With no printing, warehousing or return costs, some say e-books should be cheaper to produce and distribute than print books. So why should consumers pay hardback or even paperback prices for e-book titles?
That may be a burning question for some book readers – potential consumers who want to embrace the notion of reading on screen, but don’t want to pay the current prices.
Presumably, if you lower prices, they will come. That’s what one publisher is testing by lowering the cost of e-titles for a month-long promotion in hopes of luring more consumers to buy both print and e-versions.
Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books is offering both of author M.J. Rose’s e-titles, In Fidelity and Lip Service, for $4.95 during the entire month of February. Typically, these titles cost $13.95, which is the same as the list price on print editions.
“People are much more willing to read on the desktop when it doesn’t cost them a lot,” said Rose – who also writes a weekly column on e-book publishing for Wired News. She hopes that lower prices will entice either mainstream bibliophiles who have shunned e-books for their high costs or those who use the Web, but don’t buy print books.
Another concern is the high price of e-book reading devices, which range from $299 to $699 for RCA’s latest e-book devices. Manufacturers expect the prices to go down as more units are sold. In the meantime, the authors and publishers are doing what they can from their end.
“This is the best thing we can do to use e-books to introduce readers to our work. We should price them accordingly.”
This isn’t the first time that e-books have been sold below print cost. Other e-publishers have already experimented with selling shorter works and out-of-print books at lower prices.
Del Rey Books recently announced that they would publish the original Star Wars e-books at $1.99. Darth Maul: Saboteur is approximately 14,000 words in length and will be available for downloading on Feb. 15.
But while many independent publishers have sold e-books for less than their print counterparts, this is the first time that a major publisher has offered a new, full-length, front-list title at such a low price, said Keith Titan, director of electronic business development for Simon & Schuster.
The publishing industry as a whole is frightened that e-books will cannibalize print sales, Rose said. While publishers might be willing to lower the cost of an out-of-print or short-length e-book, few will cut prices of new releases.
“Until there’s enough market data to understand how electronic sales affect print sales, there’s going to be some conservatism,” Titan said.
But Rose thinks publishers’ fears are unfounded since many consumers haven’t switched over to e-books yet.
“I think everybody is afraid that e-books will compete with print sales,” agreed author Douglas Clegg. “I have not seen that happen.”
Some authors are wary that they will lose royalties if the price of e-titles is reduced. Still others insist e-books shouldn’t be priced more inexpensively than print books, even if they can receive higher royalties.
“We shouldn’t be thinking of e-books as a way to lower the cost of books for the buying public, but rather as a way of finally enhancing the livelihood of authors,” argued columnist Aliske Webb in an eBookNet.com article.
“People aren’t going to buy e-books because they are inexpensive. They will buy them for the content,” Webb said. “Just because we are able to make e-books more inexpensively and can pay authors a higher royalty as a result does not mean that the books themselves should be cheaper.”
But Rose thinks that lower e-book prices can benefit writers such as herself, who publishers describe as up-and-coming or mid-list authors.
“I think it’s the best thing that could happen for growing new authors and bringing back mid-list authors,” Rose said. “My goal is not to see how much I can make. It’s to see how big a readership I can build for each successive book.”
Many major publishers are already increasing e-book royalty rates to offer higher advances than print.
BarnesandNoble.com recently cut e-book title prices on its website, charging no more than $5.95 to $7.95 for electronic versions of newer works.
The online bookseller agreed to pay its authors royalties that amount to 35 percent of an e-book’s list price. That figure surpasses Random House’s groundbreaking agreement to pay authors 50 percent of Net revenues.
With increased royalty rates, authors can still reap high returns, even if publishers lower the cost of e-titles, Rose said.
Rose feels that lower prices will induce people to buy the print edition. If a reader decides to buy a low-cost e-book, they’ll want to own the paper book as well, she reasons.
Clegg decided to give away a free e-book version of his short novel, Purity, in order to increase sales. More than 21,000 people have downloaded the free e-book so far. Last year, Clegg also gave away his novel, Naomi, via free e-mail installments.
Before his foray into Web marketing, a typical Clegg title sold 20,000 copies. Now, he typically sells 100,000 copies of every print book released.
This increased Web readership has helped Clegg secure higher royalty rates for both hardcover and paperback titles.
“I think that’s an indication that readers have seen the e-book, taken to the e-book and advocated the book to the bookstore themselves,” Clegg said.
Author Seth Godin gave away online the entire text of his e-book, Unleashing the Idea Virus. Over 250,000 people downloaded the book. Godin sold 30,000 copies of the $40 hardcover version.
Even though e-authors have increased sales for print books through online promotions, it’s too early to tell whether publishers will lower e-book prices.
“It’s too new,” Rose said. “E-books are not even a year old in the consumer consciousness.”
After all, DVDs have been around for four years and they’re still not outselling videotapes, Rose said.
“In one year we’ve gone from the same royalty rate as print to being upped by every publisher,” Rose said. “It’s only going to get better.”