« Editorial, Resources

Why Selling E-books at 99 Cents Destroys Minds

Chad Post, the publisher of Open Letter Books, explains why his company decided to sell e-books and price them at $4.99.

Editorial by Chad W. Post, Publisher, Open Letter Books

Chad Post

Last Tuesday, after months of hemming and hawing about the whole e-book thing and Open Letter Books’ place in that world, we announced the launch of our first nine e-titles, and decided, that for the first month, they would sell for $4.99 a piece.

As much as one might hate e-books (and trust me, I’ve in no way incorporated this part of the digital “revolution” into my reading habits), it’s become impossible to ignore. It may be overstating things a bit, but if your book isn’t available as an e-book, it basically doesn’t exist. This is sad; this is true. For many, publishing e-books is simply a foregone conclusion.

For us, the last phrase of that first paragraph that’s been getting all the attention — both good and bad. As a nonprofit publisher of translated works, Open Letter isn’t likely to overthrow any currently accepted best practices, but after all the talk about predatory e-book pricing, retaining revenue streams, and the agency model, we sort of shot off in a different direction from most publishers, selling (at least initially) our e-books for a third of the cost of their print counterparts.

When we started sending out the press release, I figured everyone would be overjoyed: “Great international fiction for cheap! Including the world’s largest collection of Catalan literature in English translation! All for my Kindle/nook/iPad/Sony Reader/etc.!”

Instead, I heard a few cheers about our entry into the e-world, and a few comments about how we were “damaging the sales of our own books” and “helping depress the e-book price for literary fiction.” Some of this was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but for a lot of people — especially at commercial presses — this is serious stuff, especially seeing that our announcement happened to coincide with “this report”: about how Amazon’s Sunshine Deals program — offering 600 Kindle books for $.99, $1.99, and $2.99 — forced the price of the average Kindle best-seller to almost instantaneously plunge from $7.75 to $6.43.

Since e-book pricing is such a hot button topic in the industry, and since we went with a semi-risky strategy, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at some of the e-book pricing policies and issues and try and explain why we’re doing what we’re doing.

***

Open Letter ebook price

Before getting started, I should admit upfront that I’m no pricing expert, or economics expert, or expert of any sort. Most of what follows is my interpretation of events and situations in an attempt to get at the more philosophical and far-reaching effects of e-book pricing on the reading public. This is by necessity a relatively elementary sketch of the situation, and one informed by a subtle (or not-so-subtle) point of view.

When the Kindle first started setting the world on fire (pun intended), Amazon discounted the vast majority of available books — a lot of the e-books for sale on Amazon were discounted to $9.99 or less. This upset a lot of publishing people. At the time, e-books were being sold under the traditional bookselling terms — Amazon gave the publishers 50% of the list price on all e-books sold. Which was totally fine . . . at first.

The problem was that Amazon was selling a lot of books for less than half the retail price, thus capturing the vast majority of the e-book market and set up a potentially difficult situation for publishers. Obviously you can’t last forever by selling all your goods at a loss. The basic fear was that Amazon would amass enough power to successfully depress e-book prices, causing publishers to either lower prices or give Amazon a larger discount — two situations that could cause a huge drop in revenues, especially as e-books sales increase every quarter.

The Big Six publishers are based upon a very standard, very old school revenue model: sell X thousands of $25+ hardcovers, then a year later sell X+ thousands of copies of the $15 paperback. The price differential in printing costs between the two editions is negligible, making those hardcover sales especially important to the bottom line.

To the common reader on the street, the idea of selling $9.99 e-books sounds like a great opportunity for extra cash. Which it would be if there wasn’t the problem of cannibalization. As with almost every product ever produced, the lower the price, the more people who want to buy it. So if everyone rushes headlong into the $9.99 e-book world, not nearly as many people will be buying the $25 (or $35) hardcover, and if e-book retailers strangle their hold, the profit margin on the sale of each book drops from a few dollars to a few pennies, and everyone is screwed.

Thus the agency model. Publishers get to price the books at what they want, and none of the retailers can offer discounts. The same e-book is available at the same price from all vendors — including independent booksellers. Which has a nice spin to it, and more importantly, allows publishers to stick to their current revenue model. Sell X books (e- or print) at $25+, then sell X at $15. Or you can even sell e-books at the “discounted” price of $12.99, and based on the 70% the vendor is giving you on every sale, you could maybe, just maybe, increase your revenues.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this structure is designed to retain the status quo. The bloated overhead, the trumped up marketing.

***

But what’s really at the top of the e-book best-seller lists? As of this very moment (10:10 pm on Wednesday, June 8th), here are the top five and their prices: A Little Death in Dixie by Lisa Turner, $0.99; My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler, $1.99; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, $5.00; Summer Secrets by Barbara Freethy, $4.99; and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, $9.99.

So aside from The Help, which is the 9th bestselling book in paperback, the top five are all $5 or less. And aside from The Help, none of these books are in the top 10 for Literary Fiction paperback sales. So what does this mean?

At BEA, Keith Gessen introduced me to the works of John Locke (probably not the one you’re thinking of), a best-selling Kindle author whose books are all sold for $0.99. He made over a hundred thousand of dollars in royalties last year — far exceeding the wildest dreams of most every mid-list (if John Locke is even midlist) author in the country. Having read the opening of one of his “Donovan Creed” novels, I can assure you that he’s not selling all these books due to his talent. No offense intended, but let’s be real about this — it leads to a much more interesting conundrum.

Two of my longstanding issues with e-books are: a) how your brain processes texts read on a screen, and b) e-books make books feel like disposable entertainment. I’m going to leave the first for a separate article and/or book, but I think the second objection is valuable here.

As announced by Bowker a few weeks back, more than three million books were published last year: 300,000 from “traditional” publishers, and 2.9 million from nontraditional publishing outlets, such as self-publishing.

So, you have an e-reader, you’re bored with TV and all your video games, ain’t feeling the Facebook, and want a book. Why pay $12.99 for “entertainment” when you could buy a John Locke thriller for $0.99? I have no answer to that question. Seriously. And this has always been my problem with e-books: they emphasize immediate entertainment — and gratification — over real “reading,” which takes more commitment, patience, attention and time.

Now, you pay what you would pay for an app and dump it after you’re done. And why not? Those “expensive” books are a lot of work.

As someone devoted to literary culture, this scares the crap out of me. Sure, John O’Brien and a few others will claim that this has “always been the case,” that there has always been only 10,000 “serious readers” in the U.S., and that’s the same today as it was 50 years ago, but I don’t know if these people are actually in touch with the world around us. It’s all $0.99 e-books and instant movies and Angry Birds.

But to pull back from the misanthropy, the point is this: self-published authors game the system. You set your e-book price at $0.99, get a hundred friends to buy it in a short window of time, and shoot into the best-seller list where sales breed sales, and Terry Gross has only a momentary impact.

My gut reaction is that this is BS. That it cheapens the art of writing. That . . . and I’m probably old and out of touch with pop culture. And for those reasons I never wanted to get involved in this whole e-book thing. Not. At. All.

***

At the same time, I work for a nonprofit publishing house whose mission is to promote international “pure literature” to as wide an audience as possible. There were fewer than 300 translated works of fiction published in the U.S. last year. And aside from that Swedish crime writer, the other 299 sold way less than 50,000 copies. The reasons for this are diverse and complicated and occasionally xenophobic. But the point is: the 10 authors we publish a year are sort of lucky to have their books available to English readers. And they’re damn good books! Books praised by the New York Times, books that influential tastemakers gravitate towards, books that sell a few thousand copies.

And as a nonprofit, our goal is more focused on readers than sales. We couldn’t survive without donations (and yes, we can always use your support — anything is great, a million dollars is better), in part because we can’t sell enough books to survive without them. We could quit publishing this “pure literature” stuff and go all in on Donovan Creed & Co., or we can continue to raise money with the belief that what we’re doing is important to culture — as long as people read it.

And there are a lot of people who like e-books. And even more who like the $0.99 variety.

If our goal is to reach as many readers as possible, and knowing that the vast majority of the independent stores can’t/won’t carry our titles (we sell to about 100 indies a year), and knowing that the chains (or is it chain?) don’t stock us in all stores, the vast majority of readers out there will never run into an Open Letter book “out in the wild.” Sure, they can order it online from anyone and anywhere, but they’re unlikely to stumble upon A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch in the physical world. And if they did, would they really drop $13 on an author/book they’re completely unfamiliar with?

I’ll end here with the joys of being small: A Big Six press can never do what we do. They have shareholders and restrictions and people to employ at (occasionally) decent salaries. They have buildings and holdings. I get why they consider the e-book price war to be a serious business. As a small press we can operate outside of the box at times. And if our goal is getting people to read our books, a great first step is making them aware. And if the world loves the $0.99 price point, we’ll meet them halfway.

By pricing our e-books at $4.99 for the month of June, we hope to do two things: make people aware that we have e-books, and get that fringe reader — the one who’s intrigued but for whom even $9.99 is a maybe a bit too much for something they don’t know enough about — to take a chance. Catalonia isn’t that scary.

And in terms of that revenue thing? Here’s a concept: We can’t survive by selling all our books at $4.99 unless someone drops a million-dollar check in the mail right now, or we sell 4 or 5 times the number of copies we typically sell. But we can survive if every fifth person who buys a $4.99 Open Letter e-book raves about it to friends and convinces a few people to buy either the $14 paperback or a $9.99 e-book. Which fits in with our mission of generating genuine excitement about our books and may help expand the audience for works in translation in general, which is good for everyone.

And I stand by our content. It’s not John Locke — it’s at least five times better.

DISCUSS: Can Affordable Literature Ever Compete with “Palatable Plonk?”

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103 Comments

  1. Posted June 13, 2011 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks for bringing me a bit up to speed on the e-book phenomenon, ya Chad. Much appreciated from this Luddite. I almost forgive you for not having Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealth on this year’s BTBA lists.

  2. chris
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    “There were fewer than 300 translated works of fiction published in the U.S. last year. And aside from that Swedish crime writer, the other 299 sold way less than 50,000 copies. The reasons for this are diverse and complicated and occasionally xenophobic.”

    and yet;

    “And I stand by our content. It’s not John Locke — it’s at least five times better.”

    So, no open mind gained through a life-time of reading, Chad? You know, I wouldn’t buy one of your titles purely on principle now.

    As a publisher I suggest you encourage readers to buy books that entertain, educate and advance their personal lives.

    Book buying shouldn’t be a pissing contest between authors.

    And anyway, I very much doubt Locke is stealing your audience.

