Tuesday, November 26, 2013

ON THE DEVALUATION OF WRITERS, BY WRITERS

Do you all get bookgorilla? This is an email with a listing of $3.99 and under books on kindle. bookgorilla does NOT set the prices, they simply report on the listing, offering a link to that price on Amazon. For a long time this was free to authors and publishers, but with demand outstripping supply, they now charge a reasonable amount to get your book seen by their subscribers. And yes, this is just one of many such services. Here is a link to how bookgorilla 'chooses' which books to include: http://www.bookgorilla.com/advertise

The newest proliferation of $0.99 for 8 book sets is now all the fad. Writers, I know there is a good marketing reason for capturing readers with our first 'free' book and then have them coming back for more, but now that the reading public can fill their e-readers with practically free 'bestselling' books, what is their incentive to pay you a fair price for your next book? And what is a fair price these days?

There is an article in the WSJ today that talks about clothing prices, "Looking for New Ways to Set Prices, Retails Take Cue From Customers". Here is an excerpt: "Now that list prices have grown so detached from what shoppers actually pay, some retailers are experimenting with new ways of determining what their goods should cost....It turns out customers are sometimes willing to pay a higher price than retailers would have otherwise charged. ...Pricing an item too low at the start can signal that it isn't worth much, Mr. Zhang [a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business] said. But the practice has led to a cycle of discounting that frustrates retailers and confuses consumers."

I get it, we all want our books to be read and with the voices of bloggers and twitter-parties often trumping professional reviewers when it comes to sell-through, getting your foot in the door/getting your ebook on anyone and everyone's e-reader is the first step to [hopefully] selling these buyers your second book. BUT, if your self-pubbed book is free, and, according to bookgorilla, John Green's THE FAULT OF OUR STARS ebook is worth $3.99, then all of us in publishing will need to downsize our houses, our food bill, our lifestyles because unless you are selling a heck of a lot of books, at $3.99 or 1/8th of $0.99 or at the golden 'price' of FREE, we have all just devalued ourselves to a point of below the already pitiful American minimum wage.

And according to the WSJ, we may be too late to change our consumers' mindsets. In a related article in today's paper, "Black Friday's Illusion of Discounts", Suzanne Kapner writes, "Retailers, having trained customers to shop for deals, are stuck with the strategy for now. Macy's tried to cut back on coupons in 2007. "Customers stopped shopping," said Macy's Chief Executive, Terry Lundgren, "so we knew that was a bad idea."

P.S. 11/27/2013, just received my bookgorilla email and FAULT OF OUR STARS is now $2.99, and DAVID AND GOLIATH by Malcolm Gladwell is $3.79. And these prices are not Author-induced. For this we have a little help from Goliath.


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5 comments:

  1. Eight books for 99 cents! That's ridiculous. I agree we shouldn't devalue our writing.

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  2. I can see the case for making the prequel free, hooking the reader and having links within it to the other books in the series, which will be full-priced. Internal links will probably also be your other books of the same genre and to your author page on Amazon. This will list every other book on sale there that you have self-published and had published traditionally - which could be wide-ranging and should have tempting descriptions and lots of positive reviews.

    Many books are only free for a short period of time, and the people who market Kindle books most successfully are usually those with several linked books. Apart from fiction, I also write books on craft subjects, so I could have a free tempter book on ‘getting started in calligraphy’, but then link this to full priced editions for different writing styles, adding flourishes, layout and design etc. I'm seriously thinking about taking the plunge.

    I agree that it’s hard to know what ‘full price’ should be. While even $3.99 does seem incredibly cheap for a quality book that is the product of so many hours of writing, editing and years spent developing the writing craft, the higher royalty rate of, what is it, ??70%, may make the deal sweeter than the traditional route and traditional pricing if they are sold in significant numbers.

    That’s not saying that I’m happy with the model, price and its effect that buyers now expect books to be cheap. All books. And vendors selling publishers' remainders by the kilogram and mixed palette load to bargain stores doesn't help.

    I live in Australia but my latest traditionally published book on ‘Calligraphy for Greeting Cards and Scrapbooking’ has been released by a large UK publisher. It’s distributed in the US by Sterling and by others worldwide. It took over a year full-time to write, illustrate with more than 300 images and exemplars, and to go through the intensive editing process. It looks absolutely fabulous with screened-back page backgrounds, attractive decorative features as determined by the publisher’s book designer and their graphic artist, and it is a far more attractive book than I could possibly have ever imagined or created myself.

    It’s a fantastic business card, but it doesn’t pay the bills. As author and illustrator, the royalty rate is in theory 10% - but the royalties are dependent on what the publisher actually receives from each sale and the degree to which it is discounted. The recommended Australian retail price is $29.95 …but it currently sells on Amazon for less than $14, and $16 on the Book Depository site. They are, I’d imagine, very highly discounted, because after 18 months since its release and now in its second edition, the advance has not yet been paid out, and that was less than most people earn in two weeks. Maybe the next accounting period will bring an income boost.

    This means that the publisher is making very very little profit from all sales combined. They are probably also forced to discount highly for large high-street stores and chains so that these can remain competitive, and to book clubs. How long can small publishers last when they are forced to give extreme discounts? Can writers and illustrators afford the time to put in so much effort for such small returns? Would I have spent my time more wisely by writing a new picture book or trying to complete my YA…??

    Could it be that Amazon aims to be the last publisher standing?

    All best wishes

    Peter Taylor

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  3. Definitely. It's something that has always concerned me with these new trends in publishing. Devaluing ourselves to the point where it is even harder to make a living at something that takes time, effort, skill, not to mention blood, sweat and tears. When cheap books were a novel thing, it was good marketing strategy. But when everyone does it, it's no longer 'special' it becomes the norm for pricing books and we've just priced our hard work into the dollar-bargain bins. Good going.

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  4. No question it's possible to devalue our output. I'd follow up what Peter said above, though, that the royalty on a 3.99 Kindle book would give the author $2.79 cents while a 15% royalty rate on a $17.99 hardcover (assuming royalties paid at full price) is $2.70. And certainly the paperback royalty rate is much lower. Or, say, something like a book club that sells the book at a wildly reduced price/royalty rate - is that also devaluing the author, or is it not because it's traditional publishing doing it (it probably pays much like the 99cent Kindle book, yes?). Don't get me wrong: there's an upside when your book sells a lot at book club! Still, it's a tricky thing to do apples to apples comparison is all I'm saying.

    In terms of the 8 books for a buck thing - it wouldn't be my choice, but we do live in a free market economy. And if someone finds a way to make that work for them, well, more power to them. And if their books are great, well, they can still do what they want with them. If they suck, well, the same. The thing is... innovation and experimentation aren't going away. We need to accept that and not try and preserve the existing model just cuz it existed. (I'd also note that in the existing model, a Newbury winning author I know noted that they can only make their living from teaching/lecturing not from writing... so we can talk value in that regard, too).

    The good thing is we also know that people remain willing to pay for something they want (Teslas, anyone?). Seth Godin talks about "bespoke" content - something unique and worth paying for - as a path for the future. It makes good sense. And sometimes that "unique" thing is the author him/herself... or the packaging or the story and it could be the publisher if that was the goal (Taschen comes to mind). All these methods can exist side by side, but the sad truth is that nothing guarantees anyone a living in a field they love. Ask all the people in newspapers or music or the businesses lost due to the industrial revolution, etc. We are the ones who need to keep trying and changing... and most of all, creating. Without that creation, none of this matters!

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  5. Such a great article! I had the same thought when I decided to price my novel at $3.99. I hope that doesn't come back to bite me!

    ReplyDelete

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