If e-books are the new paperbacks, why are they so expensive?

By John Yunker,

I’m not the only one who’s been saying that paperbacks are the new hardcovers, and e-books are the new paperbacks.

Paperbacks are getting more expensive as publishers go with smaller print runs or print-on-demand (like us).

And e-books are generally priced under $10, due in part to Amazon’s revenue-share incentives, but also due to the fact that people expect e-books to cost less than print books.

Yet not all ebooks are priced lower than their print counterparts.

This article in The Wall Street Journal focuses on a number of books that are more expensive as e-books than hardcovers. The articles notes:

Take Ken Follett’s massive novel “Fall of Giants,” for example, which costs $18.99 as an e-book. On Wednesday it was selling for $16.50 as a paperback on Amazon.

Now, this is just plain crazy, and, I suspect, an anomaly.

Major publishers want (need) e-books to be priced over $10. Author contracts assume books will be priced a certain way, and a great deal of marketing/editing/sales costs are all built upon the idea of a book being priced a certain way. But book buyers expect e-books to be priced under $10.

Yet the good news for small publishers, as well as self-published writers, is that “the little guys” are more open to pricing books aggressively in order to find new readers willing to take a chance on new authors.

However, should a book — a labor of love that took years to create, many months to edit, and weeks to design — cost a mere $2.99, or 99 cents? I don’t think these prices are sustainable either, unless we live in a world of only bestsellers. But I do think e-books can cost somewhere between $3 and $10 and support a healthy publishing ecosystem.

It’s more of a problem when e-books are priced too high; the major publishers have been battling with libraries over the pricing and management of e-books, as I discussed in this post. As I mentioned there, the e-book of Fifty Shades of Grey sells on Amazon for $9.99, while libraries pay $47.85 per copy. Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is $12.00 on Amazon, but it’s $81.00 for libraries on 3M and OverDrive.

As for Ashland Creek Press, our e-books are the same price for libraries as they are for readers — and our e-book pricing comes in at roughly half of the print book pricing.

And it looks as though libraries are paying attention to these lower-priced books; as Publishers Weekly reports, the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado announced recently that they will nearly double the number of e-books available to patrons via a roughly $40,0000 deal to acquire 10,000 e-book titles from independent and self-publishing service provider Smashwords.

It’s clear that print books aren’t going away, but it’s also clear that e-books aren’t either. Publishers need to find their sweet spot in pricing so that they keep their readers (and libraries).

Ashland Creek Press books now available on the Kobo

By John Yunker,

Most Americans are probably unaware of Kobo.

But Canadians are well aware of this device, which is the leading eReader in the country.

And Kobo is expanding into Japan and other parts of Asia.

So we’re happy to now feature many of our books on the Kobo.

We’re just getting started. Here are the books currently available:


Addressing the mysteries of e-publishing

By Midge Raymond,

Ashland Creek Press was delighted to be a part of a workshop on e-publishing last weekend at the Ashland Public Library, where authors, editors, and publishers gathered to talk about the ins and outs of e-publishing, from editorial to production to marketing.

Author Tim Wohlforth began with a State of Mystery (also a State of Publishing) address, which highlighted the fact that e-books are rapidly gaining momentum (the triple-digit percentage increases in sales have only recently begun to level off), as well as the fact that mysteries remain a bestselling genre, second only to romance. After his remarks on all the recent trends in publishing, Tim concluded with a great bit of advice for writers: Don’t get caught up in what the latest trend in mystery is. “Write what you want to write,” he advised.

We heard next from LJ Sellers, an award-winning journalist who is now a full-time author. She talked about her experiences getting her books out into the world and how she spent $12,000 on self-publishing her first novel, The Sex Club; now, thanks to user-friendly strides in digital and self-publishing, she spends an average of $600 on each. And she’s living every writer’s dream: making a living off her books. As this Mail Tribune article notes, last year, LJ’s e-books were on the Amazon Kindle bestseller crime fiction list for three months, and she estimates she has sold about 150,000 e-books in the last two years. LJ pointed out something that is important for all author-entrepreneurs to know: that she is as much businesswoman as she is author. She pointed out that she views her books as “products, not children,” and noted that this means she doesn’t hesitate to fix what may need fixing if a book isn’t selling well, whether it’s the cover copy or the keywords or even the title. Her parting advice: “Be flexible, be a risk taker, be social [as in social media], and be thick-skinned.” (By the way, I just began reading her novel The Sex Club — loving it so far!)

