A Note Regarding Future Big Idea Comments

It is: From this point forward, if you post a comment on a Big Idea post in which the focus of the comment is how you don’t like the price of the e-book, I’m just going to delete it.

Why? Primarily because here at the tail end of 2011, I find the subject boring and I find the people who get huffy about an electronic book not being [insert price you believe for whatever reason an eBook should be] are exhibiting a particularly tiresome sort of entitlement, to wit, that owning an electronic book reader means that you are possibly obliged to announce your opinion on book pricing at every turn. See, the thing is: You’re not. You don’t have to. At this point, I wish you wouldn’t.

You know, I have several objects in the house capable of reading an electronic book, ranging from a dedicated Nook e-reader to an iPad to a desktop computer. I buy electronic books all the time, and occasionally I will come across one priced higher than I want to pay. What do I do then? Easy: I don’t buy it and I move on with my life. I don’t post about how I didn’t buy it because I thought the price was too high, etc. Because life is short and there are really more interesting things to talk about and to do with one’s time.

I think it’s important to understand that eBooks are not special snowflakes; they’re just books in electronic form. As someone who prefers to read in eBook form, you are not substantially different from someone who prefers hardcovers, or trade paperbacks, or mass market paperbacks. If someone who preferred paperbacks (or at the very least paperback pricing) showed up on my site on a regular basis to whine and moan about how books should always be priced at that paperback level, on a comment thread that is meant to be on another subject entirely, I would find them tiresome too. Books: They have variable price points! Based on release dates, consumer interest and format, among many other factors! If you don’t like the price point, wait — it’ll come down eventually. Or visit the library (which in many cases you can do with electronic books now) and borrow the thing legally.

There’s another reason I’m going to be deleting eBook price kvetching from Big Idea posts, which is that, simply put, going into a comment thread of a Big Idea and making a big show of why you’re not going to buy the book because of a price point that the author very frequently has absolutely no control over kind of makes you a dick. Authors are already neurotic and twitchy about how the book is going to be received; you going in and announcing “I will not buy your book for reasons entirely unrelated to your writing and about which you were given no say” is really cluelessly rude. If you want to complain about the pricing, please do — to someone who actually has the wherewithal to do something about it, namely, the publisher. They are not hard to find and e-mail.

The shorter version of this: Complaining about eBook prices on Big Idea threads is a) usually off-topic, b) kind of mean to the author, c) something I’m bored with at this point in any event. So from now on, when I see a comment like it, it’ll likely get the Mallet. Just thought I’d make that clear for everyone moving forward.

Update, 12/27: A follow-up entry, of sorts, is here.

171 thoughts on “A Note Regarding Future Big Idea Comments

  1. In the future, please confine your Big Idea comments to complaints about the book’s cover art (“Did it have to be so blue? I’m sorry, I just find it too distracting”) and the binding of dead-tree editions (“This glue smells funny. Is this even safe?”).

  2. Also, complaining about eBook prices is nugatory.

    1. Publishers (most of them) don’t want to *bother* with people who actually read books. Their focus is on the stores and big chains.

    2. Publishers hate eBooks, want to kill them, and are perfectly happy to either a: over-price them or b: (cf. the ebook edition of Riordan’s “Son of Neptune”) sell an ebook with a ton of errata that you would’t *want* to buy in the first place.

  3. I’d love to take paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 and repost them all over the reviews sections of about two hundred Amazon products. This isn’t the only place those complaints show up.

  4. What I really don’t get is why people think the author has any control over pricing whatsoever. I’m sure Van Gogh or his estate would love to have had control over the price of A Starry Night.

  5. I would have read your blog post, but I’m unwilling to pay the price to print this onto my preferred reading medium of sheepskin vellum. Perhaps once you stop being so greedy and negotiate a more reasonable deal with the sheepskin mafiosa, I’ll consider it; until then, color me gone.

  6. RIght on. And I kind of wish you’d left the first in so we could see the degree of dickitude that brought down the mighty hammer of deletion.

  7. I think there’s still very valid discussions to have about eBook pricing and how it fits into the structure and where it should be compared to everything else. And I also think you’re dead-on with this rule. That’s a meta-discussion, the Big Ideas are about the stories and the comments should be on-topic.

  8. Applause!

    Mostly off-topic: I was recently Googling the Twilight books, and one of the search results was a well-known pirating site. The person who posted the novel led with “Posted on [redacted site name] because no one should have to pay money for this crap.” While I’m not a big fan of pirating (libraries, yay!), that made me laugh. Heck, it still makes me laugh, remembering.

  9. ranks right up there with giving a book a bad review because you are unable to download it because you’re incapable of reading the FAQs on how to fix the issue.

  10. People really need to take into account how incredibly convenient buying an ebook is. I’d happily pay the extra dollar or two to immediately start reading a book that has captured my fancy, rather than waiting for days or a week to get my hands on a physical copy that could be a dollar cheaper.

    The most recent big idea is a perfect example. As soon as I read the introductory paragraph and the amazon description, I knew I wanted to start reading that book right this minute. Well with an ebook, I can.

  11. I feel that “Books! They have variable price points!” should be on a tee-shirt. However, it should not cost more than 9.99 unless said tee-shirt is 100% cotton. Also, unisex style only – baby doll tees are sexist.

  12. I migrated to e-books for several reasons.
    I can carry around hundreds of books in my briefcase. I never run out of something to read.
    I can sit on the side of a hill and page with minimal movement ( a definite plus when hunting).
    B&N has a e-book wishlist that I can slide interesting items into for future consideration.
    Access to classics!
    Never lose my place while reading.

  13. Kathleen: Eew, ‘unisex’ tees! I’ve yet to find one that’s actually cut to accommodate a woman’s figure as well as it would a man’s–they all bind up under my arms and stretch across my chest, because ‘unisex’ really means “fits anyone that doesn’t have boobs.” I find that way more sexist than a babydoll or women’s cut shirt that’s actually designed for how I’m built, instead of punishing me for not having “default” (male) physiology.

    But if the shirt comes in a babydoll format, I demand that it be three dollars cheaper than the men’s version. Because despite it suiting my needs much better than a men’s shirt, the shorter sleeves and lower neck obviously take less fabric (which is of course the only production cost associated with shirt-making), and shirt-makers who don’t give me a discount are greedy bastards who are just trying to kill the babydoll format.

  14. I came to a realization on how ebooks have spoiled me this weekend when I finished a Stephen Baxter collection of short stories and went to buy the novels they were based on, only to find them only available in hard copy. What???!? I said. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I want them nooooooooow!!!!!! *cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth*

    The point of the story being, I will gladly pay an extra few $ for the ability to download an interesting book onto my iPhone immediately (I’ve yet to invest in a dedicated ereader; I probably should, but think of all the books that $100 could buy!), and generally, ebooks aren’t a few extra $, they’re the price of a paperback if the book is out in paperback or the price (or slightly less) of a hardback if the book is only out in hardback. Considering that the majority of the cost of a book is due to the man-hours involved (writing, editing, copy editing, cover design, marketing, etc.) rather than the cost of the actual paper and ink, that seems fair to me.

    Complaining to an author about things out of the author’s control is silly, anyway.

  15. If you don’t like e-book pricing, you could always, y’know, borrow the book from your local library; our Beloved Leader (Wielder of TMOLC, blessed be Its name) has often shown he supports libraries. E-books are a convenience, not a right. What Don said.

  16. GC @ 1:50 P<: ranks right up there with giving a book a bad review because you are unable to download it because you’re incapable of reading the FAQs on how to fix the issue.

    I recently read (and enjoyed, no less!) an eBook on my Nook. I mentioned it on my blog, so I linked to the B&N site and saw the book was rated way lower than I thought it would be. Turned out a bunch of people had given it 1-star reviews because B&N pushed free sample versions to their Nooks. As best I could tell, they saw themselves as heroic freedom fighters pushing back against Big Brother by making 1-star reviews without even reading the sample.

    I wish I could say I couldn’t believe the extreme dickishness, but, well, I’ve been on the internet…

  17. Amen, brother. And amen as well to r12, who noted the dickishness extending to low-starred Amazon reviews of books people haven’t read, posted just to bitch about the price. May I also add “tagging” an e-book “never at this price”, “greedy publisher”, and/or “greedy author” is a dick move. That last one makes you a dick of John Holmesian proportions, BTW.

  18. Actually, I think you’re underselling how insulting it is to the authors. I suspect that authors are like musicians on this one, in that authors WANT everyone to read their books. They’d also like to be paid for their work so they don’t have to wait tables while writing. But they really want their books to sell, and would probably price their books at the minimum price point if they could, since that would encourage the widest possible dispersal of their work.

    But authors also probably understand that the publishing companies do a lot for them. They set up promotional tours. They serve as a filter so that work of a certain quality is published, ensuring that there is a good selection in every genre. They make sure the books are distributed, usually with very few printing mistakes. And yeah, they make a profit, thus allowing them to pay for the next book before it’s sold a single copy.

    So the authors probably share the fan’s pain with the $9.99 price point. They’d like to charge more like $5 (or less if they could). But they also understand that the remaining $5 goes to pay for all of the ancillary things. (OK, so it’s more than $5, as I suspect you don’t make $5 on each ebook sold, but you get the idea.) Still, given their druthers, they’d much prefer to sell the e-book for less. It’s not their decision. All they can do is hope to write a book that I want to read and am willing to pay for.

    I admit that I moved to predominantly e-books because we were out of space in our house for more bookshelves, and have therefore instituted a Zero Population Growth policy for books. If one comes in, one has to go out within the next month, thus allowing the one that goes to be the new one. I got tired of getting rid of books, so I have chosen to use e-books instead. The price is not ridiculously higher, and it is more convenient. I mean, like most men my age, I have a hidden stash from my wife in my bedside nightstand. It’s just that mine is filled with really bad noir mysteries and Nero Wolfe novels and other crap that I don’t have room for on the shelf, but that I just couldn’t bear to part with. Don’t tell my wife. She thinks it’s porn. Given the number of tough calls we’ve both had to make in terms of keeping books, she’d be angrier with me if she ever discovered it isn’t.

    But I also like that ebooks mean that I no longer buy as many used books. I *want* to support the writers that I like, and want them to make a good, comfortable living from their writing. I don’t want them to have to find teaching gigs or other work to make ends meet. I’m lucky enough that I can (barely) afford my reading habit, and I should pay for it.

