Why Should We Care?
I just got an email from a reporter asking me why indies are fighting for lower priced ebooks. I’ve seen many indies ask each other the same thing. After all, affordable pricing is one of our biggest advantages. Why would we want that to go away?
What I find interesting about this question is the insight it provides about the people doing the asking. It would never occur to me to question another person’s willingness to perform selfless acts. I’m far more curious (and wary) of those who seem to think this is alien behavior. Maybe there is a lot of projection going on here. I don’t know.
What I do know is that this shouldn’t be a conundrum at all. Go look at the KBoards’ Writers’ Cafe. It is a free-for-all of helpful advice, of authors sharing their tips and secrets with as many other authors as possible. Many of us don’t see our fellow writers as competition. We see them as colleagues and comrades. A good book helps sell more good books. A rising tide lifts all ships.
My private worry is that reading will decline overall because of a pricing strategy motivated by viewing titles and formats as competition to one another. Publishers view backlist as competition to frontlist, which is crazy. They view debuting authors as competition to established authors, which is also crazy.
Have I advocated for cheaper ebooks? Hell, I’ve advocated for free ebooks. I think the ebook edition should come free with the purchase of the hardback. Blu-Rays often come with a download code for the digital edition. Why don’t bookstores partner with publishers and try to take away Amazon’s market share by offering a free ebook with every in-store purchase of the hardback? Give back to bookstores. Be generous to readers. It’s a win-win-win.
What publishers are doing today is harmful not just to their own bottom line, but to their authors, and to their readers. I advocate for all of these groups, because I want reading to flourish.
There are other things to consider when it comes to ebook pricing, beyond the cost of editorial and all that jazz. There are psychological costs associated with print books that are not associated with ebooks. For instance, bulk and weight. People will load up on ebooks before a vacation and only read one of the books, but they won’t regret the other purchases, because they were buying variety and diversity. They were hedging their fear of not having something great to read while they were on the road. Pricing ebooks lower increases the amount of digital hoarding readers do, which spreads the wealth around and does not diminish the enjoyment readers take from their hobby.
Likewise, ebooks don’t clutter homes and make people feel guilty for all the books they haven’t yet read. They don’t stare readers in the face, reminding them they are out of the market for their next read. Publishers can sell a lot of ebooks without triggering this TBR guilt. The economics here are just different. I poll readers everywhere I go, and these differences are apparent. There’s a strong market for affordable ebooks for reasons the bean counters at publishing houses simply can’t surmise. This is part of the reason that indies have taken such a large portion of market share in a short period of time.
On Saturday, Amazon sent out an email to KDP authors asking them to help fight for lower ebook prices. Many authors have balked at this. Others have mocked the suggestion. Why should indies fight for publishers or their authors? Why don’t we just let Hachette gouge their readers, collude with their competitors, and price themselves out of the market?
Because there are authors involved, of course. I met an author at RWA who was leaving Hachette because she couldn’t convince her editor to lower her ebook from $9.99 to $4.99, where she knew she could gain more traction. Authors sign on with publishers because they erroneously believe the publisher shares their goal, which is to sell as many books as possible and maximize earnings. But publishers also have as goals the protection of their print relationships and the protection of sales for their A-List authors (so they hit certain bestseller lists). They see that debuting RWA author as competition. Who is going to stick up for those authors if they are unable to because of fear of reprisal?
Here’s a question for you: Where were the traditionally published authors when Amazon imprint authors were blacklisted from brick and mortar stores? And where was the outrage when Simon & Schuster authors were kept out of Barnes & Noble bookstores? There was none. There hasn’t been any. Why do indies do all the fighting? One possibility is that we are free to. No one can take anything from us. We are in the rare position of being beyond the reach of those who might harm our careers. The question for me isn’t why we fight for our fellow authors, but why anyone thinks this is strange.
Getting back to the projection idea, expecting others to act only in their self-interest says far more about the people asking that question than the other way around. Whoever is out there expecting people to only be selfish and to maximize their own earnings are the people I’m curious about. What drives them? What a weird way to look at the world. What a sad way to look at the world.
I’m going to keep fighting for authors and readers because I value both sets of people. And I don’t care what kinds of books they read or how they publish. I just care that we, as a culture, do a whole lot of both.