The other day, I sat down and tried to figure out how long I had actively been watching the publishing industry and how it responded to the digital revolution. I was surprised when I did. It’s been ten years, give or take a couple of months. That was long before my first foray into indie/small press publishing. It was when I first started buying e-books from Baen and wondering why I couldn’t buy similar offerings from other publishers, especially at a realistic price point and without DRM added.
Back then, and for some years prior to that, traditional publishing had looked down on Jim Baen for rocking the boat. Traditional publishing didn’t understand that their customer base was changing. It was getting younger, more technologically sophisticated and more on the go. Back then, traditional publishing was the only road open to writers who wanted to be considered “legitimate” authors. Oh, there were vanity presses out there but not much more for those writers who wanted another route besides the traditional — and slow — route available.
Then along came the Kindle, an e-book reader that was affordable, connected to a bookstore for easy purchase and download and traditional publishers started to grudgingly admit there might be a market for e-books. But they wanted to control that market, control prices and got their hands judicially slapped for colluding with one another on pricing. All the while, Amazon — and later other outlets — opened up digital publishing to indie writers. I’m not sure anyone expected e-books to take off the way they did. Certainly, traditional publishing did not. Nor did the lamented Borders, a bookseller chain that is no longer with us, and certainly not Barnes & Noble that is still having issues finding the right online platform to make it easy for its customers to find and order e-books.
So, when I read over at The Passive Voice how Randy Penguin (sorry, Penguin Random House) claims it “read too much into the e-book hype”, I have to laugh. This from a company that didn’t want e-books to begin with. This from a company that consistently overprices, in my opinion, e-books. But I wanted to be sure. So I went to Randy Penguin’s website to see what books they have coming out and what prices they are offering them at.
The first I checked is Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty-Three. It will hit the stores November 15th. The price for hard cover is $16.78 on Amazon. The price for the hard cover on the flap is $28.00) The e-book price, which is set by Penguin Random House, is $14.99.
Debbie Macomber’s Sweet Tomorrows is listed at $26.00 for the hard cover (flap), $14.99 hard cover (Amazon price) and the e-book price (set by the publisher) is $12.99.
It goes on like this. You can check.
Now, I don’t know about the folks at Penguin Random House, but there are very few hard covers I buy any longer. It just isn’t economically feasible for me to buy hard covers like I used to. They have simply become too expensive. Those hard covers I do buy, I buy from Amazon or when the books are on sale in brick and mortar stores. I can’t tell you the last time I paid what the publishers have printed on the inside flap for a hard cover. Every reader I know does the same thing. They shop for the best price for their books just as they do for almost anything else in their lives.
So, when readers see e-books that cost almost as much as a hard cover book, they shake their heads and walk away. Oh, there are exceptions. Each of us have a few authors we will pay more for their books than we will for everyone else. But that seems to be something the traditional publishers have a hard time accepting, just as they have had a hard time accepting the fact that e-books are here to stay.
From the Telegraph:
Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ms Prior [Joanna Prior, the managing director of Penguin’s general books] said: “There was a definite moment when we all went shooting out after the shiny app thing and spent money on that and invested probably unwisely in products that we thought could in some way enhance the book.”
“Enhance the book” instead of simply converting the book into digital format and getting it out into the reading public’s hands. That was the second mistake. The first was dragging their feet when it came to getting behind e-books to start with. Now, I have a couple of those “enhanced” e-books and I found myself getting aggravated at the enhancements. Sure, it’s great to have links to external sources and the link IN NON-FICTION books but not in fiction. It interrupts the flow of the narrative and throws the reader out. But the editors and bean counters didn’t see that. All they saw was the shiny and a way to increase the price of the book.
And what is bringing this change of mind to the bosses at Randy Penguin? The fact e-book sales dropped 2.9% last year. Yes, read that again. A decline in sales of less than 3% has they crowing that they were initially right to doubt the viability of e-books. Funny, they didn’t have that sort of a reaction when print sales declined much more than that. Instead, they doubled-down on doing all they could to keep the print portions of their business alive.