  19. That sounds fair to me.

    Is this a problem that is confined to ebooks, or do people tend to complain about the prices of every version of a book?

  20. I would never leave a one star review based on anything but the book itself. It ticks me off and skews the usefulness of the stars. But I DO really hate unsolicited mail in any form, including publishers pushing samples at me that I didn’t ask for. Yet another place to have keep clean of unwanted and unasked for spam.

  21. unholyguy
    I suspect that some people attempt to justify stealing stuff by claiming that it’s because ebooks are too expensive.
    I did get cross enough to stop reading and buying one author’s books because he loudly proclaimed that people stealing his work was fine with him. I saw no reason why I should continue to subsidise his belief that some day the people stealing his books would like them so much that they would finally get around to buying them. I’m pretty sure that it had never dawned on him that the paying reader might jib at this…

  22. Geds comment above makes me wonder: How many folks actually pay attention to a book’s review rating on Amazon or similar sites?

    I pay attention to ratings when I’m buying something where quality is more objective, like tools, electronics, etc. In that case, if I see a low rating, I’m going to click through to see if a bunch of people had problems with the item before I buy it.

    When it comes to books, however, the only reviews I care about are ones that come to me from trusted sources: friends and reviewers whose tastes I know to line up with my own. I don’t care what some random stranger on the internet thinks of a book, because nine times out of ten, I check the one-star ratings and find out they’re just a soapbox for various reviewers to air their pet peeves.

  23. Complining about the high price of a book may be valid when it’s a required textbook in a course (especially when the teacher is the author). Not buying is otherwise always an option.

  24. While we’re at it, could we stop yelling at waiters, waitresses and clerks about things over which they have no control?

    And don’t get me started on people who go off-topic.

  25. Stevie– I think you’re absolutely right about people using price to justify stealing. Someone I know well and otherwise respect told me that he pirated the entire Dresden Files series for his Kindle because “the publisher’s pricing is stupid.” I think those people are missing the point–I use my Kindle because it’s convenient and saves me from filling my whole house up with bookshelves. I don’t mind paying just as much for the digital copy as the hard copy, because the alternative was to pay that much anyway. I’m happy to pay less, of course, but just like anything else if the price point is too high for me, I just won’t have that thing. I don’t understand the mentality that leads people to conclude that they deserve to have a thing for a price they’ve arbitrarily set in their head, and that if said thing isn’t available at that price they’re totally justified in stealing it.

    Also, I’d like to find a way to apply that logic to a BMW for myself.

  26. Nook Users Represent!

    In fact, in a (for me) rare example of”upgrading a piece of technology before my current version dies”, I’m replacing my G1 Nook with a Nook Simple Touch this week (happy birthday to me). Meanwhile, I’m gifting my old Nook to my 9-year-old. My 12-year-old is getting her mother’s G1, which also got upgrades.

    Anyway, here here on just Malleting the “ebooks should be half the cost of a paper book because herp derp” crowd. Would that B&N would do the same, especially on books that haven’t even been released yet.

  27. I’m a little confused. When I buy an ebook for my Nook it is cheaper than the paper/hardback version. Why would someone complain about that? Or are they just complaining about the cost of books in general? If the latter, then get it from the library or don’t read it. Authors should be compensated for their work, just like any other working person.

  28. What Annalee said. While I trust the ratings for many of the products on Amazon and other sites, book reviews are notoriously “off” for me — a combination of bad reviews for “non story” issues, low number of participants, etc. Sorry if this is a bit off topic! But back on topic: I would expect that type of behavior on *this* side, people would concentrate on the information they’re receiving (about the Big Idea), not the medium they’re receiving it in. John shoudln’t have had to needed to make that post to “edumacate” people in the art of critiqueing.

  29. It’s entirely appropriate to observe that in a discussion of the *contents* of a book, it’s generally off topic to discuss the formatting and price of the book. Such discussions don’t really belong in the big idea. (and to be fair, as dictator of your website it doesn’t really matter if I think it is appropriate) That said, there really isn’t much in the way of forums to actually voice such things in a way to reach a publisher. Amazon, BN, etc. don’t really have a mechanism to distinguish between gripes about the contents of an ebook, it’s pricing, and it’s formatting (it is freaking enraging to pay the price that one does for an eBook and have it ripe with formatting errors – also, it’s digital, you can update spelling and formatting errors publishers) and I think that leads to a lot of the topic pollution.

    I also think it is niave to believe there is variability in the pricing, or that prices will drop. Half of the Vonnegut books are actually *more* expensive than the physical editions at amazon, despite having been in print for decades and the author being dead for 4 years now. This wouldn’t be the case if the publishers hadn’t colluded to force an adoption of the agency (quite possibly illegally, per the class action lawsuit, and DoJ and Euro investigations). For a lot of publishers it really seems like it is their intent to punish readers for prefering the format that is cheaper for the publisher to produce, and I suspect the real message of folks complaining (at least speaking for myself, though as I am a rare commentor in general here, I don’t feel particular guilty of this post) is “hey, I want what you sell publishers, why do you want to discourage me from buying it”. For authors I think the message is “I want what you sell, please stop using dickish publishers that want to discourage me from buying it”.

    That said, I think Baen deserves some special recognition for being way more awesome than every other publisher. They may not have a whole lot in the Kindle store, but it freaking rocks to buy a hardback from David Weber and have all of his other books they publish available in .mobi format on a CD included with the book. It’s great that they go out of their way to be friends with their readers instead of enemies, and it’s awesome that I get both the convinient ebook for reading and the physical copy for getting autographed. I really wish other publishers were as progressive.

  30. The use of one-star reviews to books to complain about the price annoys me too. Look, the point of Amazon reviews is to give customers insights that were gained through experience using the product. I don’t need to hear random people complaining about the price: I can see the price on my screen already!

    Most of the time, when a Kindle book is priced higher than the standard $9.99, it’s only a few bucks more (at least for the kinds of books typically featured on the Big Idea). If you are wealthy enough to buy an ebook reader, then you probably shouldn’t loudly complain in public that an entertainment item costs a few extra bucks.

  31. I actually think telling the author that you wanted to buy his book but didn’t because the e-book price was too high is helpful, not rude. If a book sells poorly, the publisher probably assumes it’s because readers aren’t interested in the book itself, but if there’s overwhelming feedback from readers that they want the book, just not at the inflated price, then you know what the real problem is. Not the book, but the price. Market feedback is valuable.

  32. @Alpha Lyra – However, what these complainers usually do is list all sorts of spurious wrong headed notions of why ebooks should be very cheap, usually based on wildly inaccurate notions of how publishing works or based simply on the old standby ‘publishers are EVIL for trying to make money!!” It mystifies me that people really expect a book to cost less than a cup of coffee.

    As for publishers getting market feedback… sure, tell the publisher. But whining in a Big Idea piece *isn’t doing that*. It’s just acting like an entitled brat.

  33. Something else people often fail to realize is that the hard copy price that is higher than the e-book is usually not sold by amazon. In the case of today’s big idea post the Amazon kindle ebook price is $12.99, the Amazon hardcover price is $16.11. However you can get the hardcover from an outside seller through Amazon for $12.90. I don’t find that to be a valid gripe, Amazon is indeed pricing the kindle version lower than the hardcover. Also, I imagine if you went to a physical book store it would cost somewhere around $20.

    All that being said I also want to second the frustrations expressed by chupageek, I think he has some valid points in his post and I won’t duplicate them.

  34. @rickg

    Agreed that the Big Idea posts are not the right time to express frustrations about pricing. However I’m not sure just saying “tell the publisher,” is a great answer either. If you sent an email to a publisher, realistically how far up the ladder is it going to go? I would think that authors would be interested to hear about issues consumers have with pricing. They might not be able to do much about it but they will at least have a little more voice with the publisher than the general public.

  35. @Alpha Lyra – I actually think telling the author that you wanted to buy his book but didn’t because the e-book price was too high is helpful, not rude.

    I think that telling the publisher that you wanted to buy the book, but didn’t because the e-book price was too high is helpful. More helpful than bitching at the author who, if it were up to them and their mortgage were paid off, would probably hand out copies for free.

  36. Are positive um… packaging comments… allowed (like that I DID choose to buy Big Idea book “Of Blood And Honey” because the publishers sell it DRM-free) or are all non-content comments getting malleted?

  37. Occasionally the pricing works out great for Kindle readers. Take our man Scalzi’s, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

    On Amazon, the cheapest copy available in print is $128, new or used! The Kindle price: $4.99. Guess which one I picked? And I don’t even have a Kindle. I’m reading it on my Android.

  38. @Skip
    Right but I don’t think they set the $12.90 hardcover price that an outside vendor is selling, which is what is causing the complaints.

  39. Please let us know if this warning has a noticeable impact on the problem. I’m guessing the mallet will be a’swinging. I need to write the lyrics to “John Scalzi Was A Troll-Driving Man”.

  40. I don’t think “tell the publisher” is a good solution. From my perspective, that’s just sending an email into a black box. For all I know, some intern is just going to roll their eyes and delete it. On the other hand, nobody cares more about a particular book’s future than the author himself.

  41. Alpha Lyra

    I think that the publishers really do care about a particular book’s future more than the writer; the publisher has spent a lot of money on putting the book out, and it wants to get that money back. It’s this sort of ignorance about the way publishing works that drives the e-books should be cheap as chips brigade…

  42. Preach on brother ! I am so tired of people downrate a book on Amazon because they do not like the ebook pricing. That is just so wrong. You should only rate a book based on it’s contents.

  43. Prices are in fact dropping, piracy is also on the rise and the days of the ten dollar book are numbered.

    Many self published authors on amazon are selling books in the $2.99-$0.99 range

    http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-18438_7-20037800-82.html

    it cost approximately $1k to do all the non-writing, non-editing parts of book publishing.

    The big six publishing houses are scared dinosaurs and they know quite well that amazon is killing them

    They are not lowering their price points yet, but it is only a matter of time, it’s either that or let amazon continue to undercut them and steal their authors

    However Big idea posts are not a great place to discuss all of this.

  44. Stevie that’s a pretty bold statement. One book can make an author’s career, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say the publisher cares MORE than the author.

  45. @Alpha Lyra – did you miss the part about authors not having say over their book’s price?

