There has been considerable buzz lately about e-books versus print books, what readers want versus what publishers and book stores can deliver, what online retailers can offer versus what brick-and-mortar retailers have to offer, and so on. Writers who currently have contracts with publishers are understandably concerned that e-books may be priced too low, and consequently they won’t earn back their advances -- so everyone is talking about $9.99 to $14.99 as a price point for e-books.
But that price is way too high, and that’s where all this speculation falls apart. I believe the average price for e-books will fall between “free” and $2.99. The reason why is quite simple: most writers aren’t going to work through publishers anymore. And it’s not even because we don’t want to, we simply don’t have the option.
Understand, I’m not just talking about new writers and “bad” writers (I won’t even try to define “bad” writing, I’ll leave that up to the reader). There are a lot of good writers who can’t get contracts with publishing companies. There are very few slots available for print books every year -- so a large number of good writers who managed to sell to publishers in the past, but didn’t win those slots the next time around, are now forced to figure out new alternatives. In the past, your options were extremely limited if your old publishers didn’t care to pick up your new book. But no longer. Now we’ve got e-book formats and the internet.
Does this mean writers who didn’t become bestsellers when they sold their books through big publishers will now turn around and make fools of those publishers? Maybe. But most likely what will happen is that even if they’re not any MORE successful than they’ve ever been, they probably won’t be any LESS successful than they’ve ever been -- so why not take a chance? Why not take charge of your own marketing and pricing? Why not hire your own artists and editors? Why not decide for yourself what’s working and what isn’t, instead of waiting for the decree of some committee that doesn’t have your best interest as the number one priority? And once enough good writers are doing that, we’re talking serious competition.
So now that these good writers are thinking competitively, that leads us back to price again. In the current economy, people are scrambling just to pay utilities and put food on the table, let alone shell out $9.99 to $29.99 for a book (electronic format or otherwise). Eventually that’s going to change, but even that won’t necessarily raise the price of an e-book. If the competition is increasing, writers are going to have to win the attention of readers and then keep it. A lot of crap will get published, but a reader will be able to tell that within the first couple of paragraphs. If they get burned by a writer, they won’t bother with that writer again. The writers who deliver entertaining reads, time and again, will have a better chance of attracting a regular audience.
So as far as prices go -- if writers are offering a few free books, and readers enjoy them, and they go to that writer’s website (or amazon, or apple, or google) and see e-books for $2.99 (or lower), maybe they’ll buy an e-book from that writer. If they really enjoy it, maybe they’ll buy the next one, too. And in the meantime, that writer is going to be thinking up ways to keep attracting them, like audio-visual presentations, mini-movies, inexpensive audio books (another market that could really take off with lower pricing), 2-fers, etc.
Ask yourself this: in the past, when your favorite writer published a new hardback, and you had no money to buy it, did you get it anyway? Did you wait for the paperback? Did you get on a waiting list at the public library and eventually read it for free (or for 25 cents a day)?
If you went ahead and bought the hardback, did you do it because that’s the only kind of book you buy? Or because you just couldn’t wait for the paperback to come out?
I’ve done all those things in the past. I own plenty of hardback books, and I buy old books at antique stores. But eventually I’ll buy an e-reader (I’m waiting for the cheaper, less buggy versions to come out), and I’ll buy e-books too. As always, price will be one of the big deciding factors for me.
Always remember -- it’s not just about what you want. It’s about what you can get. If no one can afford to print books anymore, you won’t get them -- unless you buy used, and eventually they’ll wear out. It doesn’t matter what lasts longer, or what you like best, or how many fond memories you have.
And in another decade it could change back again! Or halfway back. Or something entirely new could happen. It all remains to be seen.
But as for now? I’m a writer. I consider myself to be one of those genies who’s been let out of her bottle.
And I’m not going back in. Count on it.