Tuesday, January 11, 2011

E-Bookery

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to comment here or on Twitter.  All very useful, especially as there was reasonably general agreement about the price range.  It seems to me that if I go ahead with this crazy idea I should price the OOP collections at around £4.20 (which includes the VAT eBooks attract), or possibly a little lower.  That would come in at a little under $7 at the current exchange rate, which might be a bit high for US readers, but perhaps not too high (Would they have to pay VAT?  I realise that I have no idea.  If not, the price would be well under $6.)  That's somewhat less than the price my UK publishers are charging for a couple of OOP novels that have sneaked out as eBooks.  I wouldn't charge much more for the new collection, to be honest.  All of three would consist of reprinted stories after all.

A couple of other points, if you can bear it (authors do tend to go on and on about eBooks, so forgive me).  The price of printing a book is only a small part of the cover price.  Editing, production design, maintaining offices and warehousing and distribution add a bit more.  A large chunk goes to the end seller; much smaller chunks go to the publisher and author.  So the idea that eBooks are much cheaper to produce because they aren't physical objects isn't exactly right; although they are somewhat cheaper, new books still have to be edited, given cover art and so on.  As for the price difference between hardback and paperbacks, at the moment, some people are still willing to pay extra for the latest book by their favourite authors, just as they're willing to pay extra to see a film in a first-run cinema.  That will change, I think.  (it would also be nice if hardbacks in the UK were all printed on acid-free paper, to give them the kind of permanence of US editions.)  At any rate, OOP titles revived as eBooks should definitely be cheaper.  Some are very cheap indeed - presumably in the hope that what's lost per unit will be made up in greater volumes of sales.  Not sure I want to go there quite yet.

One commentator raised the point that people below a certain age expect books to be free. As I'm well above that certain age, and still earn my living from writing and selling fiction: I don't.  And I still buy books at full price, when I have to.  But if it's free fiction you want, then look here.  There's a small anthology's worth of free stuff.  And you're welcome to distribute under the terms of the Creative Commons License.  Think of it as a gift, or as a taster for stuff you can buy.  Whatever.

PS Chris asks why the Confluence trilogy isn't back in print.  Good question!  I'm trying to persuade my UK publishers to do just that.  Hopefully in one nice fat volume.  And failing that option, I do have the eBook rights...

UPDATE: Again, thanks for commenting; thought I'd reply here rather than under the fold.  Various people have given me cogent reasons not to simply stick with Amazon/Kindle.  My plan now, such as it is and if I go forward with my idea to self-publish those OOP collections, would be to use Kindle as an experiment, and then go to the more open format ePub format, which appeals to me because it is supported on all kinds of platforms (including Stanza, which I use), and I think gets around the licensing problem . . . but it looks like it'll be a steep learning curve.  RFYork - thanks for the link to Charlie Stross's blog post on why books aren't cheap and to talkie_tim and Blue Tyson for supporting arguments : exactly.  And here are a couple of good posts on why pirating books hurt the author rather than sticks it to the 'greedy publisher'.  I especially like Saundra Mitchell's suggestions for ways that the problem can be turned around to help the reader and the author.   More news, when I have it.  Don't hold your breath, though; I have one book to edit, and another to write, and I'm seriously short on the kind of Victorian can-do energy that enabled Charles Dickens to be a novelist, a magazine publisher, and a smash-hit performer (and killed him, in the end...).

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you ignore is that ebooks are licensed, not sold. Unlike physical books, ebooks don't belong to the user. That is why virtually no ebook is worth pay anything for. Right now early adopters have not yet read the terms of service under which they have embraced ebooks. They will learn. And then ebooks will go the way of audio books.

January 11, 2011 9:19 PM  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

I didn't exactly ignore the problems associated with licensing, DRM and all the rest, but I admit I skipped over it. Mainly because, as an author, I have precisely this much influence on licensing: 0. Which doesn't mean I like the terms - I don't.

I don't know, by the way, if all readers, and all eBook licenses, prevent copying from one device to another - perhaps someone could enlighten me. And perhaps I need to do more research on alternatives to Kindle and the Nook.

Meanwhile, eBooks are presently the best way of getting short-story collections back in print (show me a better alternative, though, and I'll use that). And licensed or not they are worth something, I think, in the same way going to the cinema is worth something. But not worth as much as the physical book, most certainly.

January 11, 2011 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, you can't move ebooks between devices: all your Kindle content is locked in. This is also true for other content gardens.

January 11, 2011 10:20 PM  
Anonymous talkie_tim said...

£4.20? I'm in.

