Friday, July 03, 2009

eBooks – An Author Weighs In

Ah, someone else has been weighed in on the issue of eBook prices; and, I have to say, he does a much better job than I did (it helps that he’s actually a member of the publishing community, and therefore has most of the facts involved). It’s the author Joe Abercrombie, who wrote the excellent The First Law Trilogy, and has most recently released Best Served Cold. (He’s a very, very good author, so check his stuff out!)

After announcing that his books are now available in eBook format from Waterstones.com, he said,

“The prices are a tad disappointing - £10 and change for Best Served Cold when a hardback is selling at £8.50, and around £6 for the First Law books when mass-market paperbacks are available for a mere £4.”

This is pretty much the argument I’ve been making, and it’s nice that an author has mentioned this. He goes on (big quote):

“a lot of users somehow think that eBooks, since they don't have to be printed, are pure profit for the publisher and should therefore be virtually free whereas, of course, the great majority of the costs that go into making a paper book (commissioning, editing, artwork, marketing, repping, promoting and, erm, paying the author) still apply with an eBook… Even so, selling eBooks at more than the cost of the paper books is going to look just a wee bit like taking the piss to some buyers, I suspect.”

As an eBook buyer, I can say that it does. I appreciate that books need to be marketed, and I’m certainly all for authors (and musicians, but that’s a different discussion) getting paid – in fact, I believe they should get a bigger share of the pie. To bring up my main bugbear again, it’s the fact that they cost more, but require less – i.e. printing and shipping are not an issue.

Emma, my girlfriend, is in publishing, and she edits on-screen in a Word document. Surely it’s cheaper/easier to convert a Word document into an appropriate eBook format? I know the Sony eReader can convert PDFs made from documents into a perfectly readable format very easily (it struggles a little with scanned-page PDFs).

Abercrombie says that he’d like to see them “retail at most at the same price as the paper equivalents, and ideally somewhat lower”, which I think would be perfectly fair. The author does provide a potential reason/explanation for eBooks being cheaper:

“At the moment most publishers and booksellers are still focused on the paper market where heavy discounts are applying more and more widely, making eBooks something of a speciality item and hence relatively more expensive.”

Ok, fine, I can more-or-less accept that. But, then why didn’t this apply to MP3s, too, when they first came out through iTunes or wherever? In that case, I remember an MP3 album being roughly the same price (usually about a £1~ more, but only because I can get a student discount). Ok, Amazon was sometimes able to sell them cheaper still, but not at the same discrepancies that you find with eBooks.

All this being said, I’ve got £1.99 on my Waterstone’s card, which would bring Best Served Cold down to £8.18, which is a pretty good price for a new hardback-eBook.

The debate continues, I guess…

Anyway, go check out Joe Abercrombie’s books, while you’re thinking about it.

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