E-books, Publishing, & Piracy

By Allison Brennan

I have taken a strong stand against piracy here and elsewhere, as many other authors have done. While I disagree with the contention at this point that a pirated copy is a lost sale, I also disagree that a pirated copy isn’t a lost sale (because they would never have bought the book in the first place.) Why? Because at this point in time, I think that the majority of pirated books are stolen by people because of the convenience, and they would never have bought them (thus no lost sale) or by people who can’t purchase them because of where they live.

However, ebooks will become more popular among readers and thus there will be more lost sales–people who used to purchase print copies who learn about “free” (illegal) downloads and stop buying. (As a format, e-book sales are still a very teeny percentage of print books sold–meaning, if a book is available both for print and e-book, the print books will generally sell in far greater numbers. My own e-book sales have slowly risen over time, to about 1% to my total sales.) Joe Konrath had a very interesting blog about the success of his Kindle experiment–that by pricing the books rejected by traditional publishers at a low price point, he is able to make a goodly sum of money–more than through traditional publishing as a midlist author.

There are many pros and cons to Joe’s experiment. The pros include the fact that he’s one of the first to self-publish through Amazon (and I also assume through the other e-distributors, though that wasn’t explicitly stated in his column.) By virtue of being early to the game, he’s able to garner a name among e-book readers as a reliable source for reading entertainment. He’s already published, and I would assume far above the average self-published author in terms of editing ability–he can tell a good story, knows how to edit it, and put out a clean book.

He gets to keep most of the money, price the book what he wants, and build sales through providing his readers with more of what they want.

As e-book sales grow–both in terms of print books available in e-format and self-published e-books–readers will be inundated with more choices than they have now–which are an incredible number. I don’t have the latest per year or per month releases, but I know it’s staggering. According to a May, 2009 article by Publishing Central, Bowker’s reports there were 275,232 new titles and editions in 2008, and a historic (over doubling from 2007) self-published/on-demand books published.

(One comment to put the numbers in perspective, of the 275,232 titles, 47,541 were fiction. Non-fiction still dominates the total number of books published. Also included are textbooks, college publications, etc.)

The Bowker’s report (pdf) has other interesting data. While books published (not self-published) declined from 2007-2008, they have still increased from 2002-2008. In addition fiction showed the highest percentage increase from 2002-2008, 89% of titles published, and is still the largest percentage of categories (17.27%) For our purposes here at Murderati, I think we’re most interested in the fiction numbers.

According to a 2006 article, 93% of books published (this is all published, not self-pubbed/on demand) books sell less than 1,000 copies. 

Joe Konrath has proved that he can and will sell more than 1,000 self-published e-books–a rarity among print-published books. But at his price point and already having a fan base through his traditionally published books, it’s almost a no-brainer to try this with books he hasn’t sold.

Authors with an established fan base may do well in this new e-book world because they are a known quantity. Readers have already sampled them, so they trust the author to tell a good story. Authors who are new to this world may have a shot because they can price the books on the cheap side where someone might be willing to sample a story by an unknown author if it doesn’t cost a lot.

The problem becomes volume. There were 285,394 on demand/self published books in 2008 and it is still growing exponentially (now maybe we can understand the vanity press business–there is a huge market for them to make money from writers.) The overwhelming majority of these books are not available through traditional outlets, they sell few copies (there are exceptions of course, but by and large most sell poorly and only through the hard work of the writer) and even on Amazon and other sites, they rank low. As more people self-e-publish, there are more choices–and as we know from the self-published world as it stands now, many of those books will be poorly edited and not very interesting. I’m not dissing self-published authors–there are many who have published great books for a niche market. But as it becomes easier and cheaper to publish in e-format, even more people will do it, making it even harder to stand out as a new author. 

