eBook Sales and Author Incomes and All That Jazz

People are pointing me to this article in the New York Times about eBooks sales slipping and print sales stabilizing, and are wondering what I think of it. Well:

To begin, I think it’s lovely that print sales and book stores are doing well; it was touch and go there for a while. I’m also not entirely surprised to find that many younger readers — the “digital natives” — like and often prefer physical books. That’s certainly been the case with my daughter (who now, as it happens, works at the local bookstore). She’s sucked into her phone as much as any person her age, or indeed, as much as most people alive, it seems. And yet, when she reads books, and she reads a lot of them, print is her preferred medium, and was even before the bookstore.

With that said, it’s worth noting this bit in the article:

It is also possible that a growing number of people are still buying and reading e-books, just not from traditional publishers. The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar.

Indeed, a couple of days before this particular article, my Twitter feed was alive with retweets of data showing that publishers’ share of Amazon ebooks sales had decreased while indie sales had increased; since the data had come from a source that is unabashedly pro-indie (and less-than-subtly in my opinion anti-publishing), it also came with rhetoric implying that publishers were doomed, doomed, and so on.

So a couple of things here. First, if we are talking overall book sales, I do think we’re missing a lot if we’re not bringing indie sales into the discussion. There’s a hell of a lot going on there and it’s one of the most exciting places in publishing right now, “exciting” being used in many senses of the term. But no matter how you slice it, if you’re lightly sliding over its existence, you’re not accurately describing the current publishing market.

But, second, I don’t think declining eBook sales from publishers means they’re doomed, doomed, either. This is in part because (and this seems to be a point of some confusion) there’s more to publishing than maximizing eBook sales numbers in the short term. Publishers, for example, might decide that it’s in their long-term interest to stabilize and even grow the print market, and price both their eBooks and print books in a manner that advantages the latter over the former in the short term.

Why would they do that? For a number of reasons, including the fact that Amazon is still 65% of the eBook market in the US, and publishers, as business entities, are appropriately wary of a retailer which a) clearly has monopsonist ambitions and tendencies, b) has been happy to play hardball with publishers to get its way. Investing time in strengthening alternate retail paths makes sense in that case, especially if, as the article suggests, consumers are happy to receive the book in different formats for an advantageous price. If people fundamentally don’t care if they read something in print or electronic format, as long as they get a price they like, that leaves publishers a lot of room to maneuver.

Which is not to say I think publishers are blind to the potential advantages of the digital space. Note well that publishers have not been idle addressing the digital-only market; numerous publishers now have digital-only (or “digital-first” with publish-on-demand print option) imprints, and several, including Tor, my primary fiction publisher, have started imprints devoted specifically to novellas, a format that is now emerging from a long commercial slumber thanks to digital formats. I think it’s entirely possible that publishers have as their long-term strategy imprints and initiatives that primarily address particular media, with some imprints, books and authors primarily digital-facing and some primarily print-facing, depending on where their data tells them money is to be made with each book/author/imprint/whatever.

The short version of all of the above is: I’m sure publishers are happy about print doing well, and I would be mildly surprised if publishers are too deeply concerned with the short-term dip in digital sales, especially if they are investing in positioning themselves for the long-term. Again I remind everyone that many if not most of these publishers have been around decades and have seen changes in the market as significant as the one we’re going through today. They’re tenacious bastards, publishing companies are.

While we’re on the subject of publishing and writers, people have asked me what I thought about the Author’s Guild survey that shows author incomes down substantially from what was reported in a 2009 survey, with full-time authors seeing a 30% decrease from $25k to $17.5K, and part-time authors reporting an even steeper drop. Added to that, this NPR piece noting the relatively meager sales of some of the books nominated for this year’s Man Booker prize. Between the both of them, it’s enough to make writers a little gloomy.

My first thought about the latter is to note there is not nor ever has there been a strong correlation between “literary excellence” and strong sales, nor when it comes to awards should there necessarily be. The Man Booker is a juried award, if I remember correctly, so awareness through sales isn’t much of a factor in terms of what gets onto its long and short lists. So, no, it’s not really surprising some of the finalists haven’t sold that much prior to the announcement. They’ll probably sell better now, however.

It’s also not a huge surprise that most books don’t sell that well. That, at least, is a consistent fact through time. Kameron Hurley notes the lifetime sales of the average published and self-published book here, if you want to look. The rise of self/indie publishing is kind of a wash on this, I suspect; it allows you to price a book very cheaply, but it also means the market is swamped and it’s harder to stand out. It doesn’t matter how low you price your book if no one ever sees it out there, etc.

But with respect to writer incomes dropping via the Author’s Guild survey, this is one place where I wish we had better (which is to say more comprehensive and in some way independently verifiable) reporting from indie authors, because I suspect there’s a lot of money not being reported out there, not only in terms of direct indie/self-publishing unit sales, but through other avenues like Kickstarters and Patreons, which I anecdotally see adding a non-trivial amount of income to writers’ bottom lines. I suspect these are avenues that a lot of writers who are used to particular income paths are either not aware of, or exploiting — or perhaps can’t exploit because their established audiences are used to paying in them in particular ways. I’d love to see the figures on who crowdfunds, in terms of age; my suspicion is that it skews younger.

Would this money I suspect is going missing substantially move the needle in terms of overall author incomes? I don’t know. I suspect it might, but it’s possible not as much as some people cheerleading indie/self-publishing would like to admit.

I’ve noted before that I think in general there are three kinds of authors: Dinosaurs, mammals and cockroaches, where the dinosaurs are authors tied to an existing publishing model and are threatened when it is diminished or goes away, mammals are the authors who rise to success with a new publishing model (but who then risk becoming dinosaurs at a later date), and cockroaches are the authors who survive regardless of era, because they adapt to how the market is, rather than how they want it to be. Right now, I think publishing might be top-heavy with dinosaurs, and we’re seeing that reflected in that Author’s Guild survey.

What we’re missing — or at least what I haven’t seen — is reliable data showing that the mammals — indie/self-publishing folks, in this case — are doing any better on average. If these writers are doing significantly better on average, then that would be huge. It’s worth knowing.

Update, 2:52pm: This excellent point on eBook sales from Tor editor Beth Meacham:

118 Comments on “eBook Sales and Author Incomes and All That Jazz”

  1. Before I am yet again accused of being insensibly anti-Amazon/pro-publisher, as I often am with posts like this, a reminder that Amazon is one of my publishers, specifically of my audiobooks via Audible, with whom I now have a very long-term contract. I think they have done a lovely job with my work, which is why I have a long-term contract with them. Also note that I do not believe publishers are paragons of virtue. In both cases they are businesses acting primarily in their own self-interest, and that interest may or may not be the same as either authors’ or consumers’ self-interest.

    (Note also this piece does not discuss audiobooks at all as a market, which I personally am finding a hugely significant piece of my writer income these days. It’s a whole other ball of wax, so to speak.)

    Likewise anyone who believes I am insensibly anti-self/indie publishing needs a refresher course on how I broke into publishing in the first place. Indie/self publishing offers a number of advantages and a number of disadvantages — strangely, like any other method of publishing. It will be good for some people/projects and not good for others. People who like to pretend there is a great war between publisher and indie/self-pubbed folks I tend to find tiresome.

    Also, discussions of what eBook prices “should” be based on manufacturing costs should be avoided, because they’re pointless and stupid and boring.

    Finally, as some people tend toward stridency on these topics, be aware the Mallet is out. Play nice and be polite to each other, please.

  2. I think we need a suitable analog for the Dinosaurs/Mammals/Cockroach model for readers/consumers.

    I know my own preferences on how I buy and consume books (noting that those two activities are distinctly different, and that only one of these makes me “matter” to certain people), but it might be useful to sort out some broad categories…

  3. My suspicion is that the inclusion of any reliable indie data would show that overall, the pie is larger, but being sliced into many more individual slices (and hence, smaller slices). Or, to quote Mark Waid (in one of his talks about digital comics): “Nobody’s getting rich, but everybody is getting paid.”

  4. Several of the authors I follow have, after achieving modest success through a traditional venue, made their e-books available through their own website. This gives them a foot in both worlds, and can make it easier for them to control some aspects, like DRM or availability in other countries, that might be sticky if they used a standard publishing house for e-distribution.

  5. With the prices publishers are setting for ebooks, it doesn’t surprise me that sales are dropping. I’m not going to pay $14 for a digital book, especially when that’s higher than the print version. There are just too many good indie authors with reasonable price points.

  6. Here’s my personal anecdote/use case:

    If I’m interested in a book, I buy it for my eReader. They’re cheaper, and more portable, and are delivered instantly, and all of those are good things.

    But if I like it, if I really, REALLY like it, I’ll also go buy a physical copy, usually in hardcover, usually as close to a first edition as I can find, because physical books are (pardon my french) fucking glorious objects, because I worked in book stores for a decade and not being surrounded by books feels wrong, somehow, and because I can’t give away eBooks in a way that feels good (“I always wanted to read this!” “Take it! All yours!” beats “I always wanted to read this!” “Let me eloan you an ecopy. what’s your email address? Hold on, let me figure this out…” etc.) and anyway, eBooks make sort of underwhelming and (literally) insubstantial gifts.

    And the thing is, with prices as they are now, the combination of the two things usually ends up at more or less the same pricepoint as just buying the hardcover at list, and I can’t help but feel that, in a business where sales numbers matter, is a fairly financially justifiable way to support an author twice on paper even if the money ends up zeroing out.

  7. I think the reader distributions are similar. I prefer physical books, but have a Kindle stuffed with books as well, as eBooks are just so damned convenient.

  8. Patrick:

    I endeavor to be a cockroach. Other people, depending on who they are, may see me as a dinosaur or a mammal.

    Mike H:

    I suspect there are a lot of hybrid readers out there. I am; I like to read print books at home but am immensely grateful for eBooks when I travel. That said, there are some partisans who only read digital or only read print (or, increasingly, only read in audio).

    Tony B:

    As noted in the entry, there are strategic reasons publishers might choose to price their eBooks as they do. Aside from that, obviously they are aware that they will lose some readers at those price points; that’s part of their calculation. Be aware that part of their math will be how many readers (and profit) they can capture at price point A, before they drop down to price point B at a later date, then get for a short-term sale at price point C, and so on.

    Also be aware that if you’ve made a decision that a “reasonable” price point is below a price point they find reasonable, they’re fine not making a sale to you.

  9. You know, my use-habits as a reader have changed a lot. Before I got a smartphone and tablet, and lived in a town where Barnes and Noble was close to my grocery store, I bought a lot of physical books. I owned an eReader, but it was for travel (when space was a premium). Now that I’ve moved a lot, own a tablet and smartphone that come everywhere with me, and don’t live near a convenient bookstore, I buy fewer print books. I suspect if I get a more permenant job, I’ll shift the balance back towards physical books for the books that I really like having a nice copy of*.

    The authors I follow, it helps them to be flexible, because I’ll follow them if I can do so easily.

    * Ones with maps. Or those nice Subterranean Press fancy editions. I’m assuming permenant job comes with a salary bump.

  10. Hell, I don’t even see what counts as a “sale”. Like how much revenue is being driven, etc. Amazon has plenty of free ebooks on it, but I bet they count free downloads as “sales”

  11. Another possible issue with the data in the Author’s Guild survey is what constitutes an author, and how that group has changed since the last survey.

    The biggest declines happened for folks who have been authors longer. In the past, if their sales were declining, their publishers would have cut them loose and some of them might have bowed out of the game entirely and gone off to be gainfully employed doing something else.

    But self-publishing allows them to stick with writing, albeit at a reduced income. So perhaps this survey is revealing a long ongoing trend that wasn’t visible before? People who previously would have self-selected out of the category “author” are now remaining in the pool?

    Also, from the report: “The survey also shows, for full-time authors, writing-related income generally increases with experience: but when the market contracts, they see the biggest losses.”

    Which suggests that the contraction of the market is in particular areas. Is this a response of publishers to an overall bad economy (drop authors who command big advances they way you fire top executives with the biggest salaries—which is definitely a thing I have seen happen at more than one Big 5 publisher)? Or is this reader-driven (money is tight, they buy fewer books, most of the books they normally buy are from Big Names so Big Names get hit harder)?

    Why not both, of course.

    Overall my reaction the Author’s Guild survey was that it was interesting, but I really wanted the data pool and more analysis. This felt a little cherry-picked to show what they wanted to show. Which isn’t awful, but we need to know why things happen if we want to change them. Merely stating that they happen doesn’t actually say much.

  12. Josh Jasper:

    Indeed, this is more data I’d like to see, and also a thing I think tends to get swept under the rug, that is, that sheer volume of sales does not necessarily equate to what is the most profitable sales path.

  13. Becca Stareyes: YES, I am in the same boat. I always have my tablet with me, which makes ebooks very convenient. “Hey, I seem to find myself sitting in a waiting room. Look, I have a portable entertainment device with games and several dozen books on it.”

    I definitely do more reading now that I have a tablet than I did in print.

    OTOH, I am increasingly frustrated by certain failure of features in ebooks, most notably the ease of flipping back and forth to look at a map; and particularly to look at a map while still looking at the text page. I find it slightly less annoying to read mysteries on ebook than fantasy or history books (which typically have maps).

  14. I’d say with Trad publishings pricing method on ebooks it is clear they are trying to push readers towards print if price is a consideration.

    The lack of audiobook sales being included in the article leaves out a large portion of sales IMO. More and more of my ebook reading friends are as likely, if not more, to buy an audiobook as an ebook or both. That’s up to 1/3 of sales being missed just for Trad books.

    I’m noticing more successful indies are offering audiobooks as well as print/PoD not just ebooks. It’s good to see them branching out.

    I agree with you on age of crowdfunding/Kickstarter authors – while a few are in their 40s-50s most are in their 20s-30s in my experience (backed over 1,200 Kickstarters since 2011 not all within publishing but easily 60%).

