Friday, August 28, 2015

Interesting Discussion with Hubs about Ebook Pricing

Yesterday, Hubs and I were talking about pricing and marketing and ebooks.  As has happened before - because I'm the reader in the family and I know these things - Hubs wanted to know about traditionally published book pricing vs self-published pricing.

Basically it started out with me talking about my own books' pricing, and how much, as a reader, I'm willing to pay for an ebook and why.  (I mean besides the obvious reason that my book buying budget is dinky because I'm funneling most incoming fundage into the book publishing budget.)

Me:  I have a tough time spending more than $3.99 for an ebook, unless it's the next in a series from an author I really love.  And there's only one series I have to have immediately, so I spend $9.99* when they come out because I don't want to wait for the paperback.

Hubs: And how much are the paperbacks?

Me:  Usually? $7.99 or $8.99 but they come out like a year later.  I think (name withheld) puts his paperbacks out at $9.99, so I'm not paying more to have it early.

Hubs: So, let me get this straight.  The paperback - which costs the publisher more money to produce than the ebook - is more expensive than the paperback.  No wonder they're screaming so hard about keeping ebook pricing high.  That's where they're making all their money.
We didn't devolve this time into how much of that price the traditionally published author actually takes home.  For them what don't know, it's typically 15% minus the agent's 15% minus any marketing pay for themselves.  (Someone will correct me if this has changed recently.)

So, I walk into our office/library to check something out.  Another author I generally buy in paperback - because Walmart always stocks her new releases - has the list price at $7.99. I paid like $5.99 at Walmart.  I went on Amazon to check the list price of the paperback against the list price of the Kindle version.  Same same.  $7.99 either way.  Unless you're getting the Wallyworld discount.  Same book but with the paperback, the publisher has printing costs and labor and shipping and overhead - in addition to the across-the-board costs of editing, cover art, etc. that all versions of this book bear. 

Hmm.  Curious. 

Then I went to see what a big-name traditionally published author charges for his books.  For his most recent release, MSRP list price = $28.00. Amazon is selling it for $16.80.  Kindle price? $14.99.  The paperbacks aren't due to be released until February and they're listed at $15.99 a pop (or Amazon rate of $12.60).  Wow.  But he's really popular and people will shell that out.  Too bad he's only getting a fraction of that with a fraction taken out of it. 

It's really not surprising that the traditional publishers are pissed at the indies.  We undercut their pricing by around 60% ($3.99 vs $9.99 = $6 difference. If my math is wrong, shoot me.), produce a comparable quality piece of merchandise, and have little overhead.  Rascally upstarts that we are.  What I'm kind of surprised about is that the authors aren't pissed at their publishers who are making loads off the ebook sales and not sharing a larger portion of the pie. :shrug:  Maybe someday publishing contracts will catch up with new technology, but that's a discussion for another time.

One of these days, I'll have to do some more research into how much it costs to produce hardcopy books vs the cost of producing an ebook.  I think the readers might like to know.  But right now, I have work to do.  These books aren't writing themselves. 

*This author's Kindle book prices drop after they've been out for a while.  The last one I bought for Kindle is now $7.99.  It was worth the $2 difference to have it on release day, imo.


  1. That is really interesting. I have often wondered why publishers still print in hardback because they are so expensive most people wait for the paperback to come out. I don't know anyone who actually buys hardback books any more. I mean, how many people have the space? I've got 7 large bookcases, with my books double shelved and no room for another one. I can see the point of publishing hardbacks for libraries, but why do the rest of us have to wait another year for paperback publication? It's so annoying, but when you can't afford HB you can't afford it, no matter how you love the author.

    I find it ridiculous that the e-book is a comparable price to a printed version - I mean you've already got the manuscript typed out, revised and edited it, so all it needs is either uploading or printing (I'm assuming), and printing must cost a whole lot more. Just think of the paper, inks, electricity etc, so why is an e-book the same price? And the prices seem to be all over the place too.

    As a reader you really just want the next book in your much loved series, so you go the best route you can to get hold of it and yes, I will occasionally pay more than I can afford to do just that. Birthdays & Christmas are also excellent for getting those extra special treats! I think, like you though, you just have to have a budget & stick to it.

