Stories on the edge of familiarity

In Defense of Honest Ebook Pricing (part 1 of 2)

In case you didn’t know, Amazon and Hachette (a publisher I’d never heard of before this, honestly), are at odds over the pricing of ebooks. Amazon wants ebooks to be priced lower than print books. Hachette wants them to be priced about the same as print books.

Recently, in the past few weeks (or possibly the past couple months- temporal chronology and I aren’t always on speaking terms), Amazon sent out an email to all the authors who have published ebooks through their Kindle Direct Publishing -myself included- asking for their support. I’ve never particularly liked contacting people I don’t know. It gives me a bad case of nerves and then things don’t turn out as well as they could have because I’m so stressed. Plus, my information on the conflict is extremely one-sided, and so I’m not going to ream out one side when I haven’t even figured out their part of the picture.

What I’m going to do instead is talk about ebooks, and what needs to be taken into consideration when deciding how to price them. Let’s get into the three big ebook pricing myths, shall we?

Myth #1: Ebooks should be free because they cost nothing to make.

Oh, you sweet, innocent child. If only.

Speaking as someone who honestly thought this before actually attempting to publish an ebook: The only way you’re going to be able to publish an ebook without it costing anything is if you end up publishing crap. Or you do something illegal. Which will end up costing money when your activities are discovered.

If you expect to publish a good-quality ebook (not necessarily brilliant, but at least decent), there will be costs. The ones that should be the most obvious, but are somehow never mentioned in their entirety include:

  • A computer
  • Electricity
  • Microsoft Word (or another writing program that can produce .doc files, which you will then have to manually format to Kindle’s specifications)
  • An internet connection (unless you want to pick up free wifi at Starbucks, at which case you’ll have to buy something in order to stay, and you’ll also have to pay to transport yourself there if you don’t live within reasonable walking distance of it)
  • A decent art or photo manipulation program for cover making (GIMP is a possible free option, but it isn’t very user friendly, so expect a lot of time spent learning how to use it)
  • Good-quality stock photos (very few free ones are good-quality)
  • A good-quality font or two (free ones are easier to find, but expect this to take a lot of time and effort)

Yes, you can get access to a computer at a local library. At which point, you will still have to somehow get yourself there, and at a time when a computer is actually available. Often, they’re all taken rather quickly.

Even still, these are only the minimum of what you’ll need. There are a lot of other costs that can be paid for things that make ebook creation 1000% easier. Basically, if you expect to cut financial costs, especially the basic ones, you will invariably have to pay in time, energy, and stress. Ask me how I know.

Now, for a publisher, there is absolutely no way to cut on any of these costs. And also, they have to pay wages to the people who do this on top of it all!

Now, some of these you’ll only have to pay for once, or only once in a certain number of years (the computer, Microsoft Word, the art or photo manipulation program). These are start-up costs, and every business has them. But they are still costs, and they still need to be considered in pricing the end product. Especially since, after a while, all of them will have to be replaced or their licenses will have to be renewed. And the computer might need repairs, of the hard- or soft-ware variety. These will also cost money, money which you will need to be able to have on hand in some way.

And let’s not forget the most obvious: Authors aren’t in this just for readers and warm fuzzies. Like any professional, they expect to get paid for the work they do, too.

Myth #2: Ebooks should cost the same (or nearly the same) as print books because it still took a lot out of the author to write the story

Look. It’s true that writing a story takes blood, sweat, and time. It’s true that every book an author makes involves them putting a piece of their soul into writing. That’s all true. There are often also tears.

If we look at my first book, Dreaming of Her and Other Stories, the oldest piece in it was written eight years prior to the publication date. It would be entirely possible of me to say that, because it took me eight years to write that thing in its entirety, I should price it higher.

On that note, although it only took me about a month or two to write and publish the ebook of The Illuminated Heart, the story I ended up writing was extremely personal and emotional for me, the culmination of a lesson that took me about a decade to learn. I could use that as an excuse to price the ebook considerably higher than it is.

Trust me, I was tempted. I still am, sometimes. After all, my books are already priced higher than most self-publishers would dare.

Here’s the thing: selling ebooks involves selling multiple copies of the same story, and it really doesn’t cost anything to do that. Not time, not money, not stress, not anything. And, when you’re selling multiple copies of something that took eight or ten or whatever years to make, that means that you don’t have to price each copy like you have to make back all that with one sale. Publishing is a long game. Expect it to take time to recover those non-monetary costs, especially when you’re just starting out.

In part two, we’ll look at Myth #3, which has to do with who to consider when making pricing decisions.

Do you prefer higher or lower ebook prices? Why?

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