  15. Tasha Turner:

    “I’m noticing more successful indies are offering audiobooks as well as print/PoD not just ebooks. It’s good to see them branching out.”

    Yup. If you’re not addressing those after a certain point, you’re leaving money on the table.

  16. In my declining years, as I anticipate a move from a house with space for many bookshelves into an apartment with much less room, I find myself buying e-books more and more. (We currently have something like thirty boxes of books ready to be sold or given away, with many more to come.) I also tend to buy new fiction in e-format (because cheaper than hardbound and faster than waiting for paperback). Exceptions: cookbooks and graphic novels (I just dropped a pile at SPX 2015 last Sunday on stuff by Derf Backdert, Bill Griffith, Matt Bors, Keith Knight and Jon Rosenberg).

  17. I don’t understand what’s going on with ebook prices lately. Twice in the last week I have gone to Amazon to check out a book. In both cases the paperback price was $15, but marked down to $8.55, and the ebook price was $9. 99. I prefer reading an actual book, but due to an eye disease must now read ebooks since I can enlarge the font. However, I’m not paying more for an ebook than for the printed book. I have lots of other books to read so I can do without those two books. I hope this doesn’t become a trend, though.

  18. Linda, apparently we’re not supposed to talk about high pricing because screw you, don’t buy it. I don’t get that, though. That’s the same attitude the music industry had and the movie studios have now. It’s one of the reasons people pirate their content, and probably one reason why we now have sites like Scribd and torrents full of books.

  19. So I guess it’s time to research other places to buy ebooks instead of Amazon. (Which I was planning to do, but have been lazy about it.)

  20. I don’t think I’m very representative of the typical reader, but here’s my perspective on what e-books give me as an advantage:

    I primarily read in 2 places, lying on my side in bed, where being able to hold my Kindle in one hand is a huge advantage, and on the subway on the way to work, where being able to keep all the books I might want to read in a small convenient package is a huge advantage. When e-readers were bulky I could never imagine myself using one, but since Amazon came out with the really light low end model a few years ago I have had a hard time motivating myself to go back to reading physical books, to the point that it frustrates me to no end when there’s a book I want to read and no e-book version available (I have a shelf of paperbacks I purchased shortly before I got my Kindle that mostly still haven’t been read).

    One of the other benefits of switching to e-books is that I can now read books when they’re released if there’s one I can’t wait for, as opposed to previously when I had to decide whether to subject myself to reading a hardcover version (which is physically inconvenient in both bed and on the subway aside from the additional cost) or wait for the paperback to be released.

    I’ve never been terribly comfortable with Amazon’s domination of the market but I suppose I’ve been contributing to it as I’ve not put any special effort into researching alternative sources of e-books and e-readers that meet my needs (it has to be super light and have physical buttons)

    One thing I really like about the e-book market as well is how common the short stories/novellas are becoming. Presumably those are hard to sell/price in print form but I’m happy to spend a dollar or a few on good shorter stories from my favorite authors. It also makes for a nice break for me between longer books.

  21. I’m pleased that print sales seem to have stabilized. While I still think ebooks will eventually replace print except for high value luxury editions, I’d prefer the disruption be minimized. If for no other reason than the gatekeeping of the publishing industry makes it easier to find and decide on new authors. I still haven’t figured an efficient way to access the indie pub market. I end up staring blankly at lists of books unable to decide on buying.

  22. Linda R,

    My understanding is that under recent “agency pricing” deals with Amazon, publishers can set their own e-book prices, which they have bumped up from the previous Amazon-set values. Amazon retains the ability to set physical book prices, though, and is currently (in many cases) choosing to set them near or below the e-book price. I agree it is irritating if you strongly prefer e-book over physical. My suggestion is to use a price-tracking site such as http://new.ereaderiq.com/ and watch for sales.

  23. As long as we’re talking about books, I much prefer a physical book so an e-reader. I work at a computer screen all day – why would I want to spend the evening with another, smaller, one?

    What I’m waiting for is magazines and journals to cease hard-copy print publication. If the only way I can get NYRB is on Kindle, then – and only then – will I purchase one.

  24. I’m definitely one of those hybrid readers. For me, I still buy hardcover for the books I ever would have bought hardcover. Mass market paperback, on the other hand, is extinct on my shelf; anything I would once have bought that way lives on my Kindle now.

  25. One of the attractions of e-books is that so may older things are available for free. I’m interested in feminist Utopias, for example, and nearly all of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s books are available free in user-friendly formats (God bless the choose-your-own-font-size option). In contrast, originals could be prohibitively expensive or almost unavailable.
    I always remember that the burning of the ancient library at Alexandria meant that all of Sappho that survives is quotes in other people’s work. With the proliferation of e-books, burning the library is, thank goodness, much harder.

    Thanks to the commenter above, however, who called hard-copy books “glorious objects”. Indeed they are.

  26. I buy all my books that I read for pleasure as e-books (including those by you, sir) for many reasons, but one of the main ones is all those old paperbacks on my shelves with yellowing pages that are now unpleasant to read due to the condition of the paper, the old glue, etc. And with the way the tech on e-readers works now, it is not a strain or problem to read them in electronic form (and even better in many ways).The only physical books I buy now are ones like the new Harry Potter illustrated edition (books that are singular for me), but for books like Old Man’s War or Downbelow Station (just to pick two I enjoy re-reading now and then) e-books are perfect.

  27. I prefer physical books–theoretically. But I don’t want to make even more space for even more books in my home, and I don’t want to kill the trees required to make them, even though I love books so very much (as physical objects as well as as a type of thing). And I’m a commuter on public transportation, so being able to carry my books on my iPad is a wonderful thing, especially when I’m nearing the end of one book and would have to carry TWO books so I have a second one when I finish the first one. And my large-city public library has a modest e-book collection, so I can even borrow books that way.

    At the same time, i want to support authors, and I figured that buying some ebooks will help line their pockets in a way that only reading borrowed-from-the-library books won’t.

  28. I find Amazon has made it too hard to find readable ebooks. Every time I have ventured into the kindle store I have not been able to find something readable amongst the dross of ought-to-have-stayed-fanfic books. At least with a proper paper publisher there has been a minimum level of quality (and yes, I know sometimes it has been the very minimum) needed before going on sale. Too many self-publishers on the market with too little talent and it is swamping the online stores. The ebook industry clearly needs some gatekeeping if it is to survive. And price controlling. If i have a choice of an ebook that costs as much as a real book, I’m going to take the real book every time. At least I’m going to feel like I got something for the money then.

  29. I haven’t tried graphic novels or tech manuals on my Kindle yet; I fear being disappointed. There are also a lot of books I wish were available as e-books, just because they were more-or-less one shots (David Palmer, Emergence; or Tom Reamy, Blind Voices) that are getting harder and harder to find in any physical format. I just replaced my old Kindle and had a lot of ‘fun’ moving over some of my independently bought e-books; you can decide to get rid of a physical book, but sometimes the e-reader makes that decision for you, and it ain’t pretty.

    I wonder what the cut-off price point is for deciding to make an audiobook available of a particular book? Voice talent has to be hired, digital copy created, none of which is necessarily cheap, especially for someone going the independent route. Then there was the debacle about allowing e-readers with voice conversion apps for visually impaired people, especially where an audiobook wasn’t available.

  30. As an independent author, virtually all of my sales come from ebooks. All of my books are currently available in print, but outside of conventions I MIGHT see a sale a month in print; I basically only keep them available so that I can order them myself to take them to cons. I’m looking into moving into audiobooks in the very near future, and I’ve just had a Eureka moment for how to handle people at conventions who tell me they only do digital.

    As a reader, I need print. About the only time I ever pick up my Paperwhite is when I’m reading a book by a fellow indie, and I warn my people on a regular basis that while I will happily buy your book to support you I have a difficult time getting to books on my Kindle because they aren’t sitting on a bookshelf staring at me. My backlog is about 2/3 of a shelf most of the time; ebooks have a very difficult time competing.

    I love the idea of the market stabilizing. Either “side” winning would end up hurting me quite badly one way or another.

  31. @TheMadLibrarian, Kindles are useless for graphic novels. At least right now. I suspect until such times as there is a standardized panel layout in all graphic novels, then they always will be. I don’t think there will ever be a standardised panel layout, nor should there be, though.

  32. Due to my budget, I get books from the library whenever possible and only buy books I like enough to know I’ll want to reread them or want them for reference (doesn’t keep me from having tons of books). My preference is physical books, but now that I have a smart phone I love ebooks because they mean I always have something to read with me for unexpected waits.

    My son also prefers physical books for the most part. However, he’s now living somewhere with a terrible library so he’s buying books more often. And since his purchases are usually late at night when he’s desperate for something to read, they’re usually ebooks. The big advantage of his buying ebooks is that my son and I share a kindle account, so even though we’re a couple of hundred miles apart, I can read ebooks he’s bought and thinks I’ll like (and vice versa). Since I introduced him to Scalzi, and he introduced me to Sanderson and Bujold, this is clearly a very important feature.

  33. Tony B:

    “Linda, apparently we’re not supposed to talk about high pricing because screw you, don’t buy it.”

    Oh, poo, Tony. Go ahead and talk about high pricing if you like, just don’t hinge the complaint on manufacturing costs. It’s a tiresome subject.

    That said, in fact, yes: If the price of a book is too high for you, don’t buy it. Chances are reasonably good at some point in the future it will comes down to a price you find more reasonable. It’s how the pricing schedule for books typically works, actually.

  34. I think Gareth up there has a great point, and I think it’s something that’s affecting all media, even news media: Content is no longer being produced by an overly small number of people/outlets for an overly broad market.

    I’m sure some people think this is a horrible development–the plebes have access to content distribution! Man the barricades!–but I think on balance it’s a good thing. It’s certainly scary to me, as a former journalist, that untrained people are calling themselves reporters and following nothing at all like actual journalistic practices and ethics, but on the other hand, an awful lot of stories are now getting covered that never would have by traditional news media in the past. Concerns over content gatekeeping for icky political or money purposes are far less of an issue when a story can get out to the public without its reporter having to know the secret handshakes.

    The same is true for entertainment media. Increased access to content distribution does mean increased amounts of dreck, but it also means a lot of really good work is getting out there that never would have before because distributors couldn’t make a business case for something with theoretically limited appeal.

    There are downsides, though, and the “pie” being split into ever-smaller slices is definitely one. The other is that there’s just so MUCH good content out there now that it’s hard for audiences to keep up. My to-read pile and the backlog on my DVR are both enormous, and I’m starting to lose hope of ever getting through them. As a content creator myself, this kind of hurts. If I can’t get to everything I want to, how can I hope my potential readers will get to mine? I think my work is still worth doing (when I have the bandwidth–being the primary caregiver for a special-needs 2 year old isn’t exactly conducive to writing!) but I also have learned to have more realistic expectations of how many people are going to get around to reading it within the first couple of months of release. I have DVR backlogs from a year ago, and books that have been on my list for five years+. I think most of the people who would want to read my stuff will get to it eventually (as long as they know it’s there, which is a different issue), they just won’t necessarily do so right this second, because they have an awful lot of other good stuff to read, too.

  35. I might read more ebooks if more of them were available as DRM-free ePubs (I read on my computer, not on a portable device, and really hate the interface of all the proprietary e-readers). As it stands the intersection of “Books I’m Interested In” and “Books Available In Me-Readable Electronic Format” is quite small.

  36. @Shawna, Charles Stross (or a guest) had a post on the surplus of quality content over on his blog at antipope.org. It might be interesting. For me, it’s getting to the point where if I don’t read it at release I might not get to it at all.

  37. John, you clearly are very familiar with the intricacies of the publishing industry, which I am not. But from a consumer’s perspective, I don’t think there is anything the least bit tiresome about expecting a digital copy of a book to be less expensive than a physical copy. Seems like that was one of the selling points when e-books started showing up. With the volume of books I buy and read, price matters to me. I don’t think I’m alone in that or being unreasonable in my expectations. For what it’s worth, I don’t put the high prices on the content creators, but on the publishers and distributors, Amazon obviously being the chief culprit among them.

    On a side note, this has been a nice little lesson for me. After years in the newspaper business, I’ve started writing my first novel. I know building positive relationships with readers is going to be a part of that, and it’s going to be difficult for me. As you may have noticed, I can be kind of a dick. Today was the first time I’d heard of you (I read mostly in the crime and urban fantasy genres) but I came prepared to become a fan based on a recommendation from someone I like. Instead, I learned how easy it is to turn off potential readers by being dismissive.

  38. I find it puzzling that everyone’s talking about how e-book sales are plateauing, while in the same breath (indeed, in the next paragraph in that article from the one Scalzi quoted) Amazon says its own e-book sales are doing just fine. Even all by itself, that should be the basis of a syllogism. Publisher e-book sales are falling, Amazon’s e-book sales are doing fine, Amazon sells publisher and independent e-books, therefore…well, that last clause should be easy enough to fill in.

    I’ll confess to feeling no small amount of irritation at the publishers, having built it up over the last twenty years during the 12 or so of which prior to the Kindle they basically priced e-books at let-them-eat-cake price points because they didn’t care enough to be bothered with a fraction-of-a-percentage-point market share. There were so many e-books I wanted to buy from Peanut Press or Fictionwise in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but they were still listed at hardcover prices long after the print version of the book was out in paperback—because, as the Pendergrasts explained once on the e-book community mailing list, the publishers couldn’t be bothered to keep the prices up to date. If Fictionwise wanted to mark a price down to commensurate with the lower-priced paperback edition, it was up to them to buttonhole the publisher about it, and they couldn’t do that for every one of hundreds or thousands of mis-priced books in their catalog.

