Thursday, 5 January 2012

Kathleen Jones: Why Publishers don't want to sell E-Books

Copyright Cecily Allison
As I spend a lot of time in Italy, getting enough reading matter in English is a problem.  Books weigh a lot and take up space; budget airlines put the squeeze on both. I’ve staggered through security trying to look nonchalant with a handbag that threatened to break my shoulder blades.  I’ve tried cramming them into pockets, tucking them down the waistband of my trousers, until my clothes were ruined.    Postage is also impossible - air mail to Italy costs almost as much as the book!

So I’ve become more and more dependent on my Kindle for reading and I’ve come to love it.  Apart from books I want to buy as beautiful objects I now prefer to buy E-books.   The problem is now getting hold of the ones I want to read - particularly those newly published.  Publishers just don’t want to sell them.

Last year I really wanted to read the new Philippa Gregory novel, The Lady of the Rivers, published by Simon and Schuster.  It was available in paperback, hardback, audio format and Kindle, but when I looked at the prices I could hardly believe what I saw.  The Kindle was priced at several pounds more than the hardback - which was already at the kind of price where you needed an overdraft to buy it.  Even now, discounted in January, you can buy the paperback for £3.86, the hardback for £5.70, and the Kindle for a mere £9.99!

Given the production cost of physical books, the transportation and storage, you would expect them to be more expensive than an electronic version created in less than an hour by a cyber technician from the original edited Word file.   Yes, I agree, the creative costs of author advance, editing and publicity have to be shared across all the various formats - but surely they have to be SHARED EQUALLY?    The only conclusion I can come to is that certain publishers do not want to sell E-books.

It seems to be part of the general reluctance to engage with the E-book market, clinging by the fingernails to the concept of ‘traditional core publishing’ - whatever that is. And there are other commercial reasons.   I asked around friends in the publishing industry and the answers I got were surprising.   It seems that, having invested large amounts of money in printing hardbacks and then paperbacks, the publishers are afraid that too many people will rush out and download the book onto their I-pads and Kindles and they will be left with loads of paper books languishing on their shelves.  There is, also, though many are reluctant to talk about it, a bigger chunk of the sale price going to the publisher from the paper book.  Authors get more from the E-book, Amazon and other sellers take a cut, and the VAT man takes a slice.

But, though no-one says it, you can’t help entertaining the suspicion that some of these high E-book prices are motivated by greed.  This is a new and burgeoning market and if there are people like me, desperate to read the latest novel by a top-selling author, there is the opportunity to get more money out of them.   I’m afraid I won’t be one of them.   If I decide I still want to read the novel when I’m next back in England, I’ll buy it in paperback and squash it in my pocket!

Where my own sales are concerned, I try to price the books as commercially as possible.   I’m delighted that the Christina Rossetti biography, after my brief appearance on the BBC One show, has sold quite a few E-copies. The marketing delights of television!  One buyer bought twelve of them.  A reading group?   Someone giving Christmas presents?  Looking at buying patterns is fascinating.

(The cartoon is by New Zealander Cecily Allison, whose drawings I love.  Do look at her site.)

Christina Rossetti:  Learning not to be First

A Passionate Sisterhood:  The Sisters, Wives & Daughters of the Lake Poets.

Three and Other Stories


Anonymous said...

I agree, pricing an ebook at more than a paperback is commercial idiocy. However, to be fair, producing a decent ebook does take rather more than a hour or two - a couple of days' work, at least, if you're going to do it properly. That said, ebooks should always be a bit cheaper than printed books.

Susan Price said...

Very thought provoking, Katherine - and folks! Author Electric e-books are not overpriced!

madwippitt said...

Absolutely with you on this! Why should an e-book, minus all the things that make a paper book such a joy to hold and handle, cost more? I don't mind paying the same price (although as there are no materials involved it doesn't seem quite fair) but I do get cross at having to pay more. And some authors simply aren't available on Kindle - I ended up going to our lovely secondhand book shop to pick up some Anne McCaffrey Pern books as they weren't available on Kindle.

Avril said...

Couldn't agree more! Great news about sales for the Christina Rossetti biography - well deserved

Linda Gillard said...

I'm sure you're right, Kathleen.

I gather a major cost to publishers is warehouse storage, so it's really important that they keep their stock moving. I suspect the e-books are produced because authors and agents insist, but publishers price them so that most people will buy the hb or wait for the pb.

(Loved the cartoon btw.)