Some other downsides include paying for professional editing (unless you’re already a fantastic grammartarian and self-editor), marketing (on-line, which right now isn’t hugely expensive, but it’s growing as more people spend more time on-line), and design. That comes out of your profits (as opposed to the publisher–who pays an author less money per book but eats the cost of publication.) A professionally edited and presented book gives comfort to a reader who knows that based on his experience with that author, they’re going to get a good story.

But I’ll admit I am intrigued by Joe’s “experiment” and how it will both succeed for some and fail for others–very similar to print publishing. Readers are going to gravitate toward the people they know, so authors who are already bestsellers may fare exceptionally well with this model. Midlist authors like Joe will also do well because they usually have a loyal fan-base (and thus keeping a higher percentage even on a lower price, you’ll earn more per sale.) Unknown writers? Not so much. As the titles increase, name ID will become even more important, as readers aren’t going to want to sift through thousands of books in their favorite genre. That means endorsements, marketing, or already being an established author.

I don’t believe print publishing is dead. I do believe that more people will choose the e-book format. I believe that sales will remain relatively level for each individual author (all other things remaining equal) but the percentage of format sales will change (such as I do see within the next 5 years my e-format sales increasing to 10% of my total sales.)

I also agree with Joe that publishers need to becoming more innovative in this Brave New Market. While I don’t think devaluing stories–it is the STORY that has value, not the platform it is delivered on–is the answer, I do think that e-books should be discounted from the print copy. (For example, my Kindle books are 20% less than my print books full retail price.) I, personally, like the idea of where a reader can buy a print book and get a coupon to purchase the e-book at a greatly reduced rate. I also like the idea of added value for e-books–author interviews, exclusive short stories, photographs, pictures, or perhaps include a free backlist title. So you pay the same as the hardcover, but you get more. 

There are lots of options and ideas for this expanding market. I’m both excited and apprehensive–excited by the possibilities, but apprehensive about how much time exploring the possibilities will take from my writing.

But all that aside,  more than anything, I believe that authors should be united against piracy.

As e-format books increase, so will piracy. And e-book exclusive authors are hit the hardest because theirs is more a “lost sale” than a print published author. In the romance community, there are many e-published authors who fight tooth and nail against piracy because see it affect their bottom line and their ability to make a living.

Piracy is stealing. Even the pirates don’t really dispute that. They simply think there’s nothing wrong with it. They justify it to make themselves feel better. Dan Brown is already a multi-millionaire. Another author is an asshole, I don’t want to give her any money. I can’t afford to buy the book (and don’t want to go to the library, don’t have a library near me, don’t want to get on the waiting list, etc.) I’m not hurting anyone. I wouldn’t have bought it anyway. I just want to try out the author, but not pay for it or stand in the aisle of a store.

What makes this all so much worse, and hugely frustrating, is when reputable people stand up and announce that it’s okay to steal. When Randy Cohen tells someone that it’s okay to steal an illegal pirated copy of a book because they already bought the hardcover, it gives everyone the sanction to do it. Generally law-abiding citizens now breathe a collective sigh of relief, because they can steal with a clean conscious. Randy Cohen, The (so-called) Ethicist for the New York Times, has deemed that while it is illegal to steal an e-book, it’s not unethical if you already bought a hardcopy.

Soon, no one is going to think they need to buy a hardcopy. That it’s their right to read any book for free (which it is–if they get it from a library.) As it becomes easier and easier to download illegal copies, more people will do it without buying the hardcopy. (And honestly? I doubt there are many people similar to the reader who wrote Cohen–that they buy the book and download a “free” illegal copy.)

So I would ask Randy Cohen this: If I buy a ticket to Clash of the Titans, is it okay for me to download a pirated copy when it comes out on DVD? After all, I already paid to see the movie . . . why should I have to pay twice? 


28 thoughts on “E-books, Publishing, & Piracy

  1. Jen Brubacher

    Addressing your final paragraph, I don’t think people would argue that the cinema experience is the same as watching it at home, but it reminds me of the debates that occurred when MP3s became popular. People wondered why, if they’d already bought the CD, they should have to pay for the songs again. Same with films: if they bought the DVD they felt they should be able to rip it and put it on their computer. This debate continues.