So what does this mean for readers? It means we will continue to see traditional publishers over-pricing e-books. They will continue to load them with DRM and will press for more onerous (for the reader) laws about the licensing of e-books. Remember, traditional publishers don’t believe you “buy” an e-book, only license it.
As readers, it means we will have to continue to choose between buying one traditionally published e-book from publishers like Randy Penguin (at $12.99 or more) or buying two or three — or more — indie or small press published e-books. It means choosing to buy e-books from indies or publishers like Baen, sources that don’t add DRM, or buying fro publishers who aren’t afraid to say they think their customers are thieves and that is why they add the DRM. After all, they don’t trust us not to pirate their books or — gasp — resell them after we’re done with them. As readers, it also means we need to be smart and start backing up our e-books to places not connected with our e-readers, etc. Because, as sure as I’m sitting here typing this this morning, I guaran-damn-tee you there is some bean counter sitting in an ivory tower in the publishing industry who is trying to figure out a way to limit the number of times we can read an e-book before we have to buy a new license or something equally as silly. Don’t believe me? Remember, these are the same publishers that put a limit on how many times an e-book can be checked out at a library before the library has to buy — at an inflated rate — the e-book again.
What really caught my eye and had me shaking my head was this:
Penguin is now focusing on providing app developments for picture books aimed at pre-school children, which Ms Prior believes can make money.
“There is beginning to emerge a financial model for that, I think it is an exciting way of getting very young children into reading,” she said.
So, they want an app aimed at pre-school kids for picture books to help them learn to read. This at a time when studies are saying we need to get kids, especially young kids, away from the screen. This at a time when we are told we need to get our kids outside to play. This at a time when parents should be sitting down and reading with their kids instead of shoving a tablet at the kids as an electronic babysitter. Oh, wait, there are already apps like this out there. But Penguin wants to re-invent the wheel. Color me surprised. Once again, Penguin is behind the times and targeting a single audience instead of looking at what needs to be done system-wide to increase the productivity and profitability of their business.
Frankly, it is time for us, as readers, to understand that the traditional publishers who follow the path of Penguin-Random House and the other Big 5 publishers aren’t our friends. They don’t respect us as readers or as their customers. They sure as hell don’t respect most of their writers. To them, writers are simply interchangeable widgets. It is time for us to hold them responsible for their actions. If we don’t like the price of a book, don’t grit your teeth and buy it. Wait until it goes on sale. Let the author of the book know — yes, I know. The author has no control but they need to see that their publisher is killing them — and let the publisher know. More than that, use social media and let other readers know. Check your favorite authors on Amazon or your favorite online site and see if they have their backlist available. If they have it available through the indie route, buy it. Sure, you may have already read the book but a lot of authors are updating their backlist, returning the book to what they wanted it to be before the editors got to it. Even if you have already read it, you will be supporting that author, showing them that you still enjoy their work. Leave reviews for the books you read. That is some of the best help you can give an author.
Just don’t buy into the hype from publishers when they talk about how expensive e-books are to produce. Don’t let them con you into paying hard cover prices for a mass of electrons. Unless and until the publishers realize that their business plan no longer works, they will continue down this path and, believe me, it is not the Yellow Brick Road.
I guess it’s now time for me to do a bit of promo.
Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1) is now available for purchase.
Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.
Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.
Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.
And the family home is more than a little sentient.
Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?
Witchfire Burning is the start of a new series. However, it takes place in the same town as Slay Bells Ring and some of the same characters are present in both. Both have a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance. Witchfire adds in an urban fantasy note as well. While it wasn’t a book I had planned when I sat down at the beginning of they year to figure out my publication schedule, it’s one that decided it needed to be written and I had a blast doing it. I hope you guys all enjoy reading about Quinn and company as much as I enjoyed writing about them. Also, for those who prefer print versions, it should be available in approximately two weeks. I’ll make an announcement when that version is ready.