Book Pricing - How Do You Feel?

Hey gang! Thank you to everyone who offered up comments on Wednesday's author interview with Alyson Burdette

(MASSIVE APOLOGY TO ALYSON - Just realized I'd misspelled her name in the title of the post. Copy/paste cut off the last two letters of her name, and I seriously can't apologize enough!) 

I know it means a ton to her, and frankly I think it's (supporting authors) one of the most important things we can do. 

In the digital age, it's far too easy for authors to get swept away in the tsunami of content that hits the Web every second. Word of mouth has always been, and will continue to be, the best way to sell books. 

So the next time a friend on Facebook asks for a book recommendation (I see at least three a week on my personal Facebook feed), I hope you'll consider offering up a new author/name instead of (or along with) James Patterson, Steve King, Steph Meyer, etc.

Speaking of the digital age, I kept thinking the kerfuffle over e-book price fixing would die down. I was wrong. 

It's only building steam as publishers, agents, authors--well, everyone really--are beginning to take sides.

Seriously, this is shaping up to be a veritable Holy War within the world of publishing. We've had skirmishes before. Border disputes, if you will. But this could be the BIG ONE.

Why? Reading between the lines, I'm guessing this is one last big stab at keeping the book industry at least partially anchored in the traditional system. A system in which a few large publishers are responsible for the majority of the content and profit generated by the book industry.

Look, I'm not saying it's bad--I leave that kind of opinion to folks who've had direct dealings with all of it. I'm saying it's the way it is. 6 major publishers are responsible for most of the books you see at Barnes & Noble, and virtually all of the books that pop up on traditional bestseller lists. 

Former literary agent, current author and eternal blogger, Nathan Bransford, had this to say on his blog this week: "In the old era, only major publishers had the infrastructure to get books to readers. You had to go through them to reach readers in large numbers." 

He spoke in the past tense for a reason. 

Like an invasive species, Amazon and e-books are taking over the ecosystem. Like with any invasive species, the existing species  must eventually make the decision to fight or assimilate. 

Big publishers and the folks who work for them (authors, agents, etc.) are lacing up their boxing gloves as I type.

Earlier this week, the Association of Authors Representatives (AAR) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice voicing their support of the agency pricing model which lead to the collusion charges levied against the big publishers (among others) linked to above.

Essentially, that means the AAR, its supporting members and the "tens of thousands of authors they represent" are in favor of allowing the major publishing entities the right to force retailers into a uniform pricing model. (To be clear, that doesn't mean the price a retailer has to pay for the rights to distribute--or wholesale price. It means the sticker price the customer pays.) 

Not all of the authors represented by the group are terribly excited about the letter. Seems some of these authors are perfectly happy with Amazon, the company the agency model was aimed at attacking, and the company with the most to gain by a successful DOJ anti-trust suit. CLICK THE PRECEDING LINK TO READ SOME OF THE REASONS. 

Furthermore, it seems not even everyone within the traditional publishing system can agree that anit-Amazon is best for books and readers. Today, traditional-gone-independent author J.A. Konrath shared an anonymous response to the mess courtesy of someone within one of the big publishing houses. YOU CAN READ IT HERE, but to suffice to say their Christmas bonus might be on hold if their name ever gets out.

Sadly, we might have to make a decision between two potential evils: an Amazon monopoly or the exclusivity and high e-book prices of big publishing. 

Which brings me to the question: Do you care? 

As a reader, does it matter to you that the newest Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) book by Charlaine Harris will cost you $15.15 for a hardcover/paper copy or $14.99 for the e-book?

As an author/writer, would you be okay with getting the same revenue share (or cut) from either purchase, knowing the cost to produce the two on the publishing side aren't remotely similar? (Don't listen to anyone who says otherwise; Amazon doesn't charge XYZ publisher any more than they do you or me to upload a digital book.) As unusual as it sounds, I am afraid they're connected. 

As an author/writer, are you more comfortable with the fate of our industry in the hands of a giant retailer (what Amazon is), or a publishing business that has done nothing but books forever and ever? A publishing industry FULL of people who love books, readers and the folks who write them. 

These questions are not posed lightly, and I've got no answers. Just opinions, which I'll gladly share if you supply the beverages and a comfy chair.



  1. I won't pay over ten dollars for an eBook, so Sookie is just out of luck!
    And in the grand scheme, I pick Apple over Amazon and hope that lawsuit falls through. Yes, it raised prices. But it gave us more options.
    I don't mind that the eBook versions of my books are 1/3 to 1/4 the price of my print books. Considering how many of those sell, it more than makes up for the difference in my royalty check.

    1. I think lots of folks are in your boat, Alex; the idea of paying more than $10 for something you don't actually hold, or really own, is out of whack. Even more so when you think about the economics.

