Sunday, May 20, 2007


A few of the larger epublishers have increased their cover prices recently. My first reaction was similar to many reader-bloggers out there. $8 or more for an ebook? I could get a paperback for that and still have change left over! That's too much. After all, a book is a book and you shouldn't pay more to have it only in digital format.

And then to be fair I was aware that most epublishers are small presses and so do not have the economy of scale of large offset printing publishers. Also, it is reasonable to charge whatever the customer is willing to pay--and ebook sales are going inexorably upwards. Besides, even if sales dropped a little, the profit per unit would probably more than make up the difference. Publishers are there to make money, after all.

Ebooks, it seems, can be $8 even if that doesn't seem completely rational. The closest equivalent would be a $4 cup of coffee. When Starbucks first came to New Zealand I was astonished. The coffee was so-so, very expensive and outlets were opened within sight of each other. Now I buy coffee there on average once a day. I don't intend to, I don't think it is worth the money, and yet there I am again, cash in hand.

I saw a new article recently that teased out some of the reasons why we pay more than we intend to for Starbucks coffee. Some of the highlights were: easy availability with ubiquitous outlets with long hours, a product that is a personal treat or indulgence (with a little caffeine hook), novelty items coming out all the time but reliable quality underneath, a look and language to make people feel like they are in a special club... does that sound familiar?

Ebooks are as available as the internet, a special treat (with a little erotica hook), there are new releases weekly at every publisher with some new kink or paranormal twist but a predicable genre form, there is a surrounding jargon and forums, blogs and loops to mix with other readers and writers.

Erotic romance ebooks are 'just books' like Starbucks is 'just coffee'. Rationally no better and arguably often objectively worse (and certainly more expensive page for page) than paperbacks. But as much as readers might grumble, a sexy ebook is exactly the kind of product they will be willing to pay a little more for--so long as we make it worth their while by delivering a reliable fix of a little of what they fancy that is never more than a few clicks away.


Imp said...

I totally resent having my work compared to *BLECH* Starbucks' coffee. ;)

Value... like beauty... is in the eye of the beholder.

Amanda Young said...

The way I look at it, and did even before I was published, was to compare ebooks to trade paperbacks. When an epub goes to print, those books aren't 6 or 7 bucks, like the mass market ones. They're more like 12 or 13. So even if the ebook version is 7, it's still cheaper than the paperback and I don't have make a trip to the mall to buy it.

Jules Jones said...

Actually, my reaction to the "but they're far too expensive!" was "eh, what you on about?", until I stopped to think about what they were comparing it to.

I think the difference is that a) I primarily buy sf (and fantasy), and $8 is what you pay now for a standard length one of those even in US mass market paperback (mutter grumble), never mind what the small press books cost, b) I can't help comparing it to what I pay for a paperback in the UK, which I do every time I go home to see the family at Christmas. Let's just say that with the current exchange rate, the price on Amazon UK for the import trade paperback of The Syndicate looks pretty good compared to other paperbacks.

But of course if you're comparing it with the price of a Harlequin category, it's another matter -- and it's not always obvious that some of the $8 ebooks are a lot longer than Harlequin category.