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How much would you pay for an ebook?

Things to know before you read this:

  • I’m a huge reader, and always write as a reader first.
  • I’m a publisher with a unique philosophy about what a publisher’s role should be. I make money from it.
  • I buy a lot of ebooks — both fiction and nonfiction.

So, I’m going to be honest.

I’m a huge fan of ebooks, but I don’t own a Kindle or Nook or whatever, and do not plan to own one in the near future. I want my ebooks to act like MP3s — files on the hard drive. Easy to use, just load ’em up. Not a file that can vanish from my device depending on where in the world I am. And not something I have to unlock, transform, or hack before I can consume my legally-acquired copy.

For these reasons, I only buy and read non-DRM’ed PDFs, HTML, and plain text. All those other formats? For a fiction book, forget it. I don’t want any fiction book so badly that I’m willing to put up with this junk to read it. Plenty of other fish in the sea.

Now, let’s talk about price.

I understand that book publishing is a hard business, especially the fiction publishing. I totally understand the need to make money. But speaking as a consumer of ebooks, as a reader, I do not want to pay more than $5 or $6 for a fiction book.

No matter how good it is, no matter who wrote it or how profound the message, no matter the rereadability. I used to buy a lot of new paperbacks for $5 – $8, and I don’t want to spend any more than that for what I see as the next generation of paperbacks. In fact, I think ebooks should be a bit less than the hard copy. Not a lot, but a dollar or two.

Is this irrational, considering I know from experience the costs of producing and marketing a book, regardless of the format? Perhaps. But as a business owner, I know to serve my customers first, because without my customers, I would not have a business. That means listening to them, and above all, trying not to piss them off.

As a reader, what is your idea of a fair price for a fiction ebook?
Think of what you want, strictly as a consumer and book buyer. Cut out the justification; pretend you don’t know anything about what it takes to produce a book, and you don’t care.

What do you want to pay? Do you think $14.99 is too high? Are you OK with Kindle’s $9.99 or less? I’d really like to find out what you think as a buyer first, no matter if you’re also on the production end.

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Awesome! I have dreamed of this day… (cell phone novels)

Ever since I was little, I’ve had visions of producing serial stories on hand-held devices. I saw my dad’s early Palm predecessor and was instantly, insanely jealous, even though those gadgets were only able to hold names and addresses. I saw the potential, though (you know what they say, to find the potential of any new technology, give it to a kid.)

This year, I became aware of Cellstories, but it seems to focus on short fiction, and I get the feeling that it is more literary or experimental. I’m more interested in pure entertainment, and the recent articles about “Bunny’s” amateur, romantic cell phone novels got me all excited again. It’s enough to make me want to get a new phone.

Noncommercial writing helps writers be more honest and creative, frees writers from market constraints.
There is something so cool about this. Bunny’s stories were put out with noncommercial intent in a noncommercial market. Though the books went to print and made some money, the author’s objective was solely to entertain.

This is the same ethos that fan fiction writers have, and I think it’s a very positive environment to write in. It’s freeing to not have to worry about anything else but delivering the best entertainment possible to your audience. You don’t have to think about issues such as marketability, finding an agent, genre constraints and conventions, mass appeal, etc. You can just tell the story you want to tell, straight up, delivering it directly to the people who want to read it.

If you self publish, you also have this freedom in a commercial marketplace.
I’m aware that most people think of self-published works as stuff that wasn’t good enough to get picked up by a “real publisher.” That is certainly true of a lot of self-published writers. But I’m also aware that the freedom can result in better works that are between you and your audience.

Yes, you still have to go through an editorial process, but that editor really works for you. The editor you hire helps you make the writing into what you want it to be, not into what the publisher thinks it can sell. There is nothing wrong with this, by the way — I fully support publishers and think that they are, and will continue to be, very valuable.

Direct market feedback made my work stronger.
But if I had not self published, thousands of people wouldn’t have gotten the best possible education on a niche topic. I would have been constrained into a more marketable “coffee table” type book with pretty pictures and lush prose, but little valuable information. I wouldn’t have the personal relationship with fans who eagerly buy everything my little press puts out, and I wouldn’t be able to nurture my growing list of members.

The direct communication with my audience made my book better, both because I was able to get direct feedback, but also because I knew I had no one else to answer to. I was able to do what I thought would result in the absolute best end result, not what a publisher wanted to see. Then, members of my list beta-tested the writing directly and gave me feedback; I even had an editor among my members, so it worked out.

Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a post about how every author should learn how to build and nurture a list of fans, so I’m going to stop there. My point is, these new devices are helping free artists from existing constraints. And it looks like the audience is in favor.

How can you take advantage of this freedom?
I would never argue that self publishing is for everyone. It’s a ton of work and to do it successfully takes a certain kind of person. But the ability to communicate directly with fans — and write for them alone — is something that every writer can leverage. I’d love to see even big name writers putting out their own experimental works, or stories of “unsellable” length, for their fans via cell phone.

It’s not about getting more exposure, though that will be a side effect. It’s about being able to write exactly what you want and get it delivered to fans. This has never been possible before, not this cheaply, instantly, or on such a massive scale. In the past, if artists wanted mass exposure, they were stuck relying on an existing publisher’s resources of distribution network and reproduction technology. That usually meant adapting their own ideas to the publisher’s (usually well-intentioned) guidelines.

But now, we can let the market speak for itself — we can hear people’s votes without a representative — and that is really cool. I’d love to hear your comments and ideas about this.