      I'm kind of in favor of whichever scheme gives the author the most money and control over their properties. I am admittedly biased. ;)

  2. Well, you've also supplied the music as well. My fav all-time band, of course.

    I am still trying to understand what it would mean to me. I do not buy ebooks. I do not go out and buy hardbound. I will wait until the paperback comes out. That's what I've always done and I'm not going to change it. Thing is MY publisher does charge $17/book of mine, unless he reduces the price. The ebooks are less, and he is also in charge of reducing the price of the ebook. I'm still new at this stuff and I'm not sure what it will mean to me when I put my own ebook out there which I plan on doing soon.
    My biggest problem is getting people to buy my books. That's what concerns me right now. I have no control over what happens to Amazon or the big publishers. I am an ant to them. They are the big foot coming down to step on me, and all the other small fry out here.

    Good post, E.J.! Thanks for the info! I brought iced tea with lemon wedges and Splenda!

    1. I think you're on the right track, L. Most authors are just concerned about getting people to notice their books, and rightfully so. (True of both Indies and traditionally folks, I think.)

      Your point about being the ant is great, and probably my biggest fear in regards to my final questions. Who represents the independent and small-published authors in all this? Furthermore, where do the readers get a say in all of this?

      The DOJ is supposed to be the voice of the average person, and in some ways I do think they're on that side. But we all know how much the little guy is involved when the final decision gets made in politics.

  3. Lots of food for thought in this post--I haven't bought an eBook yet, so I don't think about pricing much, except to think, "Holy crap--99 cents for a novel--I wonder if that author is just a little ticked off that six-plus months of his/her life just went for 99 cents." That said, I love that eBooks are exposing stories to a bigger audience, and maybe building a career reputation with more buyers is equally important to authors. After all, not everyone (myself included) can buy every hardcover they'd like to, and there may come a time where it's I either buy an eBook of somebody's because it's right there and easy to do, or it falls off my TBR list, and I miss out on that author's story. Tough subject, great post :)

  4. I just have to think that readers would have control over the prices by refusing to pay these higher prices. I like my Kindle, but if the paperback is cheaper, I buy the paperback. Simple as that. I also feel that if the traditionals keep their prices up that gives me the price advantage. As far as Amazon, I like them, but I think Apple is more than able to compete with them. Barnes and Noble could do a lot more than they are with that Nook, but they just kind of sit there.

  5. Ya, I won't pay over 10 bucks for an e-book either. Heck, I think 7 or 8 bucks is too expensive, but I'm cheap like that, lol.

    As a reader and writer, I support whenever possible. And the only downside I see with the ebooks sometimes is that I can't loan my copy out to people. With the paperbacks, I can totally say, 'hey! this book is great! read it!' Then if they really like it, they go and get their own copy. I've heard of the loaning of ebooks, but it seems like a big ol' mess and too much work for my taste.

  6. No worries E.J. :) I also wouldn't pay more than ten dollars for an ebook but I think people should be able to charge whatever they want for a product.they old fashioned publishers want to over charge and put themselves out of business I'm not going to try to stop them. Make room for the innovators.

    1. Really feel like such a jerk, fool, (throw in your own) for doing that Alyson! Greatly appreciate you understanding, and I promise to make it up to you with the pizza, beverage, etc. of your choice should we ever cross paths! :)

      As for the pricing, I think many independent authors feel as you do: let the big dogs price stuff however they want. Means more business for everyone else. And I believe there is some truth to that logic. There's only a handful of comments on here, but several have already said they won't pay anywhere close to paper money for an e-book. You notice no one has said they'll quit reading altogether if they can't afford Stephen King. They'll just read something different.

  7. What frustrates me in all this, (yes pull up a chair and pop open that powerade I'm ready to chat) is that WE are the writers, WE are the readers, and yet, WE have very little say. As Loreli says we feel like ants, when we are the ones making the magic happen. A book should be between a writer and reader, it's storytelling magic that only takes two. Yet others are messing with the magic for their own gain. (Cripes, I got so excited I spilled my powerade.)

    Don't get me wrong, I do like the idea of having a team behind me. Someone who knows marketing a touch more than me, or understands what sells better than I do, or can even out-edit me. Why not have experts handy? But! Why do I suddenly find myself working for them? When did that happen? (Deep breaths. I need another powerade.)

    And no, e-books should be priced as e-books. It cost more to print a hardcover. I know the work from the writer's pov is the same (and at first I liked the idea of the writer seeing more profits), but from the reader's pov, the finished product I consume is different and let's face it, the value of each isn't adding up. Besides, as a writer, the amount of love and time I put in each book, will never be paid back in cash, there is no dollar figure that will match it, (Don't do the math, it's depressing and you'll quickly be exchanging the powerade for the booze I brought out.) but somehow there is a magic number of entranced readers that would balance things nicely. It comes down to magic, not money.

  8. E.J., that's a toughie but I will tell you this, I don't pay high prices to read a book. There are a lot of people out of jobs out there or people getting a pay cut.

  9. You know, I'd go with the Amazon monopoly, because there's always someone around the corner to bring down a monopoly. Price fixing is such a tactic. I always recommend Indie books when someone asks for a referral.

  10. You raise such excellent questions. Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out my opinion about the whole thing. I love the idea of more people devouring books, however they do it, and it seems to me this should be the goal. Most writers aren't in it for the money (thank goodness).

  11. It seems like Tanya says- we as the reader or the writer are getting cut out of the final status quo, whatever that might be.


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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