Prices are both funny and fleeting it seems to me. For example the list price of my Cruz Velocity tablet is about three hundred dollars. I would be very, very unhappy with this tablet if I had paid that price for it. The little device simply does not have enough power in it to play videos such that you can watch them or even to stream audio and play it loud enough for this deaf guy to hear. I have never been able to download and install any games on this tablet. If I had paid three hundred dollars expecting it to do all of these things I would be bitterly disappointed and would feel horribly ripped off. Despite it’s list price, however, I paid a bit less than one hundred dollars for my tablet. If I recall correctly it came to $97, including taxes, shipping and whatever else they charged.
I have a friend who has an Android phone. It’s pretty top of the line he tells me. I believe the list price or retail price for the phone is about $900. And with the monthly 4G contract, my friend will pay about $3300 over the course of two years to have and use his phone. Sometimes, I have to admit I do feel a little annoyed– like when he keeps multi-tasking and does four other things on his phone, while I am struggling to type him a short message from my tablet. That he can just play Angry Birds, stream video and never even slow down. On the other hand, I always try to remind myself– he is spending 33 times more for his phone than I am for this device.
Given that I did not pay much more for the tablet than my spouse did for his bottom of the line Kindle reader, and given that I can not only buy eBooks both from Kindle and from other online stores– I just today bought my second paid eBook through the Kobo app that came pre-loaded on my tablet. I am enjoying the novel and am thoroughly pleased to be supporting both the novelist and Smashwords while paying a reasonable price. I know that I myself am never going to pay ten dollars for an eBook of a backlist novel. And there really isn’t anything that the Apples and Amazons can do to change the price I’m willing to pay from three bucks to ten bucks. But I think there is a marvelous opportunity there for writers and publishers who embrace a consumer friendly price point to build a huge audience of fans and devoted readers. If but we more of us just say no to the monopolists who are trying real hard these days to control eBooks.
Some days are just….frustrating and eBooks continue to be, I’m sorry to say, a bit strange. I think authors and publishers need to be very cognizant of the fact that pulling eBooks off sale through different channels, whether to try an exclusive with some vendor or for some other reason has several negative consequences.
First of all you need to be aware that anyone who has purchased your book (including with a free coupon) will still own the book. The website they obtained the book from will still show it in their libraries and allow them to re-download it any time they want. And sometimes, some of these people, if they liked and enjoyed your book, may try to pass those links to your work on to other people they know. And the thing is, with those direct links their friends may be able to see the complete listing for your work. Only to be told it is not available through this outlet at this time if they try to buy it. This is not a warm fuzzy experience for prospective readers. “Damn,” they might think, “these eBooks are just flaky and unreliable.”
The fact is that experiences are cumulative and every time any one of us contributes to someone having a very negative experience with an eBook makes the overall market for all eBooks just a little bit tougher. In the past, it seems to me, authors and publishers truly invested in their relationships with book sellers. These days the very idea of being a bookseller seems almost antiquarian. Everyone and his brother has their web sites set up to link to that big company in Seattle that pays a pittance to any webmaster who drives traffic to their vast online stores. But making money by selling books that other people write? Very few would even attempt such a thing these days.
I had started off today talking with an author I really like very, very much, and idly planning a future promotion for a series of books she wrote. And spent so much time fussing with my tablet and trying here there and every where to get the information I wanted to I could buy and download and read another of these wonderful novels I’m genuinely excited about promoting. And I find myself all caught up in how badly smashwords sucks on my Android, and how frustrating it is to know you are searching with the correct title and author and to have even spelled them right on the relatively tiny android keyboard only to keep getting a blank page and it just doesn’t work today.
I am continuing to re-read Rita Mae Brown’s Loose Lips (in a wonderful hard cover edition I picked up Somewhere). I know there will be days I will again whip out my tablet, buy and download a great book and read away with great pleasure again. Today is Not that day for me. Here’s hoping it’s a nice weekend in your world.
I’ve written before about the plethora of free eBooks I have found on Amazon since getting my tablet, and about my concerns that free is not a viable price point for writers. So I thought I would mention that I actually gave into the temptation the other day and bought an eBook for $2.99. I had downloaded and read a free copy of Rebecca Forster’s legal thriller Hostile Witness. It was a good book. Forster writes well and succeeds in drawing complex characters with rich and believable back stories and does an excellent job of plotting a suspenseful novel full of twists and turns right up to the very last page. I enjoyed the story so much that after reading the sample of the next volume in the series, Silent Witness, I clicked and bought it from Amazon.