It's still odd that so many people think paper and print are so expensive that softcopies of books should be a fraction of the price. My girlfriend works in publishing, and between paying copy editors, production editors, typesetters, software licensing, couriers, PLUS a year's worth of wages for the author, I don't really understand how books come out so cheaply. As my good friend, Gothick said: Books Are Cheap.

January 12, 2011 9:16 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

It's not ideal, but Kindle books sync with any device your account is linked to - so I can read a book in my kindle app on my pc, then catch a train and carry on reading it on my phone/ipad/kindle. I can also, in some cases, lend it to my father for two weeks - it will appear on his kindle and be blocked on my own.

Some publishers have started giving away an electronic copy, in all formats, including the open "epub" format, with hardbacks of their books. I like this - it's like getting a download coupon for mp3s when you buy vinyl records, or when you order a cd from some small labels, you get immediate mp3 downloads.

January 12, 2011 11:49 AM  
Blogger gary gibson said...

I've not heard that one about younger people 'expecting' books to be free in the modern age, and I'll have to admit, until I hear evidence to the contrary, I'm not really sure I can believe it; if that was the case, then surely I would have grown up believing all books should be free because one of my first experiences of them was in a public library.

January 13, 2011 11:46 AM  
Blogger RFYork said...

In case you haven't seen it, here's Charlie Stross' 6 part essay on what goes into publishing a book. It's quite useful and very illuminating to a non- writer:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/04/common-misconceptions-about-pu-1.html

The next time someone tells you that the only costs of a book are paper and binding.

January 14, 2011 1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Garry.

(I really have to get myself an identity. This anonymous business is laziness, not shiftiness.)

I posted that observation about "certain age groups" post probably replying "free" to Paul's question.

To clarify: it wasn't that I thought they'd want books as such for free, it was more an observation about the perceived general worth of digital media.

Without regards to the rights and wrongs of it, my working life at an advertising agency continually exposes me to evidence of a growing youth trend - the devaluing of media in file forms (music, film, television, books). I've come to accept it as axiomatic that, within certain core groups, the digital formatting of creative work leads to a psychological downgrading of the final product and an expectation of instant, free accessibility.

Pick your reasons as to why: perhaps people feel that if their music and film is generally free, then why pay good money for boring old words? Perhaps it has to do with the nature of the internet (which is where everything digital eventually appears) itself. Perhaps it's just the lack of physicality. I don't know. But I do know that asking the general under 25 year-old (a "digital native"!) to pay for a file "full of words" and they'll act as if you're attempting to charge them for the air they breathe.

We may not see it that way, but a lot of folks do. Editing costs etc won't enter into it. The digital space id free ... dude.

Those files are just too damn easy to rip.

I'm not condoning. Just observing.

January 14, 2011 5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I just lost my post.

January 14, 2011 6:12 AM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

No, people not in your country won't have to pay your local taxes.

But don't only put them on amazon UK, of course! Or no one else will be able to buy them.

Speaking of the omnibus - no reason you couldn't do one for all the collections you are talking about if you felt like it.

and

tim,

Books are cheap for you. Ask someone in South Africa if that is the case. Or New Zealand.

bt

January 14, 2011 9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure what restrictions your publisher might impose on how you end up releasing these books - but from a purely technical point of view it is completely possible to create and sell non-DRM encumbered ebooks for all current major platforms. Currently this means .mobi for kindle (essentially the same as the .azw files you get from amazon.com ) and .epub for all others. Note that .epub *with* DRM is not compatible across providers (so Nook books won't work with ibooks) but unencumbered epub will work everywhere. There are also freely available tools that will convert epub to mobi and vice versa (see calibre below)

A number of technical publishers (Oreilly and Pragprog.com) have been doing this for a while - allowing you to download the same book in multiple formats (DRM Free). In the SciFi world - there is baen webscriptions (link below ).

From a purely practical point of view, it's not particularly hard to strip the DRM from encumbered ebooks. However it is illegal in many countries which is frankly ludicrous.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webscriptions
http://www.webscription.net/
http://calibre-ebook.com/

January 15, 2011 3:55 AM  
Anonymous talkie_tim said...

Blue Tyson,

I see your point, but I don't think it's in opposition to mine.
"Books Are Cheap" was partly in reference to the many person-hours that go into commissioning, writing, producing, editing, typesetting, designing, etc. a novel.

Partly it was in reference to how many hours of entertainment one can get from a good novel, compared with the same price of other entertainment: Cinema, Games or newspapers.

Having said that, I do agree with your inference that in many countries, books are very expensive compared to the incomes of the poorest. I think that should be a reason why we should all support strong Public Libraries, rather than punish small publishers.

January 26, 2011 12:04 PM  

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