    Plus… well.. before ebooks if a book was priced at $9.99 in paper, what did you do? Right, you bought it or not. You didn’t say “OMG, that book is priced too high! WAAHH!!!”. Books were priced at what they were priced at. If the hardcover was too much for you, you waited until the paperback versions came out.

    However, MANY of the ebook comments are just people bitching because the price isn’t supercheap. They’re not looking to give real feedback, they’re making a snotty, entitled complaint. They want the ebook version to be 99 cents or $2.99 or something very low, not $9.99.

    Before you go into the reasons why this should be so, go read the Common Misconceptions about Publishing series on Charlie Stross’ blog. Then consider that people reading ebooks have spent at least $100 per reading device and usually a lot more. THEN consider that while ebooks have some downsides compared to paper (inability to easily lend or to resell), they also come with advantages paper does not (easy to have dozens of books in a device the size of a trade paperback book, instant delivery). Finally, think of this… many of the same people who will complain about ebook pricing and loudly declare that it should be under $5 will stop for coffee at Starbuck’s or similar and buy something for $5. Which, several hours later, they will excrete. Why is a book, in whatever form, worth less than a coffee and a scone?

  46. unholyguy

    ‘Many self published authors on amazon are selling books in the $2.99-$0.99 range’

    The key words in that sentence are ‘self published’

    The chances of my buying a self published book are zero…

  47. Chris

    It’s not uncommon for writers to talk about bulding a readership; some see this as an exercise over time and believe that they will get better contracts in the future, quite possibly with another publisher.

    I have yet to come across a publisher announcing that they are happy with piracy because it’s building a readership…

  48. And perhaps I should add a general comment; I pay the publisher so that I do not have to read the slush pile…

  49. I honestly do not understand the arguments about ebooks being so convenient. As far as I can tell they exist for the convenience of the publisher more than me, and that is why I want a fairly hefty discount. I want them to pay me for their convenience of not having to print, store, prepare, bind, ship, and loads of other hard copy material specific stuff. They’ve cut that out in favour of a lot of bits and bytes.

    Bits and bytes I have to go buy an expensive bit of kit for, a bit of kit I now have to faff around with, that I have to worry about some little chav mugging me for or otherwise lifting it from my bag or locker, a bit of kit that I have to worry about dropping, or breaking, or it doing what electronics inevitably do going “crack-fizz”, a bit of kit I have to take everywhere with me and if I forget then I’m bookless (right now I have a book in my bag, a couple in the car, scattered through the house and in various places).

    Cheap paperbacks tend to be almost disposable, I can lose, damage, give away, etc, in all sorts of ways I wouldn’t even dare do with an expensive bit of kit. That is an awful lot of inconvenience that I’m expected to absorb for not much discount. I’m not gonna pay for that, they want to do away with warehouses, shipping, binding, and so on then the publishers can bloody well pay me for it with a nice hefty discount thank you very much.

    I also don’t drink at Starbucks or any other “trendy” coffee place, mainly because I begrudge parting an extra £4 just for a “name”.

  50. @unholy “The chances of my buying a self published book are zero.”
    Then you’re missing out on some really great books, especially by mainstream authors who’ve opted, or been forced, to forego the publishing house route.
    As for the post, I tend to agree when it comes to eBook pricing. Nothing annoys me more when reading reviews on Amazon who give a book one star, without ever reading, simply because the eBook price was too high. I wish Amazon would follow the same policy of deleting those useless reviews, but they would probably have to add an entire division to their company just to do it.
    I certainly think a good discussion could be had about eBook pricing (which I often think is overpriced), but reviews and discussions about the book itself are not the place. Take it up with the publishers.

  51. CrypticMirror, when you chose to buy the “expensive bit of kit” you should have thought of all these disadvantges. I did, which is why I don’t have a Kindle, or Nook, or any of those.

    It isn’t the publisher’s fault that small electronic things are easily stolen or broken.

  52. The ultimate solution for those kvetching about ebook prices — use a price tracking tool like eReaderIQ. I’ve got a list of books I’m not willing to pay hardcover prices ($12-$20), and I get an email whenever a book price drops to a threshold I select ($4-$10, depending on how much I want the book).

    If enough buyers did this, the publisher/author should see a sales spike every time they drop the price — potentially giving them some incentive to drop kindle prices a little more. A little experimentation would let the publisher/author identify price points to maximize revenue.

  53. The trouble is I don’t see that as much of a convenience. I’m not going to need hundreds of books with at all. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed three or four, which is well within my carrying capacity, even when it was textbooks at college. So I can chuck that out as a reason. The bookshelf space one, well, I do live in a small place and I’ve a lot of books. But again, still well within manageable limits. The downsides of having all my eggs in one basket still far outweigh the upside of more empty floor to clean. If, indeed, an upside that would be.

    The major inconvenience for me, is the cost and care of the ereader itself. If those were disposable items costing around £10.00 then maybe I’d consider moving to one. At current prices, no way. My paperbooks take a lot of punishment that a piece of electronics wouldn’t survive, and that isn’t counting the possibility of losing it on the bus or some little scrote helping himself to it out of my bag. The only reason I moved to to MP3 players from CD player (and tape-walkman to CD player come to that), for example, was because the resale value of generic MP3 players fell so low that it weren’t worth nicking. Same with phones, I’ll move to a smart phone when the cost falls below worthless to a potential thief. I mean, I can leave a paperback (or even a hardback) on a table in a public place while I’m doing other stuff and be reasonably confident it is gonna be there when I get back. Couldn’t do that with an ereader. I cannot afford the loss of one of those, and contents. At least if someone does half-inch a book when I’m not looking, then I’m not out much money and only lose one item.

    To me it’s a lot of faffing, money, and worry.

  54. I adore my e-reader, but right now it’s gathering dust because of high e-book prices. Despite the “arguments” in this thread that people complaining about e-book prices feel everything should be cheap as dirt, all I really ask is that the e-book cost $1 less than the print book. I want the publisher to pass along some of their savings in production costs to me. And if anyone still believes the publishers do not save money on ebooks, go read the first two paragraphs of this Publisher’s Weekly article:

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/financial-reporting/article/47094-simon–schuster-results-up-digital-doubles.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly%27s+PW+Daily&utm_campaign=f20b37d37a-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email

    While I wait for fairer prices, I have become a devoted library patron. I seem to have a lot of company there. Popular books often have hundreds of holds on them! Perhaps this demonstrates how much unmet demand there is for books, and how many more sales publishers could potentially be making.

    Ironically, it’s mostly self-published books I buy now. I don’t buy a whole lot of them, but I can’t get them at the library, so purchasing them is the only way I can get them. Fortunately, they tend to be more than reasonably priced.

  55. Once again Herr Scalzi, your common sense trumps asshats. I’m a geezer on a fixed and dwindling income. I buy what I can afford and, most importantly, I use my local library!. Which, by the way has ebooks.

  56. I have a very simple solution for those people who think that $9.99 is “too much” to pay for a book: have a look at the price you’d be paying for it in Australia. Trust me, the last time paperbacks were routinely $9.99 here was back in about 1990. These days, it’s closer to about $25 a book for paperbacks (unless you’re like me, and scour the bargain bins). If you’re still having conniptions, have a look at the price they’re expected to pay in New Zealand (which is usually a couple of dollars more). And if your blood pressure is still sky-high after that, have a look and see whether the ebook version is actually legally available in either Australia or New Zealand (it may not be).

    $10 for a legally downloadable product doesn’t seem such a terrible thing to me. Of course, I do have something like 40 years of consuming books as a reader here in Australia to contend with.

  57. Or, considering my not-so-copious experience yet amped by umpteen hours of conversation with my editor (who wrote umpteen of his own titles under contract before accepting a job with my imprint) about the business side:

    The imprint sets the prices and the retailer adds their margin in all media. The author’s control amounts to bupkis. If you must yell, then yell at the imprint and the retailers — not the author.

    …Unless the author self-publishes, which is an expensive undertaking when done right. So wait, don’t bitch — the price will come down eventually. In the meantime the author needs to recover their production costs, and they’re depending on their most devoted fans to make that happen. Cf. mass market paperbacks.

    In all cases, the book is supposed to be priced according to what the market will bear. If you are not in the target market, yes, you will probably think the book is too expensive. Deal with it. Corollary to this is that piracy is always an option, one that people unable or unwilling to pay will always exercise. People both able and willing to pay are unlikely to complain, provided that the price is some kind of conscionable. Cf. academic journals, Jane’s titles, and the OED (or for that matter, the online versions of the NYT and WSJ).

    The premium on printing and distribution is a lot smaller than you‘d think, until you see the numbers for yourself. Printers and logistics providers believe, surely as you and I, that a certain margin is worth a solid discount. Moreover, TAANSTAFL. If ebook pricing seems egregious… it’s the retailers and imprints, again.

    I’m nowhere near the fiction market, but nothing I’ve read here or at Making Light or during shorter visits to dozens of other posts in other places over the years particularly indicates that the experience of fiction writers and readers should be much different than the experience informed by my expectations as an author.

    …And, Cryptic: any chain is selling consistency and experience as much as product. I can go to any Starbucks on the planet and know exactly what I’ll get for whatever that store charges. In the case of Starbucks in particular, I believe that their long-derided over-roast has been carefully tuned to make the optimum amount of caffeine bioavailable as fast as possible, for as long as possible.

  58. “I adore my e-reader, but right now it’s gathering dust because of high e-book prices. … all I really ask is that the e-book cost $1 less than the print book.”

    I don’t understand this. You’re refusing to buy ebooks because you feel that they should be $1 cheaper than they are?

    I don’t think the price differential you’re asking is unreasonable… to me, ebooks should be less expensive by the margin saved by not having to print and ship a physical product. But that is, on most $10 books, about $2 so… eh. I don’t really understand cutting the nose off to spite the face, but everyone has their own bugbears.

  59. No, $1 cheaper than the print book. Since sometimes the e-book is more expensive than the print book, that’s not necessarily the same as “$1 cheaper than they are.”

    It’s more a matter of principle than of not being able to afford the extra few dollars–although considering I (used to) buy over a hundred books a year, a few dollars per book adds up. I just don’t like feeling as if I’m being taken advantage of.

  60. I’ll quit complaining about the price of ebooks versus print books (in general) when ebooks are equivalent. That means I’ll need to actually *own* them, not permanently lease them from the publisher through their DRM.