    Songs and films are not books. In fact they’re nothing like them in usage or attitude, but I suspect the same debate will crop up, as you’ve noted, because people don’t want to pay twice for what they believe is the same product.

  2. Maribeth

    I had this discussion with a young friend yesterday who also feels that it is stealing if you’ve already bought the book and pirate the e copy. I’m sure the debate will go on BUT only because those who seek to justify the theft know that what they are doing is wrong and that they are indeed taking someone’s right to make a living.

  3. Kait Nolan

    There are a few points I feel compelled to raise:

    1) New York published does NOT equal good formatting for e. I cannot count the number of ebooks I have purchased where it appears that the publisher merely dumped the electronic file into a file converter and left whatever formatting mistakes there were (chief among them, paragraphs squished inappropriately together). I generally get the impression that this is because the big publishers just don’t care. As long as the print version looks good, the e doesn’t matter because it’s only 1-3% of our sales. This drives me insane. Formatting an ebook is simply NOT THAT HARD. I’ve done it, and I did it well. Many indies I’ve read have done it well. We all managed to write, thoroughly edit, and format our ebooks ourselves. Without paying somebody for those services because a few of us actually passed English and recognize the difference between publishing a good product and a collection of grocery lists. I think part of it is that because we are self e-pubbing ourselves, we care more about the finished product because it is generally the ONLY product we have, so we want to make sure we give a good impression. Now of course there is a lot of poorly edited dreck among the self published, but anybody with half a brain and a little bit of effort put toward marketing can make enough sales to raise them out of that obscurity and into the realm of "this person puts out a good product, you should try it". In this new world of digital content where the author has more control than ever before, the work has an opportunity to stand (or fall) entirely on its own merit. Which actually brings me to my second point.

    2) How do self pubbed authors differentiate themselves and make themselves known when there’s this huge and exponential increase in available content? Well, two ways. Marketing for one. That’s true no matter whether you are traditionally published or self published. In the Trad Pub camp, more and more of the marketing is becoming the author’s responsibility. The days when the author wrote the book, contracted it to publishers and then went on to write the next book while the publisher took care of everything else is long over. Self publishers can use exactly the same tactics as trad. pubbed authors. The name of the game is building a platform and getting heard, making people aware of you. All things, I might add, that we are encouraged to do as aspiring authors who are seeking traditional publication. And second, I think timing is everything. The key to a relative unknown like me growing to make sales like Joe’s is getting in on the ground floor of this opportunity. The digital world of books is poised for an explosion. You’ve already quoted the evidence to that fact. The people who get in now, develop a solid platform, solid readership (which, by the way, stands to become a nice little passive income stream because unless we decide to take them down, our ebooks NEVER go out of print), and reputation for producing excellent work–these are the people who will succeed at this endeavor. Those who stand around scratching their heads, watching and waiting to dip a toe in the virtual water are going to totally miss the boat.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    Question: do you have any stats on WHO is pirating ebooks? At this point — and I may be missing something because I’m not paying attention — it all seems like conjecture. More info?

  5. Mary Arrr

    I for one would like to see the couponing go the other way. Buy the ebook, get a coupon for a print copy if you want to add it to your "permanent" collection. Ebooks are the more disposable/ephemeral item – make them the cheap/first purchase, not the other way around. There are genres/authors where I’d like to read them all, but maybe only reread/annotate a handful – and those I’d like to be able to get the hard copy.

    I think it’s very hard to translate piracy numbers to lost sales numbers. Remembering back to the Napster days, I knew several people who were all excited that they had tens of thousands of "free" downloaded songs. But none of them owned many CDs. In fact, one of the biggest "pirates" I knew didn’t even have a CD player, or real speakers for her computer. She just loved that she had all this "free" music. Most of the others were rabid music fans finally being able to get rare out-of-print stuff that had never come out on CD. Or from indie bands that had come and gone before they found out about them.