    It was all too easy to imagine a publisher saying, “So what if an e-book is still selling for $25 several years after the paperback came out for $6? We can’t be bothered to fix it. My goodness, if we did that, we might have to correctly price all our e-books, and who has that kind of time?” They had no incentive to see that they were priced correctly, because almost nobody was buying them. Fictionwise still had a significant fraction of its big publisher paperback-in-print e-books selling at hardcover prices even right up to the imposition of agency pricing. I checked at the time. And all I could do was sit there and fume about it. For years and years.

    So, when Amazon came out with the Kindle, and decided it wasn’t above losing a little money to drive the price of e-books down to a level where consumers would actually buy into their miracle e-reader, I cheered. I cheered even more when the publishers got all panicky about Amazon daring to lower the price when they were supposed to be the ones who stores approached on bended knee (as the Pendergrasts had to) to ask them to lower the price. When the Department of Justice forced the publishers and Apple to take their agency pricing and shove it, I was ecstatic. Twenty years of frustration made for one hell of a cathartic schadenfreude. I was a little disappointed when the publishers managed to impose agency pricing agan, legally this time. But oh well. Whatever they do to their e-book prices now, on their own heads be it.

    So now they’re basically doing the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale: pricing their e-books higher than the e-book stores would prefer. At least they’re only doing that for new-release hardcovers now, and are generally good about dropping the price point of e-books once the paperback comes out. When double-digit percentages of people are actually reading e-books, it suddenly becomes more feasible to make sure you have the prices correct. Funny how that works.

    And I just keep wondering—are they still living in an ivory tower? It’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt when you see them celebrating the “decline” of e-books at a time when independent authors are selling more and more. Say what you will about Author Earnings’ pro-indie/anti-trad-pub stance, they do at least make all their raw data public so that people with other points of view can crunch the same numbers however they want. Leaving aside their interpretations, if there were a flaw in their charts themselves, someone with an opposing viewpoint would have had ample incentive to show them up. And the trends bespoken by those numbers seem to be clear enough even without interpretation. Independent books are gobbling up more and more market share.

    In any event, it should be interesting to see what happens over the next few years. At least if the Author Earnings people are right, there’s likely to be more tasty schadenfreude to come.

  39. Good for Athena. My first job was at my local book store. It ended abruptly the day I got my pay check and my bill within a couple of hours of each other; I had spent more than I had earned. I immediately gave two weeks notice.

    (And, yes, if I could justify it, I would spend enormous sums buying books I’ve read and loved in digital form. I think there would be a temporary boon to authors (or their families) if older books were priced lower. Books I bought for $0.95 in the seventies now cost $9.99. But I believe you’ve written about this before.)

  40. It’s certainly scary to me, as a former journalist, that untrained people are calling themselves reporters and following nothing at all like actual journalistic practices and ethics,

    Of course, some of the above work for actual “newspapers” – or claimed ones, anyway, like The Sun and The Daily Mail in the UK.(side note: I very much admired our new Shadow Chancellor when someone rang him and claimed to be a journalist from The Sun: “…you can be one or the other but you can’t be both.”).

    My ideal-world solution would be that you’d buy the hardback and get included a voucher code to download the ebook. I prefer “real” books, but the advantages of ebooks are such that I mostly now buy in that format. My Paperwhite goes everywhere with me- I’m never without something to read. On holiday, I’ll take 40 or 50 books, to make sure I don’t run out.

  41. I’ve been ditching physical books and moving to ebooks, but that’s mostly convenience. Both in “not lugging books around” and in “immediate gratification”‘. (Bujold, most recently, was the recipient of more money than I should have spent. Read Shards of Honor and I’d bought out her Vorkosigian series within a week).

    There’s also the “I’m out of shelf space”. I’m out of space for more shelves. So I’m sadly cleaning them out. I just don’t have the room. I’m keeping particularly beloved books (or formative, from my youth) or series or writers, signed copies, etc. Graphic novels, cookbooks, that sort of thing as well I’ll keep.

    Pratchett stays, of course. :) I’m not a savage. Of course I also have him on Kindle.

    I do admit that I have been cheerfully buying back works by authors that are finally showing up on ebooks.

    I would like to have words with whomever in Amazon is in charge or their boneheaded ‘collections’ setup. As an e-reader, I love the Kindle. As a way to organize books, it’s a nightmare. Worse yet, despite backing up my collections (tags to indicate a structure) online AND my books, there’s absolutely no method for to organize works through their website. And the organization structure they do have is overly simplistic, buggy, and they don’t even bother with basic auto-collections.

    For instance, you can view works “by author”. Um, why can’t I flip a setting to view authors as collections, so I don’t have to scroll through pages of Pratchett to get to Zelaney? You organize all your books to sell by categories. Why can’t I flip to THAT structure as well? Seriously lazy work.

  42. Tony B:

    “I don’t think there is anything the least bit tiresome about expecting a digital copy of a book to be less expensive than a physical copy.”

    Tony, as this is the second time you’ve elided my notation that the discussion I find tiresome is tying cost of production to ebook cost, I can only conclude that either you don’t understand the point I’m making, or you’re being intentionally obtuse. Please let me know which it is. Thanks.

    “Instead, I learned how easy it is to turn off potential readers by being dismissive.”

    The secret is not to care. Just like I don’t care if you ever buy anything of mine, Tony. Hope that helps.


    You appear to be implying there is unanimity regarding what the “correct price” is with regard to eBooks. It doesn’t appear that there is.

    “And the trends bespoken by those numbers seem to be clear enough even without interpretation.”

    Eeeeeh, no. There’s a lot of information that’s missing or unclear (at least to me), and Author Earnings has been called out before — several times, if I recall correctly — for jumping to conclusions unsupported by the data they have. You don’t appear to be aware of any challenges to the data this time around, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any, or (alternately) it might be an indication that AE’s data and the presentation thereof has had a poor enough track record for usefulness that their presentation is already discounted. Speaking personally, I found AE’s historical bias and relatively poor handling and understanding of the data they have as it applies to publishing to be significant enough that my default position on it is to give it relatively little credence until someone else trucks through it and offers up commentary on it.

    Which is not to say that the raw data presented is incorrect; I don’t think it is. It’s also not to say that AE putting it out there is not a good thing. More data is good. But to suggest that it’s “clear enough” without actual rigor and understanding of the market is, well. It’s a good way to take a lot of raw data and draw spectacularly wrong conclusions about what it means.

  43. I must admit to giving the side-eye to anything from the Author’s Guild, since it seems to be predicated on old white guys who’ve always made big bucks in hardback taking out ads saying that reading is DOOOOOOOOMED if we don’t all rush right out and pay $25 for hardbacks. How about no?

    I’m one of the oodles who bought “The End of All Things” in hardback instead of ebook, even though I would have preferred ebook. But when Amazon will send me a dead-tree for less than electrons, I’d be a complete idiot not to go with that. (Particularly when, um… shifty eyes I resold it to Half Price Books. $7 buys a lot of cat food.) So Tor got their money and John does and that’s fine.

    I read a LOT more in ebook, and a lot more, period now that I have a Nook, a Kindle app, Google Books, and direct-from-authors downloads. Light reading, like series mysteries, UF, or romance is exclusively ebook, because it’s about the same price as MMPB but they don’t stack up around the house. And I must admit the ability to adjust the font has become useful the past few years. I know of some older people who can’t read even Large Print books any more (and those always had a limited selection), and ereaders mean they’re still able to read. Plus there’s a wider variety of audiobooks available. I personally don’t do audiobooks because they don’t hold my attention and they take about 10 times longer to get through than if I read. Plus they’re impossible to flip back through to double-check something.

    The free or 99c books probably have cut into things. Some people don’t mind lack of proofreading. It still bothers me! But I keep an eye out for sales of indie books that do have standards and read them. I’ve found several indie mystery series than I enjoy as much or more than those from the Big 5, at a savings of a buck or two per. So why not? Are these authors getting counted? Same with people who were formerly mid-list and have been dropped. When they go indie, I get to read MOAR BOOKS that I know I’ll like at MMPB prices or less. Or being able (sometimes, depending on who has the rights) to get backlist that would be impossible to find at a reasonable price. Plus short stories and novellas. And instant gratification.

    @–E: I think you’re correct: people who were mid-list are now indie and so continue to be counted in the pool of “authors”. As do people who write mostly for fun and charge 99c or $1.99. They would have disappeared from the category “authors” before ebooks, so the average seems smaller.

    However, non-fiction and reference are always going to be in paper for me. Paper is so much better for maps and footnotes and illustrations. And graphic novels just suck in ebook; the layout loses all impact, you can’t read the dialogue, splash pages don’t, etc. I do have an e-subscription to National Geographic. It looks much better in paper, but everyone knows how those issues stack up and then cause shifts in the Earth’s crust. :)

    Waiting around at a medical facility or in line for a bureaucracy is so much better now that there are ebooks. Carrying 1000 books in your pocket or purse beats trying to figure out whether you’ll need to juggle one or two, and remembering to bring them along.

  44. Lurkertype:

    “I must admit to giving the side-eye to anything from the Author’s Guild”

    Yup, it’s one reason I would love to see more (reliable) data about income breakdown from indie authors. I do think AG does make clear they’re polling their own people, however, so the universe of authors responding is in that segment.

    (As a point of information: I’m not a member of AG.)

    “I resold it to Half Price Books”

    HOW DARE YOU FEED YOUR CAT ON MY BAC– oh, wait, actually that’s fine by me. Carry on.

  45. I primarily buy physical books except when it’s only available as an ebook, largely because of what Magda writes: I work in front of a computer all day and don’t need more screen time. Not to mention that my phone simply isn’t comparable as a reading device. I can read some things on it, but most ebooks just don’t work for me on a screen that small. (When/if I upgrade to something in the iPhone6/iPad mini class, perhaps that will change.)

    I will also hit storage limits on my devices fairly quickly if I start to store a significant fraction of my ebooks, which is a maintenance problem that I don’t want. (I have already hit and handled the problem of storage for physical books.)

    All of that said, I would love to have a device on which I could carry a sizeable fraction of my library, that would be an as-good-or-better reader than a paperback book. Even the otherwise-excellent iOS Retina displays don’t seem to hold up to that, although perhaps an iPhone6-class device will meet that criteria.

  46. @morat20:
    “I would like to have words with whomever in Amazon is in charge or their boneheaded ‘collections’ setup…. For instance, you can view works “by author”. Um, why can’t I flip a setting to view authors as collections, so I don’t have to scroll through pages of Pratchett to get to Zelaney?”

    Amen. Ebook reader software is written by computer programmers. For the most part, those people don’t actually read or own many books. So they don’t think to implement even the most basic facilities for handling a large library of ebooks.

    If you transition from Kindle to an ipad, there are a few (very few) ebook reader apps that are worth a damn, in terms of being built to handle large libraries. The first worth considering is Marvin. It appears to have been coded by someone who is colour blind (you can pay extra for one of the alternate colour themes if the fuchsia default is annoying to you), but it does have the ability to show you a list of authors which you can tap to jump to a specific author’s section of your library. However, your library will still always be a huge list of books, with pages of Pratchett between Heinlein and EE Smith. The author list is a shortcut pasted onto the standard flat list of books.

    The second book reader that seems like it might have been made by someone who actually reads is Shubook. While blissfully ignorant of such formatting niceties as blockquotes, it does implement proper sort-by-author, so you can tell it to show you one entry for each author, and then drill down into an author to find their specific book.

    Both of these apps are epub-only; I use Ibooks for pdf, and I use Calibre on my PC to convert any amazon purchases to epub. Finally, sadly, I don’t know what ebook apps exist for Android or Windows phones.

  47. A couple of thoughts:

    “Publishers, for example, might decide that it’s in their long-term interest to stabilize and even grow the print market, and price both their eBooks and print books in a manner that advantages the latter over the former in the short term.”

    My suspicion is that this is more or less what they have been doing all along. If they priced to advantage e-books, they might find new competitors emerging. Some of their expertise becomes less relevant the more ebooks take over.

    I would imagine that “average book sales”, whatever it happens to be, is a pretty meaningless number. The vast majority of books probably have pretty meager sales next to the relative few that dominate. Even within categories… “average sales of military Sci Fi novels” probably doesn’t mean all that much, as most would have very low sales.


    I’m generally curious about back catalog sales. You are pretty open about sales issues – have you blooged about the relative importance of your back catalog? Do publishers promote their authors’ back catalog or is the new stuff more important?

  48. The trade publishing industry appears thoroughly robust, and I greatly doubt it’s going anywhere. It seems to be clearly choosing to support the paper industry through pricing strategy, but that’s its choice (and since one of the major differentiators trade offers is print distribution, I can see the reason for that strategy).

    Having many options, and being able to choose which publishing paths to pursue is undoubtedly a good thing, and I don’t think anyone (perhaps not even Amazon) has a full picture of where digital vs paper and trade/Amazon/self-pub will end up.

    That side, a bit of side-eye here for all the shade thrown on the Author Earnings statistics, while presenting Kameron Hurley’s pronouncements on how much the average self-publisher earns without any suggestion that her figures are anything but solid. I think if you set a statitician on the origins of those comparitive bits of number-crunching, you’d find that the figure Hurley’s using comes from a laughably flawed study.

    Pretty much no-one can state or even has any real idea what the “average” self-publisher earns, not even Amazon, because there’s no such thing as an “average” self-publisher. There are people who publish Mum’s diary and photobook and never anything else. There is the entire range of quality. There are people who are publishing over four books a year, or people with a back catalogue of fifty books, or people who have put out one book a year for the last few years, and are just now showing sales. There are people selling niche technical manuals for $100 a pop, and doing well from them. And there are people compiling wikipedia articles, or taking someone’s novel and doing a find/replace, or paying people to write books for them…and apparently this is profitable.

