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Monday, 18 January 2016

Things that make you go Wut? What is happening to ebook pricing?

There are a couple of traditionally published authors I adore. Tight plots, great story, amazing sense of humour. Since I like my series books, a new release by one of these authors is a massive treat for me; it's like settling in for a new conversation with old friends and catching up on the news. Candy for the soul, ya know?

So when the latest release day hit, I went over to Amazon and looked at the kindle page. It was over £15 for the ebook.

Me: WTF? Must be a glitch.

Nope. I've gone back to that page every week for the last couple of months. As of now, it's sitting at over £9.00. The paperback is not available yet, and yes, I like this series enough to revert to tree-books if I must. But £9.00 for a kindle book - nope. That reduces my book budget, which at the moment is so tight it makes squeaky noises when I look at anything over £5.99, to something that the universe is likely to set on fire while giggling gently to itself.

It's not just that particular author, either. Pre-order on another favourite is £8.99. Yet another is £9.99, for something out in September.

Me: Um. Wut?

Google isn't showing me much conversation about the matter, but surely I'm not the only one thinking "I love you guys, but that's cat-food and toilet paper and a bunch of other stuff I can't justify giving up to read."

The thing is, those prices are publisher set. These are traditionally published authors, who get paid quarterly and have to earn out their advances. They have zero control over the final price set on sites like Amazon. They are also the ones that will likely be blamed for falling book sales, and possibly lose their contracts. (This is also the reason I'm not naming names. It's pointless calling out authors when it's the damn publishing house that's causing the issue.) While I'm seeing a lot of hissing and booing in the reviews section, most folks seem intent on blaming the writer instead of the publishing house.

A person of a cynical bent (who, moi?) might wonder if this is the latest ploy by publishers to reduce ebook sales and increase paper sales. Or whether this is an epic tantrum aimed at Amazon by the publishers after the Apple debacle last year. Who knows?

I do know that charging close to double the price of a paper-back for an ebook is price-gouging of a sort that would make loan sharks blink in envy. I also don't see anyway this is sustainable in the long run; most folks simply can't afford to pay these prices. Book sales across the board for traditional authors is likely to drop. There might be a short term increase in money, but in the long run, that income stream is on a death march. So are a number of the authors involved, unless they get their rights back and start self-publishing. Most writers - even traditionally published ones - still work a day job because their income from books is so low it's ridiculous. You don't write for the money, kids. You write because you have to.

From an indie author point of view, how does this affect our pricing? Do we put prices up in an effort to keep up, or drop them back down in competition? The time of the .99c ebook creating sales went the way of the dodo at least 18 months back; the majority of readers now associate low prices with low quality, which is a pity. I found some great new authors at that price.

I have no clue what the end game is here. If readers vote with their wallets and go back to tree-books, that gives the publishing houses a grand excuse to stop producing them. If we continue to buy ebooks for prices that would choke a walrus, publishers have no reason to drop the prices. It's an ugly game, whatever the rules and reasons, and in this case, both writers and readers are the losers. The publishers are likely to gallop merrily into the sunset, and wonder why the hell their business is in trouble over the next two years.