  6. JD Rhoades

    In fact, one of the biggest "pirates" I knew didn’t even have a CD player, or real speakers for her computer. She just loved that she had all this "free" music.

    And, if she was like some of the people I know, she probably didn’t have time to listen to more than a fraction of it. Still doesn’t make it legal of course, but it does have an impact on the "costing sales" facet of the argument.

    And, if I may insert a BSP here…I’ve gone Konrath, as it were, with my e-novel STORM SURGE for Kindle at Amazon and other formats at Smashwords. 😀 Haven’t made thousands yet, but we live in hope.

  7. Allison Brennan

    PK–I don’t have stats on pirates. I know there are some out there–I just don’t think they’re all lost sales. HOWEVER, I get 4-8 google alerts A DAY of a new place where people can download my books or audiobooks illegally, and there are a few people who make my books available (bundled, i.e. all 13 books currently published) for download at cost. The romance community is terrific at banning together to stop those who are trying to get paid, by emailing the sites (usually legitimate, i.e. ebay) and sending takedown notices because she doesn’t have the license to sell my 13 books at 1.99, etc. But the free sites are harder because most are foreign and they don’t care what we say. EDUCATION is the key–educating readers. But when people like Cohen say it’s okay (under specific circumstances) we really start losing the battle.

    Mary: I agree. Buy the e-book, get a coupon for the print book. It should go both ways. I think it’s good customer relations.

    Kait: I agree with most of your comments. My biggest dispute is that aside from a few authors, most of those who e-publish outside of erotic romance (up until the Kindle) do not sell many books. A couple hundred tops. Those who self-publish through print/print-on-demand don’t sell many books without lots of handselling and leg-work–taking time from writing and building your backlist. With nearly 300,000 self-published PRINT books, I can only imagine the explosion of the e-book self-published titles. I don’t think that they’ll all be new writers (many from the print sp will move over to the new format.) But it makes it that much harder to get noticed, and at a greater marketing cost. Impossible? No.

    For print published authors (like me), while e-book sales will continue to rise as print sales as a percentage fall (for example, if a book’s sales increase by 5% every release for a specific author, I think that will continue, but that of the increase, but the format will slowly start to shift from print to e-format–but I still believe, based on my experience and what I know about readers.

    My argument (which I didn’t make well) was that for the most part, print published books have been vetted and edited. Yes, it’s true that many are not as well edited as before, but they are usually better edited that most self-published books. Not just grammar and typos, but content and structure. My first few books weren’t complete garbage, but they were poorly structured, had far too much narrative and repetition, and cliched. But at the time, I thought they were fantastic. Learning more about story and writing, predominately by dissecting my editor’s revision comments, I’ve become a better writer–yet I still don’t feel confident in my writing to submit it to the world without editorial input. Every book I’ve written is better after revisions. I feel that most, not all, self-published books lack the editorial revision and readers aren’t going to want to sift through all the chaff to get to the wheat.

    I’m not dissing self-published authors. I know it works for many people or types of books. I’ve bought self-published books–though all the self-published books I’ve bought relate to California history. They are clearly niche books (such as a fantastic book about the history of Elk Grove that has a very limited market–but is extremely well done.) The thing is, this is all the author does–goes around and talks to people in the area and sells his book. I don’t want to sell my book. I want to write it.

    I also dispute that traditionally published authors have to spend as much time and money on marketing than self-published authors–but that would take a full other blog 🙂

    But my point in this blog (which went on a tangent with stats, sorry!) was that with the explosion of self-published e-books on the Kindle and soon other platforms, that piracy is even more important of an issue. 99% of my readers read me in print. 100% of Joe’s readers (from his ebooks only) read him in e-format. He has far more to lose than I do now–but I do see the future, and we all have something to lose. Because when someone gets things for free, they’ll never want to pay for them–so it really doesn’t matter if Joe charges a good price point. Once a free version is available for Kindle, he will lose sales, period. I will too, but at a much smaller percentage of my total sales.