    There’s no such thing as an ‘average’ self-publisher. But I suspect if you compared “authors who have published at least one novel a year in the last five years”, you’d find that on average the self-publishers are doing better than the trade published authors. [And that’s not even counting all the poor hopefuls still playing trade publishing’s submission-go-round.]

  49. I get most of my ebooks through my local public library. Their selection isn’t great, but I’ve found that when I request an ebook they don’t have, about 90% of the time they get it within a couple of weeks. This feels like a win-win-win: the author gets a sale, I get to read a book for free, and other patrons have access to the book too. (Of course it’s probably not as much of a win for the author as if everyone bought the book instead of getting it at the library, but that’s not really my concern as a consumer.)

  50. What I really wish is that digital copies of books came with the print ones for free, the way you see sometimes with records and CDs these days. I love physical books but I somehow have lost my willingness to read them because of their (obviously unmanageable (??)) bulk and awkwardness. I read so much more now that I have a Kindle than I had for years and years before that, so I don’t think it’s purely that I’ve been spoiled. When someone gives me a book as a gift these days, I usually take it more as a recommendation, and then I go get the ebook. (Sorry for double-posting.)

  51. Andrea K:

    “That side, a bit of side-eye here for all the shade thrown on the Author Earnings statistics, while presenting Kameron Hurley’s pronouncements on how much the average self-publisher earns without any suggestion that her figures are anything but solid.”

    Point of information: While your point is taken, Kameron’s information is about how many units sold, not how much one earns, and she’s also pretty specific that she’s talking about “The average digital only author-published book.” The only money she talks about significantly is her own. One can infer the income such a book might earn (not much, if it only sells 250 copies, no matter how you price it), but the income of a single book is not the same as the income of a writer, who might publish several in a year.

    That said, again: I’d love to see more reliable data! If you find it, let me know.

    “there’s no such thing as an “average” self-publisher.”

    Pretty sure that’s not mathematically correct, but I know what you’re saying here. But by that same reasoning there’s no such thing as an “average published author,” either; their range is just as wide. In either case, however, one can say there is an average amount a self-published digital book grosses and/or nets for the author, an average amount a published book grosses/nets for the author, what authors who primarily self-publish make on average, and so on. That any one author does not fit an average does not mean the average cannot be determined out of a data set.


    “I would imagine that ‘average book sales’, whatever it happens to be, is a pretty meaningless number.”

    As with anything, it would depend on how you’re looking at it and for what purpose. I would agree that presenting the data so that it offers information that will be meaningful for authors, in terms of what they can expect to sell, would be useful.

  52. John,

    Where’s the comment by Tor’s Meacham?
    I don’t see it anywhere!

    Otherwise very interesting.

  53. There are so many factors that go into numbers like these. For instance, I work at a small museum and don’t make much money. But I love reading, so I get a lot of books from the library. I also am self-published, and I like to support other indie authors, so I try to buy indie books when they look interesting to me.

    I’ve read 64 books this year. As I skim down this year’s reading list, 6 were print books I bought this year; 3 were print books I’d had for some time and finally got around to reading; 31 were e-books I bought (most of them under $8 and at least 5 of those indie e-books under $4); at least 7 were e-books I borrowed from the library; 2 were audiobooks. The rest were print books I borrowed from the library, because once I was out of gift card money from Christmas, I didn’t have much money to buy books.

    I love print books. But the price of e-books, particularly indie e-books, means I can afford to buy more of them, so I tend to buy almost all of my fiction as e-books. I still prefer non-fiction to be print, so I can underline passages and flip backwards when necessary. :)

  54. JR:

    If you’re not seeing it, check to see if your browser is blocking embeds. It’s an embedded Twitter post.

    If you still can’t see it, she said: “A publisher’s take: ebook sales inflated as people bought up backlist releases. Now down to more realistic levels overall.”

  55. I am unabashedly pro-indie myself, and yet I always find your publishing posts to be remarkably even-handed.

  56. I definitely have bought up a lot of ebook backlist releases. Epublishing has been lovely for getting out of print parts of series, especially when the used price is astronomical. (I even got You’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffeeshop.)

    I’m still in the situation where I discover a new-to-me author and buy up a bunch of the out of paper print books at $2.99-$5.99 per e-book. But I can imagine that can go down to predictable levels compared to when everything was suddenly out.

  57. Good post, thanks. I work for a business publisher, and we have been looking at a similar trend in our numbers for 2015. A couple of thoughts:

    1. The trend isn’t so much eBooks down as it is eBooks not rising as rapidly as they have been, and print not declining as much as it had been. (Or as much as we might have forecast.) People like print for lots of different reasons, and my seat-of-the-pants guess is that eBooks have been around long enough now that readers’ habits have settled in and the ratio of electronic-to-print is reaching something like an equilibrium.

    2. Publishers are happy about the upswing in print because we understand how to play that game. However, we’re all also aware that electronic reading is here to stay, and (at least for us) we’re still trying to fond the best ways to reach readers with digital products. (Note that in biz publishing “digital products” can include a lot of stuff that looks more like software than a book.) Digital allows you to do things faster and smaller (in terms of both amount of content and size of the audience) than print. The recent trend towards novellas is probably part of that, and those types of experiments will continue. Just because you do something in print doesn’t mean that you have to do the exact same thing electronically (and vice versa).

    3. The issue of ebook prices as a function of production costs is even sillier than John suggests because even for print products production costs have come down quite a bit. Everybody outsources printing and shipping to the lowest bidder, and a lot of publishers even outsource layout. Both print and digital book prices are functions of the costs of the editing and marketing efforts of the publisher, with the balance affecting the author’s compensation in various ways depending on the details of the publishing agreement. Like everything else in the modern economy, things get cheaper and people get more expensive.

    4. Speaking of pricing, remember that publishers were the original purveyors of dynamic pricing. Don’t want to pay for the hardcover? Wait for the paperback. Maybe way back when those price differences were driven by production costs, but now it’s a primarily a way to price to different levels of demand. Ebook prices work the same way, except that they are infinitely more flexible. If an ebook is priced at $14, its because somebody has made an educated guess that it will sell at that price, at least to some people. If you’re not in that group of people, wait long enough and the price will change.

    Again, fun stuff. I’ll be curious to see if the “print revival” continues.

  58. Oh are we panicking again? Seems like a lot of panic lately. I blame Donald Trump.

    E-books and print books are not at war with each other and never have been. (And partner publisher and self-pub aren’t at war with each other either, especially when it comes to fiction where everybody helps everybody else sell and publishers pick off top earners in indie for reprint.) They are different modes of distribution of the same product. It would be like saying that books in grocery store racks are at war with books in bookstores. Consequently, what happens to e-book sales and to print sales has only occasional things to do with each other, and each mode of distribution is dealing with different economic and market factors.

    E-books were expected to level off sales once the retail e-book market expansion was firmly established and standardized. Amazon likes educated and affluent customers, which is why they sold books in the first place, so they lured them to the Kindle too by plugging e-books. And they lured in more educated and affluent customers by promising to let them cheaply produce their own e-books, building brand loyalty to their site as shoppers.

    When they did that, made e-books a flagship of the Kindle, with its own format so that people would be tied to the Kindle, it was taking a slowly shuffling market that various companies had been trying to make work, strapping on rocket fuel jet packs and launching it into the world. Everybody had to scramble to catch-up. So while the tech people were being hired, the digitizing was going full-bore, the infrastructure was being set up, including at Amazon, and formats and prices were standardizing, you had craziness and rapid expansion, pushed even further when the tech companies used the same tactic to launch tablets. But it was never viewed as long-term sustainable. Eventually, e-books were going to level off, especially when most people left e-readers behind for tablets and smartphones that they used as portable mini-computers and Wi-Fi, not reading devices – also expected. (This does not include textbooks, which are still going up in e-book sales for obvious reasons.)

    There are two main groups buying (non-educational) e-books. The first group are regular readers of both non-fiction and fiction, who buy books in multiple formats for different purposes, like free and cheap e-books, will spring for expensive frontlist stuff to get it first but also are happy to wait for some things till the price drops, are behind the short fiction market online, and have no problem trying new indie authors. They use e-books and samples as a sorting method for new authors and works, much as they do libraries and used books.

    The second group use computers and are online a lot, for work and play. They only occasionally buy books, and they find e-books more useful than print if they do so. They don’t want to keep books around the house. They were happy to buy more books than usual because of the offerings of the Kindle and iPad launches, and globally, there are a lot of them who will read books on their phones. But once they checked out the freebies and cheap titles and downloaded some classics to read on the plane, they were basically done, especially with fiction. That group is not buying as many e-books anymore.

    The young people were supposed to take up some of the slack, but they did not, for a variety of reasons, although some forms of books, like kids board books, are doing well online. But e-books aren’t a novelty anymore used to launch tech products. So e-books will continue to be an established market, but the drop off was always going to come – and it was going on before Amazon’s latest deals with publishers.

    Print books have benefited from other things – a recovering economy so that more people have some spare cash, indie stores able to snap up market share when the big chains got mis-managed and stumbled, libraries kind of re-bounding at least in urban areas thanks to also being community centers, rebuilding part of the wholesale market critical for paperbacks with more books in groceries and stores like Target and WalMart, improvements in tech that decreased production and storage costs, and the drop in oil prices, which helps both production and shipping costs. (Publishers pay for shipping and most of the returns shipping.) If the U.S. or globally gets hit with a recession again, then there will be a drop in print again. (I’m sure in some struggling countries, that’s already going on. Let’s hope Europe and Asia don’t sink.)

    As for authors’ earnings being down since 2009, well yeah. In 2009, authors were still getting paid via contracts negotiated before the 2008 global recession, with larger advances for licences that had to be honored, and the self-pub e-book market was only a little more than a year old. In 2009, publishers and authors were just starting negotiations over the switch from e-books being a small subsidiary rights license to a major part of author book unit sales. In 2009, small presses were just starting a major collapse (from which they would eventually somewhat recover, though Amazon did not make it easy.) The contracts that publishers have made in the last few years reflected the economy and changed circumstances. And foreign rights sales that developed into a large source of income in the mid-oughts also went down because of the global recession. They haven’t gone back up yet, for any country’s authors. Non-fiction sales are down, and have not done that well for e-books – and non-fiction books are the actual money makers for publishers. In particular, political books and memoirs, which topped the bestsellers lists in 2009, especially in the U.S., have gone way down.

    I’m not sure that including indie sales monies would help that. Sure, Amazon is selling a lot of indie titles, but that’s in bulk. It makes money for Amazon, not necessarily for the majority of the authors, especially as Amazon raised their own cut of indie profits (you know, the thing Amazon insists on calling “royalties”) and pressured authors into raising prices and entering into their subscription service in return for better terms. The indies are no different from partner published books – it’s the same sales pyramid shape, just gigantic. With, as was mentioned, hobbyists as well as those who are pros. About half of the self-pubs make around $700 a year. (Romance indie authors do the best in fiction.) Hybrid authors do better – they apparently are often making more than the partner pub authors who don’t hybrid.

    But to put it in perspective, in the late 1980’s, the median annual income of all book authors, from Stephen King on down, was about US$4,000. Now, it’s about US$5,000. It might be higher, but they are trying to put in the indie author averages, as well as hybrids, and that probably drags things down a bit. A lot of indie authors do well – they’ve got low overhead still. But with Amazon still owning 90% of the indie market, it limits it.

    And since Amazon won’t cough up data (and has been known to lie on occasion as big companies do,) we do indeed not have a great picture of electronic self-publishing yet. At this point, after a dip where there were fewer indie authors making decent money after the initial gold rush of the first few years, I think we would see it has gone back up, especially including hybrid authors. But how far up, we really don’t know. The indie authors really need to start forming pro organizations, get member data and try to make sure they can leverage the best terms. But that may work better if they can get a wider range of vendors or market changes.

  59. Eh. Like anything that people bought into quickly e-book sales are going through a cycle. At the risk of earning a swift knock in the head from The Mallet, it’s my opinion that giving publishers the power to set prices on e-books while allowing sellers to offer physical books at whatever price they want is beyond stupid (my opinion). That said, e-books are following a normal product life cycle but I doubt they’ve fully maxed out their growth stage. I also think print will someday be on the losing side of this battle as we become more digital. They’ll never go away, but digital is the future.

  60. I agree it is irritating if you strongly prefer e-book over physical. My suggestion is to use a price-tracking site such as http://new.ereaderiq.com/ and watch for sales.

    Love the site but it’s been very bad for my bank account. I track ~300 authors and over 600 books (seems like 3 books get added for each one I buy).

    I’ve read over 200 books this year (typical # since I was pre-teen). We have over 5,000 physical books in the house mostly from my husband before we married. I switched to mostly ebooks a couple years ago. The car accident and other health problems makes holding large books painful and even leaves bruises. Since 2011 I’ve amassed an ebook collection of over 5,000 books. Needless to say I’m a bit price conscious as I’m not a multi-millionaire.

    I appreciate publishers who participate in Amazon’s price match. This lets me gift hard copies of books (nephews, niece, family, friends) and I get an ebook at a reasonable price. Or for those books my husband must have in hardback I get an ebook version I can read.

    Mostly I own indie books. Many are authors who used to be mid-list trad published. Some are hybrid authors who are being flexible now so they’ll have the skills if they need them & the extra income is nice. Some are indie authors who have approached their endeavor as a professional. Freebies can be fun to as you never know what your getting quality wise. I’ve found some great reads this way.

    I’ve accepted that Trad publishing doesn’t want my money. That’s their prerogative. I used to rant about it. Now I just add the book/author to ereaderiq and if it goes on sale within my price points I buy it. If not life goes on. If they and their authors are happy with the business model not much I can do other than vote with my wallet.

