It continues to amaze me that now, years after e-books became a viable alternative to printed books, we are still having discussions about e-book pricing. When you look at what the Big 5 are saying about e-book sales vs what you see in the Author Earnings reports, you have to ask if they are operating in different worlds, maybe even universes. One tells us that e-book sales are slowing to the point of almost being flat. The other tells us the opposite. You look at the best seller lists on Amazon and you see more and more mid and small press books — as well as indie — finding their way onto the lists. So who is right?
If you want to be honest, both are. I have no doubt sales for Big 5 e-books are slowing. All you have to do is look at the pricing of their e-books to see why. The hard cover for Seveneves by Neal Stephenson sells for $20.83 on Amazon and BN.com. The e-book version is currently available for $17.99. The paperback version, currently listed at $12.22 won’t be available until May 17th.
Shadows of Self by Sanderson currently sells at $16.65 for hardcover and $14.99 for the e-book. What is particularly interesting is that the paperback version is apparently already available and sells for $11.44. If my math is correct — always doubtful this early in the morning — that is $3.55 less than the e-book version. If the product page is correct and the paperback version is available already, then it puts to lie the promises made by the Big 5 publishers long ago that they would drop the price of their e-books when the paperback versions came out. (I will note the paperback versions being listed apparently come from overseas but I still have to ask why the publisher continues to sell the e-book at such a high price.)
Devoted in Death, the latest in JD Robb’s In Death Series, is available as an e-book for $7.99. The mass market paperback, which comes out today, sells for $6.79. Hmm, the e-book still sells for more than I would have to pay for the print book.
So, is there a trend — or possibly a clue — here as to why e-book sales for the Big 5 are leveling off?
Some folks were having this discussion yesterday in a private FB group I belong to. The consensus among those taking part in the discussion was that the price point publishers were charging, especially for newly released titles, was more than they were willing to pay. Not just for e-books but for hard covers as well. Those who aren’t big fans of e-books lamented the fact they were turning to used bookstores to buy those hard cover titles they wanted. Not because they were paying less for the book but because they knew authors don’t receive royalties for those sales.
Note, they weren’t worried about the publishers.
And that is something the Big 5 needs to realize. The reading public is starting to look at the prices they pay for their books — whether they are print or digital — and wonder why the prices are so high. They are following their favorite authors, many of whom write for publishers that aren’t the Big 5 or who are indies, and they are paying attention to what the authors are saying. They understand that the life of the writer is closer to struggling author working in a coffee shop than it is to Castle. They are beginning to realize that the majority of the money they pay for that book, the vast majority of it, goes not to the person who created it but to the corporation what distributed it.
But more than that, the reading public can look at an e-book and realize that it doesn’t cost anywhere close to produce it as it does to produce a print book. So the reading public is asking why it should pay close to hard cover prices for a bunch of electrons, especially when the publisher tells them they don’t own the e-book.
The Big 5 continues to come back with the double talk about costs and then says that the real fan will pay the extra money to read the e-book as soon as the title becomes available. Sure, some will pay it for certain authors. But they aren’t paying it in the numbers the Big 5 believes they should so, duh, as far as the Big 5 is concerned, e-books are a craze that is slowly leveling out.
And so they believe their own press and continue to ignore what is happening around them. They aren’t looking at the number of commuters who read on their phones and tablets on the way to work. They don’t pay attention to their family and friends who are doing the same thing. They aren’t looking at the number of indie authors who are able to live off of their earnings — and do so by charging well below the $9.99 price that seems to be the cut off for most e-book buyers. In fact, I would say most e-books that sell well do so at $5.99 or less.
Yet the Big 5 continues to operate under a business plan that doesn’t adapt to the market and consumer demands. Instead, they issue statements about how the “trend” is a slowing of digital sales. Those blinders they have been wearing for so long must have been joined by a posture collar that prevents them from looking anywhere but straight down at their own P&L statements.
Here’s the thing. When readers understand they are being treated badly by publishers, they tend to look elsewhere for their reading material. As an indie author, I’m thrilled because it means more sales for me. How long will it be before the Big 5, and those who follow their lead, start looking beyond their own propaganda and realize what the full sales picture looks like? I doubt it will happen before the Big 5 becomes the Big 4 or maybe even the Big 3.
The problem is the only ones who will lose then are the authors contracted to those houses and the readers. And the suits in their corporate towers will continue to say e-books and whatever comes after them are only flashes in the pan and soon everyone will return to printed books, even as the price of print media continues to increase.
The wake up call has been issued. It was issued long ago. The problem is that the Big 5 and their hangers on hit the snooze button. Readers are sounding the alarm again and I can see the corporate hand reaching out to hit the snooze button once again. Will it deviate from its path or not? My money is on not. How about yours?