My friend Susan Wells Bennett, an #indie novelist, whose latest release Night Life is a Kindle exclusive right now, has suggested that authors may be well served by having a new book in the KDP exclusive program for a single ninety day period. Though Susan definitely feels that it would be a mistake to keep all of one’s books permanently in KDP. Savvy readers will know that more free days will be coming and many may opt to wait rather than pay for the book. The abundance of free books is what makes me worry that readers will become so accustomed to the price point free that they will simply completely stop buying books. I will certainly be interested to ask Susan and other authors about their experience with KDP and whether or not they believe giving the book away free for five days out of ninety is helpful in driving paid sales.
I am convinced that big publishing is making a huge mistake in pricing back list fiction in eBook format at $9.99 or more. I continue to believe that three to five dollars is a sweet spot price where authors can drum up real sales and build a paying audience. I hope that more authors will be savvy and not release more than a sample or a single volume at the free price point. I also hope that authors will continue to use Smashwords to make their books available from a number of different vendors and not let Amazon become a monopoly in the eBook market. AND I’m pleased to say that I am starting work today on a new fiction project. Here’s hoping it’s a great day in your world, too.
While I love my new tablet and have a number of eBooks downloaded and ready to read, I have found myself re-reading old-fashioned paper books this weekend. Back in 2009 I received an advanced reading copy of Michael Connelly’s thriller The Scarecrow. Advanced reading copies were one of the nicer things that big publishing used to do for book sellers and book reviewers. Released only to the aforementioned specialized readers prior to hard cover publication, these were trade paper back versions with the same art as the dust jackets of the forth coming book. I got my very first ARC, of Michael Chabon’s debut novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh way back when I was a book store clerk in New Orleans. I quite enjoyed that novel and did my best to sell it once it was published. Sadly, less than three years after the publication date The Scarecrow is no longer available from Amazon in any print format.
In addition to The Scarecrow, I have also this weekend been re-reading Gary Jennings’ Spangle– a trilogy of novels about a circus troop in the days following the US Civil War and their travels in Virginia and across Europe and Russia. I first read these novels many years ago and have held on to the paperbacks, which I have enjoyed re-reading many, many times. Good stories, I have found, age well and continue to entertain and delight all these years after I first read them. One good thing about eBooks I am realizing is that they are mine forever, with no need to keep and save a relatively fragile physical artifact. Both Smashwords and Amazon allow readers to re-download any eBook they have acquired. Even when (inevitably) I have to replace my laptop or my tablet, the books I’ve acquired can be downloaded again onto whatever new devices I may purchase. In my heart I strongly suspect that I will always continue to cherish and re-read old paper books. But I have to say I really am genuinely excited about the new world of eBooks.
So today the Los Angeles Times followed the New York Times behind a paywall. I had previously been a regular reader of the New York Times. I first found the little pop-ups telling me that I had viewed # of the 20 free stories I was allowed this month annoying. After a couple of months of reading most of my free allowance, I stopped visiting the New York Times web site at all. Indeed, when New York put up the paywall, I started using the Los Angeles Times more often. El Lay’s paywall implementation was quite different than New York’s. On the day it became effective, visiting the site brought you to a sign up screen. None of the annoying pop ups warning that you are reading up your allowance. And honestly, the 99 cents they demanded is far from a prohibitive price point, even for people whose budgets are as limited as mine is.
What stopped me from signing up and forking over my credit card number is the fact that nowhere did I see any mention whatsoever about what the regular price would be after the 99 cent month is over. Having worked in an industry that was built around recurring monthly charges to consumer credit cards, I am all too well aware of horror stories from folks who signed up to pay a small fee for something and ended up getting billed for months or years for something else they had not intended to buy and pay for. For the moment, I am getting my news from newspapers that don’t have pay walls. Here is a list of some of my favorites. Do you read newspapers online? Which ones? Leave a comment and let me know and I will add it to this list.
The Seattle Times
The Seattle PI
The Washington Post
The Christian Science Monitor
The Houston Chronicle
The Chicago Tribune
The Times Picayune
The Plain Dealer
The Boston Herald
The Knoxville Sentinel
The Fresno Bee
The Austin Statesman
The Miami Herald
The Guardian (UK)