    Someday Amazon might decide to release useful figures for everyone to analyze. Until then we get a lot of people sharing various pieces all of who have their own biases. But we do have more data today than we had 15-20 years ago. One of the problems when comparing Trad publishing to self-publishing which we didn’t have before:

    1. Trad publishers – get paid advances & before indie publishing you simply had “unpublished authors” as the other half of the equation


    2. Self-published authors – do we lump all self-published authors all together or do we only count the ones making enough to count as an “advance” – the ones not making that much look to me more like the above “unpublished authors” when your comparing incomes & units sold for useful comparison

  61. Income per author… Well with the rise of the indir author there are more authors and more product. Does the book buying market increase faster than population growth? Population growth in the parts of the world that buy most of the books is low. So you have more people chasing a pie that doesnt grow that fast.

    Most people who buy books are probably more like me than they are like most people who read this blog. I read between 5 to 25 books a year. Those of you who read 100 books a year are a tiny fraction of the market.

    Does any one know if publishers are publishing the same number of books that they did in 2009?

  62. When people talk about indie, does this just mean ebooks published through the Amazon publishing venture? Or is there some other way to find indie published work? I’ve never read any, but hear about this often on book type blogs like this one.

  63. E-books are cheaper. I currently have over 240 on my Kindle, which I can also read on my Kindle Fire, or on my monitor.
    I do love the weight and feel of a paper book, but not when the difference is $0.99 to $7.99 for an e-book and $10 to $15 for a store-bought paperback and $35 up for a hardcover.
    Plus the wee-hours discovery of a loud crash, some years back, when my bookshelf collapsed from the weight of the SF books (well, to be honest, there was a cat involved, too),

  64. Tasha:

    1) The majority of publishers don’t pay authors advances against their expected royalties. They can’t afford it. Only the bigger houses can manage it, because they can float the advances on the income from other titles (that’s why big names fund little names,) and the average first time advance for one of those in category SFF is $5K-$6K, paid in installments. The differences between how partnering with a publisher on a license work and how self-pub works are considerably more than that. A lot of self-pub authors think they are working with Amazon like they would a publisher. They aren’t. It’s a different business model where you get different things and have to deal with different factors.

    2) Again, there has been a large, thriving and varied self-pub book market for decades before the Kindle. And it still exists today. Production costs and distribution issues were higher and more complicated, but thousands of authors did it, including authors who worked with publishers but then had out of print titles they put back in print. Most of the small print or print/e-book presses get started as self-pub operations that expanded. It’s been a tradition in SFF publishing particularly since the 1930’s.

    E-books also existed, including self-pub e-books, since the 1990’s. Romance fiction had the most success, as well as classics reprinted from public domain. Amazon opened up a market that already existed, and made wide distribution easier by acting as a platform vendor. The Internet also grew and more people used it, so when they launched the expansion of the market in 2007, more people jumped in than had before. And there has been also a long-time e-book market in Asia. Self-published cellphone novels have been around since about 2003, starting in Japan.

    And publishers have always kept an eye on self-pub and looked for things doing well that they could publish in reprint. There is no real animosity between the two markets — they’ve been in partnership forever.

    GButera — No, “indie” has become short-hand for self-published, and it includes both e-books and print books published by the author without a publisher being granted a license as partner and investing in various costs. You can find print self-pubs everywhere. While e-books are mainly sold through Amazon, they are also available on sites like Smashwords, the Apple iStore, Barnes & Noble if you’re in the states or other large chain bookstore sites if you are not. Authors may also sell them directly from their own sites. SF Signal often covers some of them as part of its blog coverage, etc.

  65. Any thoughts on why younger readers seem to prefer paper? That surprises me a little, especially with the penchant for large phones and the fact that so many people have those. Is it a style thing?

  66. John, I wanted to keep it longer, but unfortunately the resale value of new books depreciates even faster than that of new cars. Also, I have an old and cranky tortoiseshell* cat, and she’s liable to kill me in my sleep on a GOOD day.

    I wonder about the wisdom of kids’ picture and board books as ebooks. On one hand, they don’t get torn up and cost less to produce and buy; OTOH, you’re letting a non-housebroken mammal play with an expensive piece of electronics.

    I must say Amazon/Nook/Google books are a lot easier to buy indie than back in the day when you had to buy them on 3 1/2″ floppy disk!

    *yes, I know “cranky tortie” is redundant, but she is extra-cranky at nearly 15. I lurve her.

  67. I like print books for my bookcases, and the ability to share them with my friends and family when i’m really liking a book. But on the other hand, I don’t keep a large collection of books in my to read pile, And Not Reading before bed isn’t something I’ll even consider. And E-books are great for that, 3 clicks on your PC and you can start reading, I love that. Also when i’m travelling I tend to devour books, E-books are great for that as well.

    The only thing I really loathe, as a European, is that E-books are taxed higher, because of oversight or stupidity from the EU, I have to pay 15% additional VAT in the Netherlands on E-books than I do on Print books.

  68. I’m one of the hybrids when it comes to reading. I got a crap ton of books on my shelf. During my last move I donated approximately 2000 to the library. I still buy physical books from time to time. I see one that looks good, and my bank account records a debit.

    On the other hand, I buy a lot of e-books also. I see a recommendation online, bounce to B&N or Amazon and get it. I can buy one anywhere I have my phone or tablet handy, and it does keep me from having to cram another book onto one of my shelves.

    At this present point in time, I would say I probably by more electronic books. A BIG reason is because of the fact I work 7 days a week most of the time, 6-6.5 the rest of the time. E-books are convenient to order, I don’t have to wait for them to be delivered, I can carry several with me at anyone time in one handy format, and I can use the time I would be driving to the bookstore for more important things like being in a coma or shoving food in my face.

    Despite the convenience of e-books, I still like the feel and smell of paper. Sigh… childhood memories and parents that read to me constantly. :-D

  69. @Glaurung Sorry, I can’t let this go. The proportion of computer programmers who are read/own books is likely similar to the rest of the population.

    The reason for not implementing more features in software is usually due to short deadlines because their employers are more concerned about time to market and/or cost than customer experience. In this case it may even be a deliberate design choice by Amazon to either drive more sales (though I can’t see this myself) or not to cater to “power users”.

    If you want to see how computer programmers will design an ebook reader free from commercial pressures take a look at free software. My favourite ebook reader, FBReader, had exactly this feature. Unfortunately I’ve just bought a Kobo so now stuck with similar problems!

  70. As a reader I think that physical books, especially hardcover books, are glorious objects. But my house is full of them and space costs more than books; also my back objects to schleping around 1000 page hardcovers, and I have a weakness for very long-form epic fantasy. So eBooks it is.

    As a European the thing I hate most about eBooks is that you can’t import them. Although print book publishing *is* regional it is trivial to import a US-published paper book from Amazon.com but buying a US-published ebook is essentially impossible without a US-billing-address.

  71. I don’t like the pejorative term “dead tree” to refer to print book. It’s not as if reading electronic devices that wear out quickly and are based on the exploitation of minerals, foreign labour and (often non-renewable) energy sources is somehow virtuous or better for the planet.

  72. I just wish more back list books that are out of print were easily available for my Kindle. I am one of those with little to no more shelf space for new printed books. There are quite a few I would rather have on kindle but … Not yet available. For example, only one of Molly Ivin’s books is available for Kindle…

  73. I’m an ebook reader and only an ebook reader, as is my wife. The reason for us is simple – logistics. When we married, we each brought about 5,000 books into the marriage. 10,000 books take up a ton of space. Since my wife runs though 3-4 books a week, they build up. Yeah, we could take them to half price, but we’re also re-readers so we’d just find ourselves buying them again (good for the author, not so good for my checking account). A Kindle/phone/tablet just plain takes up less space.

    The only physical book I’ve bought in many years was Redshirts ’cause getting an authors signature on your phone messes with the trade in value – AT&T just doesn’t get it…

  74. So your daughter is working for the local bookstore ? Cool. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, they seem like good folks. I’ve ordered from them in the past when I wanted an autographed copy of your stuff.

    Also, just a general “huzzah!” for local bookstores that aren’t chains…

  75. I’ve also shifted to mostly e-books, except for the ones that I think my spouse would enjoy, and gifts – I am “the aunt who always gives a book at Christmas”. Books have been a line item in the household budget for my entire adult life, and we probably have a literal ton of them in the house. Sadly, we recently lost several boxes of them to a basement flood (still grieving, and looking for a time machine to use), and spouse elicited from me the promise that I would only replace them with e-books.

  76. “Again I remind everyone that many if not most of these publishers have been around decades and have seen changes in the market as significant as the one we’re going through today. ”

    What changes has the pub industry seen that is as significant as the internet and ebooks?

    I honestly can’t think of one other than paper backs. Were there others?

  77. In response to Beth Meacham, I think the reason backlist book sales are going down in eBook format is not because the bubble of people filling out their backlist on their Kindle burst but is instead due to publishers pricing Print more aggressively over eBook. Here are 2 real life examples that I have run into on Amazon recently:

    1. Jim Butcher
    After his book “Skin Game” was nominated for a Hugo I thought it might be worth checking it out so I went to Amazon to start the Dresden Files. Book 1 “Storm Front” was priced this way by Penguin:

    Kindle – $9.99
    Mass Market – $6.04
    Used – $.01 + $3.99 Shipping

    Simple economics pushed me from eBook to print here and that decision was made by the publisher. If you scan through most of the Dresden Files you will notice that the Mass Market is either equal to or less than the eBook version. Penguin seems to be pushing Print.


    2. Brandon Sanderson
    I heard recently that Sanderson is coming out with a new Mistborn series with releases this October and January. I read the work he did for The Wheel of Time and have also enjoyed his Stormlight Archives so I thought I would check out the backlist for this as well. The first Mistborn series is sold as a set and is priced this way by Tor:

    Kindle – $22.99
    Mass Market – $15.25
    Used – $10.98 + $3.99 Shipping

    Again, this makes the economic choice for Print simple and as I scan through his backlist it seems Tor has priced eBook equal to or higher than Mass Market in most cases. Tor seems to be pushing Print over eBook as well.


    I am not going to make any judgments on Print vs eBook but I think 3 types of customers exist:

    eBook Preference
    Print Preference
    Cheapest Preference

    From what I have seen recently it appears to me that publishers are actively trying to push those people who are looking for the cheapest option towards Print which is raising that market while taking away from the eBook market.

  78. Jason Gilbert said: “4. Speaking of pricing, remember that publishers were the original purveyors of dynamic pricing. Don’t want to pay for the hardcover? Wait for the paperback. Maybe way back when those price differences were driven by production costs, ”

    –> Those price differences were NEVER driven by production costs.

    Typical paperback costs around $2 to make. Typical hardcover costs around $4 to make. I am ignoring overhead (employee salaries, rent, royalties, sales/marketing, etc) and speaking only of the costs directly attributable to creating the physical object (typesetting, cover art and design, printing, shipping). I am focusing on trade/Big 5 fiction, here; the numbers are significantly different for other types of books.

    The margin of cost-to-sales-price on a hardcover is enormous; the margin on a paperback significantly less. This is because it is assumed that the people who really really really want the new book now now now will pay what they have to in order to get it.

    And yet somehow no one complains about “what they get for the money” with a hardback. People, people, it’s not a holy object. A limited edition might have more bells and whistles, but in my career I have pulped milllions of copies of books because there was some cock-up in the printing. They are cheap enough that reprinting is not too expensive if it saves the publisher a lot of embarrassment.

    Very few things in this world are sold based solely on what it costs to produce them. Usually there’s a minimum price set by what it costs the seller to get the thing, but even that is upended by players such as Amazon, who deliberately lose money on book sales in order to convince people what the price “should” be. Not just ebook sales, but also paper. If Amazon is discounting more than 50% on a book, there is an excellent chance they are actively losing money on every copy of that book.

  79. Jim Butcher
    After his book “Skin Game” was nominated for a Hugo I thought it might be worth checking it out so I went to Amazon to start the Dresden Files. Book 1 “Storm Front” was priced this way by Penguin:

    Kindle – $9.99
    Mass Market – $6.04
    Used – $.01 + $3.99 Shipping

    Not only does that push to print but I’m sure it pushes many to “used” who might have bought a $2-5 ebook. Or if kindle matched could have sold both the print & $2.99 ebook and possibly an audiobook as they always try to sell you one at discount when you buy a kindle book. A real win IMHO for the author and publisher. But it goes against the policy of keeping print viable which can only be done through pricing? For the 1st in a 14 book so far series.

  80. Also, regarding the theory that publisher are “pushing print”: While that is not an unreasonable theory, it is wrong.

    Publisher are selling at what the market demands.

    There is a value add to ebooks for a significant number of readers, many of whom have mentioned it right here in this thread: space and convenience.

    I make the damn things and I’ll happily pay $9.99 for an ebook rather than $7.99 for paper if

    a) I want it RIGHT NOW
    b) I want to be able to carry it around with me without adding any weight to my bag

    and for a lot of people there is also

    c) Shelf space limitations

    If none of those things are important to you, then yes, you should go for the lowest price version you can get. That is sensible.

    But if you want those traits, then they must be worth something to you. Publishers are in the business of figuring out what they’re worth to you. For a lot of folks, they’re worth about $2 above the paperback price.

    If you’re finding the print edition significantly lower in price than the ebook, it’s because the bookseller is heavily discounting the print edition, possibly even taking a loss (in order to manipulate the market, or to move inventory, or to pull you in so you’ll buy other things…the reasons are myriad).

    Again: If the print edition is discounted 50% or more, the seller is almost certainly taking a loss. I can’t be privy to every contract (thus the equivocation), but that’s generally the line.

  81. This is an interesting topic for me (not that they all aren’t, of course.) I hang out on a book forum and the subject of dead tree/ebook comes up a lot. As well as the subject of ebook prices. So this is something I’ve given some thought to.