    Personally, I’d like to see your titles gain some traction… maybe at $0.99 they will.

    Which, despite what you may think, may ultimately be a good thing.

  3. Posted June 13, 2011 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Hell yes. You should do quite well. Go to my website, and read some of the articles about my conclusions on the future of bookstores and publishing. You are one of the people I had in mind when I said ‘The traditional publishers are dead, but the specialty publishers will do well’.

    You are a specialty publisher. You know your market. You should be able to pick up a lot of business.

    FYI, my calculations show to sweet spots, $0.99 and $2.99 for pricing. $4.99 is too high, I would have gambled on the $2.99 price, and then talked about it everywhere. I’d bet your sales would have increased 10 to 20 times normal.

    Wayne

  4. Posted June 13, 2011 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    Great piece; I’m sharing it. I hope we’ll get an update at the beginning of July or so to hear how sales went.

  5. Felipe Lindoso
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Chad

    We’ll be meeting in your upcoming visit to Brazil in July. May I translate your article and publish it in the blog I will be launching next week?

  6. Doug
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I have to admit that to me selling ebooks at the same price as printed books seems quite immoral and possibly ‘profiteering’ As you do not have the same printing and production costs or the distribution and storage costs of physical books, there would seem little justification in selling them at the same price. Okay, I know that in some countries, sales taxes are added to ebooks and not always to physical books but I do not believe that adding in this should raise the price to match the physical product. Moreover, there would appear to be an expectation among users that the ebook version should cost less than a physical product, so equal pricing would appear to work against the wishes of everyone from the potential reader who turns away from a purchase to the publishers and sellers whom lose out on sales.
    Of course, this comment is based upon equal pricing of the digital product. What we often see in effect is HIGHER pricing for the digital version. This is extremely difficult to justify unless the digital product offers more in the way of content.

  7. Posted June 13, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Maybe we should’ve gone with $2.99 . . . Still trying to find our way with all this–without freaking out our agents and authors *too* much.

    I’ll definitely post an update in late-July (assuming Ed will let me) breaking down all the ebook sales we can. (And including any print related data that makes sense.)

    And Felipe–unfortunately, I can’t go to Brazil in July (bad timing), but you’re more than welcome to translate this, assuming it’s OK with Ed & the Publishing Perspectives people.

  8. Sintia Mattar
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Great piece, Chad!
    Long live to Open Letter!

  9. Posted June 13, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I applaud Chad Post for his analysis and passionate defense of quality literature from what might be called the junkification of culture by market interests.

    I say we hold the line against these trends and price books on the basis of real costs, sustainable economics and merit. I believe that there are enough readers out there who will offer support for quality cultural products and their producers.

  10. Posted June 13, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I hardly know where to start. The digital revolution has leveled the music industry and the newspaper industry, and reduced most magazines to online versions of their former selves. Reading this article, I am sorta wondering where the author has been for the last fifteen years. Since the late 1990s, the economic model for all “bits”-related economies is to “embrace the swarm and follow the free,” in the words of former Wired editor Kevin Kelly. To this day, Wired magazine continues to embrace this strategy, as evidenced by Chris Anderson’s keynote at the 2009 Wired Business Conference:

    http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/06/disruptive-by-design-wired-editor-in-chief-chris-anderson-discusses-the-future-of-free/

    You may ask yourself, “how do people get paid in these scenarios? how do musicians and writers get paid for their works?” the answer, quite simply, is that they do not, evenutally, but “writing” does not disappear – it simply becomes a thing – like music – that people do for free.

    Does this model make sense? When you want to get paid for your work, not in the slightest – but this is the model that the digital genie has unleashed. A colleague posted this this morning on facebook – which is Web 2.0 at its finest, proving beyond all doubt that 500 million people would prefer to a) write content for free, and b) read that content religiously – a company that aggregates user-created content that it pays NOTHING for and which is (if rumors are to be believed) to create the largest IPO in history.

    Bit-creators DO NOT make money through the creation of the written word or music – they make their money through speaking and live shows. Honestly, gone are the days when someone could be a writer without being a BRAND. Anyway who isn’t aware of that has not been watching what’s going on in other industries. As I practically screeched this morning…

    Who is this guy? Where has he been?

    regards
    Gregory J. Pleshaw
    http://gregoryp.blogspot.com

  11. Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed your post, Chad. I work for a company launching a tablet device in the education market. The most challenging part of my work involves navigating content partnerships with educational publishers, who are really in a state of flux with trying to protect and preserve market conditions, and still develop the digital and multimedia resources that students want and need. I am so inspired by companies like Flat World Knowledge and CK-12’s Flexbooks which realize that educational content needs to be malleable, flexible, and interactive.
    I’m not sure if recreational readers have come to realize the same needs. The discussions on price point will be interesting to watch in the next year as e-reader usage soars and the market identifies the threshold for which it will pay for content. Thanks for a thought provoking piece.

  12. Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think your potential readers are that price sensitive. They’ve never been close to cheap paperbacks, so why are you offering them books for as low as $4.99?

    “…for whom even $9.99 is a maybe a bit too much for something they don’t know enough about — to take a chance.” – I don’t think this is a case any longer. You gave the example of my favourite author – Jerzy Pilch. If someone finds a Kindle ebook, she or he can download a free sample, enough to make a decision to click “buy the book” button.

    The price I’m seeing in Poland for “A Thousand Peaceful Cities” – $8.04 with VAT and international fees – is a fair offer, but I would pay 10 to 12 for this kind of literature.

    Don’t try to say you’re better than John Locke (content) trying at the same time to be John Locke (price).

    At Ebook Friendly we made a list of top self-published Kindle books: http://ebookfriendly.com/2011/04/21/top-self-published-books-in-kindle-store-april-21st-2011/

    28 out of 100 books are self-published, 18 are priced $0.99. One could ask: why only 18? If there is so much hype about 99 cent price tag (and there are dozens of thousands of 0.99s), everybody should hurry up to grab one.

    The explanation is simple: it’s not as bad as you predict. Avid readers will buy your books – just make sure they’ll find them.

  13. John
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Chad, I enjoyed your post and wanted you to know I have read 2 of John Locke’s books and found them to be very good and entertaining. I will definitely get more of them. I am interested in the story he weaves. It is a good escape which is why I read novels. That is also why I watch movies. I tell my wife what movie I am interested in and she gives provides the critics reviews. Usually negative. At that point I know I am going to enjoy the movie.

  14. Posted June 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Chad, I definitely see how the e-book pricing model can be a hard one to swallow. I generally take a step back and look at other industries too… take the music industry, where many are merely downloading material for free. iTunes has helped, but much like ebooks, $9.99 is still high in some minds. At least with ebooks, there’s still money to be made at that $.99 price point (vs. the same for an entire album). Taking the hit early on to grab your audience doesn’t necessarily cheapen the quality of work – there’s definitely plenty of expensive garbage out there too. Once you’ve got the reader’s attention, raising your price to something more fair for your business and authors is totally acceptable.

  15. Posted June 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Your products are the sort something like Kickstarter should be perfect for.

  16. Posted June 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Chad, like you I price my ebooks at 1/3 the price of the printed books. I also don’t support the idea that 99 cents is the best way to sell ebooks, because I priced my ebooks at 99 cents for the Memorial Day weekend and did not get enough sales to make that price point viable. The fact is that there will always be bargain hunters but you don’t see Tiffany’s or Cartier lowering their prices. It’s not the price that will rot readers’ minds, it’s the expectation of getting quality for next to nothing, and you know that cannot sustain a robust economy in the book world. There is a pervasive idea that somehow books should not cost that much, but most readers don’t know or don’t care how a book is produced and why it is priced as much as it is, and therefore won’t buy printed books if they can get them in ebook format for practically free. It’s the either/or proposition which will sound the death knell for small publishers and self-published authors.

  17. Posted June 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting article, Chad. Good for you for jumping into the digital waters! I think the 4.99 price point might be an excellent one for you. A number of the ebook trend-watchers have pegged $5 and under as the impulse-buy spot (if not the mondo-sales sweet spot – but you have to stay true to your valuing process).

    In order to break the top 100 in the Kindle fiction list, you’d actually need over 600 friends to buy your book within a 1-2 hour period. I know authors who have cracked that list, and these numbers are based on what it took for them. And no, I’m not saying they were exhorting everyone they knew to buy a copy — they let the market work freely. So it’s not as easy as you might think for authors to ‘game’ the system… The ones gaming the system are the readers looking for cheap reads. :)

    Don’t expect your electronic sales to follow the same kind of curve as print sales. Again, drawing from what I’ve seen from some of my fellow authors’ sales, things may start rather slow, then pick up around 3 months or so. (See the graph at Jackie Barbosa’s blog – http://www.jackiebarbosa.com/2011/05/31/the-anatomy-of-amazon-sales/ – this curve is one that many fiction authors have experienced.)

    Again, congratulations for going digital, and best of luck to Open Letter on this new adventure!

  18. Posted June 13, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Awww Chad, such an e-book hater? But this is a great article, and I congratulate you on having a sane outlook regarding pricing.

    My next question: when can I get my Open Letter e-subscription?

  19. Kaitlin
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I understand the frustration and the feeling that this is cheapening literature but many of the classics are available for free in Kindle form on Amazon and they are not cheap. I could go to a library and borrow a book for free-is that cheapening literature? I can read the classics for free on Google Books as well. I enjoy reading for both entertainment and education. Entertainment is not a dirty word and I think most avid readers enjoy what they are reading. Why do it if it is not fun? That is the message we try to get across to kids all the time-Reading is fun!

    I do like the feel of a book in my hands, but i finally gave into the Kindle for two reasons-1. I can get the classics free (like going to the library) and 2. After moving several times, books are the heaviest small things I have ever owned if that makes sense. This last time I disposed of many books because they simply added too much weight to my boxes. And I also know a girl who put all her heavy textbooks on her kindle (saves the back).

    This is the same argument every time someone puts a new technological spin on something old.

  20. Natasha
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    SHHHH … Don’t tell anyone, but there are a lot of FREE eBooks available through Project Gutenberg. But the authors — Jane Austen, Francis Bacon, George Eliot, henry James, the list goes on and on — can’t be any good, right, because the books are FREE. If people’s minds will rot if they can impulse buy books for $0.99, just imagine what will happen if they can get books for FREE! At least at the library you had to patiently wait your turn in line to get the popular stuff.

    I cannot believe that you are seriously arguing that the availability of cheap books somehow great sullies literature because it makes books no more than disposable entertainment. Get a grip! Some books *are* disposable entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some books are meant to be savored, and will be, even if they’re downloaded onto an ereader for $0.99.

