Thursday, August 04, 2011

Reflections on E-Publishing

I've been downloading a lot of free e-published books. Project Gutenberg, for those few who are not familiar with it, is a god send to the frugal reader. At this point they have an amazing assortment of out of copyright texts, ranging from text books to novels to poetry and any sort of non-fiction imaginable.

I've also bought a few e-books. I'm not averse to paying authors for their content. Quite the opposite. I'm just frugal and impoverished right now.

What I've noticed are the price points for e-books. Some very savvy people give books away for free. This makes perfect sense when you realize that the very first book of a very popular science fiction series (Honor Harrington) is part of the give away. I'm told drug dealers use a very similar marketing ploy quite successfully. An enormous number of works at Amazon have the firts chapter free for the same reason.

Amazon has a great many short stories for sale at $.99. That price point also covers out of copyright books that someone has taken the trouble of tweaking into a modern format, with linkable tables of content and such. This is perfect for those who can not tolerate typos as well as those who wish to sample the more modern authors.

The next price points are $1.99 and $2.99. I'm inclined to think that the latter represents savvy self published authors. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a fair number of works at $2.99. She has some bundled works at $4.99 as well.

I think the pricing here is brilliant. $2.99 is low enough for impulse purchasing. You read the first chapter, like what you've read and plunk down the dough for the rest of the story. Once you've finished enjoying it, you track down her other works and buy them as well. The dollar amounts are small enough that you can spend without thinking too hard, classic impulse buys.

Ms Rusch's big publishing house stories are priced at $9.99 and up. She set the prices on the other stuff. Her publisher set that price. I think the publishers are missing the point here. We all know the cost of an ebook is nominal compared to a hard cover or a trade paperback. The price is such that few people will buy on a whim. The market for such books is limited to people who are already interested in that story and have no other option to read it.

At that price point, people will look for it at the library or used rather than pay full retail. There are some pretty clever people in publishing, but I think they are missing the point here. E-publishing offers the opportunity to turn the long tail of the back list into a profit centre. Only one publisher, Baen, has really embraced the change. It's no accident that Baen is small house that is largely independent. Most of the big publishers are subsidiaries of much larger firms and as such are extremely conservative.

That might hurt them.

As for what prompted the above, several people have recommended John Donnelly's Gold by Brian Noggle. It looks interesting. It's also priced at $9.99 at Amazon, so I'm not going to be reading it for a while.