Will we see an ebook price drop?

      9 Comments on Will we see an ebook price drop?

The European Commission (and the Department of Justice over in the US) has been investigating ebook price fixing by Apple, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Macmillan. You remember that ‘agency model’ that went into operation a while back, and wasn’t supposed to increase ebook prices (but did anyway)? Well, this appears to be – hopefully – the end of it. If the EC gets its way, retailers will once more be able to set the prices of the books (published by these guys) they sell.

Authors naturally don’t want prices to go too low, since of course they get paid on a share-of-the-profits basis, but hopefully they realise that prices that are maintained artificially high are doing them no favours either.

I learned it in Economics at school. If you have a commodity, then you can draw a graph of how the demand works in relation to price. There is a line where you maximise your profit – if you increase your price you will reduce your demand, but the two factors balance out and your profit remains the same. If you move off the line in either direction, you will reduce your profits, either because you’re working like stink but selling too cheaply, or you’re so expensive that nobody wants your product.

You’re pretty much OK if what you’re selling is essential and nobody can do without it – like petrol. Prices have gone up over 30% since I started driving, and have I stopped buying petrol in protest? Unfortunately not. Even if I leave the car parked outside, it will still not run on sunlight.

But ebooks are not only not essential (no, they really aren’t. You can get by without books if you have to, it’s just difficult) but they’re easily pirated – as we all know. So if you price your books too high, people don’t even have to do without – they just go and get a pirate copy for free!

Let’s watch this space. Will ebook prices fall significantly? Will we see less piracy with the reduction in incentive? I hope so. While writers undoubtedly write because they want to write, being able to devote lots of time to it (and therefore produce lots of good stuff) depends on making it financially viable. You probably can’t get much creative writing done if you’re doing a 40-hour-a-week-plus-commute office job to pay the mortgage.

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9 thoughts on “Will we see an ebook price drop?

  1. lowestofthekeys

    I’ve read a lot of authors are up in arms about ebooks and cite their monetary losses as a sign of piracy. I think piracy has a part, but I also think the market has become over-saturated because authors no longer have to go through publishing companies to get their work out there, which increases supply.

    1. theophaniaelliott

      You could be right, at least for some authors. I’ve read of readers who previous to the ebook market would never have bought an indie-published book, but now that it’s so cheap to buy many ebooks they’re reading a lot more. And, of course, there are only so many hours in a day. Yes, with more producers, it’s a more competitive market. That’s the way the world works – and to be completely cold about it, why should authors get sympathy because their earnings have gone down as the competition goes up? That’s what happens in a free-market economy. If you’re going to make money, you have to be selling goods that are better, or at least cheaper, than the next guy.

      On the other hand, a lot of the indie stuff that gets published either either very badly described or it really is truly appalling trash. I haven’t the dedication to possibly waste precious minutes (or seconds) of my life figuring out which it is in most cases. I guess these are the self-published books that sell 50 copies, all to people known to the author. The fact that there’s more of it around nowadays doesn’t mean I’m ever likely to read any of it – if I ever get that stuck for reading matter, I’d read toffee wrappers rather than the output of some ‘authors’ I could name.

      However, there is also stuff published by regular publishing houses that is no better – some I’ve come across reads as though the author had a tick-list of what was ‘in’ at the moment and simply mashed it all together. These are the authors who deserve to see their royalties fall.

      I think things will balance out; the ebook market is still young. The industry is changing, and authors will have to change with it. Personally, I think we will see authors becoming more like public figures – take Jim Butcher, for instance. He interacts with his fans on his website. This not only keeps their minds on his books, but also induces them to think of him as a ‘friend’, from who they would be personally stealing if they pirated his books.

      1. lowestofthekeys

        That example of Jim Butcher is super important. It’s one of the things that goes missing with a lot of bands, and it involves keeping a rapport with your fans. I can’t explain why it happens, but I think a lot of people go into becoming an author or a musician because they think they’ll make it big right away and they forget that it’s the fan that put them where they are.

        1. theophaniaelliott

          Maybe because they think that the product they are selling is the album, not the band?

          I read somewhere that the way to market your book (and presumably your music) is not to just market the book, you make yourself into a brand and market the brand. Also, you’re aiming at repeat business – you don’t want to have to start at the bottom with every book, or album. You want your loyal fanbase to buy your stuff as soon as it comes out because they like YOU, without even looking at the details. So you have to work to keep their attention even between books.

          Or maybe it’s just because being an author or a musician is all about doing fun stuff and getting paid for it, right?

          1. lowestofthekeys

            That is probably it. I’m sure if the major labels had kept their band development departments (which addressed the specific concept of selling the band), this wouldn’t be such an issue with musicians.

            “Or maybe it’s just because being an author or a musician is all about doing fun stuff and getting paid for it, right?”

            Ha, that seems to be the prevailing attitude. You can tell it is too when all they complain about is not making the amount of money they originally set out for.

          2. theophaniaelliott

            What, band development departments got cut? (You can tell this really isn’t my field…) How dumb is that? When you’ve got a situation where bands and authors can sell their own stuff without needing a label or a publisher, what expert service does the label/publisher provide? PR and Marketing…

          3. theophaniaelliott

            Now, that is a very interesting article. I suspect it probably wasn’t as simple as all that, but yeah, you look at the usual here-today-gone-by-lunchtime bands that are appearing now, and then you look at, for example, Rush, who were an established band before I was born and can still fill the Manchester Evening News Arena (which has a capacity of 25,000 seats) and cause a traffic jam at the end of their concert as the equivalent of a small town’s worth of people tries to flee in all directions.

            Now more than ever, publicity is important – because there’s so much more competition and music’s so much more available. If you forget the name of a band, don’t worry, something else will be along in a minute… and thus a sale is lost.

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