|Photo by jhritz, from Flickr Creative Commons|
A mass market paperback (the small kind) costs around $8-$10 now. They're fairly cheap to produce, but given the price of materials and labor, that $8-$10 starts to seem fairly reasonable. E-books can be produced much cheaper because there are no "real" material production costs. However, if a book is published by a press, the press has to pay editors, copy editors, proofreaders, formatters, cover artists, etc. The press also has to make money to operate. It costs a lot of money to run a business, yo. Distributors also take a cut (nomnom). After that (and only after), the author gets paid royalties.
But that's the thing. Authors should get paid for all the work they've done. And the cheaper the book, the less money the author makes. Let's see. I've spent 14 months on The Wicked Instead. If I could count up the hours I'm sure I'd be boggled. This is before cover art, copy editing/proofreading and formatting. So if my book is priced at 99 cents, what does that say about how much I value my own work? Yes, please give me 45 cents for fourteen months of work and a hundred thousand words.
I don't think so.
Now, you might inform me that if a mass market paperback is sold for $8, then the author, receiving 10-15% royalties, probably isn't getting much more than that per book. Well. Here's the thing. We (those involved in the publishing world) have to decide who will benefit from the lower production costs of e-book pricing. It really ought to be the authors. I don't just say that because I'm an author, although yes I would like to get paid for all that work, thanks, but because it's fair. Who does the bulk of the work? The author. I'm not discounting the invaluable work of production staff, who also deserve to get paid, but it the fact of the matter is, it's the author who actually produced the piece to be sold and the author who pretty much continually gets shafted. The salaries of production staff get paid by the company, who gets revenue from multiple sources. The author has that one source of royalties. One.
E-book publishing has a lot going for it in terms of flexibility. E-pubs can take risks because if something flops, they're not forced to eat the cost of all those unsold paper copies. What does this mean? Well, it ought to mean that the industry becomes more author friendly. The spirit of entitlement that comes with buying and selling ridiculously books baffles and angers me. If I sell a book for 99 cents, I'm telling you that that is all my book is worth, so you, the consumer, will start to believe it.
You know what? We pay for things. This is how we get on in the world. I mean, let's face it, the market is already pretty reader friendly. Readers can buy print books from second-hand shops (a practice I fully support, by the way) or borrow from friends or get books from the library. Yes, e-books are harder to trade or lend. I don't dispute that and I think the industry can go a lot further than it has in making these practices accessible. But again, these practices ought to benefit the author in some way.
I would venture to guess that most people wouldn't think twice about paying money for any other item crafted by human hands. I mean, hell, I've paid $50 for a hand-made decorative clay bowl before because it was freaking gorgeous. I'm paying the people who produced that gorgeous bowl. I am not entitled to pay any less because maybe the potter got clay on sale. That means, yay for him, that he can make more money, keep his business open and keep producing gorgeous clay bowls.
Call me crazy, but to me the purpose of e-publishing is to be different and better than traditional publishing, not just to be a clone. The publishing industry ought not to be just about selling a product, but about supporting the person who created that product. Feeling entitled to buy things for less than they're actually worth is consumerism at its very worst.
Authors: if you believe in your book, price it like you believe in it. Readers: if you believe in books, pay for them like you believe in them.