    I hope that makes better sense :/

  8. Allison Brennan

    Oh, I wanted to say that I have a short story that was published exclusively in the Walmart edition of ORIGINAL SIN. I’m waiting to hear when their exclusivity is up and whether I can give it away. As an author, I have the right to give away my work–or not. It’s my choice. I don’t like that choice stolen from me.

  9. pari noskin taichert

    I’ve hired someone to put my three books in clean e-book format and expect to have them in a variety of places soon. As you say, it’s a no-brainer. But I’m also lucky that I retained electronic rights for all of my books from the get-go.

    I’m considering putting some original stories up as well . . . just to start building audience.

    Piracy — aka "stealing" — isn’t justifiable simply because I didn’t give permission to take my work for nothing. It’s that basic. I won’t go into lost sales or whether stealing is a form of marketing (it’s been argued) . . . my contention is that *I* have a say in how my work is translated into a salable product.

    In print, I’ve signed a contract with my publisher to have the book come out either in hc or tpb.

    Electronically, *I* own the say on how that work is packaged/sold too. And right now I’m NOT interested in giving it away for free . . .

  10. Allison Brennan

    Pari, absolutely. YOU, the author, the creator, have the exclusive right on how to sell your book. YOU have the choice to give the rights to someone else (a publisher) or exploit them yourself or give away your creation. (And what great foresight of you and/or your agent to retain your e-rights!)

  11. Boyd Morrison

    The funny thing about Joe Konrath’s experiment is that he is giving away his books on his own web site, and he’s still selling tons of copies on the Kindle. BUT that’s Joe’s choice to give away his books, not someone else’s. However, it’s an example of how giving away free books doesn’t hurt ebook sales. In fact, he says that more people buy his Kindle books than download his free books.

    I did the same thing last year when I self-published my books before I got my Simon and Schuster deal. I gave away my books in a variety of formats on my own web site, but I also sold my books on the Kindle. Even though there were free versions of my ebooks available, I still sold 7,500 copies of my books in three months, and I didn’t have the name recognition of JA Konrath. So it is possible to stand out, but I will say that I was early in the game (I was the one who got Joe to put his books on the Kindle in the first place).

    The stats on Steve Shapiro’s site are a little suspect. He says that 172,000 books are published each year, and that less than 25,000 of them sell more than 5,000 copies. But then he says that 93% (160,000) sell less than 1,000 copies, which implies that only 12,000 sold more than 1,000 copies. So it would have to be far less than 12,000 that sold more than 5,000 copies.

  12. Barbie

    I can’t believe I am going to say this, but… ummm… if you bought a digital copy of a book, would it give you the right to walk into a bookstore and steal a printed copy? Would you even have the courage to do it? Umm, yeah.

    You’re a nice one, Allison 🙂

  13. Allison Brennan

    Boyd, I agree about Shapiro’s numbers, but they are also old–three or four years. And they are all print books, which also included text books that only the 250 students of Professor A need to purchase. But I couldn’t find good numbers about sales. The only place that has them is PW, but they only list the TOP sellers, i.e. mass market over 500K copies, trade over 100K copies and hardcover over 100K (I think–could be 50K) copies. If you take those as being "top" sellers, it is roughly (I don’t want to count them all up!) 1,000 titles. But people can make a good living in mass market selling far less than 500K copies of one title. I did see those Shapiro numbers when they first came out, but couldn’t find the actual source (I’ll admit, I was looking late last night and may have missed it!)

    re: giving away copies–whether it affects sales is irrelevant in my opinion. The decision to give away material is the author’s decision and we need to fight to preserve that.

    But all that aside, I am excited over the possibilities. But as the books offered increase, it’s going to change the whole dynamic and unknowns are going to have an exponentially harder time standing out. Because if say I wanted to self-publish one of the four manuscripts I never sold, I’m pretty confident that I would sell in decent numbers. But I know those manuscripts, even if I edited them now, are inferior to what I’m print publishing. I don’t want to damage my readers expectations.

