Friday, February 5, 2010

eBook Wars - What They Portend For Writers by Robert W. Walker

With all the hoopla, smoke, and mirrors going on in the publishing world over ebook pricing or what they call the sales model for ebook pricing, there’s been a lot of confusion. Confusion is in fact the natural state of most authors in relation to their publishers. Publishers routinely keep writers in the dark about many aspects of their practices and why not on how they price a book? I don’t mean to sound as bitter as I actually am but there you have it. For when it comes to such matters as cover art, for instance, or the size type on your title or name or both, and when it comes to how a book is distributed, if the publisher uses or does not use jobbers, if the publisher has cut any sweetheart deals with big box stores like Costco or Wal-Mart, and if in such cases an author earns any royalties, and if a royalty statement ever comes to an author can it be read?

The long long history of writers and their publishers has not been a gentle, kind one but rather every horror story you have ever heard at the bar about a writer and his publisher is true, true, true. In the end, typically, the writer gets it in the end—and I mean that literally. Now comes an opportunity offered by for authors to go “Indie” – to become their own publishing concern in partnership with Amazon acting as bookstore and distributor in one, and for the first time in history authors are getting paid what their efforts are worth.

In the meantime, while many authors have been partnering via ebooks over the hard years when it was generally believed by print publishers that ebooks were a flash in the pan and would go the way of many another fad—authors and Amazon have been in the business of ebooks. Major publishers of the NYC variety have eschewed and seldom understood this area of book sales and in fact have not supported it. Until now. Until the day it appears ebooks can and do outsell paper books on occasion—as with this past Christmas. Now suddenly, Macmillan is decrying the situation as Amazon has defined it—that no Kindle book would cost more than ten bucks, because as Macmillan CEO says, authors can earn more money if their ebooks are priced higher, and so he flies to Seattle, meets with Amazon CEO and offers up an ultimatum when Mr. Bezos says no to 15 buck ebooks for Macmillan titles. Most Macmillan authors think that they won when Amazon backed down and accepted the price increase for Macmillan books, and the general consensus among Mac authors and many others is that the giant publishing firm struck a blow for writers.

Nothing further from the truth. Amazon knows its clientele better than anyone on the planet, and they know that few people believe that an ebook priced at above the 9.99 promised price for years now is going to earn out far more monies for authors than the higher prices—which will be boycotted in huge measure by readers of ebooks. Ebook readers are not interested in titles priced high whether they are bestsellers or not. Ebook readers love FREE books, public domain books are being gobbled up at an unprecedented rate! Followed by the .99 cent book and the 1.99 cent book. Ebook readers are voracious and most have enough reading piled up for the moment to last them months. They are not in the market for Dan Brown’s latest at paper price or ebook price if it is over 9.99.

Of these facts I am sure because I have been watching this trend for years, and I have had ebooks on FictionWise for years, and I have ten Kindle titles onboard with plans to add seventeen more, and the titles that are moving, selling, are not my 7 dollar titles priced by the publisher as the SAME price on the paperbacks, and not my 8.99 – half priced latest hardcover. My titles that are selling like hotcakes at a county fair are priced respectively at 2.99 and 1.99 – and as a result of volume sales, the Amazon model, like the Wal-Mart model, I have made more money in the past three years from ebook sales than I have made on paper sales. Writers pricing at bargain basement prices gain more readers who talk to other readers and fan the flames of word of mouth. This aside from the paradox of making more with smaller prices works in favor of the author, not against him or her.

The CEO of Macmillan had a major chip in his pocket—Apple’s IPad which wants to get into the ebook business too and they want to charge more for books, and they were talking to Macmillan about fifteen buck ebooks. So when Macmillan CEO states he is doing this for the benefit of his poor, put upon authors it is a croc and a major croc at that. A croc full of it. It also amounts to short-sightedness and not understanding the clientele—ebook readers, most of whom are assembled under a banner of boycotting any book priced above 9.99.

You don’t have to believe me about such matters but before you decide I am dead wrong check out JA Konrath’s recent blogs and articles on this exact subject. Joe is the man most in the know. See what he has to say on his platforms.

Meantime keep your ego up by placing a chapter or more up at where you can get feedback on your book and share feedback on my Children of Salem. The writing is the darling part of this business, and the rest can be an awful pain.



Morgan Mandel said...

I'm hoping the authors come out ahead no matter how it ends.

Morgan Mandel

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've been watching all of this with interest, although very few of my books are purchased in eBook form.

Deb Larson said...

Lots to think about Rob!

Anonymous said...

You are 1000 percent right. I think Macmillan shot itself in the foot, and Amazon is no fool. They're way ahead of us, looking down the road. They've just bought another e-reader company. I think they intend to stay competitive, and even ahead of the pack. They seem to have a sure-fire plan -- make e-books attractive and affordable. The more authors sell, the more they make. What could be simpler?
Pat Browning

Earl Staggs said...

Rob, I'm trying to follow and understand this ebook war. I don't have a full grasp on it yet, but you've summed up my thinking so far. Thanks, bud.

carl brookins said...


Merrill Heath said...

Interesting article, Rob. Perhaps we can discuss this more off-line. Watch for my email.