    That said, I’m happy not to badger an author on the pricing structure his publisher sets in your posts.

  61. My wife benefits most from my eReader — I no longer buy books and store them in slipshod scattering fashion our my already crowded bookshelves (she’d have a conniption fit if they were ever to reach the stage of your shelves, John). But I’ve started to reach that curmudgeonly stage where, as father of two new boys watching my expenses, I have to wonder why I’m paying good money for something that is next to intangible? Especially when I can go to the library and pick up a book or two for nothing (although I would now be challenged to finish a book in two weeks). That said, I still turn to the eReader for new books, and endure guilty feelings not unlike those one gets after wasting a Saturday afternoon watching Law and Order marathon.

    Interestingly enough, our county library system has contracted with an organization called Overdrive that allows me to “check out” eBooks for a two week period. That’s helped manage my eBook addiction, although the selection is a bit skewed towards YA.

  62. Good post, and funny to boot. Thanks.

    I’ve been making my (albeit modest) living by self publishing my books for over 20 years. Ebooks have become an important part of my income and I’m fascinated by how pricing affects sales. That being said, it takes three seconds to locate me and my publishing company, I can’t imagine anyone whining to someone else if they don’t like my pricing. Tell me you want my books cheaper, or you ignored my book because it was priced too cheaply and therefore you thought it was probably worthless. Or you hated my font or margins or leading. Love to hear it. But absurd to inject it into a discussion of things that might interest anyone else.
    Kenn Amdahl
    ClearwaterPublishing.com

  63. Off-brand Ebook readers start at $50 in the US. The base kindle model is $79. That’s like three or four hard covers. Every time I pick up a paperback I’m surprised to see what they cost these days. In that context an e-reader strikes me as a fairly modestly expensive bit of kit.

    Once or twice I have bought an E-book for Palm E-reader a few days after it was offered in hard cover and I was surprised to discover that the Ebook and the hard cover were the same price and I was reading on a tiny little Palm screen. Surely it costs something to print, distribute, and handle returns on a physical product. I think the theory was that what you are paying for is immediacy. If you want to read it RIGHT NOW, you have to pay the price of what it costs to lay hands on the hardcover, in the store, today. The price of older ebooks in the same series was lower than the paperback price.

    I don’t want books to cost $0.99 cents. I want the author to make more than that, and I want the publisher to be able to make enough to be willing to read the slush pile and pay what it takes to publish and market a book; but it does seem like it should cost a couple bucks less than the hard cover to not have to kill and transport trees, particularly if the ebook has DRM. The price often is lower, but when it isn’t that can be frustrating.

  64. I have to admit, I’m a bit puzzled about this discussion about how much entertainment reading ebooks “should” cost. We are talking about a completely optional product here: it’s not something you need to survive, hold down a job, or live comfortably, like food, rent, (arguably) gasoline, or electricity. We are talking about a purely optional product, that a large proportion of the developed world goes without.

    Ebooks for entertainment are still a luxury item. The adverse effects of being unable to afford them are negligible. Therefore, the price of entertainment ebooks is not a moral issue.

  65. Stevie @4:44 PM:

    Abuse is no argument against proper use. Just because it’s possible to self-publish bad books, that doesn’t make everything self-published “the slush pile”. I don’t see any reason to just declare “I shall never by a self-published ebook, no matter what.”

  66. Pricing *should* be set by supply and demand curves and price to manufacture. However in the US at least even though there have been major technological breakthroughs that have significantly lowered the cost of production, the major publishers are in collusion, are attempting to rig the market and fix the price and are currently being investigated by the DoJ about it.

    Even though the attempts of the big six to control the market are doomed to eventual failure, it’s leading to quite a bit of angst in the consumer community at the moment. And more importantly, driving a lot of people to piracy. The big six will loose already, but if you push a consumer over the piracy edge and he goes off and downloads one of the “collection of 25,000 science fiction books” (which does exist by the way and contains basically everything John has ever written) is he ever going to bother to go buy that stuff again?

  67. @Cindy Davies — and I remember thinking they were *expensive* at $0.50 On the plus side, every teim Scholastic Book Service raised their prices, I got an allowance increase. But old is (close to becoming) an understatement!

  68. unholyguy… go read the series I linked above on Charlie Stross’ site. Cost of manufacture isn’t a major component of the book cost that we pay.

    As for piracy… yes, some entitled little whiners will pirate… even as they expect to get paid for their work. Ironic, eh? (I’ve see this among programmers whose own work is bits and not atoms. Ever did get that.) Me, I’ll pay a fair price. If I feel a price isn’t fair, I’ll buy something else, wait for a sale (see my Harper Voyager link above) or use the library. It’s the height of hypocrisy, though, to claim one cares about authors while stealing their work.

  69. If you’re a hardcore reader and a fast one to boot, the ebook and the ereader’s conveniences are many. I was a bit resistant at first until I realised a handful of things, the first being when I finish a book in a series (inevitably late at night when no brick and mortar book stores are open), I can grab the very next book RIGHT AWAY. It’s the best thing ever. Get an urge. Feed the urge.

    And then the moving and the packing and the shelf space. We just donated nine boxes of books to the SF library system. Nine boxes we shall not have to pack in the future. Nine boxes our movers won’t have to move. Our library is slowly migrating to the cloud and memory cards. This is good because we seriously ran out of room in our apartment.

    I forget my Nook at home. I’m bored on the train and Nook-less….but hey, wait a sec, I can grab my book from the Cloud and read it on my iPhone. Oh, look at that, it’s EVEN at the same place I last left off.

    I’m reading Dawkins and come across a word I’ve never seen before. A touch of the finger, and I’m looking it up.

    On the airplane, I realise that I am having the usual difficulty of sinking into a book. Magazines always seem to be easier for me to ingest than books when nervously hovering 30K above the ground, so instead I DL my latest National Geo.

    I’m reading in the bathtub on my Nook Color a month or so back. (No, I haven’t dropped it. The first coupla times I used a ziploc bag, now I lived dangerously.) The lights flicker and go out–the result of the landlady experimenting with the wiring upstairs. I realise that I can stay exactly where I am, in a nice warm bath, and continue to read my ebook.

    As I get older, instead of having to repurchase my books in large print format, I’ll be able to make a few changes and switch font sizes and voila! books for my elderly eyes.

    Just a few examples of how my life changed for the better once I got my Nook. (And why I got Nooks for the family this year as Xmas presents.)

  70. The best book I ever read and that really wowed me with HOLY MOLY ideas was an eBook I bought for 70 cents. Just my 2 cents.

  71. I love to read. I love my e-reader. I don’t care about the cost of the book. If I want to read it, I’ll buy it. I even buy both hard cover and e-book if I like the author (or if my son wrote it). So quit crabbing about the cost. You’ll never get a better bargain either way.

  72. unholyguy, I assume you are talking about the investigation discussed in this Wall Street Journal article? The investigation isn’t about price collusion, but rather collusion to force Amazon to adopt the “agency pricing” model. Note that your talk of supply and demand curves don’t really work here; Amazon is wants to sell ebooks at $9.99 at a loss, temporarily, until they capture the entire market, at which point they will be free to hike the price to whatever they want, or pass on as little of the price to authors and publishers as they want.

    I don’t have a high opinion of the “If you don’t lower prices, people will just pirate it” argument. That’s like telling Safeway that if they don’t lower the price of kiwi fruit, you are just going to have to break into their store at midnight and steal them. I think that’s the kind of blackmail that nobody should give in to.

    Also, what rickg said about Charlie Stross’s “Common Misconceptions” series.

  73. @unholyguy 8:39 PM

    I agree up to a point. I mean, back in the day paperbacks sold for a quarter, but there’s inflation to consider. If the standard price point for ebooks becomes too low, (say, sub-99 cents) and the trend of more and more sales becoming electronic continues, it seems to me like it’s going to be difficult for anyone but bestsellers to stay in the writing business.

    The other problem I see with this reasoning is that books aren’t homogenous products. You can talk about supply curves and demand curves, but I don’t think it’s possible to arrive at a generalized demand curve for ‘books’ and have that information be useful. Demand for Stephen King’s latest book is very different from demand for a midlist writer’s latest book is very different from demand for a first novel. For this reason, I feel like it’d be pretty difficult to arrive at a single, equilibrium price for “books” in general.

  74. John, I’d like to register a complaint about Comcast cable internet pricing, and the subsequent cost of visiting your blog daily.

    And why, oh why, can’t I get ebooks on 8″ floppies so that I can read them on my Wang (and get your mind of the gutter).

  75. @CLP If a business doesn’t keep the hell up, benefit from technology and pass some of that along to your consumers then

    1: People start to cheat (pirate) because they feel ripped off
    2: New models arise to undercut the existing cartels
    3: The old businesses start playing dirty in various ways

    These things are happening now. It doesn’t really matter whether you approve of them or consider them blackmail or not, they are happening.

    I weary of this argument actually, as it has been done to death and back on Stross site as part of his “it takes a billion trillion dollars to make a book, why because that is how you make real books damn it” in 2010 followed by the 2011 sequel “Amazon is the BoogieMan they are eating my lunch, oh look someone just made a bestseller for $995 but lets fall back on the True Scotsman fallacy and say it’s not a book unless you carve it on clay tablets and bake it in the sun the way grandaddy did because that is how you make real books damn it plus it’s all Amazon’s fault THEY ARE THE BOOGIE MAN stop eating my lunch”.

    Read this one
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/11/cutting-their-own-throats.html

    That is the current state of the union in which we bemoan the fact that most of the things that were predicted by people such as myself in the earlier installments are actually, go figure, happening. Government intervention now is the answer

    The arguments, the research, it is all there for anyone who cares to read them. The trends are clear.

    - Barrier to entry: Down to zero
    - Number of Authors: Up to the blogosphere
    - Quality: Downish
    - Average Price: Down
    - Established Authors and Publishers: Scared shitless and not exactly thinking rationally

  76. @unholyguy:

    Again, I have to question your analysis of the market for books. I might not understand the economic principles correctly, but the problem as I see it is that, again, books are not all the same.

    What we have, I think, is not “a cartel” in the market for “books”, but several people holding monopolies on specific books. As a conceit, say that the average price for books in general becomes something like five dollars. If Stephen King prices his next novel at ten dollars, people will buy it anyway.