    This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t write something completely new, if I were allowed to.

  14. Mikaela

    I read Joe’s blog regularly. The conclusion I have made is that self-publishing is great as a compliment to traditional publishing (both paper and e-publishing). It is a opportunity for authors to earn an extra income. Both by making their backlist available, but also publishing books from contracts that were cut.

    My personal plan is to submit to e-publishers, and make short stories and backlist available on Smashwords.

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Allison, your blogs are consistently informative and thought-provoking. It’s like taking a master class at UCLA Extension every other Sunday. Thank you for providing such insight!

  16. Robert Gregory Browne

    93% of books published sell less than a thousand copies? Holy shit! I feel like a RAGING success. 🙂 Why aren’t I on the NYT list?

    Two things about ebooks:

    1. The DRM has to go. The music industry learned this the hard way. DRM is only an inconvenience to legitimate buyers/readers. We buy an ebook and we can only read it on a certain device and trying to switch it to another becomes a giant pain in the ass that only leaves us hating the publisher for not trusting us in the first place.

    The pirates ALWAYS defeat DRM within hours of its implementation, so what exactly is this so-called protection protecting? Not a damn thing.

    2. I think as the years go on, and with devices like the iPad taking root, you’re going to see a complete flip in the statistics re: ebooks vs. trad. publishing. It will take time, certainly, but sooner or later, paper books will go the way of the DVD. People will still buy them, but most will be downloading instead.

    As for Konrath’s blog, I love Joe, but I have to wonder about his Amazon stats. Could they really be true? I see no reason why he would lie about it, but I think his success (as is JMH’s) with the Kindle is an anomaly.

    Someone please prove me wrong.

  17. JT Ellison

    Honestly, I don’t think Joe K. wouldn’t have had nearly the success doing this if he hadn’t already been an established author. There’s is something to be said for name/brand ID when it comes to ebooks. It’s interesting to see what might be coming down the pike – the consumer will decide rather than the publisher.

  18. toni mcgee causey

    The real point that needs to be driven home to consumers is that authors can’t continue to put up stories for free. At least, most can’t, and certainly, the bigger names won’t. If e-theft is condoned, then it’s only a matter of time when a lot of names get out of the business altogether, and the culture will be poorer for it. At that same point, most mid-list authors won’t be able to eek out a living for it, or even a reasonable subsidy to their living. So if readers want their favorite authors to continue writing the stories they want to see, they need to support those authors. Can’t buy a book? Then go to a library, which *does* buy copies, and the greater the demand for a book, the more copies they’re likely to buy.

    I do think e book sales will dramatically change over the next couple of years and we’ll see a much larger volume sold in e form. I also think there’s another likelihood which we’ll see, which is the rise of the mini-publisher. Someone who does not have the overhead of a big publishing company will start contracting e books from known and unknown writers, vetting the quality, handling the editing, but distributing solely in e format. Readers will figure out which of those publishers do a good job, and their websites will become hubs. (One only has to look at the success of Samhain in the romance market to see the model.)

  19. Zoe Winters

    @Kait What I find so funny and baffling is all the NY publishers who talk about how "expensive" it is to convert to all these digital formats. If they are really paying that much they need to fire whoever they currently have doing it and hire me, because my Kindle and other ebook editions look far better than theirs and I did it myself for free.

    @Allison I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. If consumers are trained to think digital content has no implicit value and that they shouldn’t have to pay for it, this creates a real problem when digital is a bigger piece of the pie. I think to some extent authors who give absolutely EVERYTHING away free in E contribute to some degree in this type of "reader entitlement" where people think they are entitled to read anything they want whenever and wherever they want for free.

