I’ve seen a lot of articles going around lately like this one, trumpeting how paper sales are soaring and people are putting down their ereaders.
This is really not as simple as this article and others like it would make it seem, for a few very important reasons.
One, agency pricing has been reinstated by the major publishing conglomerates. I’ve posted about this in the past, but as a brief refresher, what agency pricing means is that publishers get to set the prices for their ebooks. On the surface this sounds like a good thing, since it’s a blow against Amazon being so fond of the 9.99 price point for ebooks.
The problem with this, however, is that this means that the major publishing houses now have bumped the prices back up for a LOT of new ebook releases. So we’re seeing a lot of titles coming out with price points like $12.99, $13.99, and $14.99, and sometimes even higher.
Of course the big publishers are going to trumpet print sales rising. It’s in their best interests to keep people buying print books. In fact, they’re specifically interested in getting people to buy hardbacks–because those are still the big things that rake in money for their coffers. They have far fewer fucks to give about digital than they do about print, because the hardbacks are still the things they want to make money on.
But you know what they’re not talking about? How indie digital sales are doing. Which brings me to point two: that this hype going around is completely ignoring the independent, self-pubbed digital market. I point you over here, at AuthorEarnings.com, where they’re talking about how there is a strong shift in ebook purchasing over to indie-published and Amazon-imprint-published ebooks.
There’s a real simple reason for this, and that reason is ebook pricing.
As a member of NIWA, I’m in a position to see a lot of my fellow indie writers experimenting with their pricing, trying to find a price point that actually moves titles. The vast majority of indie writers I know sell their titles for way, way cheaper than the big publishing houses do, because they’ve discovered that selling a novel for $2.99, $3.99, or $4.99 is going to get them way more sales than trying to sell at $12.99 or up.
Likewise for digital-first imprints, like Carina. There are reasons my trilogy with Carina sells for $2.99 for each of the three books, and that reason is that that price point has been regularly demonstrated to be way more effective in pulling in digital readers.
Dear Author and Smart Bitches both run regular features on their sites highlighting books that have gone on sale for $2.99, $1.99, or $.99, because the romance genre in particular is full of readers that burn through so many titles that they are eager to snap up books for as cheaply as they can get them.
And this certainly lines up with my own experience as a purchaser of ebooks. As y’all know if you regularly follow me here on my blog or on the social media sites, I buy ridiculous numbers of books every year (as documented on my gosh-i-have-a-lot-of-books tag. I’m very, very grateful that I have enough disposable income that I can in fact afford to buy all the books I want whenever I want them–but I do also have to exercise at least some level of judiciousness in it.
So I am very, very unlikely to buy a book at more than $12.99. I’ll make occasional exceptions, but if a new release I want comes out at that price or above–usually because the accompanying print edition has come out in hardback–then I am NOT going to get that ebook when it releases. I’m just not. I’ll be a lot more likely to buy it later when the mass market version comes out in print, and the accompanying ebook price comes down.
Because here’s the thing. I can either get one ebook for $14.99, or I can get three for $4.99. Assuming all the authors in question write a book that genuinely entertains me for whatever reason, that’s three times the amount of entertainment for a similar price. I and other power-buyers like me cannot ignore this. My income is good, but it is not infinite.
And when those cheaper books are books by indie authors, this is going to fly right under the radar of media sources that still only have fucks to give about what the big names in publishing are doing.
Point number three: sure, Waterstones stopped selling Kindles. But as The Digital Reader points out, this is less of a question of people abandoning digital reading in general, and more of a question of people moving towards reading on general-purpose tablets or on their phones instead.
See previous commentary re: disposable income. If you want to get into reading ebooks, it’s a very legitimate question as to whether you should spend your money on a device that does only one thing–or whether it would be much more cost-effective to get a general-purpose device like an iPad or an Android tablet instead. Or a large phone, for that matter. That way you can still read ebooks, and do a bunch of other things on the same device.
This is a particularly important question if you don’t have much disposable income to spare.
The overall takeaway I encourage you to get from this: if people are buying print books, awesome, more joy to them. Just please don’t make this all about “yay people are buying REAL books”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a digital book may not be in physical form, but I guarantee you, that book is every bit as real to its writer as a book that made it into print.
And for a reader who loves that book? It’s still every bit as real too, whether she read it on her phone or on her tablet or in a web browser.
So don’t sound that death knell for digital yet. It’s not going anywhere. Trust me.