    While there will always be people who want to get the latest best seller, for those of us whose book buying is measured in purchases per week rather than purchases per month or year there has been a fundamental shift in attitude toward book pricing. The perfect storm of ebook popularity coinciding with the recession seems to be the driver. Thousands of books for free! Ten years ago I was spending $20-$30 a week for books, now I might spend that in a month. I really enjoyed it for a few years but over time there was less and less that interested me in the free/really cheap category. For every Andy Weir or Hugh Howey there are a thousand (or ten thousand) producers of unmitigated crap. If someone could figure out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff there, they could make a fortune. But even when I was willing to spend more, I stuck with eBooks for a while since 1) they were cheaper, 2) shelf space is at a premium and 3) it is more convenient (get it now, travel and reading in bed).

    And then ebook pricing began to go up. But the pricing expectations are engrained now. Even though I know I can afford to go back to my old habits, I won’t. And that attitude is shared by about 95% of my book forum friends. A big problem with the rise in ebook pricing is that I don’t actually “own” what I’m paying for. I can’t give it to a friend, loan it to numerous people or donate it to VNSA. And I have no idea what will happen to my vast ebook library if Amazon pisses me off and I close my account. So most of us have re-discovered used book stores. Which probably doesn’t do much for either publishers or authors.

    There are very, very few eBooks for which I will pay more than $7. I think in the past year I’ve done it four times- two impulse non-fiction, “Lock In” and “The End of All Things”. (Curse you, John Scalzi for ruining my budget!) Other than that, I’ll wait for it to go on sale or when I can get it used. (But seriously, John, if you want to ruin it some more by coming out with another book it would be OK…) I don’t buy new paperbacks (unless in the bargain bin) and hard bound is limited to much loved books that I’ve already read. “Old Man’s War” and “The Martian” are probably the only two new in the past three years. (I gave up on sci fi for a decade and was a late comer to OMW.)

    This is all purely anecdotal from my small group of book lovers but I tend to think this attitude is pretty common.

  82. One other point on the eBook vs. print pricing — it’s not Penguin that’s setting the mass-market paperback as $6.04 — it’s Amazon selling the MMP at a substantial discount off of the publisher’s retail price of $9.99 (the same as the eBook).

    Which is not to say that the publisher may not have a reason for trying to push paper vs. electronic; but it’s still a case of comparing a price actually set by the publisher to a price set by the retailer.

  83. Nate asked: “What changes has the pub industry seen that is as significant as the internet and ebooks?”


    Granted, this is not generally visible on the readers’ end, but holy crap, what a difference they made in production of a book.

    I (well, my employer) am still paying the same price to typeset my books as I paid twenty-one years ago at the start of my career. There has been literally zero inflation in this. Computers and electronic editing have streamlined a lot of things and moved costs onto other people (copyeditors, authors) that previously the typesetter would have had to charge for.

    Simple example of why: The typesetter no longer has to retype the manuscript into their machinery, as they did in the typewriter days. Also, the labor of making corrections now is much less than back in the cold metal days.

    Savings in other areas, all because of the computer:

    • Direct-to-plate printing, without having to output film and then burn plates
    • Color separations done electronically instead of with filters and large machinery
    • Creation of spine dies and other decorative dies (foil, embossing) now much easier

    The main increase in the cost of producing a book has been paper prices (just as it always has been, really) and labor/overhead costs: publisher employees, freelance copyeditors and designers, rent, electricity, etc all the sort of things that you, personally, are paying more for now than you (or your parents) did in 1980.

    If we still had to do everything the old-fashioned way, we wouldn’t even be discussing the cost of print books because they would be $50 for a hardback novel and therefore strictly a specialty item.

    (And now I must walk away from the thread for a little while, since I have a pile of work to do earning my laughable publishing salary.)

  84. JZS said: “If someone could figure out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff there, they could make a fortune.”

    –>Those people are called “publishers” and according to this thread, a lot of people get really angry if they try to make a fortune.

    “And then ebook pricing began to go up. But the pricing expectations are engrained now. ”

    –>Exactly as Amazon intended. Whatever else Bezos is, he understands human motivation pretty well.

    But this is a problem. Creating a situation where people don’t expect to pay anything for a product that actually represents a lot of hard work by many people, from the author through the editors, marketing folks, sales people, production people, etc, is unsustainable. A reader may not want to pay $10 or $12 or $14 for an ebook, but if the people separating the wheat from the chaff aren’t getting paid to do it, they’ll stop doing it and go into another line of work.

    These two quotes of yours, JZS, represent mutually exclusive situations.

    (And now I’m REALLY going to back to work!)

  85. I’m wondering about the extent the Amazon read-for-free subscription program counts towards total purchases. While you can’t keep the books, only rent them, authors get paid nonetheless. I use it for deciding whether to own a book forever or just enjoy the read. Anyone know the number of subscribers?

  86. @ E

    I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Computers are a great boost to productivity but the internet lets me buy a book from anywhere, and not just my local bookstores.

    That is revolutionary.

    And thanks to ebooks, I can carry all of my books around with me. That too is revolutionary.

  87. Pat Munson-Siter: FWIW, I just checked, and there appear to be several Molly Ivins books currently available for Kindle. Not all, but more than one. Just in case you haven’t checked lately . . .

  88. thedigitalreader: I fail to see where we are in disagreement. The question was what major industry changes other than ebooks have publishers seen. Thus I didn’t talk about ebooks. They were a given.

  89. I agree about the back list, I did this in both CD, DVD and eBook. I also agree that counting sales is a pain in the rear end.

    My personal joy is most eBooks series do not go out of print. That is why I prefer books offered in multiple formats, both physical and digital.

    I had all my family search for six years to find book 7 of 9* from Jo Clayton’s excellent Diadem Series. I was hunting the series after I bought a brand new copy of Book 1 from Crown Books only to by told “The series is out of print for years, we found an unopened box in the back of Book 1 and decided to put them out”. eBooks would have solved this problem.

    Several print authors I enjoy had trilogies, were I could only locate book 1 and 2, since the 3rd print run was so small.** Even when they had a personal supply of books,and I was on their newsletter, mailing them to fans is labor and cost intensive. eBooks would have solved this problem.

    I have a fondness for long series. It would be hard to write the Diadem series differently, since it’s protagonist grows from an immature heroine on a quest, to a mature woman who realizes she outgrew her quest and does not need her external “happy ending”. Hopefully digital goods will allow authors to plan larger stories. Intentionally like Clayton or unintentionally like Scalzi.

    *They actually found two copies of “Ghosthunt” within 1 week of each other, but the first copy had a burn through the beginning of the book. Neither the purchase of the used copies, or the six years of hunting used book stores would have shown up in Jo Clayton’s author data with her publisher.

    **Since this is Scalzi’s Blog, this reminds me of an article on YouTube and one hit wonders, the same social media factors may apply:

  90. @E Not really disputing that, E. Just stating what “is” :) But I wasn’t saying that I “don’t expect to pay anything for a product that actually represents a lot of hard work by many people, from the author through the editors, marketing folks, sales people, production people, etc,” I was saying that there is a definite limit to what I will pay for something that I don’t actually “own” (eBooks). So just speaking as one eBook reader, raising prices on those is not going to have a positive outcome for a publisher. Except for one author who shall remain nameless, I’m just not going to buy any version new.

    I think that it is more a question of change in competition now. Many great (and not so great) works of literature are easily accessible for free/cheap in a convenient format. And although I’ve read about 10,000 books in my life, there are many more that I missed. So instead of spending $15-$30 for a new book I can easily get inexpensive or free copies of golden age mysteries, those door stops I had to read in college or a Fredric Brown. Now there is very real competition for my time and money from all of history instead of just the latest releases from authors/publishers. Kind of like when Walmart came to town. It may not be fair, but that’s how it is.

    And you SAID you were going back to work :)

  91. Greetings from an part-time cockroach. I’ve topped your full-time earnings average for the last three years and will do so again next year. That comes from self-publishing, major company publishing (Hachette, currently), and a little from strictly epub on Amazon. So yes, there is money not being reported.

  92. Rick Gregory:

    Any thoughts on why younger readers seem to prefer paper?

    Tons of reasons.

    1) A lot of the interaction they get with recreational reading comes from school. School libraries and classrooms have mostly still paper books — it’s cheaper and easier for them. (Especially as they take book donations as their budgets are constantly cut.) Kids take those home and also want to have their own libraries. Kids can buy paper books at discount through the schools in many countries. Kid authors actually come to schools and read their physical books to them. Illustrations work better in print books for the younger set for some stuff, although that’s changing. But the comics, graphic novels and related works a lot of the teens are after may not be electronic.

    2) Older kids and teens like to go see their authors at conventions, events, online. They like to have the authors sign the physical books, as well as posters, art, etc. They treasure those and want them to last. So they get paper for books of authors they really like.

    3) They don’t like to read long sections of text on their phones, although they’ve helped launch the online short fiction boom. And they often lose or break their tablets and phones, meaning they can’t get to their e-books or read them easily. They are often told not to use their electronic devices in places, but physical books are less objected to. And physical books are quieter and don’t light up, and are easier to read in sunlight. They can get wet, damaged and sandy without that being a problem. They are easily replaceable.

    4) They get physical books as gifts from relatives.

    5) Paper books can be traded and loaned and donated to libraries or re-sold. Word of mouth is big among teens, so that’s an appeal for them. They trade information about books online.

    And so forth and so on. E-books will be more important to kids and teens later on, as tech develops. But they actually like paper books and are not obsessed with utopian futures where everybody is a cyborg.

    They also love technology, and at a very young age. People forget Gameboys and that two year olds were using them and Leapfrog electronic games and books long before 2007. Nowadays, kids have no problems playing on their parents’ smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices — they learn the tech faster. My mom is finally breaking down and getting a notebook, and we were talking about having to tech help her, and my husband said she can just grab the nearest three year old because they play all sorts of games and stuff on parents’ tech and know how to work all the commands. (Which is why, if you have children, do not have nude pictures of yourselves on your phone. They know how to upload video to YouTube very early on.)

    Paper actually mainly uses plant fibers such as cotton and you can make paper without any wood pulp. Plus clays and polymers are used as fillers. And a lot of paper used to make books is partially recycled. So “dead trees” is not really accurate for paper. And electricity generation to power all your stuff costs the environment far more and has helped contribute to global warming. So let’s not try that one. No way that they make books, including audio, is particularly environmentally friendly. But paper is at least recyclable; electricity is not. Some of the ways we get electricity are renewable, and some of the ways are not. Some of the things used to produce paper, such as chemicals, probably should go; the rest of it is quite natural. And on and on.

    But if you want those traits, then they must be worth something to you.

    Lost cause, E. I’ve been arguing this for years. The idea that things and aspects you value you have to pay for and that people doing things to facilitate and create that value have to be paid, does not fall on happy ears. Forget it, E., it’s Chinatown. :)

    But on the bright side, by 2015, all paper books were supposed to be gone, bookstores closed, and publishers dead. And we were all supposed to be living on floating cities ruled by our libertarian tech overlords. That seems to have been delayed, so we can enjoy that we have not been pulped yet.

    I would like to see more work by the publishers on helping the disabled, like Tasha, but that’s actually being worked on, better using tech for the disabled. (They’ve been good about Braille books for the blind in the past, but this is a whole other horizon.) There are also people who can’t read e-books, and have to read paper. And others who can’t read printed text of any kind and have to do audio. So there’s not going to be one solution for everybody. People who want to read books will each have their own circumstances.

    And though people really don’t like to talk about it, access to tech and the Net is a huge problem, in education and otherwise. There are large groups of kids who are being cut off. One of the main reasons that libraries have become big community centers is that they provide free tech access to a lot of people, without which they may not be able to get jobs or deal with government agencies or deal with schoolwork. So for large segments of our population, paper books are still a lifeline. If you want an e-book utopia, you’re going to have to figure out how to actually provide tech to all kids in your country and 24 hour access to electricity to use it. People keep saying, oh everything will get cheap and they’ll all have it. That’s not actually what’s happening in the world. And there are powerful groups making sure it doesn’t.

    So for now, books, in any medium, are a luxury good. And you pay for luxury if you want it. You do it in music, games, fashion, movies, t.v. services, etc., and books are not an exception.

  93. Sorry, unsure how to do the quotes so”

    Jim Butcher
    After his book “Skin Game” was nominated for a Hugo I thought it might be worth checking it out so I went to Amazon to start the Dresden Files. Book 1 “Storm Front” was priced this way by Penguin:

    Kindle – $9.99
    Mass Market – $6.04
    Used – $.01 + $3.99 Shipping

    Not only does that push to print but I’m sure it pushes many to “used” ….”

    Yep. I have been back to half priced books store several times since the beginning of the year because of this. If I cannot buy a reasonably priced ebook and I have to go to a store then I will simply buy it used because it is cheaper than both print and the ebook. Authors and publisher do not win, but that is the way the market works for me.

  94. WonderOfItAll:

    I hate to bust the martyr act you all have going, but used books existed a long time before e-books ever existed, since the very beginning of books, and have been a cheap way for avid readers to get lots of books. Used books are pre-owned — someone bought them and that money went to the author and the publisher. And if you like the used book you bought and pass it around, some of those people then buy the authors’ next books in one form or another directly.

    Likewise, if you borrow a book from the library, the author gets nothing for your particular loan — except that the libraries all bought the book to stock it, meaning the author and the publisher got paid. And if the book is popular — borrowed a lot — then the libraries buy more copies to stock and make sure that they buy copies of the author’s other books and new books. And if people like a library book, then they or other people they let read it too may then buy further books from the author, or even just some of that type of book in general.

    That’s why sometimes they give you e-books for free (and sometimes paper ones for free at conventions.) Because if you like it, you might buy more stuff.