    I adore my ereader (a Kindle). I adore it so much I’ve just about given up print. (When you need reading glasses, you will know why. And, by the way, my brain processes the text on my Kindle screen pretty much the same way it processes the text on a printed page. Reading on an e-ink screen is very different from reading on a back-lit computer screen.) Sure I’ve read some cheap genre fiction on it, but I’ve also read a boatload of classics. I’ve even ponied up $9.00 for Sarah Bakewell’s new biography of Montaigne (but I got Monaigne’s essays from PG for FREE.) I will likely even buy one of your $4.99 volumes.

    Please keep in mind that from the consumer’s perspective, ebooks are no bargain at $9.99 — or even $4.99. Why? Because one doesn’t OWN anything. I can’t sell an old ebook I’ve read, give it to someone, (easily) lend it to someone, or donate it to charity. If it’s DRM-ed, I won’t be able to read it again if I switch to a different company’s device (from a Kindle to a Nookk, say). Really, all I have is a license to read it on a personal device or two, and that’s it.

    Trust me, the folks who only by $0.99 cent books aren’t going to pony up $9.99 for Nabokov if the $0.99 junk goes away. They’ll just pony up $9.99 for Dan Brown and call it a day and money well spent.

  21. Posted June 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    The 99 cent read is an unusual phenomenon. It will probably eventually go away. Or maybe it will be carted out when a publisher or author wants to do a special deal for a short period of time. There are so many terrible 99 cent reads out there right now that I think it’s only a matter of time before people start shying away from them. The cheap price will be equated with cheap writing. People (me included) buy these books after they’ve read a review because they’re so cheap. They read a few pages and then dump them. I’m sure some 99 cent books are good, but it’s going to be hard to slog through all the dreck to find them. It’s still going to take a review from someone you respect to get people to try them after a while.

    4.99 is probably a good price for now. Once people start to realize that you get what you pay for even in the virtual world, you’ll be able to start charging what they are worth.

  22. Nick
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    On the one hand, there’s no winning this one for paper-based books; once I put The Satanic Verses, that 570-page hippo, on to my e-reader, there was no going back. I’m that guy who has several books going, big ones, and once e-books fully supplant the paperback, that’s several pounds of wood pulp gone from my life, forever.

    But I’m also that guy who’ll drop $15-20 for a good book if I can be sold on it. My problem with e-books isn’t price (Though I’ve seen some e-books at hardback prices. Laughable.) but availibility. I’ll be ready, money in hand, and there’ll be nothing to buy, *especiallly* since decline to be bound to the Kindle platform.

    There will be, there must be, an e-book store for the literary reader. Once there is, they will get my entire book-buying dollar, every cent.

  23. Joe Rhodes
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    “not a pricing expert”
    You’re the publisher, you should be an expert or your firm is in trouble.

    I’ve no problem with your price.

    For some reason, you seem to have a problem with the concept of ebooks. There are other readers and formats out there than just Kindle, you know.

    Check with Baen Books. They’ve been doing ebooks for a long time. Jim Baen really liked the concept. It allowed him to pay his writers a larger (much larger) royalty and still reduce printing costs.

    Baen doesn’t sell books for 99 cents, either.

    By the way, most authors who post some of their older works in Baen’s Free Library report their other book sales increase substantially. They compare it to the public libraries. Word of mouth advertising.

    I’ve dealt with them for many years and with any luck, will continue to do so.

  24. Michael King
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Chad,
    It made me sad to see you insulting other authors without even bothering to read an entire book that they have written. How many books have you written? What gives you the right to dismiss a book without even finishing it?

    Of course I already know the answer based on your opinion of readers. According to you there are differences between someone would buy an ebook for a dollar and a “real reader.” That type of condescending attitude towards the public is insulting and does little to further your efforts to expose more readers, whether they be “real” or not.

    As to E-books in general: Of the 100 stores that currently carry your books, how long does it stay there before it is returned? How long can you keep a book in print? Do you offer large print versions of all of your books? The E-book format allows for unlimited market reach, and always stays in print and available to a wider audience.

    Of course, as one with a profoundly narrow minded view of publishing, and the reading public at large. You will ignore that to complain about the success of other publishers and authors as a way to avoid taking a long look at yourself and your publishing philosophy. If you want to see a good model of selling digital versions of goods, looks at Steam. Steam is an online retailer of video games that has done incredibly well by experimenting with price points of back catalog items.

    have you considered publishing short stories from some of your label’s authors for free or a dollar as a way to introduce potential readers to their works? Why not heavily discount an older title from an author six weeks before his new work is published? Utilize the format to its fullest and offer promotional copies of the books to podcasts like Booked as a way to generate interest. You claim that you are focused on the reader, but from everything you have written and done, it appears that you are more focused on your notions of what reading and publishing should be.

    Instead of complaining that people aren’t beating down your door to buy your books, why not think of some ways to bring the book to their door instead? E-books aren’t the death of publishing, but a tool that can be used to expand your market and expose a much wider audience to your books. You just have to learn how to utilize it.

  25. Posted June 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    “Having read the opening of one of his “Donovan Creed” novels, I can assure you that he’s not selling all these books due to his talent.”

    Chad, that’s an astounding comment to make, that you can judge the quality of my nine books by having read the “opening” of one! I wish I could say you’re wrong about my lack of talent, but I’ve always been the first to admit my books aren’t meant to be great literature!

    I wish you well in your publishing venture, and would like to add that you and I can still be friends even if you don’t like my writing. But we can’t be friends if you keep insulting my audience.

  26. Joe Rhodes
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I just reread your article instead of just scanning it.

    I think you will find there is a substantial difference in cost between printing on paper and electrons. Especially since you must go through the electrons to get to the paper these days.

    When someone says ‘serious reader’, they really mean what they’re selling. Claiming there are only 10,000 ‘serious readers’ in the US out of 300 million people is laughable.

    You problem is you sell in a market niche. You have limited sales, limited distribution, and you have ACCEPTED this.

    If these books are as good as you think you need to advertise more, get them out where people can see them. Simply listing them on Amazon is not going to cut it.

    I’ve never heard of your books or your foundation. You need to promote both.

    By the way, I found this link from an Amazon discussion about your this article. That’s promotion, even if inadvertent.

  27. Jon Jermey
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    If I want to be informed I will read non-fiction. If I want to be entertained I will read a genre novel like those of John Locke, and if I can get one for 99 cents (or nothing), so much the better. But if I am a pretentious wanker who wants to pretend I am deep and profound without actually going to the effort of obtaining and reading anything factual, then I may one day actually pay $9.99 for a tale that “weaves fact and fiction in a memorable absurdist tale of flawed political resistance”, God help me.

  28. Posted June 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    This has to be one of the most shortsighted articles I’ve read about e-publishing in a long time. First, self-published authors are not “gaming the system”– we are simply taking advantage of a technology that allows us to bypass traditional publishers. I’ve been in this game a long time, and there’s no publisher that’s ever treated me with as much respect as I treat myself. It’s not personal– it’s JUST BUSINESS.

    And the lower price point is designed to find an audience– the easiest way to do that is to lower the price of the book to create an “impulse buy”– hence, the 99 cent price-point.

  29. Posted June 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    This little rant by publisher Chad Post combined boring sophistry with a portrait of someone in the publishing world who is either hopelessly confused or has a hidden agenda. His specious efforts to self-deprecate (I’m no pricing expert, or economics expert, or expert of any sort) juxtaposed with his stated expertise (a. how your brain processes texts read on a screen, and b. e-books make books feel like disposable entertainment) makes any prudent individual suspicious of what he is selling. I really liked the way Chad handled the first one (“I’m going to leave the first for a separate article” – huh? Didn’t Richard Nixon have a secret plan to end the war?) and then the fact that Chad believes that “e-books make books feel like disposable entertainment” was cause for a big, SO WHAT, was very perplexing given the anger in his words. Lots of books are disposable entertainment. We buy books in paperback, read them and then leave them everywhere from the dentist office to the seat pocket on an airplane. I guess as our guardian of all things literary, this is an affront to Chad.

    And, what is Chad selling? Initially his efforts were lost on this onlooker. The title of this piece, “Why Selling E-books at 99 Cents Destroys Minds” is incredulous and a perspective not held by the legion of eBook buyers. Does he have double-blind medical studies to support this loss of gray matter? Are we seeing a reduction in SAT scores among students who read 99 cent books? How did this newsworthy issue escape The New York Times? I might have to cancel my subscription if they don’t get on the ball! There seems not to be anything in his diatribe that supports this claim with empirical evidence – just his drivel angered by the fact that many, many people are buying eBooks for 99 cents while he is attempting to market his books for $4.99. Sour grapes? Chad, what gives? I’m further confused as you claim to be a not-for-profit (I’d like to see your Form 990 – do you post it?), yet you struggle with people buying books for one-fifth of your price? Where’s the ‘Not for profit’?

    Possibly, this should not have surprised me as here we have an alleged professional in the publishing space who has, in response to an amazing wave of reading technology, elected to place his head firmly in the sand (“and trust me, I’ve in no way incorporated this part of the digital “revolution” into my reading habits”). Truly stunning coming from a publisher. Furthermore, (I guess I didn’t get the memo), who made Chad keeper of the faith and protector of the collective minds of our world? Is this an elected position, or was he appointed? Note to Chad: I don’t need your help. There is good and bad reading at all price levels – even eBooks priced at $4.99. Like most readers, this is not news to me and Caveat Emptor is working just fine amongst the masses that have somehow managed to get by without your help. And Chad, your assertion that eBooks are bad because “with e-books: they emphasize immediate entertainment — and gratification — over real reading, which takes more commitment, patience, attention and time” further demonstrates just how out of touch you are. I own two eBook readers and have complete collections of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne on them (they were FREE) along with all nine of John Locke’s books (Yes – I’m a major Locke fan as his books provide me with “immediate entertainment and gratification” as vile as that may sound. Then again, this could just be a personal issue for me and me alone. As a kid in Junior High School, I truly wanted to snuff Holden Caulfied. What a depressing loser!! We could have been reading Louis L’Amour!). I find that eBook reading devices are equally adept at delivering classics and a good summer read. Chad, buy an eBook reader! Try to finish one of Locke’s books. They’re usually around 200 pages. You can do it!! You might even find that they are a great escape (as I have) for one living under the burdens that you carry.