    The barriers to entry for writing books have always been zero. The barriers to entry for selling a specific book (say John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”) are insurmountable. I can’t start selling that book unless he authorizes me to.

    I don’t see how, exactly, you’ve established that the quality is going ‘downish’. If you’re insisting upon putting the argument in economic terms, wouldn’t it be correct to say that your personal utility derived from the books you’ve read has gone down?

    Average price: I suppose I don’t see how this is a useful metric. Since every book is a monopoly, the price is based on how much people are willing to pay for it. The fact that the average prices is decreasing just means that the market is being flooded with books that people aren’t willing to pay very much for. (This does not mean low-quality books. Say my neighbor John Smith publishes his amazing work of literary brilliance that he’s kept in a trunk. I still haven’t heard of him, so I’m not as willing to pay for his book as I would be for something by an author who I know) And for the same reason, I don’t see why established writers and publishers are supposed to be afraid. For instance, I tend to buy Jim Butcher’s hardbacks. That can run up to twenty or twenty-five dollars a book. But just because the average price of all books is going down, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop buying Butcher in hardback.

    It has to do with willingness-to-pay. Not market price. Or at least that’s how I see it.

  77. Coolio. I just don’t understand how people can’t get the concept that the bulk of the money you pay for a book goes for writing, editing, publicising, cover art, etc and not the actual printing of the book. And as someone who works who in the computer field, the idea that you just put a file out there for people to download and there is no additional expense just means they don’t know how the world works. Someone has to pay for the computers, the storage, software, network access, backups, on line security, and the salaries for the people who maintain all that stuff, well, all of that overhead you need to have an online presence costs money.

    Thanks for doing this. I’m sick of hearing these people giving 1 star reviews on Amazon because they don’t like the price and I’m sick of reading their complaints here.

  78. I don’t believe most pirates steal books/music/movies because they think it is too expensive. Sometimes, sure. And sometimes, it is because there is no legitimate source available. But I think that most of the time it is a simple matter of greed and lack of ethics. Either their parents never taught them that stealing was wrong, or they don’t care about right or wrong as long as they can get whatever they want. Basically, they are childish, greedy, and ethics-free.

  79. Ronny the cost of the tech infrastructure required to support a 40k file is in the penny’s/year. Go price it on amazon ec2. As far as the cost of creating a book, technology changes those economics. There really do exist outfits that can do the whole post-edit end to end for under $1K. The cost differential is not just cost of printing a book but the fact that the existing book creation process the big publishers use is stuck in the 1980′s and ridiculously bureaucratic and expensive. You don’t really need all those guys in New York skyscrapers anymore, as the self publishers are proving it daily.

    John I would say my personal utility has gone up, not down, mostly because i have access to far better information to make a decision around what to read.

    It’s important to remember though that the distribution of words-written to words-read is highly highly skewed. I don’t have exact numbers but I would imagine something like 5% of the books generate 90% of the reading, the rest is a long, long tail. As that tail gets longer, the “Average quality of a published book” decays, even though individual readers will not see a decrease in personal utility.

    Books can be considered “the same” in the sense that for any particular book there exist “substitute goods” i.e. another book that could be read instead. No one reads just one author. The relationship between the price of a commodity and the price of a substitute can be found below.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substitute_good

    Author are afraid that if the market is flooded with low cost substitutes and the big dix publishing houses loose the ability to fix and dictate a standard price, it will eventually erode their sales and/or force them to lower prices, Basically a race to the bottom scenario like the manufacturing industry. Personally I think their fear is misfounded, books are not perfect substitutes, but imperfect substitutes, like coke and pepsi.

    I think what you will actually see is a large price dichotomy, as an individual authors becomes a premium brand he will be able to command a higher price, however young artists trying to break in will pretty much give it away. Kind of like restaurants or the video game industry

    Authors and publishers both are also afraid that amazon is going to get a lock on the whole industry and become a monopoly. I think this is a more wellfounded concern, the existing publishing houses are toast if they don’t wise up pretty fast.

  80. @rickg 4:35 “before ebooks if a book was priced at $9.99 in paper, what did you do? Right, you bought it or not. You didn’t say “OMG, that book is priced too high! WAAHH!!!”. Books were priced at what they were priced at. If the hardcover was too much for you, you waited until the paperback versions came out.”

    There are more options than just buy-it-or-not for physical books, as you are surely aware. If the retail price of a physical book is too high, or I don’t want to wait for the paperback, I can get it at my library (which has very, very limited e-lending) or at a used bookstore (none of those for ebooks, and doubt there ever will be). I do manage to get a few ebooks from lending sites, but most of what I want is not enabled for lending by the publishers.

    Ebooks clearly do not have the borrowing potential of paperbacks, so yes, that does affect how frustrated I get with high prices.

  81. Stacey,

    Good points. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from getting that physical book at the library if the e-version is too pricey. Sure, it’s not electronic, but do you want to read the book… or not? If you do, then you will prefer a given format, but you won’t make it an absolute requirement. Insisting on an e-version and ONLY an e-version when such things didn’t widely exist even 5 years ago seems artificial.

    I guess that’s one of my pet peeves about this… there are people who get in a snit if they can’t get an electronic version and if that version is even slightly more than they want to pay it’s an affront to them. So, yes, that sets me off. It’s self-centered, seems entitled and when they one star a review or snottily mention it in a Big Idea, they come across as dicks.

    I get that people would like cheaper ebooks. Hell, so would I. But ultimately the difference between $5.99, $7.99 and $9.99 isn’t that much. If it is, I wait for it to be on sale, buy a used paper version, hit the library. What I don’t do is act like the world owes me precisely what I want, when I want it, in the form I want it and for the price I want to pay.

  82. See I was going to comment, both yesterday and on this post. I just deleted one because it started to look kvetchy but I do have a good point.

    I LOVED the sound of Count to a Trillion. And would gladly buy the Ebook for $12. If I was allowed. But as I’m in the UK no one will sell it to me. I have to wait for it to eventually come out over here.

    Which means I’ll probably stick to buying stuff from Baen who don’t DRM there books and don’t mind if someone from outside the States buys them on the day the come out. I got an E-Reader for Xmas last year and since then have bought 1 physical book. But about 30 ebooks, full price and mostly directly from the publishers.

    When I mentioned online that I was annoyed that I’d seen a book I liked that I couldn’t buy a number of my friends asked me why I didn’t torrent it, but I don’t like doing that. I like authors and reading and I’d like the authors to be able to eat so I can read their books. I just wish the whole country specific stuff could get fixed.

    I understand if you delete this comment, it’s you blog. I might even get round to expanding on this on my blog. Stranger things have happened.

    In the meantime I shall follow Mr Wright and keep an eye out for when Count to a Trillion is available over here. And Redshirts for that matter.

  83. Books: They have variable price points!

    My heart, why do people not understand this? In my bookstore I’m constantly asked by someone, “Well, how much aree-books?” Excuse me, how long have you not lived in America, and when are you planning on leaving? E-books have different prices, just like paper-print books.

  84. I think price can be a nice, objective way to review a work. I really dont know what 2.5 “stars” means.

    I generally review movies in terms of how much I think it is worth for the various price points available.Top level is something like : worth paying full evening price for ttickets and ten dollars for a soda. possibly worth making the evening a date with your significant other.

    below that is : worth matinee ticket price. maybe grab some lunch feom home before you leave.

    then: worth the cost of rental, cost of on-demand, a few bucks and supply your own snacks.

    below that is : worth free on cable. I wouldnt mind watching it for free and the cost of my time, but I wouod feel amiss if I had to pay money for it.

  85. I should add that “This particular art was worth me paying X dollars to enjoy” is a different conversation than “all ebooks should be $1, this is an ebook, this ebook should be $1″.

  86. Seeing how the average pocket book where I live costs about 12 euros (say 15-16 dollar), I’m loving the fact that I have an American kindle and can buy e-books at significantly less than that with the current e-book prices.

    Do I wish I could get e-books cheaper? Sure, but more importantly I wish more books would be available as e-books. Cause they are great and I want to be able to carry around all of my books on my smartphone…

  87. People did that? *scratches head* I guess I didn’t notice because I’m not in the habit of reading the comment threads on the Big Idea posts. I usually either think “hey, nifty, I should check that out” or “hm, interesting but not for me” and go on with my life. Am I doing it wrong?

  88. What blows me away is that millions of people will drop $0.99 on a 3-minute pop song, yet a 6 hour e-book (over 100 times the length) costing even $9.99 (only 10 times as much, 90% less than expected time-value) causes wailing and complaining.

    You’re not paying for the nickel’s worth of electrons, folks. You’re paying for the story.

  89. I could not agree more with the central premise of this article, or the policy it implements.

    However, to add my 16 cents on ebook pricing:

    While as I understand it Traditional Authors don’t have much say over the e-pricing of their books, there is a flood, a veritable torrent, of self-published e-books available on the two major e-reader sites (Amazon has a site called “KDP” and Barnes and Noble has a site called “PubIt” that allow authors to submit manuscripts which are automatically turned into e-books and published for sale. They work reasonably well.) And, of course, authors on these sites have unlimited authority over their pricing, or nearly. (Both sites do have some hardwired limits.)

    I have published three books on these sites, and met with some modest success*. I can honestly say that the pricing is the hardest detail to work out. I tried to base my pricing on what I think the books are worth compared to what I see in bookstores and to the pricing of more traditionally published e-books. In practice that means the most expensive one – which is an honest novel if not as long as the typical Scalzi OMW-length work – sells for considerably less than a standard mass-market paperback.

    However, either I am quite a bit dumber than I thought I was, or the vast majority of authors on the sites use what can only be described as bizarro-logic to arrive at their pricing. I’ve seen 4000-word stories priced as high as 7.99. I’ve seen short novels priced at .99. And the quality of the work doesn’t seem to play a large role in this. (The aforementioned $8 short story, based on its sample chapter, appears to have been edited by Clippy.)

    For that reason, I think it *is* fair to discuss the value-for-money of a book (e-book or otherwise) when reviewing it. I do it. I do it both ways, I hasten to add. I’ve made comments in reviews to the effect that an e-book was *underpriced.* And I’ve made comments to the effect that I wouldn’t buy any more works from an author because I felt that they were not delivering a sufficient experience for the money. I *don’t* complain that the work was “too short:” that would be admitting that I couldn’t, you know, read, since the length of the book is clearly visible in the product description. Furthermore, you can extrapolate it from the length of the sample chapter, which is a fixed percentage of the book on the two big sites. (This isn’t the case on many third party sites, where an e-author can create the “sample” section as an independent text of whatever length they wish.) And “too short” is subjective: I’ve read short stories I would gladly have paid several dollars to read, because they were GREAT. But that is a relative judgment of the value of the experience, not a words-per-dollar calculation. That latter would be a very shortsighted way to evaluate a book (or any entertainment experience) in my opinion.