    However, even with piracy I think that convenience and affordability ultimately trumps things. A music correlation would be… I would rather log into itunes or Amazon.com and pay 99 cents for an instant trouble-free download of music, then search the web for a pirated copy that I don’t necessarily know doesn’t have file corruption or viruses/spyware/etc.

    The idea of a book being delivered directly wirelesslly to your e-reader was smart. With my kindle, I just log on through my actual kindle, pick a book, and purchase it. No red tape. Everything is set up.

    If I was going to pirate something I’d have to first find a copy of it online, hope it wasn’t going to install any virus or spyware on my computer, then go through the hassle of converting it for my Kindle, and then getting it on my kindle.

    Even if I was the type of person who would pirate, why would I go through that trouble when for a nominal cost I could just pay for it?

    This is why I think lower priced ebooks will ultimately win the day in an increasingly digital world. Anything $2.99 or under is an instant impulse purchase for me if I want it. I don’t even have to think about it. It’s like going to pick up a cheeseburger. It’s a no-brainer.

    But when digital books are $9.99 all the way up to $15 each, many people who might not be so honest or might not care about the author’s financial situation as much, will be more likely to go through the hassles involved to steal.

    Also what you say about NY pubbed books being less well-edited than they used to be, just makes it easier for me to compete and have books that are "better edited." None of this is rocket science. Sure there are self-pubbed writers who can’t figure any of this out, who have an overly inflated view of their own talent, etc. etc. But anyone who could have had a shot making it the trad way anyway is going to have the sense to take these necessary steps to produce a good self-pubbed book.

    It makes no sense that a writer would research to death the trad path and not be equally or even more savvy (knowing the stigma) about researching the self-publishing path. And every site out there for indie authors stresses putting out good books, having good covers designed, getting proper editing, taking care with layout, etc.

  20. Zoe Winters

    Oh, and I meant to say, I used to support that viewpoint that if someone owns the hardback it’s not a big deal if they grab a pirated copy of the E-version. But after hearing the side of why it’s bad (yeah it really hadn’t occurred to me why it was an issue), I’ve changed my view on the matter.

    I wouldn’t walk into a bookstore and steal a paper copy if I’d bought the E, even if for some reason I paid more for E and took a cheaper paper copy.

    If I had a paper copy and I wanted to scan it onto my computer for my own personal use like someone who rips their CDs for their ipod, that would be one thing. But yeah. I will admit when I’m wrong about something.

  21. Allison Brennan

    Zoe, I agree with you about pricing–e-books should be cheaper than print books. They should cost what print books cost minus the cost of paper and shipping. That is, however, about a third the cost of the book (if that–I wish I could find some good stats on this, but a lot of it is based on the economies of scale, i.e. it’s cheaper to print 100,000 copies of one book than it is to print 10,000 copies of 10 books.) So my Kindle books are 20% cheaper than my mass markets, and I think THAT is a good and reasonable price. Maybe 25-30% off the print price. I don’t know, I don’t think that the pricing level has stabilized. But the main point is that you pay for the STORY and the STORY has value in whatever format you purchase it in. If you VALUE a story in hardcover for $25, you should value the story for $15 and no print book. The problem is that digital is disposable (someone above said that I believe) so the story–what you are really paying for–becomes disposable as more people believe it’s not "worth" paying money for.

    But there will always be authors who have proven themselves over and over to readers, and readers will pay for their stories. Stories are an essential part of the human existence, long before they were written down. Cave drawings are stories. Most legends and myths were handed down verbally. The Bible were oral stories handed down as the word of God, long before they were written down. Theater, music, movies, books–these are what bind all of us together. I fear a society that devalue stories or don’t place importance on them, whether they’re for entertainment or intellectual thought.

    BTW, my books have always been well-edited and formatted. I may have one or two errors in a 110K word book, sometimes my fault, sometimes production. But I’ve always felt that Random House has some of the best checks and balances in production and I’ve been happy with my final product.