    You know what else you can do if you don’t like the price of an e-book? You wait, and the price will go down over time. If you don’t want to wait, you pay for the premium service of not waiting, like with any other product. Or, if you hate the whole thing, you can pirate the e-book perfectly easily. That’s what a lot of folk were arguing it was okay to do back in 2008, along with the claim that this would lead them to buy the authors’ books later on if they liked them, and they did it. Nobody stops you from doing it. If you want something for free, you can take it.

    And that’s the point. People willing to pay for e-books invest in the book and value the e-book services enough to pay for both. They can get the book another way for free (pirating, borrowing, library borrowing, giveaways,) or cheap (used books, waiting till the price goes down over time,) but they don’t, same as people who choose to buy hardcovers instead of paperbacks don’t. It’s a choice built on personal financial circumstances and personal preferences. And the publishing industry is perfectly aware of all those distribution channels.

    So you were not forced to go buy used books. You chose to buy used books. And that’s perfectly fine. You are not, in fact, obligated to buy a book in any form ever, for recreational or personal purposes. But the fact that you think all books and all forms of books should be as cheap as possible, whatever the convenience to you or the timing of the product launch or the popularity of the creator’s products, is not a standard applied to any other business, including Internet services and software.

    E-books are going to be just fine. And thanks to you, so will the used book market. No need to don the horse-hair shroud.

  95. Dear folks,

    I’m hoping John will allow this, since it’s meta- , but here is why the whole “price should be related to manufacturing costs” discussion is tiresome, tedious, and pointless. (Aside than the fact it’s been done to death here previously.)

    It’s got nothing to do with the reality of how “art” gets priced. It’s about some fantasy world, not ours. (I’m going to call it “art” and “artists” with a small-a, because I kinda hate the term content-creator, and I don’t have a better one. Stick in the word you like.)

    In our world, the one where stuff really gets bought and sold, the price that art commands is based entirely upon the enjoyment the buyer gets out of it. The more the buyer values the experience, the more they are willing to pay. The stuff has no intrinsic value. The manufacturing cost doesn’t come into play, except that you’re in deep doo-doo if your prospective buyers aren’t willing to pay more than the manufacturing cost. There is a technical term for that. You are what is known as a “failure.”

    But that simply is a lower floor of practicality, one that has to be exceeded if you’re going to survive as an artist (or a publisher or distributor or any of those associated functions.)

    Some musicians can get $200 a ticket. Some can only get 20. The ones who get $200 don’t work 10 times as hard and don’t have to have 10 times the overhead (although they might choose to). The author who gets a $30,000 contract does not have 1% of the “production costs” that John does. Just to make it personal, my photographic prints are considerably more expensive and take considerably longer to make than Ansel Adams’ did. By the manufacturing-cost argument, he should not command prices 10-100 times higher than mine, mine should be higher than his.

    I will now sit back and wait for the bucks to come pouring in.

    Still waiting. Sound of crickets.


    That is it. There is no more to it than that. We don’t care about the tiresome manufacturing-cost arguments, because they have no connection to reality.

    Someone, earlier, opined that the high prices of things like e-books were what caused piracy. That’s bullshit. It’s the excuse pirates have always used. It doesn’t hold up. The real reason for piracy is that a whole bunch of people want stuff for free. Or, at least, so insanely cheap that no artist or publisher can make a living off it. Nobody has ever been able to lower their prices enough to make piracy go away.

    And you know what? Most of us actually don’t give a fuck. Oh yes, there is the moral outrage around “unjust enrichment,” but so long as we’re making a decent living from what we create, we ignore the piracy. In a magical world where you could make it go away, there would be some incremental increase in our income, but not oodles because most of the people pirating stuff really aren’t interested in paying for it under any realistic circumstance. (Yes, sociologists have actually studied this. There is data.)

    Which leads me to the subject of price points. A publisher tries to maximize their return. That does not mean selling the most number of copies. To a first approximation, it means maximizing the product of unit profit (including the amortization of all upfront costs, which depends on number of units) and buyers. Tor is not going to drop the price of John’s next novel by a factor of 10 unless they are convinced it will pull in more than 10 times as many readers. This is unlikely. While there is some fraction of people out there who would enjoy reading John but had been dissuaded because they can’t afford his books, it’s not likely to be many, many times the number of readers he actually has.

    Yes, there’s marketing and gamesmanship involved. Publishers will do things to get books on the bestseller lists, because that’s great PR and buzz and makes for more sales. Baen Books has been very successful at giving away stuff for free (which I applaud), because they have a large number of readers who will loyally go after the backlist. So does John. Tor could decide to release his next novel for free, just because the curiosity would drive a fair number of people to download it and read it, and some of them then might become fans and buy his backlist. But it’d be a marketing ploy, designed to increase the number of readers who would pay the usual price.

    That’s what the game is about. Maximizing the profits. To repeat what John said at the beginning, publishers are not our friends, not the authors’ and not the readers’. Acting like they should be and whining when they’re not? Pretty pointless and not exactly reality-based.


    Dear Nate,

    An example of a monstrous dislocation, far bigger than e-books: pulp magazines used to be more common than dirt. There were a bazillion of them, and they were the bread-and-butter money for any author who could write “short form” or serialize their work. They sustained a whole generation of authors (mainstream and genre).

    There was a single point failure in the system. Almost all of them were handled by one distributor. In the 1950s that distributor went bankrupt. It not only destroyed the distribution chain for most of the magazines, but the back money the distributor owed them disappeared. Magazines don’t keep a lot of cash in the bank. It was the Permian Extinction of the pulps; almost all of them went under. New distribution channels were eventually built, but that was far too late. It totally changed the writing and publishing business.

    It’s the thing, not so incidentally, that is what really worries me about Amazon. They’re working very hard to establish themselves as a monopoly in a whole bunch of distribution areas, but they’ve yet to demonstrate that they are a long-term viable business. They’re running on momentum and start up money. It’s a huge gamble, and one that I actually hope they are semi-successful at, because if they’re not the fallout for all the businesses that are dependent upon Amazon will be ugly. Nowhere as bad as the pulp distributor failure of the 50s; somebody else will come along and set up new distribution channels much faster today. But there will be months of income lost, and that will kill a lot of businesses.

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery http://ctein.com
    — Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

  96. JZS, Kat: You’re both correct, it’s Chinatown, and readers are going to do what readers are going to do.

    But, see, publishers are going to do what they’re going to do, also. They’ve been experimenting, and they’ll continue to experiment. But so far, they seem to like the price points they’re using. I suspect at least some of it is response to Bezos—publishers weren’t able to run a good experiment while someone was screwing around with the data—and we’ll see how it shakes out.

    The market has stabilized for the moment, but the experiments will continue. Maybe now without someone putting their thumb on the scale, the results will be useful.

    Prediction time: The next savings the Big 5 will take is moving out of Manhattan. They’ve already shown signs of cracking. Back-office tasks (accounting, fulfillment, similar data-keeping) have already been moved out of most publishers to the hinterlands where cost of living, and therefore staff, are cheap. HarperCollins moved most of their production work to New Jersey, and moved from a midtown office to one downtown. (I assume the new office is cheaper, else why move.) I think RH owns their building, so it might be more cost-effective for them to stay, but I honestly don’t know. S&S has been at their location since the dawn of time, so it’s possible they own their spot (but it’s Rock Center, so…I dunno).

    I’m pretty sure the only thing keeping most publishers in NYC is that it’s New frigging York and you don’t leave there lightly. The higher-ups who live in Manhattan are surely not interested in leaving.

    Someone will get the bright idea that Philadelphia, for example, is a lot cheaper, is only a quick train ride from NYC, and has a superabundance of colleges and universities with bright young graduates looking for work. (Honestly, if I were in charge of a Big 5, I would be moving the company to Philly.)

  97. I’ve seen a couple people say that if you don’t like the price of an ebook, wait and it will come down.

    …I’m still waiting for the price of some Star Trek books to come down. Ancient books that I’d like to have in ebook form so I don’t have to worry about damaging the ones that are in our personal library. But they’re still $8.99 (Ishmael and Uhura’s Song) and $7.99 (Romulan Way and My Enemy, My Ally).

    They’ve been that way since I first looked for them, years ago. Meanwhile, others hold steady at, say, $5.99 (Doctor’s Orders). Further, the samples from the second set of books reveal formatting errors that I could forgive in a cheap ebook… but not in one that costs modern-day prices (for books that have original cover prices of $2.95 and $3.50)! (The errors are not present in the paper copies.)

    (And no, my local public library’s ebook selection has no Star Trek books at all. Checked that, too.)

    Maybe they’re not actually leaving money on the table and are making enough from the people who will pay that for ebooks with formatting errors… But it surely does feel like the social compact — be patient and the price will come down, or be impatient and pay impatience tax (as I have done for some books! $15 for an e-ARC without a fuss!) — is broken, and it becomes harder to sympathize with the choices made, and easier to attribute the higher ebook prices to bad faith decisions.

    (Are they? I dunno. But I think breaking a social compact like that does fuel a certain amount of wishful thinking of Doom To Publishers.)

    However, it’s also possible that keeping ebook prices high on old books has the emergent property of keeping Amazon more securely in a monopsony position; they have a very good selection of “price of shipping and a penny” out of print books. I actually prefer to diversify out to iBooks, because my kid almost never reads paper books except for school assignments. These paper books get bashed around a lot in her backpack, too. I can share an ebook with her through the iBooks family sharing stuff, and she’s A: more likely to read it, and B: won’t damage the original copy. But with high prices like that…

    But I suppose I’m a minority case — or the publisher thinks it costs too much to have someone look at whether the pricing would move more copies at a lower price-point.

    Circling back to the point, though… Please don’t say “wait, and it will come down.” No one can trust that will be true with ebooks. It might go on sale, if it’s a hot enough newish book that the publishers want to keep the “buzz” on. But after a while, it’s “price-and-forget, forever,” I think — and that price may be social-compact-breaking high.

  98. Well actually, the accounting, sales fulfillment, warehouses, etc. were always out in New Jersey. Bergenfield, NJ, to be exact, going back to the 1970’s and 1980’s. They used to do the royalty statements out there by hand and typing until well into the 1990’s. And then they’d mail or messenger them over to the Manhattan offices. There was in fact a big celebration in the industry, I believe, when Simon & Schuster finally computerized their accounting in like 1992 or so.

    But it still stayed out in New Jersey. Manhattan landspace held editorial, subsidiary rights, managing editorial, art department, production supervisors, publicity, marketing/sales, and legal/contracts, plus sometimes the corporate bosses. Stuff that had to be on site, coordinated and be able to meet with authors. The copy-editing and proofing was/is freelance, the bulk of production is a combo of non-Manhattan staff and freelance printing firms in various places (children’s picture books are produced in Japan and South Korea, for instance) and accounting, taxes, fulfillment, data entry, etc. was/is in New Jersey, sometimes contract hired firms, sometimes owned by the publisher. Warehouses were in NJ and elsewhere, sometimes rented from the trucking firms that distribute the books.

    Of course, the Big 5 have lots of offices besides in Manhattan and a lot of their corporate owners are in Europe — France, Germany, Britain. I’m not sure where they put all the tech staff for e-books. My guess is that the coordinating supervisory tech staff are in the Manhattan offices and the tech producers are hired companies elsewhere. Possibly located in Bergenfield, NJ., the center of the universe. The Big 5 have various imprints that are located elsewhere and educational and professional arms that are usually located elsewhere. HarperCollins, for instances, has its medical publishing in Philadelphia, Basic Books in Boston, some of its college arm in New Jersey. Random House has quite a few divisions up in Philadelphia, including non-fiction, educational, the Running Press, some children’s books, etc. And then there’s the West Coast stuff.

    And of course, the Big 5 are only one part of giant corporations that have dozens of other global businesses — media, magazines, music, dishware, software and data, financial services, etc. It’s not as Manhattan centered as people think. And book publishing is not as U.S. based as seems to often be the impression. So the experimentations aren’t simply going on with Amazon and in the U.S. with the “Big 5”. They’re going on in China and South Africa and Australia. For the last twenty years they’ve been working on e-book and digital stuff that has little to do with the Kindle and retail trade. (Yes, it is weird that an industry that took a long time to use computers properly is doing that, but that’s publishing, and it changed a lot in twenty years, years before e-books in retail trade. Again, there was an e-book market going on long before 2007.)

    Your area, E., business and professional publishing, overlaps with retail trade, but it’s also doing products that have very little to do with how much Jim Butcher’s novel is priced as an e-book. And the Big 5 have also business, legal, audio, reference, and massive educational arms that are not selling in retail (though may be overlapping retail and sometimes using Amazon sales.) So the belief that the Big 5 publishers are going to collapse because a bunch of mostly fiction writers are self-publishing through Amazon (who takes almost a third of their profits minimum,) in the retail market, is, as you know, um, overly optimistic, let’s call it that.

    It is kind of interesting that we’ve gone in like six years from “all e-books should be free” to “all e-books from the Big 5 should be ten bucks or less.”

  99. One of the other things which is retarding sales of ebooks is what is known in the tech biz as “the trough of disillusionment*”. Whenever a new technology is introduced, there’s an early enthusiastic rush of adoption as thousands of early adopters believe that the new tech will solve all of their problems, and some of the general public are carried along in the flood. Then, after the tech has been around for a while, folks discover that it has problems and unfinished bits and maybe some problematic tradeoffs, and a large segment of those early adopters drops out, some of them even vehemently rejecting the new technology.

    This is the “trough of disillusionment”, and it’s where the reading public is right now with ebooks.

    Ebooks have been around long enough for readers to expect them to have worked out some of the fundamental issues, and it didn’t happen. E-reader devices are still kind of crappy, and clearly not designed for serious readers, and prices on them have stopped dropping. The file format wars continue. DRM is still a thing, and still being used to the detriment of purchasers. The major ebook distributors (Amazon, Apple, B&N, etc.) are still exercising unilateral policy changes and engaging in trade wars to the detriment of readers and writers alike. And per the above, people expected the price on ebooks to come down more and it didn’t.

