What Book Publishers Do Right and What They Do Wrong

I love books. They have my friends since I learned how to read and there are somewhere around 1000 in my house not counting e-books or audio books. There is no way I will ever be able to read all of them in my life-time but that doesn’t keep my from purchasing more.

Except I have not been purchasing anywhere near as many books as I once did. This has much to do with the pricing of books. Hard cover books are excessively expensive. Enough so that unless you purchase them from a small, local bookstore you get anything from a 10-30% discount on purchasing them. Trade editions (the ones that are somewhere between the size of a hard cover and the size of most paperbacks, also known as mass market) are less than 1/2 the price of hard covers only they don’t come with any sort of discount. Shame in my opinion. Mass market prices have gone up $1-3 in the last four or five years. Then you have electronic books. In some cases they are the same price as trade books which makes them more expensive than the physical book. In other cases they are the same price or only $1-3 less, making them the same price I would have expected to pay for a physical copy five years ago. The electronic copy of a book does not have the same value or worth as a physical copy but we, the consumers, are expected to not realize that. That’s without getting into the whole DRM/DRM-free battle. I’ll leave that to my husband to explain.

The long story short here is that I have avoided purchasing many books because I cannot justify putting yet another book on my already overflowing bookshelves that I may or may not read. I also am unable to justify the price of the electronic copy of the book even if that’s the most convenient way to read.

There are two publishers (that I am aware of) that continue to price-fix their e-books so they are more than their physical books and are sold with DRM. The biggest culprit of this, at least of the publishers that I tend to read books from, is Penguin Group which publishes most of its sci-fi/fantasy books under Ace Publishing. They were so bad that I just wrote a letter to Penguin Group voicing my concerns. You can read it at the end if you’re curious.

Some publishers are slowly figuring this out. They are making a token effort at satisfying their consumers. Their electronic books are at least consistently less than mass market books and they are DRM-free. Tor/Forge of Macmillan is the best example that I’m aware of, again because they are the sci-fi/fantasy publishing company for Macmillan. They’ve at least made a few steps in the right direction. O’Reilly Publishing has gone even further. They publish technical books (I keep mistaking them for text-books) and give their consumers the option to purchase the e-book in addition to their physical books for an additional $5 just by entering the ISBN number. Considering the fact that the absolute cheapest I’ve seen any of their books is $32 and they go as high $150 that is a fantastic deal.

I’ve seen individual authors do some really cool things too. Small, self-published authors frequently keep their e-books under $5, closer to $3, and will even give their first book for free to get people reading. There are several authors that I’ve started to read because of programs like that. Even big-name authors give cool deals to their readers when they can. The most recent I can think of was Brandon Sanderson who emailed the e-book of one of his novellas to anyone who emailed him a picture of them holding a copy of the physical book without asking for a penny more. He is really pleased with how that has worked out for him and is hoping to be able to do similar programs with his books in the future. He would really love to see the big publishers doing something like that for their consumers. He’s really pushing it for his next big release and I decided to email his primary publisher, Tor/Forge (Macmillan), to encourage this practice. Again, email can be found at the bottom.

I cannot wait for the time when publishers realize that e-books are the way to go. I am dearly attached to my physical books. I also dread moving them and needing to purchase more and more bookshelves. I like the convenience of my e-reader. I’ve already written about the pros and cons, here, so I won’t repeat all of it. Let’s just go with that the idea that I like both and see the pros and cons of both but like carrying my ereader around a whole hell of a lot more than all my physical books. I tend to hurt physical books when I carry them around.

There are a few good options for publishers. I addressed some of those in my email to Tor/Forge asking them to consider allowing consumers to purchase physical books and then get the ebook version either free or at a much reduced price. I would highly encourage anyone else who seriously enjoys reading books, whether they use an ereader (yet) or not, to email various publishers about this too. You could even copy what I’ve written below, though I would encourage you to add your own thoughts as well. My first email below is requesting a publisher to bundle physical books and ebooks together. The second is my email to Penguin Publishing regarding their horrid ebook pricing. It’s maybe a bit more negative in tone than I normally write, but they continue to anger me. My husband and I both will be writing to every publisher every time we don’t purchase a book because of stupid price schemes. If you’re upset by some of the not so awesome policies of publishers, I would also encourage you to email/write them about it as well.

Whether you do voice any concerns to publishers or not, thank you for reading this.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing you on behalf of myself and my husband. We are both avid readers and have been frequent purchasers of books published by Macmillan or subsidiaries, particularly Tor/Forge books. We have also grown quite fond of e-books due to their convenience and the fact that we can both read the same book(s) at the same time. This has also put us in a bit of a pickle. It is difficult for us to justify purchasing a physical book unless it is a special circumstance, e.g. a release from an author we want to display on our bookcases, but it is even more difficult to justify purchasing the e-book when it is either the same price or within $3-4 of the physical book. An electronic copy of a book is not worth the $5-10 that we are asked to pay. This has led us to purchase far fewer books than we otherwise would purchase. We leave bookstores empty handed seven times out of ten. We both have dozens of books on our individual Amazon wishlists that will never be purchased at their current pricing.

