I’m biased. I am an Independent Author (AKA Indie Author) and so I will gravitate more toward Indie Authors than mainstream authors. I want to say that up front. This is an opinion post. Not well researched and completely anecdotal.
I remember when paperback prices started to rise back in the 80s and 90s. There was anger by the readers and articles were written about it. The rationale of the big publishing houses? It cost more to produce a paperback or hardcover novel. The cost of paper, ink, binding, etc. all had increased and so did the cost of the novel. Many people, including me, didn’t believe it but had no choice but to accept that argument. I have tried to find articles on this but failed to find any – it was in the early days of the internet and I am pretty sure it was in an Ottawa Citizen newspaper article. I remember the gist of it though. Back then I paid for those paperbacks myself over at the House of Speculative Fiction on Fourth Avenue in Ottawa. [I miss that store, by the way. I still have those books downstairs on many bookshelves.]
When paperback prices started to rise, I was angry and couldn’t understand why, but when it was explained by the publishing houses I had little choice but to accept but I never forgot their explanation – even today. Thankfully along comes the eBook, and I rejoiced. The arguments I was fed for the high price of paperbacks no longer applied! I was happy (and yet deeply saddened at the loss of holding a book in your hands for an e-reader).
Fast forward to today. An author I follow, Patricia Briggs, a New York Times Bestseller who writes Urban Fantasy published the latest in her Mercy Thompson series and is charging $12.67 USD ($14.99 CAD) for the Kindle version of that novel as of today. I am flabbergasted. What justifies that cost? Can it be the cost of producing the novel that raised the price so high? I hardly think so. Ebooks are frakking EASY to put together. Writing is the hard part – formatting is easy. A child could do it. Takes about a day to do it right. So what is it? Greed? The cost for the most amazing and perfect editing job ever seen on Earth? Gimme a break.
$14.99? For an ebook? That is far too much, IMHO. We are starting to see more and more established authors charging more and more for their work. I wonder what the next A Song of Ice and Fire novel will cost? Probably more than $14.99 CAD. Shameful.
In comparison, another author I favour, Faith Hunter, also published a new novel in her Jane Yellowrock series. Faith is another New York Times Bestseller but her novel is only $7.60 USD ($8.99 CAD) on Amazon. While I find that a little high in price it is acceptable for someone who has made it “big” and can start to demand more for her work.
This is not hypocrisy on my part. I suppose everyone has a price that is their line in the sand. Everyone has a threshold for what they can accept. Mine is less than $10 CAD for an established author. Note that I can buy two of Faith’s books for one of Patricia’s. So, guess where my money goes?
What’s the difference? Who is the better author? They are both New York Times bestsellers. Yet one is pricing her novel at almost twice the cost of the other author. Does this mean that Patricia Briggs is twice the quality of Faith Hunter? I wouldn’t say so. They both have strengths. I personally prefer Jane Yellowrock over Mercy Thompson but that is a personal preference.
Who chooses what to sell the ebook at? I believe that is the publishing house that represents the author. So who published each novel? Penguin Group USA. The same company for both authors. Interesting, no? So, like the sailor I am, I boil away the water and see two piles of salt. One is larger than the other and is wrapped in dollar signs.
The good news: People will see those prices and say “fuck that” and go buy a reasonably priced Indie author’s novel(s). Yay, me. Publishing companies are shooting themselves in the foot, IMHO.
Segue: Some bloggers have been arguing that Amazon has been intentionally driving the price of ebooks down to corner the market. Others are saying that publishing companies are increasing the costs of ebooks to drive out the market. I don’t know what to believe. This anecdotal evidence seems to support both these arguments. I just know as an Indie Author I scramble to make the small amount of change I make off the sale of my novels. These prices frighten me and anger me because I buy all my novels. I have since I was a kid.
Will I crank my price up to $14.99 when I become famous? Not if I have any say in the matter. I want the 14-year-old kid of today to be able to click my novel and pay for it with their own pocket money and not have to take out a line of credit to do so.
Sorry to rant but wow, what a piss off to see ebooks gouging people like this.
Here are a couple of interesting articles I found after about 10 seconds of Googling:
Have Publishers Shot Themselves in the Foot with Costly Ebooks? by Caleb Mason (January 19, 2016)
Publishers Initiate Predatory Pricing on e-Books to Destroy the Market by Michael Kozlowski (September 26, 2015)