Author Michael Niemann gave an insightful presentation on the mechanics of creating e-books on the two most common formats, ePub and Mobi — a great overview for any author or small publisher interested in e-publishing.  Then Ken Lewis, of Krill Press, and I talked about marketing and promotion. I chatted a lot about social media and virtual book tours, and we got a great tip later from writer and photographer Liza Kendall Christian on how writers can use Pinterest in a fun way: As well as  a cover image, post a few of the best lines from your book.

Ken and I both pointed out that, ultimately, the most important thing about promotion is to have an excellent book. I especially enjoyed what Ken had to say about the importance of titles: Authors need to have titles that stand out among the rest, and cover art to match. He told the story of one of Krill Press’s popular mystery titles, formerly Full Circle, now titled Absinthe Of Malice (A Penny Mackenzie Mystery), and how good titles, matched with engaging covers, have made all the difference in selling mysteries.

After the presentations, we broke out into smaller sessions in which we got to chat with authors, answer questions, and learn more about the state of mystery — a lovely afternoon. A million thanks the event’s sponsors: the Ashland Mystery Readers GroupFriends of the Ashland Public LibraryStanding Stone Brewing Company, and Bookwagon New and Used Books.

A music blog that every writer should read

By John Yunker,

I’ve recently become acquainted with The Lefsetz Letter, a blog by — who else? — Bob Lefsetz.

It’s a blog about the music industry.

And yet there are so many parallels between the music industry and the publishing industry that I recommend this blog to any writer out there who wants to get a feel for where we’re all headed.

There are differences, to be sure, between the two industries. There’s no American Idol for writers, for example (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Both industries are undergoing massive change, both due primarily to the digitization of content.

And as Bob wrote, the music industry can’t get away with overcharging for music any longer. The same might be said for the publishing industry, which sowed the seeds for its own disruption when hardcovers began costing north of $25 (and giving people a very good reason to migrate to the Kindle).

But what I most appreciate about Bob’s writing (and boy, is he prolific) is that he always comes back around to the importance of the art itself. Because despite all the Kindles and iPads and Nooks that are making headlines these days, despite all social networking success stories, it is the art itself that matters most.

A Kindle is worthless without a great book.

And I would argue that there is still a dearth of great books out there.

Here’s what Bob wrote recently:

No one wants to hear this. Especially a generation brought up getting trophies for last place. Music is more cutthroat and competitive than ever before. The public is right there, on the other side of the computer, but it’s almost impossible to get people to care.

If you’re a great marketer, good at Facebook and Twitter, hire yourself out as such. Just because you can promote a product, that does not mean it’s going to sell. Social media only works if the music is great.

Good is not good enough.

We’re talking great. One listen great. Fifteen seconds great. Or something so left field that our friends tell us to give it five times through and we think it’s the new “Dark Side Of The Moon”.

Music is like America at large. There’s the 1% and everybody else. You may think you can make it, but you can’t. You’re part of the 99%. You’re a fan.

You could swap out “music” and insert “publishing” and “book” and this excerpt would be just as relevant to writers.

There are more books being published today than ever before, more books competing for reviews and for “follows” and “likes.”  It’s the natural evolution of an industry that no longer has gatekeepers. It’s chaotic. It’s noisy. And now the focus is on how many friends you have, how many followers. Writers are all expected to have a “platform” so they can guarantee a certain number of sales, a certain amount of publicity.

But I agree with what Bob notes: Social media only works if the music [book] is great.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. I wonder how a writer who has been toiling for years (usually nights and weekends) writing his or her Great American Novel is also expected to have a few thousand followers and friends?

My advice echoes Bob’s: You’re far better off worrying less about how many friends you have and focusing more on writing the best book possible. A book that people tell their friends and family about not because you asked them to — because they want to.

