by Kassandra Lamb
There’s been a lot of buzz lately amongst my fellow writers about free books and the broader issue of creatives (people who create things for other’s pleasure and entertainment) being expected to work for free for the sake of “exposure.”
I wanted to chime in, but didn’t want to just repeat what has already been said (to see what has already been said, check out editor/writer Marcy Kennedy’s post on the subject and romance writer, Ruth Ann Nordin’s post as well).
So I decided to strive to explain to readers why ebooks end up priced as they are.
Free books are meant to be SAMPLES for the reader to get a taste of the author’s writing. One should not expect to make a steady diet off of them. When a grocery store is giving away samples of a new type of cracker, you wouldn’t stand there and expect the store employee to keep handing you crackers until you’re full. So isn’t it equally rude to expect an author to continue to fork over freebies of the books they worked long and hard to produce?
99 cents is a sale price for books. Authors, just like any other business people, sometimes run sales to attract new customers and reward their loyal ones. Getting a book–that an author spent hours a day for several months producing–for just $0.99 should be cause for celebration. It’s comparable to finding a $50 silk blouse on sale for $5.
Kindle Unlimited is a bargain for the avid reader; but it can cause authors to lose money. What readers often don’t know is that being in KU requires exclusivity with Amazon. We are not allowed to sell, nor even give away our books anywhere else if we sign them up for Kindle Unlimited. I sell almost as many books on Apple’s iBooks as I do on Amazon. Why would I give up that income so KU subscribers can get my books for free?
So by all means, join Kindle Unlimited if you’re an avid reader, but also expect to pay for books by some of your favorite authors, who for a variety of reasons are not willing to be exclusively on Amazon. One of those reasons may be that they’re good enough and well-established enough that they no longer need to be in Kindle Unlimited to get exposure to new readers. (I’m not saying that authors in KU aren’t good writers, mind you! I know several excellent authors who prefer to have all their eggs in the Amazon basket for the benefits received from KDP Select.)
The overhead of ebooks is low compared to printed books, but it’s still significant. Readers are quick to criticize (as they should!) an ebook that is poorly edited or that has formatting glitches. And they won’t buy one that doesn’t have an eye-catching, well-designed cover. All those things cost money: editing runs around $1,000-2,000 for a full-length novel, formatting around $100-250, and a good cover from $250-500. So it takes, on average, $2,000 to produce a good-quality ebook. Depending on the market and the retailer, the indie author will average $2.00 per book in royalties off of a book priced at $2.99 to $3.99 (the most common price points for indie authors). Which means they will have to sell 1,000 books before they have recouped their out-of-pocket expenses.
Authors have to spend money on promotions in order to give away those freebies and sell those $0.99 books, that will hopefully lead to sales of their regularly-priced books. This is true of traditionally-published authors as well as indies, unless the author is already well-established as a bestseller. So more out-of-pocket expenses for the author.
Indie presses and indie authors are a good bargain for readers. Because we don’t have the overhead of a big organization like major publishers do, we can keep our prices down, especially on ebooks. The average price of an indie-produced novel is $3.99.
“But I’ve read a lot of indie books that were drivel,” you might say. So have I. I’ve also read some traditionally published books in recent years that made me cringe. Traditional publishers are no longer providing the gate-keeping function they once did. They are all about what will sell, not what is good writing.
And traditionally-published ebooks are notoriously overpriced. Often they’re as much or more than the paperbacks. Readers may think this means those ebooks are a better quality read.
No, that’s not the reason at all. Publishers do this in the misguided belief that this will keep the ebooks from cutting into their paperback and hard cover sales. My guess is that it just loses them a lot of ebook sales. It certainly does in my case. I’m not paying $12.99 plus for an ebook; not when I know as an indie press owner and author that those ebooks cost very little in overhead to produce.
You can buy three misterio press ebooks for that amount, with change left over.
People devalue something they got cheap or for free. Sadly the abundance of free and cheap books has led people to unwittingly (it’s human nature, after all) devalue authors’ efforts. The number of hours that go into producing a high-quality read are so high that nobody I know has ever successfully counted them. We’re talking a minimum of three months for a full-time author to produce a polished novella or novel. Most take six months to a year.
And yet authors periodically get emails and comments in reviews saying our books are overpriced. Often these comments are coming from readers who have otherwise given a positive review. They LIKED the book, but don’t understand why they should pay more than $0.99 for it. (And some even complain about $0.99 books.)
Ironically, this devaluing of cheap books has led other readers to believe that anything priced under $4 or $5 is not well-written. When I first heard about this trend, I did an experiment. I raised the price of my full-length novels from $2.99 to $3.99. Sure enough, my sales improved, and not just the money, which was obviously higher, but the actual number of books sold.
Writers need to make money on writing or they won’t be able to keep writing. Everybody needs to pay their bills and buy groceries, so if writers aren’t able to do this with money from their books, they have to get another job. And that job will drastically cut into their writing time. It might even mean they stop writing completely. So if you want your favorite writers to keep writing, buy their books.
Dear readers, please understand that books are our products, ones that we have neglected our families and lost sleep and sweated blood to produce. We’re happy to give you a free taste now and then, but if you like it, please do buy the meal! So we can pay our mortgages and put food on our own tables.
Thank you for listening, and I’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on all this?
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.
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