Monday, December 6, 2010

Guest: Robin Spano on eBooks

I am pleased to have Robin Spano as a guest blogger. Robin recently published Dead Politician Society, her first book in the Clare Vengel series. Book two will be in stores before you know it! Here's what Robin has to say about ebooks and pricing:

I love my publisher – a Canadian house called ECW Press. They're smart, supportive, and seriously cutting edge. We see eye-to-eye on most things.

But we've been having this little discussion lately:

ECW's List Price for the Dead Politician Society ebook: $10.99

Me: Hey, can we lower the price, to maybe $4.99?

ECW: No. People don't buy books because they're cheap – they buy them because they want that book.

Me: Sure, but you can buy the paperback from Amazon for $10.79. No one's going to say, Oh, I'll buy the ebook for 20 cents more. Are they?

ECW: We think they'll buy the format that works best for their lifestyle – as long as it's affordably priced, which it is in both cases. We worry that slashing the price devalues literature. If the ebook is under $5, it means the work of that writer is worth under $5.

Me: Really? So it's a moral argument?

ECW: Kind of. We love books, and we love writers. We don't want to devalue either. Until the market shows us what the accepted valuation of an ebook is, we'll keep them priced on a par with paperbacks.

Me: So you're interested in what the market says?

ECW: Of course. But what we've found so far is that if someone wants a book – if they think it looks cool or interesting – they're willing to pay $10 or more, just like they would for a movie or a couple of cocktails. If they don't want a book, they won't buy it for $1.99, or any price.

Me: But an ebook isn't a movie or a cocktail – those have exciting, fast payoffs, which people are happy to pay for. I think the price should be relative to a print book – its closest competition. Since ebooks can't be loaned or shared as easily as print books can, and they can't be autographed, I put their valuation at about half what a paperback is worth. And come on – ebooks are way cheaper to produce, right?

ECW: Okay, Hot Shot. We'll try this experiment: For one week – Tues. Dec. 7–Mon. Dec.13 – we'll make Dead Politician Society available from iBooks, Kindle, and Kobo for $1.99. We'll see if sales jump – but we're pretty sure they won't.

Me: I'm pretty sure they will. Hey, how about a challenge – if x number of ebooks sell that week – say 100 or more – you'll concede the point and lower the price permanently. To, say, $4.99.

ECW: Ha ha. We don't make our business plans based on online gambling games with writers. And there's still that moral dilemma – the valuation of the writer's work. But our minds are open. We'll talk when the experiment's done.

Me: Awesome – let's see what the book-buying community has to say.

What this week's results will tell us:

If Dead Politician Society sales jump dramatically: it will show that price does matter. It may or may not convince ECW to lower the e-book price permanently, but their minds are open – they're interested in what the public has to say.

If sales don't increase, I'll concede their point: Price is not a primary factor in e-book sales.

How to make your voice heard:

If you agree with ECW that price is not an issue, do nothing. (Or better yet - buy the book at full price when the promotion is over.)

If price is important – and you think ebooks should cost dramatically less than print books – there are 2 ways you can help get that message to my publisher (and ultimately the publishing industry):

1. Buy the Dead Politician Society ebook from Kobo, Kindle, or iBooks (or anywhere else that it's $1.99 this week)
2. Share a link to this challenge on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or anywhere you think mystery-lovers will see it.

I'll keep results updated at Facebook and Goodreads – come by and say hello!

About the Book

Dead Politician Society is lighthearted crime fiction - think Charlie's Angels meets Janet Evanovich. A young female cop poses as a university student to penetrate a secret student society that's been claiming credit for the deaths of local politicians. Most readers so far find this a good, fun read.


  1. On Amazon it’s not available outside the US, so I guess I won’t buy it. Too bad.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Oh - sorry to hear that. I heard a rumor that you can lie to Amazon about where you live. But I've never tried it myself . . . Thanks for the support anyway!!

    Sorry I deleted my old comment accidentally. I think it says the same as this!

  4. I don't usually read mysteries. I would never take a chance on a book outside my preferred genres $10.99, not in a million years. But for $1.99? Sure. The reviews were good, the premise interesting, so I bought it. Thanks for the opportunity, both to participate in the experiment and to get an inexpensive book!

  5. Hey, anonymous, you rock. Thanks so much for taking a chance. And I seriously appreciate you letting me know your opinion on the $10.99 price - it's exactly this kind of comment that my publisher will be looking at when we analyze the challenge at the end of this week.

  6. Most eBooks Amazon sells are available outside the US as well, so your publisher seems to have deliberately blocked it from international distribution.

    Adding to that the high standard price of $11 makes me question weather they want to sell your book at all?

  7. It's a shame your publisher appears only to have made the Kindle edition available for US residents. I live in the UK, and can't even see it on the site, and while it shows up on the Amazon UK site, the listing says "pricing information not available", and the book is listed as "not currently available". You might want to talk to your publisher about this, as it's limiting your sales.

  8. Okay, so I've heard UK friends say you can lie about your address and Amazon won't check!

    But it shouldn't be blocked from Canada - thanks for highlighting this - I'll ask my publisher and check back if anything changes.

  9. Ha ha, okay here are the results of me asking: The Kindle version is available officially in Canada and the US only (it's a rights thing). But if lying works, I think it's a victimless crime.

  10. victimless crime... for a crime fiction writer you sure are naive. It's a crime to impose geo restrictions for *E*book, while I can order paperback even from the moon.

