earn more money, other defended his views as he is the spokesperson of British authors. You can read more on this in the article, “Why do authors need to go to conventions?”, bottom paragraph titled ‘The Dark Side of discounting bulk sales’.

Leaving the print version of a book aside, I want to spend some time talking about the digital format and the issues revolving around pricing an eBook.

One of the biggest issues I have is when people say: “It doesn’t cost anything to make, why should we pay more than £0.99 or £1.99 or £2.99?” These seem to be the “recommended” cheap rates for e-book these days. And please keep in mind that in the US people are willing to pay more for e-books than in the UK, judging by their respective Amazon’s sites. Also, I am not referring to “sales” here, where you lower the e-book prices for a determined amount of time – that is a given in retailing.

As a writer and a publisher, I can categorically tell you that eBooks don’t grow on trees. Sure, no printing costs to add there, but someone has indeed written the book, someone has edited the book (and that is not cheap!), marketed the book and, as a one-off, someone has indeed created the digital files for the various services. Therefore, the profit made from its sale should take all of this into account.

Say for example that a paperback retails at £10 and that £5 is printing costs. The profit of £5 will then be split in one of the following ways:

a)    solely to the self-published author
b)    between the publisher and the author, when sold directly through the publisher’s website
c)    between the wholesaler (Amazon, Apple, Waterstones, etc.), the publisher and the author, which let’s be honest, is the most common sale.

Would it be, therefore, so out of order to charge £5, or a more customary £4.99, for the eBook version?

We are moving towards digitisation of many things, from money to books, to pictures. Suddenly, what was concretely existing in your hands, in your wallet inside a frame on a mantelpiece, is no longer there, but in this “cloud” realm. Still, these objects are important and have incredible value.

Let us not make the mistake that just because they “don’t exist in the physical world they are less valuable”, because it is a wrong assumption.

This summer, as some of you know, I was at Worldcon 75, selling for Luna Press. As most of our stock became sold out within the first two days, people began to purchase our eBooks. It was the first time we ever sold eBooks during a convention, and we were quite anxious that people would complain about the pricing. Alas, no one did. It was way cheaper than the print format, of course, but not £1.99 cheaper. We believed our prices were fair eBook prices, that would still reward the author for the work done, and everyone else involved in the publishing process.

At a time when wholesalers dictate the market price of eBooks and drive it to the ground, I want to thank our customers for supporting the Luna family. We may never be able to compete with the big online guys, but rest assure we’ll always do our best for our authors.