    1. My problem with hardcovers book these days, Fran, is that they're so heavy holding them kills my sad, weak wrists. And I need those to type.

      And there lies my issue. I don't get the why. As for pricing all over the place, from my perspective I price what the market will bear. I'd love to make more - who wouldn't? But I don't think readers will pay more than they are for my books yet. Maybe the big names can get away with it, but not me. Not yet anyway. ;o) (Joking. I still can't see pricing my ebooks too high when I'm famous.)

      Yeah, budget's the thing. If I make more, I can spend more, but I'll always be a skinflint at heart.

  2. There are two authors I automatically buy, even in hardback--JD Robb and Darynda Jones. I want to read the new book in each of their series as soon as they come out. I will only pay the exorbitant price of the digital version for Robb's In Death books. I prefer ereading to print. Used to, I got a price break on the digital version from Amazon. Not anymore. Evidently, the publisher nixed that. Someday, I will have the entire series in digital. I buy the early books when they have a price drop. And eventually, I'll have them all in HB even though the first 20 were only published in mass paperback. I occasionally run across library copies of the early books. With Darynda's Charley Davidson books, I get the HB but wait to get digital until the price comes down. I borrower a lot of digital books from the library. And from Kindle Unlimited. I wish more authors would agree to the KU program. I've stopped reading a series because I didn't want to spend the money for the book but I would have read the rest of the books if I could borrow them. Under the Amazon model, the author gets paid. I'd rather get paid something than nothing at all. Anyway...a rant for another day. LOL

    The pricing disparity between print and digital books has long been a bone of contention between readers and publishers, with the authors often getting caught in the middle. Many have argued until they were blue in the face--all to no avail. It's a reason many of the big names are turning to self-publishing.

    Royalty rates differ from publisher to publisher and from author to author. Big names have more leverage. Debut and midlist authors hope for the best. Many wondered why I signed with Harlequin after a decent experience with self-pubbing. I couldn't afford the marketing they're doing to get my name out there. Plus, they gave me an advance that smoothed over some rough patches in the budget. Then I got lucky and I "sold through" my advance on the first book within two quarters of its release so that I received royalty in addition to the advance. I'm fortunate. That doesn't always happen with a "new" category author. I've sold through the second book as well so now it's all gravy.

    There is no easy answer but I'm awfully glad you went the route you did, B.E. LOVE your books! But you knew that already. ;)

    1. I think if you and I lived close, we could spend hours ranting over coffee. Good thing we don't or we wouldn't get anything else done. LOL

      I guess I didn't know royalties vary from publisher to publisher, but it makes sense. And I totally get that the big names can hold out for a bigger cut. I'm more familiar with the mid-lists and they must be getting screwed big time. Oh, I totally get why you went with Harlequin. I hope having your name there has boosted sales for your self-pubbed books, too. Way to go on the sell-throughs! You rock.

      I'm awfully glad, too, Silver. It's not the easy road, but since when has the easy road been the right road for me? ;o)

      THANK YOU! Yes, I did know, but it's always nice to hear. And I love your books, too!!

  3. FYI - That "big-name traditionally published author" probably got a huge advance. I know a lot of advances never pay out probably because of piddly royalties. Still, I wouldn't mind getting huge advances. In fact, I'd like it a lot! :)

    I buy hardback for many of my favorite authors (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, JR Ward, Darynda Jones). I kind of prefer to read those. Yeah, they're expensive, but they sure look pretty on the bookcase! :) I like paperbacks, too, but after a few reads, you're lucky if you can read the spine. My e-books are like: out of sight, out of mind. I don't see them regularly to even remember I own the stupid things. It's just another reason I don't like them all that much, even though they're easier to travel with (the only PRO reason I've come up with so far).

    1. Oh, I'm sure he did get a huge advance - every time - Stacy.

      Yeah, hardbacks do look nicer in the long run, but like I told Fran, they take a toll on my wrists. Paperbacks are better for that. Ebooks even better. =o)