There is a solution that already seems to be working well for the movie industry and a practice that has also worked well for O’Reilly Publishing. When a consumer purchases a movie they often are purchasing an electronic copy of the movie as well. The movie industry does continue to sell movies and continues to make good profits. O’Reilly Publishing has set it up on their website so that a consumer can download a technical book for $5 after entering in the ISBN number for a physical copy of the text that they own. Again, they continue to make profits and have made no indication that they intend to change their policy. I would not propose that you rely upon the honor system like what O’Reilly does. However, what I propose would be two things: A hardcover purchase comes with a free copy of the electronic version of the book in whatever format each consumer’s e-reader supports. A soft cover purchase, whether trade or mass market, will come with the option for a reader to add on the electronic version for $1 more, again in whatever format works with their e-reader. This would also make the decision to shop at the local bookstore, as compared to Amazon or other online retailers, easier.

Another anecdotal note is based on comments from Brandon Sanderson at a recent book signing. He experimented with giving his readers the e-book copy of his novella, Emperor’s Soul, if they emailed him a picture of them holding the physical book. He has had good sales for this novella and has gotten many positive responses from his readers for this action. I personally believe that he is part of the leading wave of authors who have recognized that readers want to have options like this and that e-books will not kill the book industry but can be complimentary if handled properly.

I can guarantee that people like my husband and I, who are not alone in our desire to support authors and new books being released, would make many more book purchases.

Thank you for your time and consideration

Grumpy email to Penguin:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing you concerning the price of the e-book Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein currently published by Ace, a subsidiary of Penguin. This book was released in 1959 and was an award winning and best selling book at that time. It is still considered a must read for any sci-fi reader. However, you have lost at least 2 purchasers of a new copy in all formats because of your pricing for the e-book. $9.99 for an electronic copy of a book that has been available in mass market, currently priced at $8.99, for over 50 years is unacceptable. I have spoken with multiple people regarding my disgust at this pricing scheme, the vast majority of whom also read e-books. When I do purchase this book it will be at a used bookstore specifically with the intention to avoid giving you, the publisher, my additional financial support. I will not purchase any e-books from Penguin Group Publishing nor any of its subsidiaries until your anti-consumer policies have changed. I will also not purchase any other books, physical or audio, from your publishing group. I will continue to discuss my concerns with friends, family and co-workers to educate them on the way some publishers prey on their consumers.

Sincerely, a former Ace/Penguin group consumer,

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Reading!

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

Let’s see, if I look at my goodreads account I am reading several books and apparently none of them are things I’ve picked up in the last two weeks. Whoops! So what am I actually reading?
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

This is the first of what is planned to be 10-15 books in a series called The Stormlight Archive. Brandon Sanderson has been thinking and writing this series since he first started writing as a teenager. Even with only one book out (the 2nd should be coming out late this year, yay!) it’s clear that Sanderson knows where he’s going and what’s going to happen and has developed his writing enough that it promises to be a great high, epic fantasy story. I’m actually re-re-reading it right now along with several hundred other fans through a Tor sponsored guided re-read thing where everyone gets to have details they missed pointed out to them. I’m loving it! I’m also going through my kindle copy of the book and highlighting all the things that I feel are important to reference later or beg questions that may be answered later.

He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know by Jessica Valenti

I’m sort of on this feminism kick and have been finding all sorts of interesting things to ponder and think about. This book has been feeding some of that interest and desire to know moar.

So then what did I just finish? Funny I should mention Jessica Valenti. My most recent finished book was another one she published, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women.

It was really eye opening. I hadn’t realized just how lucky I was to grow up in the county and state I did. It also pisses me off to realize just how much this country is being dragged backwards by people who really have absolutely no right to be determining what is best for others. But I’m going to stop here before I go all grr argh so late at night.

Anywho, what’s on my to-read list?
Well, I need to finish my Star Wars stuff.

I have more Robert Heinlein to read.

And of course, I have a whole bunch of steampunk authors to catch up on, starting with this book:


From there, I’ve got several other books on my to-get and read list including the other two Penny Dread Tales books. Yay for books!

Daily Prompt: Ghostwriter

John Ringo. He’s funny, he writes science-fiction set in this world and urban fantasy that seems just as plausible. I believe he could totally write a biography about a normal person and make their life something most could read.

If he wasn’t available I’d go for Brandon Sanderson or Neil Gaiman. Sanderson because he has come into his own as a writer in the “epic” side of fantasy and I believe could weave a tale of suspense of even the most mundane of things. Gaiman because his perception of this world and all those in his head are something like 217 degrees left of “normal” which is awesome.