    *I decline to go into details: let’s say I’ll need to keep my day job, but Christmas was somewhat merrier this year thanks to royalty income.

  90. While we’re at it, can we declare a moratorium on discussions of:

    a. “Publishers hate ebooks and want to destroy the ebook market!”
    and
    b. “Ebooks are cheaper than print books to produce, therefore they should be sold at a cheaper price point!”

    The first is just…well, I don’t want the banhammer, so I won’t give my full opinion. Let me just point out that I am the Production Monarch at my company, which means my staff is responsible for the production of all our books–print and ebook–and I worry that my boss is going to come up to my office with a shotgun if I don’t get the damned ebooks moving faster. This was also true at my previous employer, one of the Big Six. The statement that publishers don’t want ebooks is just plain freaking WRONG, and I am heartily sick of hearing it from people who don’t work for publishers and don’t have any idea what they’re talking about.

    Point 2 completely misses the basic lesson any college freshman learns in ECON 101: it doesn’t matter what it costs to produce. It matters what the seller thinks people are willing to pay. For things with inelastic demand, you charge a lot of money. People either pay up, find a substitute, or do without. Don’t like the price of the latest book by Your Favorite Author? Then don’t buy it. There are lots of other awesome authors out there selling at lower price points. Oh, but you really want YFA’s book? Welcome to the wonderful world of inelastic demand! Fork over your money or STFU. Either the book is worth that price to you or it isn’t, but the publisher doesn’t have to sell it at the price you demand if they have lots of other customers willing to pay more.

  91. I’m very unhappy about the font used for ebooks! I will continue to give 1-star ratings until they are all published in comic sans! It had never occurred to me to that the big idea posts would be the perfect place for me to extend my campaign.

    There I can have the authors attention while he or she is totally not expecting to get broadsided about the importance of comic sans. The this will make the author feel twitchy, neurotic and depressed about being published is just a great bonus since thats how I already feel about NOT being published!

  92. -E
    “it doesn’t matter what it costs to produce. It matters what the seller thinks people are willing to pay. ”

    You aren’t selling a drill you are selling a hole

    Unfortunately that basic theory actually supports the argument that the price point is wrong
    - People do not seem to be willing to pay the same price for virtual books as physical ones
    - The “substitute” in this case is often piracy which is cost=0

    I’ll say it again, anyone can have any book they want in about 5 minutes for no cost and there is nothing the publishers can do about it. So telling your audience to STFU is not that good a solution, better to work out an arrangement with them where they can buy what they want at a price they are willing to pay. Or else your customer, who is the one in the drivers seat after all, will put your ass out of business. Which he is in the process of doing.

  93. It looks like people are beginning to shift into religious arguments about ebooks, i.e., ones that come from a basis of personal opinion rather than having data to support the argument. Let’s make sure we clearly identify those as such, just as a matter of intellectual honesty.

  94. John – I had 4 quarters of economics but it was more than 30 years ago so I may be a bit rusty. As I recall a couple of basic principles were:
    The cost of production is NOT reflected in the price of sale
    The price of sale is determined by what the market place will pay

    That boils down to: If you want to maximize your profit pick a price point where the price x units is the biggest number. e.g. you could sell a million if they cost a dime you get $100k, you could sell 1 if they cost $500k, you get $500k, you can sell 500k if they cost $5, you get $2.5M. $5 seems to be where I’d want to live.

    I have no idea what the ideal price is for an ebook (I really like free but only as a reader not as a writer!) and assume that the publishers have given this some thought. If they are wrong they and the authors will suffer for it.

  95. “I think it’s important to understand that eBooks are not special snowflakes; they’re just books in electronic form.” Perfect. When complaining to a publisher, please keep this in mind. Publishing is a business and has to make money like every other business. How can we pay authors who create content without charging for ebooks?

  96. Not a complaint, but I do love how paperback prices are sometimes cheaper than e-book prices. I’ll read both and always go for the cheapest (legal) version, but I do have friends who love throwing a fit when the e-book costs more.

  97. I like the Big Ideas that focus on the Big Idea of the book. I have read a few Big Ideas that barely talk about the book at all and talk about the author. I am far more interested in what the book is about and why I should read it, than I am about the author and his history of writing the book. I skim over the Big Ideas that talk about the author and I have not read a single one of those books. I have bought and read a few of the Big Ideas that talk about the book and made the book sound interesting.

  98. “Fork over your money or STFU.”

    I probably would have ignored this valiant effort to win hearts and minds except you did it right after right after claiming that Econ101 supports you in email.

    I think another rule of econ101 and of pretty much any business person would include “everything is negotiable”. Amazon and others dont have a web interface to support ‘name your price’ or a ‘haggle’ button, but it would be odd to think customers have no say in the transaction and must STFU. At the very least they can have a say with their feet by buying something else. People even sign petitions to complain to a business about something that may not even affect them as a customer. The petition to Lowes for pulling its ads due to Islamophobia being one example.

    It does make sense a s Scalzi pointed out to direct your complaint to someone who is accountable for the thing you are complaining about. Complaining about price to someone who does not control the price isnt really engaging in the negotiation, but rather dumping/venting to make yourself feel better by making someone else feel worse.

  99. Unfortunately that basic theory actually supports the argument that the price point is wrong
    - People do not seem to be willing to pay the same price for virtual books as physical ones

    This may be true for you.

    This is not true for all people.

    I think you are guilty of overgeneralizing from a limited dataset.

    I mistrust someone who thinks Charles Stross (who has self published, who has experience as an author and in ebooks, and has a decent handle on both the technology and economics) is wrong.

    I especially mistrust a person whose grasp of economics is backwards.

  100. unholyguy: I see you are pulling out the extortion argument again.

    Do you have any evidence that the people who will pirate ebooks that cost $12 won’t pirate the ebook at a price of $5? Louis C.K. recently released a video of his standup for $5, and yet some people are still putting it on BitTorrent.

    But you know what? Even if you’re right, and publishers would do better if they reduced the price of their ebooks, what skin is it off your nose? You’ve yet to produce any evidence that publishers are colluding over price (as opposed to the agency model). Publishers are motivated corporations. They can figure out on their own what the optimal price point is. And if they don’t, that’s their problem.

    None of this changes the fact that it’s tiresome to hear people complain about the price of ebooks. I have never gone into my local Lexus dealership and complained that their cars cost too much. Nor have I suggested that they could make more money by lowering the price. And I certainly wouldn’t tell them that if they refused to lower their price, I would be forced to steal their cars off the lot at night.

    By the way, regarding your post at 11:32 p.m.: First, paraphrasing someone’s argument in a silly manner is not a refutation. Second, your link is about DRM, not the cost of ebooks.

  101. I should clarify, in my Lexus dealership example, that I mean going to a Lexus dealership and offering the same price for a Lexus as a Toyota Corolla. Obviously, people do negotiate on the price of cars, but it would be silly to be upset if they didn’t cut the price in half.

    (Sorry for the double-post.)

  102. Charlie is a very smart guy and I respect him immensely. He’s also not exactly unbias on this subject, and no one has enough information to really nail this. The fact that a lot of people have started doing the thing he claimed was impossible (i.e. publishing at the $.99 price point and making scads of money off it) leads me to believe he was wrong in his 2010 assessment of “what it takes to make a book”.

    As far as grasp of economics being backwards, well as Greg points out, it works both ways, backwards and forwards. It’s not just about what the producer wants to charge, but also what the consumer is willing to pay. Price of production also factors in, there are competitors out there who are willing to undercut to get business.

  103. CLP, with regards to evidence, see the WSJ journal link I just posted. They support both the correlation between piracy and price points and price collusion, though I would not say any of that has been “proven” by any means. it seems reasonable, the scant data supports it

    Regarding the link to Charlie’s article, a lot of the good stuff is in the comments not the original post.

    Your analogy to a car dealership has a breaking point, precisely around the concept “stealing” which is a different thing from “copying”. If you could wave a magic wand and make a copy of a Lexus, you would have significantly more negotiating advantage.

  104. “I think price can be a nice, objective way to review a work.”

    This is true if you’ve read/viewed the work. Leaving a “review” that essentially says “I’ll never read this book at this price” is unhelpful. As a reader, it tells me nothing about whether or not it’s a good read or something I should avoid. As an author, it means that some people may pass up my work because of negative reviews based solely on the price written by people who have no intention of reading the book. Most of my work has been published by the big six, and I’m looking at self-publishing works that have been reverted. One thing that’s holding me back is figuring out price points. Someone’s gonna gripe if it’s anything above free.

  105. I am not one to complain about ebook prices, but I will phrase the issue in a positive form: I am in the market for good, low-priced ebooks. Recommendations, anyone?

  106. Seth:

    Actually, I’d prefer not to have this turn into a recommendations thread. That said, if anyone has recommendations for Seth, feel free to follow his link and contact him.

  107. Greg@ 11:44 : Allow me to clarify. “STFU on public boards where no one can do anything about it.”

    I mean, sure, it’s fine to complain to your friends–it’s part of being a social species–but I am heartily tired of seeing this canard littering the public sphere in random places that have no effect on price points. Put together a petition, exhort people to complain to the publishers–awesome! Consumer activism is a good thing.

    But just whining “I don’t want to pay [X] for an ebook” (X may equal a number, or may equal “more than the print edition”) is tiresome and useless. It’s kind of like people complaining that they can’t get laid. I have some sympathy, but no one here is in a position to help unless the complainer makes effort to solve the problem.

    ————–

    On the semi-related topic of piracy, I can only report that it’s a concern, but no one knows how widespread it is, nor how badly it may cut into real sales. It’s kind of silly for publishers to make decisions based on gut-feeling “theory” rather than hard data. Part of the reason ebook prices are where they are is because publishers are still determining what is an ideal price point.

    My current employer is an academic publisher. Books we intend for course adoption are generally cheaper than our other books. We know that students don’t want to pay $50 for a slender paperback that will be just one of six they need for a specialized upper-level or graduate course, so we try very hard to get it to as low a price point as we can.

