I don’t often get all “state of the publishing industry” ranty on this blog, but I’ve been fuming over this issue for awhile… so here it goes. I’ll keep it short-ish. I always promise this and then two pages of single-spaced ranty-ness later, I’m thinking “oops, yeah.”
Ebooks. Here’s the deal. They don’t cost a lot to produce. Yes, there is obviously the work of creation, the blood, sweet, tears, and sacrifices that go into creating a work of art (whether it be high art or pop art, a rant on this to follow later, be afraid…and excited…but mostly afraid). But the “cost of creation” is the same no matter if the story gets produced in hardback, paperback, or ebook form. So, I acknowledge that artists should be paid for their art, we can all agree on that. My argument begins once you move past that to the actual physical (or digital) form that art takes.
Paperbacks. There’s you know, STUFF that is required to print them. Stuff like trees that get turned into paper, and ink, and printing presses. However, there is less physical stuff/work required to produce them than say a HARDBACK. It’s cheaper to print a paperback cover than it is to make and print a hardback book…and…wait for it…this is usually why paperbacks cost LESS than hardbacks. What? Crazy! And totally “duh,” right? No one is questioning why a hardback costs more than a paperback. Because we can see, physically see, that the hardback requires more STUFF to make it. I have never, ever heard anyone say “Well, we should pay as much for paperbacks as we do for hardbacks because an author deserves to get paid for their work.” Never. Ever.
Ebooks don’t cost a lot to produce because it is a one time production per format. You have to convert each book to .mobi format for kindle or epub for Apple iTunes and Nook ONE TIME (unless you go back and make revisions after it’s published). You don’t have to hack down trees and fire up the presses every time you need a new run of books. It’s in that format forever. So, yeah, is there pain and suffering involved in getting it formatted correctly? Heck yes. But it’s a one or two time deal. There’s no PHYSICAL STUFF involved.
And yet, traditional publishers, not huge fans of ebooks in general it seems, insist on pricing their ebooks as much or more than the paperbacks. Why? Because, um…? There’s no good reason other than to drive buyers away from ebooks and toward paperback versions. No. Good. Reason. The author isn’t making any more (or at least not much more) because their ebook is priced at $9.99. Their percentage of the cut isn’t changing. And yet I’ve been told not to complain about an ebook’s price because the “author deserves to be paid for their story.” Well, no kidding. Go tell the publisher that’s giving them hardly any return on their ebook sales, not the consumer who asks the question: “Hey, why does A cost the same as B when B takes STUFF to produce and A doesn’t?” That is a valid question, my lovelies.
Quick case in point: I love Robin McKinley. Desperately love her. I have yet to read her book Pegasus, which is the first in a series of two (and now possibly three). Why? Because I got a Kindle for Christmas and I want to read her book on the Kindle, but I KID YOU NOT, it’s $15.99 in ebook format.
That’s MORE than the hardback! And yet, on principle, I’m not going to buy this hardback/paperback because I just spent $100 on a KINDLE and I WANT TO READ IT ON MY DARN KINDLE.
So, yeah, I love this author. I might even be persuaded to take a bullet for her. But I’m not going to spend $15.99 on a digital copy of the first book in a three book series. That’s asking me to commit to $47.97 for three books I will only have a digital file of! A digital file that her publisher probably had some intern making minimum wage to create.
I realize that the author doesn’t usually get to decide on the pricing of her ebook, unless the author self-publishes. So, I feel bad holding authors responsible by sometimes choosing not to read their books because I don’t want to be manipulated by the publisher into supporting the format they want me to support over the format that I want to read in.
The upside for self-publishers: we get to set the price of our books. And because I refuse to pay over a certain price point, this means I’m reading a lot more self-published authors. For me it is a win/win. I just hope that, eventually, publishers stop over-pricing and embrace the new media.