Ebook pricing, again; or “Fifteen quid for an ebook?”

So here’s the situation…

I’m partway through Eric Brown’s crime novel Murder by the Book, and loving it. I’ve been encouraging Eric to write crime for years and now he has and it’s a great read, full of fantastic characters and lovely 1950s London period detail.

And then, yesterday, when I was about to return to it… where in hell was that book? We turned the house upside down, but couldn’t find it. It literally is a mystery. I have every confidence that it will turn up again at some point: accidentally picked up with someone else’s books, knocked under the sofa, whatever.

But I want to know what happens next!

Simple, I thought: I popped over to Amazon to get a copy for my Kindle, happy to spend a few quid just so I could keep reading without break.

Two problems with that, though:

  1. Although the hardback came out in March, the ebook won’t be out until July. What reason is there for this? There can’t be a logistical explanation: the ebook hardly needs physically shipping to distributors, and it’s not exactly labour-intensive to produce; I’m sure the file is just sitting there, gathering virtual dust while it awaits publication. I can’t see any way they would gain sales by the delay; if anything they’d lose them, as people like me go looking for the book, find it’s unavailable, and then move on to other things.
  2. It’s priced at £14.90. Come again? Fifteen quid for an ebook? This is where I’m completely baffled by the publishers’ policy. Who do they think is going to buy an ebook at that price? Is there some kind of logic that says “While it looks good to have an ebook version available, we don’t want people to actually buy this format”…?

I get the reasoning for pricing the hardback at £19.99. Presumably the vast majority of sales at this price are to the library market, and the higher price makes sense given that each copy of the book will get multiple readers. But £15 for an ebook at Amazon? I’d love to know which part of the market publishers Severn House are targeting with this strategy.

The only possible explanation I can think of is that they think potential buyers will be horrified at the price and opt to buy the slightly more expensive hardback instead. But that makes no sense: the profit margin on the hardback is so much lower, because of production and distribution costs. They could price the ebook for a fiver and make just about as much as they make from the hardback, and they’d actually, erm, sell copies.

An Eric Brown crime ebook at £5 would sell. If anyone could explain to me how even a novel as good as this is will sell ebooks at £15 I’d love to be enlightened.

About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

12 responses to “Ebook pricing, again; or “Fifteen quid for an ebook?”

  • briancleggauthor

    Hi Keith – a couple of thoughts from the author’s viewpoint. The ‘not available on ebook for 3 months’ probably reflects the fact that some publishers have been slow to consider having an ebook the norm, and an essential from day one. The big publishers have usually been much worse at this than smaller ones, though they are gradually getting there.

    As for pricing, much of the cost of a book is not printing or distribution, so there is no reason why an ebook should be hugely cheaper than a paper book – I would say a £5 discount on a hardback sounds about right. Publishers rightly don’t want books to be regarded as cheap commodities. At £5 an ebook would be a lot less than, say, most cinema tickets, which doesn’t seem right, especially as you don’t get to keep the film. It’s fine to have short term cheap ebook pricing for a special offer/promotion, but I think to expect them to be cheap as chips just because it’s a cheap distribution medium is unfair on the author and the publisher.

    • keith brooke

      Very true, but what’s really most fair to the author? As an author, I’d far rather my publishers priced ebooks reasonably and sold copies, than pricing them out of the market. At £15, that ebook is going to sell very few copies; at a price comparable to, say, a paperback, the book will sell far more copies and will have a wider readership. The publisher has far more chance of covering their costs if they actually sell books, after all.

      • briancleggauthor

        Fair comment – £15 is rather steep! My ebooks are mostly around the £6, though sometimes around £10 for a new release.

      • Vince

        Agreed – my first reaction to seeing Brian’s books was to think “ooh, they look interesting” and to start looking over reviews. Had they been more than double the price I’d certainly have had a very different first impression.

  • Vince

    As a consumer I agree with Keith here.
    A hardback for £20 seems fair for those who want a nicely bound copy for their collection.
    A paperback for £8ish seems a good price for those who want to read it once.
    Both prices reflect the extra manufacturing cost of reproducing such media, providing extra profit to the printing companies. There’s also some return on that cost if you then resell it to pay for the next book
    An ebook is something else though. Producing a million copies costs no more than producing a dozen. They don’t tend to be advertised nationally on railway billboards, etc and the cost of online marketing is can be simply to pay the wages of someone to advertise it on social media channels. There’s also no resale value in ebooks – once you’ve read it you can’t recoup any of the cost and the best you can do is virtually lend it to a friend.
    I’d pay £5 for an ebook gladly, even if I didn’t know the author terribly well already. If I liked the book I’d likely spend further £5 sums to buy more from the author but under any circumstances, every author can expect exactly zero £15 sales from me in their entire literary career.
    The comparison to cinema tickets is as meaningless as a comparison to DVDs, CDs, magazines, newspapers, etc. It’s a different media – one with minimal production cost and a vast potential customer base, which you restrict yourself to a miniscule fraction of if your price seems too greedy.

    • briancleggauthor

      ‘Both prices reflect the extra manufacturing cost of reproducing such media’ – well, no they don’t – a hardback costs about 50p more to produce than a paperback. Most of the costs of producing a book are the author’s work, editing it, formatting it etc, just as most of the costs of a movie are in production, not in displaying it. It is perfectly legitimate to compare the cost of an ebook and a movie – the fact that they are different media is irrelevant.

      • Vince

        Surely any author would prefer to sell 3000 books at £5 instead of 1000 books at £15. The income may be the same but you triple your fanbase, making further purchases more likely.
        £15 is a lot of money to gamble on a book you can’t resell. I think I can be quite confident in the statement that pricing an ebook at £15 rather than £5 would be an instant turn off for more than 2/3 of people who would otherwise have paid £5 for it.
        In short – only good can come of more people reading a book and as long as its price is high enough for you to make some profit, what does it matter if that profit is made through a lot of people or just a few dedicated fans with bulging pockets?

      • Vince

        And I agree about hardbacks – you pay a tax for the luxury of collecting those. I also agree that all books have costs but once that initial editing cost is made it’s done whilst manufacturing and distribution costs are ongoing depending how many you produce.

  • David Mathew

    I’ve got nothing to go on but gut reaction, but I would certainly agree that fifteen pounds seems overpriced for an e-book, whoever the author happens to be. I only know one person (who happens to be my wife) who reads e-books over paper books by choice, but part of that choice is formed because of the lower prices compared to hard copies.

    • briancleggauthor

      In many ways I agree – as I say my ebooks are mostly around £6 or less, and are sometimes on special offer at 99p – but I do think it’s a mistake to undervalue books. If you sell them dirt cheap, they are a commodity, but really they should be something that is valued.

  • Phil Ackerman

    By the time it is released it will be a lot lower in price I expect. That is what has happened with all the pre-order books I have bought.

  • Kevin

    Perhaps the publishers still have 10000s of paper books they need to shift first? 🙂

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