Far too often, publishers make acquisitions based on how many friends or likes or Twitter followers an author has. And that is a mistake. Yet it’s a mistake that will ultimately benefits smaller presses — those of us still focused on the work itself. In a world with no gatekeepers at the top, it is the gatekeepers at the bottom who matter most — the readers. Write for them and them only, and the rest will fall into place.

And don’t forget to check out Bob’s blog.


Making sense of the Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader

By John Yunker,

One of the many reasons for Amazon’s success with the Kindle has been the fact that you can buy a book for the Kindle but read it on many different devices, such as the Android, iPad, and iPhone. All you need to do is download apps for these devices and log in to your account.

But what if you don’t have one of these devices? What if you just want to read your book on your old-fashioned computer screen using your web browser?

Amazon has a solution for that as well — the Cloud Reader.

Using Chrome or Safari (Mac or PC) go to http://read.amazon.com.

You’ll first see this intro screen:

You’ll notice that this intro screen stresses that the Cloud Reader is optimized for the iPad, which might seem peculiar since Amazon also offers a Kindle App for the iPad. There’s a reason for this, which I’ll explain in a moment. But let’s just focus on your PC web browser first, as there are two points worth highlighting.

Once you click the “get started” button, you’ll be notified that the Cloud Reader works offline as well. This is a very cool feature and means that your browser will cache copies of your books onto your computer so you don’t need an Internet connection to read them. And, yes, this also works on the iPad.

After you click through this screen, you’ll be asked to log in — and then you’ll see the books that you’ve purchased:

These books are synced to your Kindle and any device-specific Kindle apps. So if you read to page 100 on a book here and switch to your iPad app, you can pick up at page 100. Another great feature.

Making sense of Web Apps vs. Native Apps

What Amazon is doing here with the Cloud Reader isn’t just a generous gesture for those folks out there who want to read on their PCs. The purpose of the Cloud Reader is to bypass Apple’s app store. But before I get into that, I want to explain the difference between a web app and a native app.

A web app is like a web site. It’s anything that you access via your web browser, like the Cloud Reader. A native app, on the other hand, is anything that is device-specific, like an app purchased over the Apple App store or Google’s Android store. These are applications developed specifically for a device. Native apps are generally considered superior to web apps because they open faster and can take advantage of all the benefits of the device’s operating system. Web apps, because they live in a web browser, just don’t feel as responsive overall — though this “offline” reading feature of the Cloud Reader marks one bold attempt to change that.

Finally, I should note that people LOVE apps, particularly if they’re free. And there’s something to be said for having an icon on your iPhone that you can access with one click (rather than inputting a long URL). I’m not sure that most people know that they can bookmark web apps on their iPhones and iPads to create “app like” icons on their home screens.

So for now, users prefer native apps to web apps.

Which brings me back to Amazon. If users prefer native apps, and Amazon already offers a native Kindle app, why did Amazon go to the trouble of launching a web app?

Because six months ago, Apple changed the way it operates its app store. It told Amazon and others that if you were going to have a link in your app to your store, you’d have to give Apple 30% of any revenues from any sales that comes through people clicking on that link.

So what did Amazon do? It removed the Kindle store link from its native Kindle app.

But if you go to the Cloud Reader web app, you’ll see, in the upper right corner, a link to the Kindle store.

Which brings me back to the iPad. Let’s say you’ve been happily using the Kindle app for the iPad, and you recently noticed that the Kindle store button went missing. Well, now you can get it back by going to your web browser and navigating to the Cloud Reader.

The experience isn’t as good as the native app, but it’s not bad.

And I’ll give Amazon a great deal of credit for trying to maintain a positive user experience in the face of Apple’s unfortunate behavior. I say “unfortunate” because the Apple iBookstore is nowhere near as sophisticated as the Amazon Kindle store. I would rather have seen Apple innovate with its store and compete with Amazon than simply block the Kindle store altogether. I understand why Apple did what it did, but the users — that is, us readers — suffer because Apple has not worked hard enough to be competitive with Amazon.