    Oh, and I am the victim here, because lying about where I am from will never convince publishers to abandon this policy.

    While you are on crusade for lower ebook price, I rage against geo restrictions. So no money for you or your publisher from me.

  11. @grega_g - Fair enough. I'm glad you're having your say with your wallet - and with your words.

    That's a good point about the victim being the consumer. (i.e., By lying, we're only supporting the status quo, rather than making a point.) Although I don't like the hostility with which you make the point - or call me naive because you disagree with me - it's enough to convince me not to recommend that route in the future.

    So thanks.

  12. While I would much rather an e-book be priced at $1.99 than $2.99, Amazon does offer a 70% royalty program with the following stipulations:

    - The author or publisher-supplied list price must be between $2.99 and $9.99.
    - The list price must be at least 20 percent below the lowest list price for the physical book.
    - The title is made available for sale in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights.
    - The title will be included in a broad set of features in the Kindle Store, such as text-to-speech. This list of features will grow over time as Amazon continues to add more functionality to Kindle and the Kindle Store.
    - Under this royalty option, books must be offered at or below price parity with competition, including physical book prices.

    Fortunately this incentivizes pricing a book below $10. Unfortunately, it disincentivizes pricing the book too low.

  13. I'll give the book a try. I'll support any author who is taking a realistic look at the pricing of ebooks.

  14. Hey Spider, thanks for the breakdown. Makes sense why $2.99 is such a popular price point for authors putting their own stuff up. i.e., They know that to sell it cheaply gets more readers, and it's the lowest they can go and still get paid.

    Thanks for the support Xanthe! I hope you enjoy the read.

  15. Well, just bought the book on Kobo. I normally stick to sci-fi/fantasy stuff; however, I have read a couple of mystery style books that I liked. So, at $2 I figured this is definitely worth checking out. I doubt that they will; however, if your publisher wants to know the state of what the reading public is looking for in ebook prices they should check out . Although not the same as "voting with their wallets" (this forum is where I found out about your book) I think that they would find That for more unknown authors most of the people there feal that the ebook should be priced somewhere between $3 and $5 and best selling authors should not be priced at more than about $10 dollars. They also may want to check out . Granted that they specialize in sci-fi/fantasy and are a smaller publisher, but they do well for themselves and their authors from what I understand and they fit within the above pricing generally. They also have a free section where authors can put 1 or 2 books for free (volunteer basis for the author) as a promotion to let people experience the writing style of the author. I someone likes the book well enough they can even donate to the author straight through the site (I have actually done this once personally).

    Anyway, good luck :)

  16. I should have proof read the above post before posting.

  17. Thanks, rwizard! I hope you enjoy the book and thanks for the tip about the site. Those prices make good intuitive sense to me, so I appreciate the corroboration - and the link to find out where people are talking about it!

  18. I just purchased the book. I totally disagree with your publisher on the price of literature; I think the opposite in fact. Literature has an intrinsic social value and should be available to everyone, keep in mind we aren’t actually buying your book we are licensing the content. E-reader people are more sensitive to price because 1) we read so much (I can consume 3 books a week) and 2) it is non-transferable, I can’t sell it to the used bookstore, I can’t loan it to my friends and when technology changes I either have to go through the pain of converting it to a new format or lose it. That being said $1.99 is a ridiculous price for a new work. I would use the half-rule, if all you have out is the hard cover, offer the Kindle version at half that price. If you have a paperback out for $7.99 make the Kindle version $3.99. It is about what I would pay for it at a half-price store only I don’t have to go over and hope they have it. Nothing ticks me off more than a publisher who lists the Kindle price as the same as the hard copy, or ones who say the Kindle product actually costs them more to make because they just add in the costs of the E-book production process without subtracting all that printing, shipping, warehousing, that goes on with the hard copies. It’s as if they can’t imagine just creating an E-book without a paper counterpart. Thanks for this experiment.

  19. I found myself immediately disliking the character of ECW almost from the start. Its arrogant and condescending attitude made me want to root for the other guy. I could buy the other guy's book and thus stick it to ECW, but then I realized that this was ECW's evil plan all along, and I had almost fallen into its clever trap. Nice try, ECW. I'd rather you just keep selling them for $15 or whatever price you deem is fair, then let readers vote with their wallets. When the dust settles, we'll see who is right by who sells the most books. You can sell more for less and still make the most profit.

  20. Thanks back c.i.! I like that half-rule. It makes intuitive sense.

    And yeah - the argument that ebooks cost the same to produce is lunatic. Maybe if the publisher has a terrible business plan. (To their credit, ECW has never claimed that - but I have heard others say it.)

    I hope you enjoy the read.

  21. I'm in. Generally I'm a Scifi/fantasy genre girl but it's worth a try for $2. I appreciate you and your publisher trying to make sense in the new world. It seems like most publishers are thinking of any reason to keep the status quo.

  22. Just to let you know. It's not listed for Kindle at $1.99 it's $8.79. I'll check back later to see if it's been dropped.

  23. Hey vinity, thanks!!! But the project ended last week. It worked, I think - sales jumped by approx. 30x their normal rate on Kindle. But my publisher hasn't gotten results back yet from the Kobo or iBooks, so we haven't sat down to analyse what the results mean yet. Looking forward to it, though!

  24. i am curious abot the results ...