    Finally, Chad, you need to write a piece like this and then let it sit on your desk for a day or two before posting. Telling the world that “Having read the opening of one of his “Donovan Creed” novels, I can assure you that he’s not selling all these books due to his talent. No offense intended, but let’s be real about this — it leads to a much more interesting conundrum,” leads only to further proof of your delusion. The only conundrum here is why you would tell anyone that you have assessed a writer’s talent (nine books that have collectively been purchased over 1 million times in the first five months of this year alone) by reading just the opening of one is embarrassing. You’re supposed to be a pro, remember? And notwithstanding your little dodge, it was offensive. Sell what you have, don’t knock the competition. As far as your books being five times better simply because they cost five times as much. No sale.

  30. Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    I am glad you are not a snob. Only 10,000 SERIOUS readers in the U.S.? Where do you get such figures? And what is Serious? Every author who writes in every category is serious about the kind of book he or she writes, and thousands, millions of fans of an author like Michael Crichton or Martin Cruz Smith or Dean R. Koontz are as serious readers as they come. I like to think my readers are serious consumers of commercially viable art; I like to consider my books artistic, even literary in intent but balancing the commercial plot with SERIOUS writing.

    I think you really turn people off writing with remarks like that while CEO of Amazon wants Kindle to reKindle an interest in reading and provide it at reasonable costs. Without warehousing books, ebooks being virtual remember, and there being no costs with distribution or even the advertising of being on the Kindle shelf worldwide, those not so serious readers you speak of are just too smart so they know there are no overhead costs to creating an ebook, and they were told on purchasing the original Kindle reader that no book would be priced higher than 9.99 — and authors for the first time in life were told we can price our books at our pleasure and so it goes.

    I have 45 titles on the Kindle shelf and not one is higher priced than 2.99 at this time, and as a result my Serious readers are rewarding me. For the first time in a writing career spanning nearly forty years, I can pay my mortgage with monies earned by my writing alone. That is pretty serious stuff too.

    I understand your fear as one of the academic. I teach at a university, so I hear it all the time that certain kinds of literary books are of greater quality than those of a Stephen King, that a novel without a plot like so many academic literary novels is somehow superior to a novel with a plot. I rather tire of that kind of nonsense.

    Robert W. Walker
    author Children of Salem, Titanic 2012

  31. Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Chad,
    I used to think Konrath went overboard, but I agree with him. When you’re looking for a job in about a year, send me your query letter. I’ll get back to you. Maybe. But given your attitude, you don’t have much of a future in publishing.

    You have no clue what you’re doing and you’re broadcasting it loudly. Ever hear, when in doubt, shut up?

    Besides insulting a writer for no reason other than to show your ‘sophistication’, you have no clue about publishing. I assume your books are five times better than mine. I’m only selling 1,000 ebooks a day. When one of your titles matches that, I’ll read it. After all, readers are just stupid, according to what you’ve written.

    Saying there are 10,00 serious readers is so snobbish it’s pathetic. Oh yes, the ones who vote Ulysses the #1 book of the century but have no clue what it’s about. Those readers.

    Market to your 10,000 readers and all the best because you’ve just lost all the rest of us dumb schmucks,

  32. Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Oh wait, Chad. You don’t make a living selling books. You’re supported by a university and NEA. So why don’t you stay in that world and not enter a world where you have no clue: called the world of real publishing. Where we slave and sweat and sell books. To readers. Whom we entertain and inform and interact with, not insult. Where an email from a reader who is undergoing chemo and reads a book to escape for a few hours is worth more than any royalty check.

    You have, after all, about what, 3 or 4 years experience in ‘publishing’? You haven’t even begun to learn your job but feel like you can bash authors by name and also bash readers?

    Are you so insecure you have to preen about your taste in literature? Live some more and experience some and you’ll know what literature is.

  33. Steven George
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    You know, Chad – merely dropping the price of an eBook to $4.99 doesn’t help its sales unless there is additional marketing activity behind it. What else have you done to let people know these books exist? (Other than write an article that manages to insult authors and potential eBook customers alike, that is). Dropping the price of a product is of no use at all if you don’t tell people about it. And no – this article doesn’t count, as the content and sneering tone has been counterproductive at best.

  34. Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    I believe we’ve been lured into another blog post with a flashy, controversial title. I read the whole thing, but I must be lost; at no point did the author even attempt to make a point relating to the title. At no point was any evidence or even speculation presented that supported “$0.99 price tag = destroyed mind”.

    I used to require evidence for such outlandish claims, but I’ll settle for speculation if it sounds good. Maybe I’m just getting older. ;)

    I’m sorry that John Locke had to be exposed to such treatment. I haven’t read any of John’s books, but they do sell well. I’m of the opinion that something doesn’t sell well with absolutely zero word-of-mouth recommendations. At 1,000,000+ copies sold since January 1st, I’d venture to say that somebody liked his books. I’d even venture to say that someone loved his writing style.

    Yes, sales rankings help, but they’re not everything. Having a good sales rank doesn’t guarantee you that people will buy the books. It helps, but it’s a part of more passive sales (personal discovery sales) than the bulk of your audience – the word-of-mouth, the promotion, and getting involved with your readers.

    Bob said many good things here. Yes, the money’s nice. Reader appreciation is greater than that, though. The royalties only matter to the author or publisher, and, if they’re happy, be happy for them. Who cares if someone’s charging $0.99? We’re not really competing. We’re not in an end-sum game. People who have read Stephen King have read my books. They will read Stephen King again. They will read my books again. We share our audience of readers; I’ve never met anyone who reads a book and declares, “I will read no other author ever again!”

    In the real world, people say, “Hey, that’s a good book. I’ll add that guy to my favored authors list amongst the other people I usually read.”

    John said it himself – “I don’t claim to write great literature.” Some people don’t. Some people write books to entertain people. Some get entertained and some don’t. Not every book produced (by far) was written to be a literary masterpiece or an example of timeless, ageless magnificence. Some books are written to make money, to entertain, and to fulfill a need. If someone wants to slap a $0.99 price tag on it, so be it. It’s their work, it’s their choice.

    Anyhow, best of luck. I’d hope you would change your attitude toward other self-publishers and small presses, though. We’ve had to learn how to do this and adapt on an almost daily basis. We’ve learned through hard work what works and what doesn’t, things which need to be changed and things that are okay as they are. Learn from the ones who have been there instead of belittling them.

  35. Terrence OBrien
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    I understand why you survive on donations.

  36. Posted June 14, 2011 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    Chad,

    Excellent article.

    I’ve been writing a number of years. By god, it’s horror, with a literary bent. I love literary works, but I also love horror stories. I have jumped into this e-book market because I grew tired of writing for an issue of the magazine my story happens to be displayed within its pages.

    I agree an author should be doing the best he/she can when they create. It takes me months to write and revise a novella/novel. Then, I send it to an editor. You may think most of the ‘indies’ can’t write their way out of a paper bag. But, that’s not really the issue. People buy books to be entertained. Paperbacks were a threat when they first arrived on the scene. And what is an e-book? It’s what is taking over the paperback circulation numbers.

    I buy from specialty and small presses. I’ve paid more than %500.00 for some of my books. They are works of art. And I won’t stop buying these because there are ebooks. Ebooks, like mmpps before them, are throw away. And they are priced to be throw away. Look at the market in the terms of your books. Selling them as a lost leader might be a way to bring more readers into your literary world. They just might spur sales of your traditionally printed books.

  37. Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Ebooks empower individuals to write and to publish, and in this way help to challenge “the crushing power of big publishing”, that excludes so many authors from the New York City publishing circus. Publishing can move from the impersonal and profitable, to the personal and pleasurable.

  38. Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    Ebooks allow publishers to publish (and readers to read) works by a larger number of authors, and works on a wider variety of topics. Critics of traditional book publishing stated that economic pressures have reduced and limited the number of authors and topics that traditional publishers will now produce. As technology develops, ebooks may contain new features. For example, a book of recipes may contain a recipe calculator to figure how much maple syrup is needed to bake 200 cookies. An ebook that prepares you for the GRE could include an interactive test. An ebook about politics might allow you to click a link and register to vote, or send an email to a Congressman that tells him he is not a good environmental steward. Ebooks are good for paperbook publishing. By setting an example for diversity and freedom of expression, ebooks may motivate the stagnant book publishing industry towards the renewal of small presses, the end of the blockbuster-bestseller publishing mentality, and a healthier balance between the needs of commerce and culture.

  39. Bill
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    I have gotten excellent entertainment from free e-books. Does this make me less of a connoisseur of fine works? I think not. Most literary classics are free online and from e-reader providers.

    I personally buy books at the brick and mortar and the Amazon’s often. Ones that I have never read and many that I have.

    Your elitist and archaic attitude toward e-books and there readers is insulting to anyone that can read. It is time to get out of the that dusty office you sit in and check out what the world has become.

  40. Posted June 14, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Some of my favourite works are translated literary fiction titles. But I completely disagree with this article. I could go point-by-point, but I won’t.

    What I will say is this. Mr. Post seems to be falling into the trap of considering the 99c price point from an emotional point of view. A publisher or author should price their titles at the amount that makes them the most money. That’s different for every author and it’s different for every book.

    There have always been discount publishers, regular publishers, and high-end publishers, just like there have always been dollar cinemas and day-old bread. Now, that bread is probably fine, the dollar cinemas show some of the best stuff out there, and I have heard people say that John Locke is a hell of a writer for 99c.

    But if everyone had to shop in the artisanal bakery, there would be less bread sold.

    Writers (and publishers) need to stop viewing each other as the competition. The real competition is television, music, Hollywood, and the internet.

    If people like John Locke can get more people reading, then they are growing the pie for everyone. This is a good thing.

    One final thing. The part of the article about John Locke might have carried more weight if the paragraph hadn’t contained a typo. “He made over a hundred thousand of dollars in royalties last year.”

    No “of” needed.

  41. Posted June 14, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    No gentle way of saying it, so here goes….

    I could ALMOST get on board with your concerns. Then I read this:

    “And this has always been my problem with e-books: they emphasize immediate entertainment — and gratification — over real “reading,” which takes more commitment, patience, attention and time.”

    That is likely the dumbest thing I have ever read on this topic.

    You make it sound as if there is some sort of hidden code or bonus material in print books if you REALLY read them. Truth be told, while I am self-publishing on Kindle, I MUCH prefer reading from a physical book. But I have also read several books on an e-screen. I got the same information processed into my head and was not blessed with any extra insight or hidden meanings when reading the physical book.

    But please tell me where you buy these magic books. Also, I wonder if you realize that you just gave Mr. John Locke a bit of free publicity. I’m sure he appreciates it.

