Lately, however, the fact that one of those “frills” includes the cost of ebooks is beginning to cause friction.
“I’ve noticed people tagging the US Kindle edition of Stolen Souls with ‘$9.99 boycott’ and similar at Amazon.com,” says Stuart Neville, the bestselling author of The Twelve, about reader-led demands for lower prices. “I’m amazed that people are that cheap. Do they think a year of my life is worth less than $9.99? Do they really believe that 10 to 12 hours of entertainment isn’t worth the equivalent cost of two or three coffees, or less than two beers?
“I think it’s the sense of entitlement that bothers me,” he adds. “It’s particularly common with those who believe they have some sort of right to download music and movies for free.”
One of the problems with attitudes to ebook prices is that many early adopters of ereaders such as the Kindle and the Sony Reader were already acquainted with the internet, and particularly comfortable with the idea that, on the web, most of your content is delivered for free.
But isn’t it reasonable for readers to expect “deep discounts” on ebooks, given that a publisher’s costs are comparatively lower than for a print edition of exactly the same book?
“I think they are entitled to expect a lower price,” says Eoin Purcell, commissioning editor with New Island. “For one thing there’s no printing cost, no delivery cost and, in some cases, a much lower retailer discount. On the other hand, design costs still exist, and marketing costs may be higher. In Europe, VAT is an issue and the authors demand a higher royalty. If a publisher is to retain the same margin they have come to expect, then a modest discount is to be expected. Something in the region of 30 to 40 per cent discount on print seems reasonable.”
Previously published by Hachette Ireland, best-selling author Arlene Hunt took the unusual move of rejecting her publisher’s most recent offer in favour of setting up her own publishing company, Portnoy Publishing, with her husband, Andrew Mangan. One of her reasons was the freedom to explore the burgeoning epublishing market.
“Readers are absolutely right to expect an ebook to be cheaper than a physical book,” she says, “because of lower production costs, warehousing and distribution for publishers.” Hunt’s current novel, The Chosen , retails on Amazon.co.ukfor £10.99 as a book (before discount), and £5.14 for its e-equivalent. “But the buyer still needs to take the work behind the creation of the ebook into account. A reasonable discount depends how the publisher or author values the work.”
“It depends on the book, the subject and author,” cautions John Mooney, publisher at Maverick House. “Some titles published by Maverick House are selling very well, with e-sales accounting for almost 33 per cent of total sales, but these titles are not discounted. If a book is an enjoyable and good read, people will buy it.
“Ebooks written by authors who are not so popular or well known can be discounted to boost sales, but it’s my experience that such discounting doesn’t generate a spike in sales.”
Ebook pricing is complicated, particularly for smaller publishers if they’re not to get trapped in a race to the bottom. Allan Guthrie is co-owner of Blasted Heath, an ebook-only publisher established in Edinburgh late last year.
Full piece at The Irish Times