    OTOH, a book intended for the 300 specialists in the entire world in an esoteric subject can have a much higher price. Senior academics have budgets from their employing institutions to buy books, and since the print run is so low, the unit cost is enormous. Fortunately, the demand is relatively inelastic–all 300 of those specialists will need to keep up with the latest work in their field. We also tend to assume that they aren’t going to pirate books.

    ———–

    Big-publisher fiction, obviously, is an entirely different story. Publishers for the last 40 years have had a particular pattern: high-priced hardcover to capture the inelastic demand of people who want the book NOW NOW NOW; a subsequent paperback release about a year later to capture the sales to people whose patience exceeds their bank balance.

    Although ebook readers have made huge inroads in the last three years, it’s still a relatively new market and publishers are still sorting out the sweet spot, both in pricing and availability. Some folks complain (with justification) that some books have print editions but no ebook editions. Well, some publishers are starting to fiddle with ebook-only editions, which is going to annoy the print-preferring readers.

    My point is, quit taking it so personally. Publishers aren’t thinking of you (generic “you”) when they set these policies or try these experiments (and oh, yes, there are many experiments going on!). They’re thinking of the great mass of readers, which is, like most of humanity, extremely heterogeneous.

  108. Interesting the snowflake analogy. I will counter John Scalzi’s contention that they are not special, with the caveat I am not being too literal. The opening two lines from my Amazon Kindle Single (I won’t mention the title, I’m not looking for a plug):

    When by the frost of the windowpane and all that descends from the sky are dying snowflakes, it is a canto. How they float past the eye to lay down the ground a scream.

  109. Being my own publisher gives me the liberty to experiment with pricing and to keep a book in print indefinitely. I also recently came to the conclusion that e-book, print and audio edition are separate markets that do not have much overlap. E-books are the new mass-market paperback. Currently the first book in my “Acts of War” Civil War spy thriller series is offered in e-book form at 99 cents until January 8th. It’s on Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook and the sale is USA & UK only, which for Kindle covers a lot of other nations as well. This is the same content as the print edition. I also have a survey on Facebook what the new permanent price should be. (It was $9.99, which people said was too high). So far, the majority is going for the $4.99 price point. So people will pay more than the minimum for quality (And this book has multiple five star reviews), so, considering that I make ten times as much at the $4.99 price as I do the 99 cent price per copy, this is not going to be a hard decision — unless our stated goal of selling 100,000 copies or more by January 8th is met. So, far it doesn’t look likely but we haven’t reached the tipping points where sales take off yet. That can still happen and might. One of the things I learned as a consultant is that sometimes you just have to get in there and work the problem — you never know until you try.

  110. Thank you, thank you…the whining from the price nazi’s made me nauseated. Now if we can get writers writing and people reading,we’ll all be happy. Beating upon the business of publishing is another boring, stupid topic. Cheers..Wil…

  111. Simon Proctor said:

    I LOVED the sound of Count to a Trillion. And would gladly buy the Ebook for $12. If I was allowed. But as I’m in the UK no one will sell it to me. I have to wait for it to eventually come out over here.

    I sometimes try to do that. But I suck at it. What happens in practice is that I see a book in Big Ideas and like it, so I follow the purchase link. And it’s in some way useless. So I bookmark it, or note it down in my big list of things to do. When I do that I sometimes look at the list and try to buy other things on it, but usually they’re still broken. So I delete them and move on.

    Sometimes I later find those books on one of the sites I buy from, but it’s unlikely that I’ll remember that I’ve seen the book mentioned before. So Big Ideas is useless to me in the sense that I haven’t ever found one that I can buy, so I skip those posts.

  112. (BTW, I’m in Australia. We seem to be part of the ebook publishing region “suckers”. Books are ridiculously expensive here and ebooks are priced the same way. It’s not even as if they have to localise the things, we still get “color” and other regional spellings, plus the full gamut of original errata from the first ebook edition).

  113. I’d second the other Australians complaining about e-books here. And it’s not the price I’m really bothered about; it’s the availability. I wrote to John earlier this year saying that Ghost Brigades is not available on Amazon electronically if you live in Australia. This was still true last time I looked (a month or so ago). Old Man’s War is available; The Last Colony is available. Ghost Brigades is only available in German. (WTF?!)

    Can someone who knows explain why this is the case? (For books generally, not just John’s.)

  114. rickg wrote: “Ok, in one of those amusing coincidences… Harper Voyager is doing an ebook sale of a lot of stuff for $2. So… people who want inexpensive ebooks… go for it!”

    Thanks, rickg. Richard Kadrey’s ‘Sandman Slim’ has been in my “I want to read that someday” list for a while. The Harper Voyager sale got me off the dime.

  115. I mentioned it on my blog, so I linked to the B&N site and saw the book was rated way lower than I thought it would be. Turned out a bunch of people had given it 1-star reviews because B&N pushed free sample versions to their Nooks. As best I could tell, they saw themselves as heroic freedom fighters pushing back against Big Brother by making 1-star reviews without even reading the sample.

    I dunno if it’s the same book, but I had a free sample pushed on my Nook as well, and it was really damn annoying because:
    1) It does it without asking;
    2) There is no way to delete it from the Nook itself;
    3) There is no documentation on how to delete it in the Nook manual.
    You can log on to your website account and delete it there, as I figured out from some google searching, but the whole thing is an unacceptable way to go about it on both Barnes & Noble and the publisher’s part. Customer Service isn’t going to get you anywhere on objecting to the policy – it’s just going to get you a low-level support person with even less relevance to the actual issue – and B&N hides any other way to contact them. Are you surprised people respond in the closest thing they can find to a relevant place?

    1-star reviews hit uninvolved parties (the authors) and aren’t likely to get the attention of the right people, but that’s because there is no clear way to do so. Not something I’m going to do, but at least in that case I can’t really blame them. It’s not like the star score set by such masterful 4-star reviews as

    Hhfhdxhchjjhfjdkhhdffhdhhdfhhfhfhhhcfffhhchhfujjjjsnhddwdddxmxfxeffexdmjzjxjdjddhzdjdjffhfrfhffhhfffffhhddrfffhfyyeeygyccfffbccffchfdffffhdfhffhggjfjfdoddffjjjrfvjfhfffffzkkkdderdjjrjdelo lol lololololololololololololololooooooolololololollololololol

    I didnt xactly tell him, but he was there wen i wuz tld that so i had no other choice????????!!!!!!!!!####

    is of much use anyway.

    (That’s one of the reviews in the book that had been pushed as a free sample to me – I searched there in case any of the posts gave hints about how to delete the thing).

  116. I agree with you completely. A major reason I stopped reading Amazon reviews is because I’d go there to read varying opinions, only to find most of the 1 star reviews whining about the ebook price and/or availability. Personally, I hate ebooks, but I don’t whine everywhere if a book is ebook only. I just don’t read it, the end.

  117. I think you’ve said something that needed saying, John – well, look at all the responses!

    In case anyone ever gets round to reading mine, I want to emphasise that although I have 55 novels published, I am not JK Rowling and just make a decent living. The last word is the clue – living! We all need to buy food, power, run a car, and obtain other frivolities like clothes.

    People buy the gadget they read ebooks on and pay the manufacturer. Why do they think the books should be free and the author not paid?

    Anna Jacobs – or Shannah Jay, depending on which genre I’m writing in

  118. John,

    You may have addressed this elsewhere, but if so, I can’t seem to find the answer (after a vigorous 20+ seconds of looking at the home page).

    1) Do you ever do non-fiction in the Big Idea? If no, would you consider it?
    2) Is there a spot on the site that consolidates the Big Idea posts?

    Thanks

  119. @unholyguy “- Quality: Downish”

    Just Ish? I think you meant: “Quality: Piles of stinking slush that ought to be sitting on an editors slush pile before getting filed in the circular file thus saving normal people the contemplation of wasting even a dollar on them.”

    I can’t speak for everybody and certainly not you, but I don’t want the book market to follow the iPhone app market in a race to the bottom of fart apps and flashlights. Yes, people do make money selling apps, and Rovio had a monster hit with Angry Birds.

    Angry Birds was something like the 100th app that they wrote before they had something that people liked. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to read 99 stinkers from anybody in case their 100th book is a classic.

    Buying 10 unreadable pieces of dreck for $10 versus spending $10 on a book I’m likely to enjoy and not sit there wincing at the editing, the quality and a bunch of other things, doesn’t seem like a problem to me.

  120. I think that those who most complain about the price of e-books are those who paid $$ for an e-reader, be it a kindle or nook or whatever. It seems to me that these folks, having already spent $$ on the device are now resentful for having to spend $ on the content, and failing to understand that the ‘device’ and the ‘content’ have nothing to do with each other. Just because you paid for a gadget does NOT entitle you to content at a cheaper price.

  121. Greg: “I think price can be a nice, objective way to review a work.”

    Julie: “This is true if you’ve read/viewed the work. Leaving a “review” that essentially says “I’ll never read this book at this price” is unhelpful.”

    Do you likewise object to the people who did not read the book and posted “Sounds good, I just ordered it” as being equally unhelpful?

  122. So, thanks to the Harper Voyager sale, I found the price of my convenience, and it is 99 cents.

    Allow me to explain. Last year I bought the mass market paperback of Sandman Slim at retail. At that point, I still hadn’t settled on an ereader yet, but I do have a smartphone with all the necessary reader apps installed, nook, Kindle, Google Books, Aldiko, and, secondarily, acv and (now) ezPDFReader.

    Kill the Dead, the sequel to Sandman Slim came out, and Amazon offered Sandman Slim at $0, as a promotional price, so I snagged it, and passed along the paperback. I finally decided on getting the nook Simple as my ereader, and added Sandman Slim to my wishlist, for completeness’ sake.

    At this point I’ll note that I’m also an avid reader of Charlie Stross. I mention this as I have a hypothesis about Charlie’s readership that makes a compelling point about DRM, pricing, and general ebook marketing, and that hypothesis is that nigh 100% of his readers have the technical wherewithal to a) strip the DRM from his ebooks, b) find “unencumbered digital editions” of his works, and/or c) hack the spine off one of his books and scan and OCR it to create their own unencumbered digital edition. Also, I’d wager that this percentage is second only to Cory Doctorow’s readership, and while that percentage may well be true of various others, I think Charlie Stross is the one author which everybody can agree that that figure is undoubtedly true.