  42. Denise
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    You say, “But to pull back from the misanthropy, the point is this: self-published authors game the system. You set your e-book price at $0.99, get a hundred friends to buy it in a short window of time, and shoot into the best-seller list where sales breed sales, and Terry Gross has only a momentary impact.”

    You obviously have no grasp of the real sales numbers of e-books if you think this is true or possible. Who in the world has been feeding you such lies? A hundred sales, in an hour, will boost your Amazon rank to semi-almost-popular, and then a bit later you will fall completely off the charts. These writers get SUSTAINED sales that high. That many people buy books right now, the number of “real” readers be damned.

    Clinging to pretentiousness doesn’t help your cause, in any way. You have the opportunity to bring your books to the masses, and you choose instead to disparage them. If you ACTUALLY cared about spreading this literature, you would look into how these people are selling so very many more books than you instead of moaning about how they are killing the English language and brain cells. People ARE reading, they just aren’t reading what you publish. With your attitude, that’s not surprising.

  43. Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Just as an aside, you have to be selling THOUSANDS a day to hit the top of the charts.

    That’s a lot of friends.

  44. Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    “To the common reader on the street, the idea of selling $9.99 e-books sounds like a great opportunity for extra cash.”

    If that was true, there would be no indie movement. The average joe on the street expects to pay less for digital products, and that has created a huge demand. Filling that demand is not gaming the system, it’s good business.

  45. Lisa
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Publishers were stupid to continue the same business model for e-books as they had with physical books. That is why they are all moving toward the agency model for e-books, setting the price and allowing the retailer to take a 30% commission. Every Kindle book purchase I make includes the note that the price is set by the publisher.

    The most annoying aspect of this your article is your snobbishness, a disease that pervades the “literary” community with the never-ending lament that there only so many true literary readers and what a pitiable state of affairs that is. But all that wailing is just a ploy to make themselves feel superior. And that moral high ground is fortified by feeling victimized as well because how in the world can obscure foreign poetry translation compete in the marketplace with the likes of the loathsome John Locke? But the whole premise is specious as there never was and never will be any competition for readership between these types of works.

    To your complaint that readers of electronic books aren’t putting in enough efforts, I would say that I think your writers should hand write their books, illuminate the manuscripts, bind them in leather that they have tanned themselves and then sell autographed copies door to door. Then I would know that enough commitment, patience, attention and time had gone into the books to justify my effort in reading them.

  46. Lisa
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Publishers were stupid to continue the same business model for e-books as they had with physical books. That is why they are all moving toward the agency model for e-books, setting the price and allowing the retailer to take a 30% commission. Every Kindle book purchase I make includes the note that the price is set by the publisher.

    The most annoying aspect of this your article is your snobbishness, a disease that pervades the “literary” community with the never-ending lament that there only so many true literary readers and what a pitiable state of affairs that is. But all that wailing is just a ploy to make themselves feel superior. And that moral high ground is fortified by feeling victimized as well because how in the world can obscure foreign poetry translation compete in the marketplace with the likes of the loathsome John Locke? But the whole premise is specious as there never was and never will be any competition for readership between these types of works.

    To your complaint that readers of electronic books aren’t putting in enough effort, I would say that I think your writers should hand write their books, illuminate the manuscripts, bind them in leather that they have tanned themselves and then sell autographed copies door to door. Then I would know that enough commitment, patience, attention and time had gone into the books to justify my effort in reading them.

  47. Ilya Zarembsky
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Interesting article. Sal and I are always talking about this stuff.

    1, My gut is that $0.99 – $2.99 is about the right price range, as Wayne Borean above says. Go above $2.99 and it starts feeling like a purchase rather than a trip to the soda machine. Especially if you want to broaden your audience, I think you want to set prices that will encourage “what the heck” buying (buying as a cheap way to show yourself you’re a spontaneous buckwild risk-taker) and guard against buyer disappointment/resentment. If you get more sales I expect your star rating averages will drop, but I’m guessing the degree to which people are deterred from trying something they’re mildly curious about by mixed reviews drops off faster-than-linearly as the price approaches zero.

    2, You should check out what Steam, the digital game distribution platform, has done with pricing. E.g.: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090219/1124433835.shtml. They have seen heavy discounting bring exponential jumps in sales.

    3, Maybe if you make the e-book very cheap, the buyer will be slightly more likely to treat the purchase as a trial & also buy a paper edition if they like the book? Only a small percentage of book buyers would probably ever do that, though.

    3b, On the other hand, the greater the price difference, the more likely that someone who would usually spring for the paper edition will instead go for the $1.99 e-version. As you say.

    4, Maybe try piggybacking on top of popular books? Like, a bundle. “Get a copy of Denmark’s Franzen with your Franzen!”

    5, Maybe try selling chapters/sections as well as whole books? As a sort of extended trial.

  48. Ilya Zarembsky
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    6, I sympathize with your discomfort with the perception of books as “just” entertainment, but I think it may be productive to think about your books from that angle. After all, people like travel. It’s entertaining! And one thing that translated fiction offers is a cheap way to travel to exotic places (interior and exterior). That’s entertaining and you should buy it!

  49. Ilya Zarembsky
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    7, Just saw Michael King’s comment & how he said most of what I said but better.

  50. Edward Nawotka
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    The hyperbolic attacks on Chad are a getting over the top and should stop. The point has been made. Yes, he’s a book snob and makes no apologies for it. He’s also not whining about the modest sales of his imprint’s books, just trying — like everyone — to find a bigger audience for them.

    That’s why we call this site Publishing Perspectives — it offers points of view. Chad is right, John Locke is right. To each his own.

    For the record: As Editor-in-chief of this site, I invited John Locke to elaborate on his response and he declined, citing his belief that our audience “is not his audience” and it would not be a worthwhile use of his time, which is fair enough. This tells me that he’s made a decision about his audience, much the same way Chad has.

    There are a lot of ways of looking at this argument: perhaps one way of looking at this is see it as analogous to sex, where so much of it depends on what is going on in your head.

    Consuming porn on the internet is quick, easy, virtually free and very popular. There’s little emotional engagement, but it is “entertaining.” It caters to and satisfies base desires, but you’d hardly call it rewarding.

    Making love to someone you have a relationship with is a much more complex and, hopefully, rich experience.

    Yes, this is a simplification, but you can hardly ignore the fact that access to and preponderance of porn in our society has changed the way people think about sex, especially among teenagers who have much less experience of it in its more sophisticated, complicated, emotionally messy form than an adult, for example.

    Chad’s concern is, in my interpretation, that pricing books too cheaply ultimately devalues literature, reading and books no matter what type of literature you’re talking about.

    There was a sexual revolution in the 60s — which had had both good and bad long-term consequences — and we have a reading revolution in this decade. How it plays out remains to be seen.

    Thank you to everyone for reading and for the ongoing dialog.

    Ed Nawotka
    Editor-in-chief
    Publishing Perspectives

  51. Ilya Zarembsky
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Ed, your porn/lovemaking analogy isn’t a simplification, it’s a bad analogy. If we want to make a sex analogy to e-books/paper books, it’s clearly just online porn / porn magazine.

    Like Natasha and others above, I’m uncomfortable with the claim that pricing books cheaply devalues literature. It seems much more accurate to me to say that what devalues literature is the thinking underlying such claims, namely that a book’s worth can be expressed in dollars. The more you think along those lines, the more you vulgarize even the best books by making them into just another luxury commodity.

  52. Lisa
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    So now reading an e-book is akin to getting off on internet porn?! If you insist on the comparison I would say we are talking about the difference between missionary position and oral sex. Just a lovely enhancement of the overall experience. Everything depends on the “partner,” in this case the content of the book, and that doesn’t change because of format.

    As for snobbery, Chad can enjoy his esoteric works without crapping on those who don’t. Why is it that you never hear physicists whining that the common people don’t read their theorems? Maybe because they understand that it requires specialized knowledge to do so. The literary elite should embrace their own tastes but stop judging those who don’t.

  53. Edward Nawotka
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    @Ilya, It’s not a literal analogy. And I’m talking about content, not format, in this case. In the case of books, the long term sustainability of our business depends on creating a revenue stream that is sustainable. The underlying argument is not about e-books v. p-books, but about books and literature in general. I’m not favoring one over the other, but trying to see the big picture.

    Don’t get fixated on the porn analogy — which is perhaps too laden with preconceptions — how about onanism vs. lovemaking, instead?! The point is about the complexity of one’s mental/emotional engagement with something.

    How about a wine analogy: you can get box wine from the gas station that is perfectly drinkable or you can get a bottle of something more complex, sophisticated and challenging to the palette. Both satisfy a desire — and will get you just as drunk. But the experience of drinking them, depending on your relationship to wine, can be vastly different.

    Wine was viewed for a long time as something for snobs. Cheaper, better bottles made it accessible to a larger number of people — this is happening in China at the moment — and that is a good thing for the wine industry. At the same time, the influx of cheaper wine was viewed by the industry as way of expanding the audience, and serving as a gateway for their more expensive and, presumably, better bottles. This is still being played out…

    That said, I’m much less concerned about whether or not it comes in a box or a bottle, with a screw top or a cork. Doesn’t matter. What matters is your relationship to it and experience of it.

    And no, I personally don’t think that the influx of more inexpensive bottles of wine has devalued wine overall. Perhaps that’s an analogy the book business might do well to consider?

  54. Neil Griffin
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article and I’ve enjoyed the spirited debate after. What I’m curious about is the assertion that brains process words differently on an ebook. Are there other articles that study this in-depth? I have heard similar claims, but after buying a kindle, I’ve found the reading pretty similar.

  55. EJW
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Reading between the lines, it seems as if there is a suggestion here that reading electronically is somehow mentally less engaging than reading off of paper. Do people seriously think that words on an electronic screen offer less brain nutrition than paper words? (Sort of like cooking vegetables …) The idea is silly, much less the actual scientific probability of such a difference.

    When I read these kinds of articles I’m a bit staggered by the idea of people who clearly love literature deriding a something that’s encouraging MORE reading. Ultimately, I say give the damned things away for free if it means people will read more. How will authors, editors, etc., etc. make a living? Who knows, but they WILL, because talent and entertainment will always have a price.

    Speaking of price, traditional publishers are pricing themselves out of the eBook game, which is fine for many authors. It’ll mean less competition in the future.

  56. Lisa
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    @Edward I like the wine analogy much better. They way you present takes the comparison in a more positive and one that corresponds better. Let’s just steer clear of having the aged scotch drinkers dissing the Corona crowd. As long as people are “drinking”, it’s a good thing. Cheers!

  57. Edward Nawotka
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    @Lisa, yes, I like that analogy as well. Let’s stick with that one instead.