    I still believe that the proliferation of titles from unproven storytellers will give overwhelm readers and they will gravitate toward proven authors. In addition, editorial control is still important and there is little of that in self-publishing. (I’m sure many self-published authors would disagree with me, but I’ve seen enough self-published books that the quality is all over the place.)

    BTW, the cost for e-books is not just formatting for different platforms. There are a lot of costs to big publishers that a one-person shop may not have. I think it was Randall Toye (not sure on the spelling) the publisher of Harlequin who said that there is a huge cost to them that most people don’t realize. I was about to ask for more information, but we were interrupted at a conference I was at. But I don’t think he was blowing smoke up my ass–Harlequin has created an incredible model for publishing a mass number of books cheap, so I’m confident that they are looking for the most economic and profitable way to distribute a large number of e-books to the growing e-reading public.

    Rob, I don’t know anything about DRM, but I do agree that pirates are smart and will break through any security code out there with enough time. I wish I had all the answers, but Apple has one that I like: if you modify their security (on their iPhone for example) it voids the warranty. So if you download something and it spreads a virus on your iPhone and it’s corrupted, you’re SOL. If you haven’t messed with the device, and your warranty would cover a new phone. It won’t prevent piracy, but I’m pretty confident that after a few people get screwed fewer people will pirate.

    Thanks Cornelia!!!! He pissed me off, too 🙂

    JT, I agree completely.

  22. Allison Brennan

    I love you Barbie! 🙂

    Thanks Zoe . . . just saw your second post.

    BTW, I think this will all shake out over the next 12-18 months (pricing). I don’t think that e-book sales will overtake print book sales (for those available in both formats) anytime soon. I offered both my teenagers e-readers and both of them said "Hell no." Why? Because they spend so much time on computers at school, their textbooks are now digital–they log in and read the book, and they text and have iPods and whatever. They don’t want to read on a computer at all. (My oldest is not a reader–I thought she’d love it, but she doesn’t–my second is a major reader and said no. She carries a book in her purse wherever she goes.) I think e-formatted books will INCREASE and take a nice slice of the pie.

    Oh, and one other thing! Amazon has co-op too. As more books are available for "kindle only" cheaply, then they’ll start charging more for co-op and advertising, for emailing to their customer base (i.e. "You bought an Allison Brennan book in the past; you might be interested in this new author.") And publishers will still dominate this because Amazon (IMO) would rather work with the 50-100 big and small press/e-press publishers for 100,000 titles than 200,000 individuals for 200,000 titles.

    I may be wrong. It’s been known to happen (though don’t mention that to my kids.)

  23. Sara J. Henry

    Here’s what I would ask Randy Cohen: If I bought an original oil painting, do I have the right to steal a few prints of it because, well, they’re easier to transport – all because I bought the original?

  24. Zoe Winters

    Hey Allison,

    I just saw this (was cleaning out my bookmarks and remembered the discussion here) All your points are good and obviously we come from two different perspectives when it comes to publishing, which is fine. A lot of big publishers let crappy editing slip by, but what I remember of Random House books has been a pleasant reading experience.

    I can’t afford to pay $15 for a story I’m going to read one time. I just can’t. (And there are very few books I’ve read more than one time. Most books are read one time only and readers have to determine if a one time story experience is worth $15. Movie tickets aren’t even that much.) Also this pricing scheme doesn’t take into consideration the fact that some books are released only in mass market paperback and they actually have printing costs. Yet those books retail at $7.99 Without the costs of shipping or warehousing or paper, I just can’t see how ebooks are worth very much more than $5 for fiction.

    Whether or not others disagree, for me, as a reader I will be sticking to ebooks that are $5 or less. Unless I just REALLY want a book. And in that case I’ll probably buy it in print, even though I’d prefer to read it in E.

    I don’t think reading on a Kindle is anything like reading on a computer screen though. I think a lot of people have that misconception. And while everybody won’t like it, I think the more people try it, the more they’ll like it. I’m in love with my Kindle and I used to say I’d NEVER own an e-reader.


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