    Now, I could strip the DRM and convert my Kindle edition of Sandman Slim for use on my nook, but that seems churlish, since I paid nothing for it, and while I certainly could “find and acquire an encumbered edition,” I certainly wouldn’t do that since I’ve already passed along my physical copy, though if I had retained the physical copy, I might feel differently. It certainly moves that decision to a grayer area, than the then current circumstances afforded. But all that is long way to say that 99 cents is certainly low enough to toss any such concerns out the window.

    As an aside, most of what I’m toting on my nook is Kipling, Poe, various and sundry fairytale and myth compilations, Moby Dick, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and, probably of interest to some here, RSS news feeds of various publications, downloaded by Calibre, and converted to ePub for reading on the nook.

  123. @clyde – You’re welcome. Sandman Slim was a book I loved. If you like it, grab Kill The Dead and Aloha From Hell and his earlier Butcher Bird.

    Greg – I object to anyone rating a book when they’ve not read it. The only exception in my mind is the person who isn’t done with the book because they hate is (and thus is a 1 star review) or conversely, the person who loves the thing to death and posts a rave. But in general, yeah, I object to people rating a book for any reason other than as a judgement on the content.

  124. From the very beginning, I thought that the kindle had a flawed business model – if the gadget you develop has no function or value other than as a platform to deliver content, then you should be putting your efforts towards selling the content and not the gadget. I always thought that the better way to go was to sell the gadget at a price point of $200 – $300 that came with an equivalent store credit for e-books. Essentially, you’d get the kindle for free if you committed to buying a bunch of content of your choosing. But no, Amazon decided it would be better off selling gadgets as opposed to understanding the habits of readers. They chose one-off sales as opposed to repeated, and sometimes very frequent sales. And B&N followed suit with their nook with the same business model.

  125. Notanun: I’ve bought more books since I got a Kindle, and I already bought a lot.

    Those one offs mount up.

  126. @ daveon: a one-off purchase would be a higher-end and not frequently repeated purchase (frequency based closer to decades).

    Amazon clearly made the point that their focus is on selling gadgets as opposed to content. This is where I think they fail.

  127. notanun: You’re just demonstrably wrong. Amazon sells the gadgets (minus the Fire) at a small profit. They sell the books (in aggregate) at a profit. Studies show that daveon is the norm (and me). Buy the kindle (or nook, or whatever) and you’ll buy more books. I’m always excited to see someone criticize an incredibly successful business model without the caveat, “but, I may be wrong since they’re apparently coining money over there.”

    Amazon never made the point that their focus was the gadget. Their focus is the ecosystem. See, e.g. the fire, sold at a minor loss, as it immerses you in the Amazon sales system. It’s frankly brilliant, if not necessarily a good end game for the consumer (that’s an open question).

    As for ebook pricing, some publishers are pricing to discourage ebook purchases. That’s fine, I just don’t buy their product (directly, that is. I buy used copies, which hurts the author, but my hands are tied). Ebook pricing for new hardbacks is going to be in flux for a while. The successful publishers will, I suspect, embrace it as the next big thing. Those that keep business offices in New York, with it’s rent and logistics costs, will keep the old ways, and will eventually fail.

  128. Greg asked me: “Do you likewise object to the people who did not read the book and posted “Sounds good, I just ordered it” as being equally unhelpful?”

    Yes, I find them equally unhelpful. Lots of people telling me they’re going to see a film or read a book suggests there’s some good buzz, but that’s not the same as a critical review. And I fully expect someone else’s mileage may vary on that. (I all expect we’ve seen films or read books that had good buzz and/or legions of die-hard fans and hated them. The film or book. Not the fans. [grin]).

    Now pardon me while I row to another stream in the conversation…. The erratic availability of English language ebooks in international markets is, IMO, hurting authors and publishers. It’s the same problem with television, film, and DVD releases. Back in the days when we didn’t have hot and cold running broadband and cheap devices I suppose it made sense to push product by region according to a specific calendar. But now people just get frustrated and go download what they can’t get. BBC America got smart by showing “Doctor Who” on the same day it airs in the UK. (Now if they’d do something about the commercials. But that’s another rant.)

    Translations are another matter. Good translations take time, which is why it sometimes takes forever to get books to some foreign markets, even though the rights have been sold. I honestly don’t know what the answer is. Someone like me certainly doesn’t have the clout to force a publisher to do a simultaneous English language release.

    And yes, having said that I’m not going to go complain on an Amazon review that I can’t get the product in my country. Again, it’s not helpful.

  129. ” Lots of people telling me they’re going to see a film or read a book suggests there’s some good buzz, but that’s not the same as a critical review.”

    Which is one reason I like Goodreads’ shelf feature. One default shelf is labelled ‘To-read” which tells you the number of people anticipating a book *without* affecting the star score. Amazon, since they don’t police reviews and eliminate reviews that have nothing to do with the product, is less useful if you just look at the average score. The way to use Amazon is to look at the two reviews they select – the most helpful positive and most helpful negative reviews. If you’re on the fence, filter so you’re just reading the 1 and 2 star reviews and read those. If they’re all whining about price. eh. But the actual reviews will tell you if the book has points that annoy you, e.g. huge plot holes, etc. A surprising number of people will give a book a pass and rate it 3 stars. even with something like cardboard characters etc. The negative reviews call those out and, if their hot button is also yours, are useful.

  130. @notanun – I’m not really gripping… the Kindle has stopped me from ever buying another Not_Another_Dan_Brown_Conspiracy_Ripoff_Mass_Market_Paperback in an airport newstand because I’d run out of reading material.

    But economically speaking, they’re eating a metric tonne of cost on every Kindle that ships – consumer electronics are cheap, but not really *that* cheap – so they really do see this as a vector to more sales and, again, based on the numbers that Charlie Stross and others are reporting, people really are buying and, often, buying more e-books.

    If that’s failing, then I wish my business would fail that often :)

    My issue is mostly with the idea that all authors are being ripped off by the publishing industry and should self publish and sell books like iPhone apps. While I can quickly, and I mean in minutes, work out if I am interested in a game and may venture $0.99 for a few minutes of entertainment, I’m not going to bother buying a self published book without some recommendation and review. I don’t think the quantity over quality argument really works for apps and I really don’t think it works for novels.

  131. @Bryan – if they had to cover the R&D cost of running the engineering department who creates the Kindles, they’d never have made even a small profit :)… I understand the loss on the Fire is quite a lot, but that’s even more of an eco-system play.

  132. ZBBMcFate:

    I’m not the honorable Mr. Scalzi, but I know two of the recent Big Idea posts were non-fiction (a book about pilots in Alaska, and Rudy Rucker’s autobiography).

    I think if you click on “The Big Idea” under “Whatever Select Blend”, that brings up all of the “Big Idea” posts.

  133. @Daveon: I saw the articles on the cost of the fire, and it implied the loss was about a $1 per unit (hardware, licensing and production). That discounts advertising, but they don’t do much fire only advertising, it’s wrapped into the Kindle world, mostly. However, that would mean you’re correct, it’s more than a buck per, and at the rate they’re selling them, it’s real money. But, I think they’ll profit handsomely from each sale in the end.

    All I know is, 100% of the people I know personally who have bought an ereader have gone on to greater book purchases thru that system, Nook or Kindle. I hear about the “all free, all public domain” readers, but don’t know any personally. I suspect there are not many that stick to that long term. This directly contradicts notanun’s proposition, of course.

  134. @rickg: Yeah, I like that “to read” feature on Goodreads. I do find it interesting to know that people would like to read it, but it’s not the same as knowing what someone thought of it.

    Re: The cost of Kindles. I wonder if they’re going for the old Gillette model, as in give away the razor and charge for the blades. Yeah, the Kindle isn’t free, but it wouldn’t surprise me if selling it at a rock bottom price isn’t part of their plan.

  135. Personally, I think you should replace such comments with a cat (or dog. Or rabbit) photo. If someone is going to make space for their own putrid content – and as a guy who runs a semi-regular ebook feature, a lot of ebook comments fit the putrid content category – you, as the owner of this patch of cyberlawn, should feel perfectly justified in confiscated their space for content of your own that would entertain your readers (and possibly even the offended author) more than “Some dick’s comment deleted.”

    Of course, you can also tag said photo with something like “Ghlaghghee says you were a dick for that comment, so I deleted it.”

    Win-win.

    Except for the dick who made the comment. That dick doesn’t deserve to win.

  136. Personally, I limit my purchasing of self-published books to writers I previously read traditionally published books by, that are self-publishing because the genre isn’t that popular or to finish a series that didn’t sell well but that I enjoyed. I have limited time and a lot of books I’d like to read and I feel the average quality of traditionally published books is higher since at least there’s some kind of filter. Also, I don’t like ebooks, and self published print books tend to cost more than traditionally published print books, so taking a chance would mean wasting more money if I didn’t like the book compared to when I don’t like a traditionally published book. There was a book I really enjoyed, it was a mass market paperback, cost around $5-6. The publisher didn’t want a sequel, so the author decided to self publish it for his fans. Now, I went ahead and ordered it, since I loved the first book and I know I enjoy this author. But it was $14.99 which is pretty expensive for a young adult paperback, which would usually be about $6-$10 depending on whether it’s mass market or trade paperback. I can’t see myself taking that chance with an author I know nothing about that is self-published.

  137. My problem with most eBooks is that you don’t buy them. You only rent/license them until the publisher or the reader vendor decide you’ve had enough. (With the exception of Baen + Webscriptions and various PDF self-publishing ventures, of course)

    So no complaints about eBook prices from me — I’ve got my own axes to grind. But they would be off-topic for a “Big Idea” post, too. So I restrain myself until an opportunity like this post comes along.

  138. I agree. It’s tired to keep talking about it. I just pass on e-books that are priced too high and don’t give it a second thought. It’s that simple. It’s not like gasoline or oil…we need them. We can’t live without them. I don’t need a book.

  139. I love how, thanks to Twitter, John’s original post saying “please don’t focus on pricing in Big Idea threads” has morphed into “Scalzi says stop complaining about ebook prices, evar!”

  140. I’m still learning from you, as I’m trying to achieve my goals. I absolutely love reading all that is written on your blog.Keep the aarticles coming. I liked it

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