  58. Posted June 14, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Great analysis. Would be interesting to carry the debate further and compare these reflections with the situation in France where ebooks are subject to price control (which has been the case for printed books since 1981): http://read.bi/lOqrSp.

  59. Monica La Porta
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Writers want their words to be read. The writers who wrote the books you publish want their words to be read. As a reader, I want to read them. But, if I never heard of X, how I am going to find his/her books? Now, passionate publishers like you, committed to discover rare jewels and translate them, should rejoice at the idea that your favorite authors’ voices can be heard by millions of people. As a parent, I try my best to make the right decision for my kids. If I were a publisher, I would treat the authors I represent the same way. Although you don’t feel good about it, when you decided to offer their titles as ebooks you did right by them. And that is all that matters.

  60. Posted June 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    @Monica I totally agree with you. In the larger scheme of things I’ve been writing/thinking about, the real question becomes “how does person x find these books?” That–in my *opinion*–involves a lot of factors: price, publicity, gatekeepers, tastemakers, reading patterns, self-selectivity, behavioral economics, etc., etc., etc. It’s an absolutely fascinating topic. I think it may be the essential publishing question of our time.

    @Neil I think the jury is way out re: screen reading vs. print reading. There are studies showing the decline in reading comprehension when the text is read on a screen. It drops even lower when hyperlinks are embedded in the text. Nicholas Carr writes about this, but there have been several critiques of Carr’s conclusions.

    Studies of what happens in the brain in these two reading environments are really just beginning in earnest, and in addition, this is something that will continue to evolve as more people grow up in our very tech-dependent world.

    I personally don’t care for reading on the Kindle (haven’t used anything else), but I also know that that’s just me. (Or not really me, here are a few interesting pieces to check out: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/the-future-of-reading-2 and http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/36037/) Another thing to check out is http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/screen-readingprint-reading/8551

    Now, none of this means that I think ebooks are the work of the devil, or that you’re stoopid to read them. I just think looking at the broader context of how reading (selection & comprehension) work and impact culture is an important thing. But I know that not everyone does.

  61. Ilya Zarembsky
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Ed, with all due respect, I don’t think you really grasp what an analogy is.

  62. Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Edward Nawotka drew a very apt analogy to wine. Wine (like literary fiction) was for the longest time considered elitist, confined to those “serious” consumers (“serious readers”) who knew good from bad. Sure, there was bad wine out there (genre fiction), and it often sold in cheaper formats (paperback), but that was just to please the rabble.

    Well, guess what happened? The vintners saw a chance to make more money! Good God, they actually WENT COMMERCIAL and started marketing their fine and medium wines to the masses at reasonable prices (lower ebook prices). And don’t you know that pretty soon, everyone was drinking wine (reading ebooks). People who only drank beer or whiskey before (non-“serious” readers) suddenly couldn’t get enough wine, because the prices were no longer prohibitive, AND it was plentiful, much more so than ever before. Sure it wasn’t Louis XIII (James Joyce) but it was pretty darned good for their unsophisticated palates (John Locke, Amanda Hocking).

    Those vintners who wised up and sold to the masses became wildly successful and lived happily ever after.

    The End.

  63. Lisa
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I just realized that I left out a couple words on my last post, making it kind of garbled. Here is what I meant to say:

    @Edward I like the wine analogy much better. The way you present it takes the comparison in a more positive direction and one that corresponds better. Let’s just steer clear of having the aged-scotch drinkers dissing the Corona crowd. As long as people are “drinking”, it’s a good thing. Cheers! …Or to connect to the previous analogy, Bottoms up!

  64. Ilya Zarembsky
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    To be more constructive, Ed. You’re conflating and confusing two distinct binaries in your comments; e-books/print books & “quality”/”literary” fiction/entertainment fiction. In your first comment, you try to present the difference between online porn and live lovemaking as analogous to the difference between e-reading and print reading. This is a bad analogy because the elements are not parallel. It does little good to say you didn’t mean the analogy to be literal, as “literal analogy” is an oxymoron. In your second comment, you try to present mass market wine / fancy wine as a refinement of your first analogy when in fact that difference is analogous to the completely unrelated second binary.

  65. Edward Nawotka
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    @Ilya, appreciated.

  66. Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I posted in here yesterday, but here’s an addendum that I think Chad (and anyone else who agrees with his “analysis”) might want to think about.

    What might it be like to have been in on the marketing session that came up with the word “Kindle” as the name of the device that would eliminate books? They could’ve just as easily decided to call it the 451, right?

    Is Kindle the singular of *kindling*?

    Regardless of how you look at it – Kindle is the device by which books cease to become physical objects and become mere electrons. But that does not suggest that what is contained within those electrons no longer have any value to those who come in contact with – no matter what the price. If the words have value, they will find an audience – but do not count on it being a paying one, unless your name is Clancy, King, Winfrey, etc.

  67. Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget that Amazon adds a Whispernet charge of $2.00 for every customer outside the US, so $0.99 books actually cost $2.99 if you don’t live in the US (I think Australia might be excluded now). Your $4.99 book will cost me $6.99 which is approx R50 and I can buy a small McDonald’s hamburger for R18.00. Just sayin’.

  68. Posted June 14, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    As with all other technological advances, @Gregory, it’s never the device itself, it’s the device’s impact on society. Ebooks don’t automatically degrade the quality of books, but the existence of ebooks/devices is clearly having an impact on culture (and business). Again, not that shifts in audience behavior are automatically bad (we’d all mostly agree that getting more people to read is generally a positive thing), but they are interesting for authors, publishers, commentators, readers, etc., etc. Crazy & exciting how fast everything is changing, and fun to see how it’s playing out . . .

  69. Neil Griffin
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the articles, Chad. I’m definitely conflicted about how reading experiences are different with ebooks as opposed to the real thing. I’ve mostly bought “genre fiction” that I wouldn’t necessarily want on my bookshelf with my kindle and then continued to read “literary fiction” (quoted words are obvious shortcuts) in physical form, so, in a sense, I can’t really compare the two the experiences, since the books are so different.

  70. Natasha
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Re the articles Chad linked to:

    Sigh … so it’s not enough that the texts themselves be difficult, the act of reading them has to be physically trying too, else it’s not really “reading.”

    Honey, if you want to make it difficult to read on your Kindle, just change the font and fool around with the margins some.

    Wrapping prejudices about “difficulty” and “worthiness” in scientism doesn’t make them anything more than prejudices.

  71. Posted June 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t going to make a comment until I read Edward Nawotka’s comment. Now I just can’t help myself. First Chad belittles readers and now Edward patronizes posters. I suppose that actually makes Chad a little more sympathetic in my view because clearly there is a whole culture of snobbery in this little organization.

    Kudos to John Locke for not engaging anymore. Hopefully, the ignorance and irrelevance of this blog (and Chad’s publishing decisions) will cause it to achieve the fate of so many before: to become unknown.

    I don’t know. Maybe we’re all being played and this is brilliant short term marketing. But I’m pretty sure you’re not gaining new, quality readers by talking down to them and cutting them off.

    Just my 2c. Good luck in your endeavors.
    Kate Madison

  72. Posted June 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I think the correct phrase to apply to this post is simply: Sour Grapes.

  73. Posted June 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Something that is supposed to be pleasing or enjoyable comes with a price tag!
    When something costs less than a DOLLAR, Red flags go off in my head. A 99 cents Burger or 2-Burgers for 99 cents. I find it hard to eat the former, but the latter, I would, only, feed to my Dog! I find it hard to read a 99 cents book-Most are terrible, have no substance, or SCOPE.

  74. Brian
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    “Hi! I’m old and hate change. I also can’t think outside the box because new ideas terrify me, so I wrap my terror up in a veil of snobbery and tell people that access to cheap, plentiful amounts of information is actually destroying their minds! That way I can look super smart and feel better about myself.”

  75. Posted June 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    the only thing that destroys minds is the quality (lack of) in your writing in this article, chad.
    now go take a shave.

  76. Posted June 14, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Price is not value. Value is not price. Almost anything published before 1900 is available for free as an ebook from Project Gutenberg. Just because we live in the age of money does not mean that everything can be reduced to thatb denominator.

    Disclaimer. I give all my books away for free. I don’t want money from them. I don’t game the system. I don’t know the tens of thousands of readers who have downloaded them. Not all of them think my writing is crap but what other people think is none of my business.

    Put whatever price you want on your stuff. There’s no shortage out there. This post was like a box of whine, indeed.

  77. Posted June 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Sour grapes indeed.

    After being screwed over by the Big Six for decades, authors do not need to apologize for going into business for themselves–they are the creators of the work, after all. No need to subsidize an antiquated system just to feel validated.

    John Locke made $100,000+ last year. Good for him. He will only get better now that he is writing full time.

  78. Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I disagree that eBooks cheapen the value of books. Either you like to read or you don’t. We all know people who buy books all the time yet never finish them. Books, for many people, have always been impulse buys. People who enjoy reading will read regardless if they bought a physical book or an eBook. I still avidly read both.

    In most cases, I suspect that cheap eBooks likely lead to sales which never would have occurred in the first place, rather than subtract from physical book sales. I’m more likely to check someone out at .99 or $2.99 than I would at $9.99. But I’m still going to buy from the big authors I’ve come to know and love no matter the price.

    To your last point, no, not all publishers can thrive in this new market. Nor should they.

    You either adapt and provide value or you find enough people to support your business model in some other way. Holding prices artificially high for the sake of propping up a failing business model will never work because the truth is, authors no longer need publishers.

    Let me rephrase that – authors are now becoming publishers.

    Writers finally have the opportunity to go directly to their audience and build their own fan base/readership. They are no longer held up by production schedules or the interests of the publisher. They don’t have to take a pittance in digital sales royalties or take a back seat to another writer in the stable. In short, writers can now write their own rules (pun intended).

    So the question publishers need to be asking themselves isn’t how can we force our will onto others, but rather, how can I provide value to my customers? How can I make the book buying/reading experience more valuable so people will feel compelled to support our efforts?

    Not an easy question, I know, but I’m sure the most creative types will find ways to thrive. Or more indie author/publishers will rise. In any event, “literature” is no worse for the wear and the readers win.

  79. Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Pathetic. It would be almost funny, but actually it’s just irrelevant.
    It reminds me a bit of the discussions that took place, or so my father tells me, when the CD replaced the vinyl record. Vinyl records, or so their proponents said, were far superior. The sound was better, warmer, and blah and blah.
    I suspect that this whole non-existent problem has more to do with protecting the profit margins of publishers than with the lofty concerns that are so ineptly uttered here.
    It’s actually very simple. Mr. Post doesn’t get a vote in this. Neither do the publishers. Neither do the writers. The only people who get a vote are the readers, and they will vote with their wallet. It’s sometimes called capitalism. Sometimes free market. Sometimes even democracy.
    There is a remedy however. Take a good look in the mirror. Take a good look at the history of dinosaurs. Decide what you’re going to do. Adapt or die out.

