Apr 242011

There has been a lot of discussion lately, regarding the idea of publishing houses serving as gatekeepers, maintaining standards of quality and pricing for e-books.  As recently as February of 2010, the New York Times printed an article (E-Book Price Increase May Stir Readers’ Passions) that opened with the line, “In the battle over the pricing of electronic books, publishers appear to have won the first round”.  The article was definitely slanted in favor of publishing houses “controlling” the price of e-books in the same manner that they control the cost of dead tree books.  It viewed e-book buyers who complained about the high prices as an “insurgency”, and indirectly compared lower pricing of e-books to movie piracy, all the while carefully avoiding “officially” making a stand.

But anyone who has studied any level of journalism would immediately recognize some of the tricks of the trade in the article.  For that matter, any decent writer of any sort knows the power of choosing the right words to make known your point of view.  I once saw a comedian illustrate this with a joke wherein he observed that having an appointment with a woman is nothing at all like having a rendezvous with her.  They at once mean the same thing, and something completely different.

By describing the opponents to the publishing houses as “angry” consumers, and focusing on best-selling author Douglas Preston’s comments that the American consumer has a “sense of entitlement” that was “absolutely astonishing”, the NYT article managed to convey a sense that anyone who complained about the high price of e-books was being unreasonable.  They seemed to think that pricing new release e-books at $14.99 and then after a year of sales at that price, lowering it to $9.99, was a reasonable approach.

That was a year ago.

Now, a year later.

On April 21, 2011, an article in the Wall Street Journal (Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts) seemed to acknowledge that times are changing (no pun intended).

Amazon says its studies have shown that digital titles sold by publishers using agency
pricing aren’t showing the same rate of unit growth as books that Amazon can
discount. “The publishers showing the fastest growth are the ones where we set
the prices,” says Russell Grandinetti,  Amazon’s vice president for Kindle

The Wall Street Journal article focuses on the success of John Locke, who in March of this year, made $126,00.00 on his books, all of which are priced at $0.99.  That’s not $9.99, it is $0.99.  Ninety-nine cents per book.  He makes thirty-five cents on each book sold, and yet brought in $126,000.00 last month alone!  According to the Wall Street Journal, it is sales like his that are driving down the price of e-books.  When John Q. Public can buy a quality product for 99 cents, where is the incentive for them to pay ten times as much?  As Locke says in the article:

“When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I
thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m
as good as them,… Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

John Locke, Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, and many others are embracing the new model.  Though in truth, the model isn’t really new.  It’s called supply and demand.  It’s those unreasonable consumers demanding a more affordable product, and entrapreneurial authors who are willing to supply it.  It is the free market at work.  Are there instances where the quality of product is sub-par?  Absolutely.  Are there authors out there who are less professional than they should be?  Of course there are.

As in any industry, there will always be some producers who are better than others.  Some will tell a better story, some will be more mechanically accurate.  Some will build name recognition as professionals worthy of spending your hard-earned dollars on, while others will drive buyers away with their unprofessional behavior.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are no guarantees.  You just have to decide whether or not you trust the free market model to balance itself.

Whether your answer is yes or no, though, we are passing the pivot point.  New technologies are upon us – technologies that make e-publishing and e-books affordable to both create and purchase.  If you are a writer, and you want to join the roller coaster that is the new publishing model, you need to climb aboard soon.  Otherwise, you may miss your spot.  There always seems to be a wave at the front of any new breakthrough.  Those who are brave enough, and have the wherewithal to do so will reap the benefits, while those who are unwilling to risk the time and/or personal resources will sit back and watch others.  I have missed out on opportunities in the past, and I don’t want to miss this one.

So I am busily recording my novel.  I am also getting ready to either publish it as an e-book, or send it to a professional editor (depending on whether or not my wife and I decide we can afford it).  Either way, I plan to have Half Past Midnight podcasting within the next two months, and available as an e-book within another month after that.

I plan to grab a seat on this roller coaster and ride it as long as I can.  Wish me luck.

  One Response to “How the free market model applies to the e-book industry”

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