    The shine is off, and as a result a large number of readers have discovered that they don’t actually prefer ebooks and have stopped buying them, or are buying fewer.

    This will change. Per discussion, both writers and readers are figuring out what ebooks are *actually good for* instead of responding to hype and inflated expectations. New devices and software will be created to make the ebook reading experience better. And publishers and distributors will work out some kind of detente. And then you can expect ebook sales to start rising again.

    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle

  100. Elizabeth McCoy: I feel your pain, re: waiting for the prices of older books in e-format to come down. It’s particularly obvious when I’m dealing with a writer who is no longer with us; Rex Stout’s entire catalog is now up as ebooks, but the prices generally range from $7.99-11.99, and the library owns very few of them. And I want them all, since most of the paperbacks I owned are beginning to disintegrate. (Never mind collectibles; I just want copies to read!)

    The thing is (and as I suspect you realize), when people talk about “prices coming down,” they are mostly talking about new books, mostly by still-publishing authors. The ebook that accompanies the hardcover is high, then goes down when the paperback comes out–and may go down again when the next volume of a series or the author’s next work comes out. I don’t know enough about the publishing business to theorize about why, really, but I suspect when an entire backlist goes ebook simultaneously, especially when it isn’t the original publisher putting out the ebooks, the economics are different–fewer loss leaders, for one, and far less incentive to offer bargains. (After all, once a paperback is published, the price generally stays the same, doesn’t it? So why not treat an ebook backlist the same way? No need to pull new readers in for a new book . . . ) So I think those of us who want to collect ebooks in a new format are kind of stuck.

    On the other hand, at least the books are available, more and more. A lot of my favorite old authors had just–disappeared, except for difficult-to-locate used copies . . . and now some of them are back. The ebooks may cost more than I can afford or want to invest right now, but they exist, and that’s something, too.

  101. @Kat Goodwin: “Oh are we panicking again? Seems like a lot of panic lately. I blame Donald Trump.”

    Thank for that comment. :) It made me laugh on what had been a lousy day. Much appreciated.

    On topic: I started moving more to e-books because of portability, and have since gone more heavily down that road simply b/c I don’t have the space for hardcopy books. I still buy the occasional hardcover (maybe 2 or 3 a year) of books I know I’ll re-read for years, but I’ve hit the point where I have me to get rid of another book for every new one I buy, so that’s likely to slow further going forward. Other hardcopies that I read tend to come from my local library and are generally what I read before going to sleep.

    In digital space, I get about 75% of my e-books via Amazon and the rest from Kobo, Bookshout, and iBooks, so source of e-book isn’t a bid deal to me. That covers both fiction and non-fiction (including textbooks since I teach part-time) and is true for both print and audio.

    One thing I’m curious about is the change in audiobook consumption over the last 10-20 years. Has anyone seen data on audiobooks that is both broad enough and sufficiently reliable for drawing broad conclusions?

  102. Ms. McCoy:

    Star Trek books are not regular books. They are spin-off tie-in merchandise of Viacom/CBS/Paramount, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, like toys. There are rules the books have to follow, including marketing ones — it’s not a regular license. And with the reboot of the film franchise, Star Trek merchandise is kept valuable on purpose. So no, I would not expect the Star Trek novels to drop prices much more over time.

    Both e-books from publishers and e-books from indie authors have gone up slightly on average price. But most e-books from publishers are still below ten dollars, and most of them do drop over time. If they don’t, there’s usually an additional reason, sometimes contractual on license, why they do not. The indie authors’ prices have gone up because Amazon pressured them to go up somewhat to get less of a cost in Amazon’s cut of their profits. There used to be more of a sliding scale, now you have to have books over $2.99 to get Amazon to only take 30% of your profits. So the average indie price is now around just under $5 — still not bad. Average of publishers, they have at just under $8, about level with mass market paperbacks. But first run hardcovers are higher, obviously.

  103. I share some of your skepticism about the usefulness of the Author Earnings reports, but there was also an author earnings survey on Hugh Howey’s site which had about 1600 respondents. It represents mostly self-published authors (about 80%) and I had a fun time doing some amateur data-crunching on it, because it’s still just the raw survey results over there. This is the write-up of what I found, complete with bad bar graphs: http://ameliasmith.net/an-analysis-of-the-author-earnings-survey-data/

    My general conclusion is that most authors aren’t making much money, never have, probably never will, so, no big news there!

  104. @Kat Goodwin, the issue is that the Star Trek book prices are all over the map (John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection is $4.99! His How Much For Just The Planet? is $8.99…), do not reflect age of the story (e.g., “wait and it will come down) — and that they are poorly formatted. E.g., getting a package of four of Duane’s for $15.99 ($4 a book) would be a decent bargain — but when greek letters are turned into british pound signs, and the italics don’t reflect either the printed version or common sense, in the sample… That’s what I expect of something for $2.99 or less.

    And it’s not just Star Trek. Duane’s The Book of Night with Moon is no spring chicken, but it’s $9.99. So You Want To Be A Wizard (Book 1 of that series) is $7.99; a large number of the subsequent books are $4.99. (…which makes no sense to me; the loss-leader should be the first book, not the rest of the series till you hit the newest one!)

    It’s also not just Duane — Mercedes Lackey’s old books are $7.99 to $8.99. (If I read it as a teenager, then my expectations for the social compact have $7.99 as about the highest I won’t side-eye, for an ebook price.) At least those don’t show amateur formatting in the samples, though.

    The old books have the social compact broken, and apparently no incentive to fix it. Such is life.

    But — to repeat — this behavior has the probably-unintended emergent property of tying the publishers to Amazon’s monopsony, because Amazon has the most convenient way to purchase old paperbacks, which are cheaper (and better-formatted, in Pocket Books’ case) than the ebooks. I can’t buy a used paperback from the iBooks store or Kobo. B&N, aside from having a very poor online experience, doesn’t really carry out-of-print books. So the publishers, by keeping ebook prices high on out-of-dead-trees-print backlist, are ensuring that purchasers go to… well, frankly? Amazon, or one of the owned-by-Amazon online used book services (they own 2 or 3, I think, that are not branded with the name of the Zon Empire).

    This means purchasers are trained to buy from Amazon when they shop online. This perpetuates Amazon’s monopsony power. (And not just over the publishers, but over the indie authors, too; when all your income comes from where people are trained to shop, well…) Which gives one company an annoying amount of power over the future income of authors.

    I would like to ride more tigers than just the Zon Empire’s. :(

  105. Ms. McCoy:

    On the Star Trek books, several different publishers have held the license on tie-in books for Star Trek, so getting the rights to some of them can be complicated, which affects price. Some of the e-books may not be coming from Pocket. Some of the novels are considered more valuable than others as well, even if they are by the same author, because of their position in cannon.

    You did get me curious, so when I looked up The Final Reflection, it’s listed at $7.07, not 4.99. So you might have caught a sale earlier — they will probably periodically list books at lower prices. Star Trek novels, however, aren’t going to go down much in price because the rights owners — the studio — aren’t okay with that, even though some of the novels are quite old, because they are all collectibles merchandise, even if they are just an e-book file.

    As for formatting, getting out the errata in e-book files are difficult. An e-book can be formatted well for the one format and then Amazon puts it up and new errors appear. Settings on readers can also cause errors. It’s not just the actual type involved with e-books, as you know. So if you get an e-book — or see a sample — with a lot of errors, you can let the vendor (which has the format sometimes particular to it,) and publisher know. They may be able to fix it for you and they can fix it for future buyers. (This goes for print too, though it takes longer to fix in print.) This goes for indie authors too, because it’s helpful for them to know they’ve got errors, so they can fix them.

    Pocket threw a bunch of their e-books of Star Trek novels up in 2006, before the Kindle was even launched. So it’s very possible old e-book files adapted for the Kindle will get replaced with better ones — which may also affect prices. E-book prices will get more stabilized, but for Star Trek books, they won’t be that low. So if that’s a problem, if your print Start Trek novels aren’t totally falling apart, you may just want to scan them to preserve them and have a print-out that your kids can safely read.

    Duane/her estate may hold the e-book rights to a number of her older titles and set the price or have sold the rights to various companies. If it’s not the publisher’s digital service offering the e-book directly, it may be more complicated than simply another electronic edition of the book.

    “Loss leader” is an idea used by indie authors as a marketing tactic for unknown authors — it isn’t always very relevant for published authors. The first book in a well-known series isn’t a loss leader, it’s the one that sells the most of the back-list and stays in print the longest. So it’s the one that’s going to be the most expensive, as a lot of people just read the first one and then don’t ever read the (cheaper) later ones. Nonetheless, when I check, So You Want to Be a Wizard is listed at $6.33 for the Kindle, not $9.99. Over at Barnes & Noble, the Nook version is $7.99.

    All of which is to say, e-books — complicated. Requires some shopping and some apps. Likely to be less and less so as the market goes on and is further established. When you have giant publishers that put out 15,000 titles a year, and then have thousands and thousands of back-list titles that they digitalize each year, it’s not going to be smooth. Different books are valued at different rates. An older title that is revered and used in schools each year, will probably have a higher e-book price than one that is still in print but not as well known and used.

    As for used books, I can get used paperbacks way cheaper locally and from remainders at bookstores even than I can from Amazon, where I have to deal with shipping costs and unreliable sub-vendors. But of course, if you are looking for a specific title instead of just hunting, then you need either a used bookstore that can comb and order, or online vendors, usually through a bigger marketplace like Amazon. There used to be a lot of sites doing that — Amazon worked very hard and still does to either absorb them (bought Abe Books,) or drive them out of business. But there are other places online that sell used books and they may possibly have lower prices on some titles at some times.

    But shaking your fist and telling publishers that unless they lower e-book prices, you’ll go off and buy used paperbacks is an ineffective threat in an industry that has always offered its goods in different formats at different prices and has had a used book industry and a library alternative forever. (What other product has an entire government financed free library system for it than books?) They are quite used to people threatening not to buy their shiny new paperback editions and instead buy used or go to the library. They generally respect every readers’ right to strategize as to how they’ll get all the books they want by a variety of buying strategies. But price in the marketplace for books depends on rights and contract issues, production costs, distribution costs, market fee demands of vendors, how valued the content is and how extensively — all sorts of factors that vary by title and are adjusted as factors change.

    People really do not understand that Amazon and other online vendors demand all sorts of market fees for both print and e-books particularly. The negotiations between Amazon and the Big 5 were not about the prices of e-books — that was a lie by Amazon, which was debunked repeatedly. It was about how much Amazon wanted in market fees — the total size of Amazon’s cut of sales of both print and e-books. Amazon wanted MORE. Amazon wanted more in market fees for everything from buy buttons to search algorithms while also demanding that publishers allow the low prices at which Amazon would lose money it could afford to lose and the publisher would lose money it could not afford to lose when added in with Amazon’s market fees pay-off — particularly and most fragilely with e-books.

    Amazon has also done this with small presses, whom they called gazelles, demanding more and more market fees so that many small presses couldn’t make any money on Amazon or had to give up on the platform altogether. A lot of the small presses that went out of business the last ten years went out of business because of Amazon.

    But the Big 5 had resources, so while I’m sure that Amazon did in fact get some increases in some of the market fees, the trade-off was that they didn’t get all the increases they wanted and had to stop combining them with enforced price cuts of e-books. Amazon itself explained when they did the deals with publishers that they’d agreed that some e-books would get specially lower sales prices at times — in return for reduced market fees from Amazon on those lower priced sales.

    So that also affects the prices of e-books on Amazon and elsewhere. If Amazon wants more market fees on the Kindle edition of certain books — say very popular Star Trek tie-in books — then whoever has the rights/production of that e-book — is going to probably price the e-book higher to off-set the increased costs from Amazon. So the amount of e-book prices does go down over time — and then sometimes back up on some titles. The amount and sales prices, etc., depends on the title and the circumstances by which it can be sold as an e-book on a particular platform. Which is why So You Want to Be a Wizard’s e-book will have different prices on B&N Nook, Amazon and Apple iBooks, etc.

  106. Well there always is piracy if one really wants o make a stand against publishers I guess. Or just quit buying. Authors and publishers taking a pay what we say or screw you always lose in the end.

  107. You did get me curious, so when I looked up The Final Reflection, it’s listed at $7.07, not 4.99.

    It’s 4.99 when I look at it.

  108. Interesting. I tried logging out of my Amazon account and checking again, and it was still $4.99. Kindle edition, right?


  109. I’m pretty sure Amazon screws with prices depending on who you are, what you’re buying history is, and what part of the country you’re in. So that may be part of it.

    I’m still amused that there were the legions screaming about Apple and how they were keeping the prices high and now that the Justice Department had fixed their little red wagon, we’d see! Good times ahead.

    Except prices went up.

  110. E-book prices — uber complicated. Which may explain why Ms. McCoy is getting different e-book prices on different Star Trek books. Maybe they raise it on the ones where the publisher pays for algorithm placement or some other marketing fee, and not on the ones that Pocket doesn’t? Or the other way around.

  111. I prefer books in print. I bought all of your Old Man’s War books in print form and have been enjoying reading them during my lunch breaks!

    As for publishing, I wouldn’t be surprised if writers who publish certain types of materials (such as textbooks) aren’t going in droves to indie-publishing. I have a fairly successful textbook series and I was recently approached by a traditional publishing company which wanted to publish my books and give me just a piddly 2% or $1 of the $50 sales price. What kind of sucker would take a deal like that??? I would have to sell an astronomical number of textbooks just to make the same amount of money that I make now.

    I imagine that for most writers, the benefit of being backed by a big, traditional publisher is only a very slight benefit and that the increased sales would not come close to making up for the loss of profit margin.

    I hope TOR has given you an awesome deal, because your books are fantastic!!!