  80. Chad
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always considered myself a “serious” reader. I went to an engineering college and double-majored in Literature so that I could continue to be exposed to talented authors and amazing stories. To this day, I still read ~5 books a week (mostly on weekends), and here’s my take on eBooks:

    The Kindle and other devices have the potential to disrupt other forms of entertainment (TV, movies, etc.). They make reading and books more accessible and “real-time” than paper books do. Since getting a Kindle, my weekly reading has gone from ~3 books to ~5, because I *always* have a book to read or can get one instantly. In the past, the debate would be “do I re-read a book I already have or watch something on TV?” For me, the debate has shifted to be almost exclusively “what do I feel like reading today?”

    Adding to that, I also find that I’m reading a much wider breadth of authors and types of novels, for two reasons:
    1. The financial commitment is small (and I know this is killing the industry, but it’s the truth), and
    2. It’s simply easier to find great books. I’ve gone from spending hours browsing at a bookstore trying to find something interesting, to spending minutes browsing top-seller lists.

    Having said all that, I don’t like that Amazon is introducing risk into the market and that in the long-term it’s possible for us to see fewer books from publishers because of shrinking margins or even worse – no more bookstores. So I’m going to do my very small part and switch to a Barnes&Noble Nook so I’m at least supporting the brick-and-mortar bookstores that I’ve always loved (and miss now that I’m 90% “e” reading).

  81. Posted June 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the entertaining article. It made me laugh on so many levels; I lost count. I read most of the comments, so I could get a sense of what people thought. I was amused by your Editor-in-chief swooping in and defending you. Really sweet.

    But, your statement in your article: “And this has always been my problem with e-books: they emphasize immediate entertainment — and gratification — over real “reading,” which takes more commitment, patience, attention and time…” just demonstrates your naivete and snobbery. “You just don’t get it. And, you can’t sell it either.”

    It’s a business–this book publishing thing. You’ve got a model that isn’t working in the new age of business that functions in an electronic-based world. Your little publishing firm has too much overhead and too many mouths to feed, but the only ones that count are the reader and the author. Loved the comment about the agents and publishers freaking out on the price points if you went lower than $4.99. Geesh, no wonder, it becomes way too obvious agents really aren’t needed in this new game.

    I’m buying the rest of John Locke’s books because he was compassionate enough to respectfully respond, despite your insults of his writing and because he also defended his audience so nicely.

    You and your editor are the epitome of the rest of the traditional publishing world that “just doesn’t get it”. Good luck with the agency model formula going forward.

    I’m off to my Kindle to “read”, even though it isn’t real enough for you.

    Katherine Owen
    Author of Not To Us and Seeing Julia

  82. Doug Welch
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I find it ironic that the writer is using the very same medium in which e-books are popular, to denounce the e-book market as not being a serious literary effort. I can recommend e-books that are every bit as serious in literary terms than any he proposes to publish. (But, oh yes, he won’t read e-books – too bad.) Live with it!
    It’s time to stop killing trees just to satisfy the miniscule appetites of snobs that think they have a lock on what’s considered literature.
    People read to escape the world and enter a realm they’ve never encountered before. They want to vicariously experience in their minds the adventures of fantastic characters and exotic scenes.
    If you must re-read a sentence or paragraph multiple times to make sense of it, then where’s the fun in that?
    If a modern, wanna-be Shakespeare submitted one of his plays to a modern publisher, it would never be able to pass the editor’s knife, and if it did, no one would read it. (It certainly wouldn’t be made into a major motion picture.)

  83. Ady001
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I personally don’t think writing a book and pricing it at 0.99 cheapens literature. There are even some people with genuine literary talent who give their books and writings away for free. It’s just a matter of priorities. I even buy books which are too expensive yet written sloppily.

    I am personally publishing a book in kindle for the price of 0.99. My reason? I just want to bury the whole thing and give it a proper burial, and that’s giving it a publishing right.

  84. Posted June 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    But you posted an explanation of the ending of the TV series LOST?

    So that’s great and didn’t destroy your mind?

  85. Posted June 16, 2011 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    I do believe in good bargains but selling ebooks at 0.99C devalue the books and gives the appearance that the content is not that important.

    Chiaka

    http://www.newweboutlets.com/ca6475

  86. Posted June 17, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    I think you really forget that the “art of writing” IS NOT and HAS NEVER BEEN ABOUT FORMAT or professional legacy publishing deals!!! In fact, I’d go so far as to say (and as an author, I attest to this myself) that those authors who self-publish put MORE work into their product than traditionally published authors.

    I design my own cover art, I work out the dimensions, I format my interior so that text is justified all across the page (which takes a good amount of time), and in some cases, I use graphics for my interior. A LOT of work goes into making the most professional presentation possible.

    It’s no different with my Kindle books. I put a table of contents in the file (which I’ve observed many self-published and even traditionally published authors don’t always do).

    So a lot of hard work goes into it. I bust my ass. If I could price my books higher than 99 cents, I would, but that would be suicide, and this is the only point I can really somewhat agree on with you. I’d love to be able to make a living off my writing. However…

    Let’s not forget that in the end, how many titles you sell depends almost entirely on marketing once the presentation is done, and learning how to market your work online as a self-published author is a challenging task. Some don’t have all the time to be able to do it, and I applaud anyone who sells enough of their books to get by, because I have yet to bust my ass in that playing field.

    So price is only one part of this.

    One thing you’d do well to remember is that if readers have a choice of going to a real bookstore, the price of print editions is still much higher than e-books. At least the Big 6 have that going for them. Still, this won’t last long.

    They need to understand that authors will ultimately control the market. You work with the technological advances or not at all. I cherish print books more than e-books. They’re more tangible, real, and the words on paper can often have greater impact as a permanent structure, instead of being something you can hit the “Delete” button on. But self-publishing also gives you the same benefit, and still more, at a lower price.

    This world runs on convenience and ease of use now, whether companies like it or not.

    It’s just the way the market evolves. Selling more books is more important at the end of the day than actual sales. That’s how I see it. There’s something very gratifying about seeing the emotional impact of your words and stories on people, and that’s not something that upping my prices would ever replace.

    I realize we all need to make a profit for living and the economy sucks.

    But don’t cheapen the impact of self-publishing or ebooks. Just like all that glitters isn’t gold, all that’s priced lower isn’t trash.

    The same amount of hard work and dedication goes into it.

  87. Posted June 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Are you truly losing money at 70% of $4.99 when there are no printing costs involved?
    While I think that you always have to keep competitor’s prices in mind I don’t think that John Locke is your competition, so I disagree that his $0.99 books are in any way affecting your prices. 1) Different market with different expectations, and 2) his books are priced so low that if your prices are reasonable I can buy both.
    The price I will pay for a book is based on a number of factors:
    -The age of the book (I’ll pay much more for a bestseller, then I will a book that has been around for awhile.)
    -Hardback, paperback, or ebook. Sans printing costs I expect an ebook to be priced no higher than a paperback. (Actually I only purchase ebooks these days, but I would expect to pay more for a hardback book)
    -How much money I have
    -If it’s one of my favorite authors. Even then if the price is too high I’ll go to the library.
    As far as books being entertainment, popular fiction has always been entertainment even when printed on the hallowed paper. And I bet those books, even though priced higher than ebooks still outsold the books that you published.

  88. Sarvi
    Posted June 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I plan to buy several e-books at the $5 price, and then buy the real books for the ones I like. I don’t have anything against e-books, but they’re just a bunch of text. A book is an object. It smells like paper, it has my grandfather’s cigarette papers tucked between the sheets, it’s giving me a bad back, it holds down the corners of the beach blanket, it gets gnawed by my toddler and one day she will find my handwriting in it. I didn’t start reading Thomas Bernhard because he was priced at 99 cents, or because he was marketed to stay-at-home moms in the valuable 39-45 age bracket. I started because somebody told me he was one of the worst writers he’d ever read. There are other people like me, too. I see them on LibraryThing and in shops that sell smelly used books. We exist, and we buy books for ourselves, our friends, and our children. E-books will not save me money on books, but they’ll help me be more satisfied with the books I buy.

  89. Posted June 18, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Would you say that people checking out library books for free means they also don’t value them?

    Haranguing people to read Fine Literature (TM) has never and will never get them to put down popular fiction, nor should it. You read what you like and so should everyone else. This makes reading literary fiction sound like such an arduous task.

    Books are content. If you want people to ingest your content, have it available in a lot of different formats cheaply. It still has to be interesting.

  90. Posted June 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    The author of this article seems to be misrepresenting their problem with ebooks.

    They’re pretty clearly motivated by worry that ebooks will put traditional publishers out of business, not by worries about quality.

    Traditional publishers have given us the Twilight series and The Situation’s autobiography.

  91. Posted June 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    I remember watching an episode of ‘Deep Space Nine’ where Sisco’s son hands him a hand held computer device and asks him to read his novel. I was both blown away by the concept of both being able to write a novel on such a small device, and being able to read it like that too. I had mixed feelings. I like books. Could this ever happen for real? After all, this is science fiction. Might not happen for decades.

    Well, it could and did–way quicker than I expected. People are writing their novels on their iPhones and reading other people’s books on them too.

    Ebooks – print books, I love them all. They are the hard work of many writers of all walks of life. I have vast libraries of both kinds. Fiction, nonfiction, courses on this or that . . . They were all different prices. If I wanted it I got it.

    Every time we move,I get told by my kids I need to downsize and get rid of all these print books. Now, one of my sons feels we need to move into a smaller place. Where will all my books go then? He’d be thrilled to pack them all in boxes and cart them to the dump for me. The only reason he hasn’t yet is because I’ve threatened his life. :)

    Some of them I have read a dozen times, and others I haven’t opened the cover yet. but I might . . . someday. But, yes, ma’am, sir! I am all for the instant gratification of the moment. And I will buy an ebook on the instant I see it and want it–whether it be fiction or nonfiction. I don’t have a real Kindle, I read them on my PC or iPhone with the free Kindle software. I have a free app for almost any format. I have no qualms for printing out a hard copy if I wish to read paper and the author/publisher has allowed for that. My ebook library is considerably larger than my print book one. I have them all saved on disc.(Heh! my son has no clue . . .) Money spent on any form of book is money spent. Plus, I might want to read those books again.

    The pages of an ebook won’t turn yellow. The binding won’t fall apart, letting parts of my treasured story go missing . . . like the ending. I can read them in the dark by the light of my monitor or iPhone. I love my ebooks.

    Well, hey, I wrote my books on screen. Why not read them on screen too. I know it’s not the norm. And, frankly, it doesn’t matter. I can read my books where I want to. I don’t have to please anyone anymore than anyone has to please me in their reading habits. Looks like there is room for all, electronic and print. Variety. Isn’t that supposed to be the spice of life?

    I don’t care about the format. I care about the words. Moreover, I’m most likely going to be looking for that new author than I am going to be following a best selling one. They’ve already got a mess of readers. I want to read the work of authors who are like me. Trying to get a reader base going.

    Yes, sure,there is crappy stuff out there, and it is easier to get your stuff published. But, I have read quite a few crappy print books – a few of them were by those best sellers everyone so adores. In fact, I began writing romance because I read so many crappy ones, I felt I couldn’t do too much worse. And, in my children’s author guise, I began writing for kids because I hated how often parents are written off as clueless, stupid, losers, etc. Many authors started their careers in the same way.

    So, I wrote and, for years, did the traditional things trying to get noticed.

    I got a lot of rejections with hand written notes on them: “Great stuff. Keep trying! You have the potential. It just doesn’t fit our needs at the moment . . .” Long story short(er), after getting burned by a traditional publisher, I decided I would try self publishing. I had a lot to learn and am still. My stuff is priced at $7.97 on my sites, but after reading John Locke’s How I Did It manual, I decided I’d try the Kindle versions at .99. I’m not selling much of anything as it stands, so . . . The beauty of doing it myself is that, if this doesn’t work for me, I can tweak until something does work. And nowhere in his manual does he claim to be a great writer. He freely admits he is not. He simply writes what his readers want and they want what he writes. I should be so lucky.

    I’m not going to diss anyone’s system or method or whatever. At any price, fiction books are entertainment. What’s wrong with getting a book instantly and being able to enjoy escaping into another world right this minute, and for a price my wallet won’t notice? If I love it enough, and see it in print, I will buy it . . . much to my family’s dismay . . .

    Whatever format you prefer to read in, just read! Let the author know you loved the story. If you are an author, price your work how it suits you, and let everyone else do the same. Appreciate your readers whether they like to get your stuff as ebooks or print books.

    Okay, I’m done. I have books to finish writing and then get out there into the cold cruel world, not to mention new authors to discover.

    Happy reading! And I hope your books sell billions!

  92. Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    A few years I might have agreed with some of your points, but having recently been converted to reading eBooks on my Kindle, Mac, and iPhone (most prevalent), I find I’m reading MUCH more than ever before, buying ten times the books I used to (because I can afford it!), and thoroughly enjoying the whole process. My wife and I are voracious readers, and this whole new world has enriched our lives with more books and more armchair adventures!

    My books (via Twilight Times Books, a very fine midsize press) are now automatically offered as eBooks, and we’re working hard to get backlist books in the same mode. I sell far more eBooks now than print, and I understand why, because I’m now buying far more eBooks for the family as I mentioned above. It’s a trend that offers great options for readers, and I’m thrilled about it.

    Take care and enjoy your weekend!

  93. Posted June 28, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Not only does this not understand ebooks, it doesn’t really understand the entire process of reading. As if someone who’s used to reading Pynchon or Chabon or Franzen or insert serious writer’s name will pick up a book by Locke because it’s cheap and instantly be enthralled. More likely, they wouldn’t last five minutes and then gravitate towards something they love. Locke is for people who want a quick read, he’s not siphoning off the “serious readers.”

    And we’re in a world where traditional publishing has so little money that the next Franzen/Pynchon/etc. will not be given a chance because of marketing concerns. Because of this ebooks are your friend – they create readers and give an outlet to all sorts of writing, including “crappy” writing. The major successes will be in mainstream fiction – just as they are in traditional publishing. Dan Brown/Koontz etc. aren’t serious either, but following your argument – print books rot minds because more people read commercial paperbacks.

  94. Posted June 28, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    If you want to use wine as an analogy, it seems to me the wine would be the same, it’s the container that would change. The question is, does the container change the content? Would a fine Bordeaux still be a fine Bordeaux in a cardboard box instead of a glass bottle? And is Pride and Prejudice the same story whether read on a Kindle or read in hardcover or paperback? With books, I get so immersed in a story, I don’t notice what I’m reading on. With wine, I suspect I might notice a difference in taste for the first glass or two, but after that I doubt very much I would care.

    I guess I get drunk on words faster than on wine.

  95. Posted August 15, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    WE ARE A PEOPLE OF CHANGE AND GROWTH. . . EBOOK’S ARE THAT VEHICLE. Nobody is going to ride to work in a horse covered wagon when they can ride the subway that’s faster and cheaper. If I can watch a multi-million dollar Hollywood production for .99 cents at a redbox… you better believe I would expect to read a book at that same price. I went the traditional path and got published… but honestly my publisher charges like 18.95 for my soft bound and 8.95 for my kindle book, for what? Air, digital space. I know for a fact he hasn’t done jack to promote it. Seriously thinking of putting it on Ebook, just so I can share what I love with the world and not limiting myself with stagnant beliefs. However Chad, I do love the classic’s and am grateful for bound books and library’s and wish your endeavor luck. If it was a great book, I would pay 4.99 for it. There is one book, I buy whenever I see it in a store, regardless the price. That is Louise Hays book, you can heal your life… I am so glad that those are available in print. They are like my favorite gift to give to everyone.

  96. Posted August 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the useful information

  97. Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    … and most here are authors… think of what is left for the translator, the last link of the food chain… :(

    This is certainly an interesting (raging) debate. For some reason, it reminds me of some writers’ claims that computers (=word processors) killed talent, and that you could write good prose only with a Montblanc fountain pen…

    I am a “traditional” reader and I’m slowly moving to ebooks, and I must say Voltaire on screen or on paper, it’s still Voltaire, thank goodness… Because the buying/download process is so easy, I am getting a real appetite for many works I hadn’t gotten to yet… mostly classic. If you have a limited budget (and no more room in your small cottage), this is definitely an appealing solution. I read on my laptop. I prefer the “real” thing (for all the reasons mentioned in posts above), but there is room for both formats. We are blessed to have so much choice!

  98. Charles Tutt
    Posted December 5, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    These discussions are just history repeating itself. It happens every time a major shift in the way we do things occurs. For example: horse and buggy to automobile, fingers and toes to calculators, snail mail to email, etc..

    The market will eventually set the prices. It always does. Prices too low or too high will obviously not be sustainable as the producers will either starve by producing at a loss or because too few want to pay their price.

    It’s just that simple.

  99. Posted December 13, 2011 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    We have come to the conclusion that e-books, print books and audiobooks are mutually exclusive markets and sales in one of the categories seldom takes away a sale from another. It’s about customer preference. However, when you have a stock of printed books you want to capture the early adopters and others who must have the latest thing. So we are going to adopt the old release pattern with our new book, “The Queen of Washington” It’s only in hardbound now and that’s because Amazon.com and Bares & Noble online and Books-A-Million stared taking preorders at 34% off the $32.00 list price. (It’s now still at 24% off.) That put the actual hardbound price at 12 cents over our suggested retail over the trade paperback — which we promptly canceled, converting that run to hardbound. We tell people to buy from the online stores because we don’t want to follow them down the price structure and can get full price for signed copies.

    We also have my previous novel,”The Shenandoah Spy” which they all sell at full price and no longer discount and there are e-book editions at $9.99 for Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook. We had to get these professionally formatted to have them come out right for the consumer. That cost a few bucks.

    Two days ago we dropped the price of the e-books to 99 cents until January 8, 2012. We’ve set a goal of selling 100,000 copies at that price and are promoting the hell out this deal. The first day we went up more than 460,000 places in the Kindle sales rankings — whatever that means. The trade paperback of this book is still at $22.50 because that’s a different market and we are working on an audiobook which will probably sell at about $40.00. That’s for all my neighbors, who don’t read, but do listen to audiobooks. Seriously. They balk at paying eight bucks for a mass market paperback and cheerfully pay five times that for audiobooks, about every other week.

    So check out our deal of “The Shenandoah Spy” e-book, because it’s the best one you’re going to get and the real danger to print is customers discovering how easy it is to get and read Kindle editions on your desktop computer.

  100. Steven
    Posted January 24, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Shakespeare is garbage because it’s free. If I’m to follow this analysis, then this must be true. If I sell a book for a million dollars, then surely it must be the greatest in the world. This too holds true. The words in the book have nothing to do with literary merit.

    Money has nothing to do with quality. That’s the truth.

    If someone wants to sell their books for 99 cents and makes a hundred thousand dollars doing so, then that’s awesome. Maybe you guys ought to try selling them for 99 cents. Maybe someone will actually pick one up and read it.

  101. Helen
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    A similar conundrum existed in medieval times, when adapting from the scroll format to the book format, if this youtube video is to be believed:)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdkucf6wxU4&feature=related

  102. Sophie
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Ebook haters ALWAYS have one of two problems:

    A. They are the kind of people who just hate change.
    B. They have a vested interest in the publishing industry the way it was before ebooks.

    You, Sir, have a little from column A and a whole lot from column B. The arguments you put up instead are just plain silly: that information read from a paper book is somehow valued by the brain more than information read off a kindle screen?? That’s just plain idiotic. You’re “devoted to literary culture”. Well that’s just snobbery. Truth is, the reason you hate them is that they are taking away your paycheck. That’s quite alright, but you should just admit it.

    Here’s the deal for me: I can’t afford to buy paper books, so for years I have subsisted by reading whatever I could scrounge from the discount bookstore for under $10. Now that I have a kindle, I read a book every 2 days. A book I have chosen, which I am interested in, and which I would never previously have had access to. Some of them are literature, some of them aren’t. But boy, do I enjoy reading them. I love ebooks because they have democratised literature, and THAT is the very same reason you hate them :)

  103. Posted February 7, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    There are a lot of skeptics; even when Google reported its e-book sales overtook printed book sales, there were unbelievers. One thing is certain: if you’ve bought or been gifted an electronic reader you would be very unlikely to buy printed books – and sales of electronic readers are rocketing. It’s the death knell for printed novels and nonfiction books.

    When I travel overnight by train I see larger and larger number of readers settle down and open their laptops/e-readers to read stories. The trend is there for all to see. On flights too e-readers are more and more visible.

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