Revising Leah

December 10, 2008

What Do You Think About Ebooks?

pdaMe Against The [Publishing] World

One of my promotional strategies for my self-published novels is to make them available as ebooks at as many of the growing number of online vendors and distributors as possible. In short, if there is a place online where you can download or read contemporary fiction, I want my novels to be there.

Naturally, I face competition from the big publishing houses, which are also getting into the ebook game. The advantage that I have over them, I think, is that I can price my novels below their lowest prices. I’m even willing to give my novels away for FREE. How many commercial publishers are willing to do that? Not many, because for them, publishing is a business, first and foremost.

For example, let’s take Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which is available at a number of commercial ebook websites, including Amazon’s Kindle Store (for $6.99) and (for $10.99).¬† Those prices (especially the Ebooks price) are almost the same as the price of a physical copy of the novel. My question is, shouldn’t the cost of an ebook version of a novel be less than the physical copy? With ebooks, publishers can avoid many of the traditional costs of publishing — the costs associated with producing a physical book. With an ebook, you are simply making a digital copy of a file and sending that copy across the Internet to a computer. There are NO manufacturing or distribution costs associated with ebook production. Instead, the $6.99 and $10.99 costs are being split among the websites (Amazon and Ebooks), the author, and the publisher. When I decided to make The Spring available on the Kindle, I wanted to offer it for free, but Amazon required that I offer it for at least $0.99 — Amazon’s cut, so that’s the price I set it at.

It’s Not About The Moneymoney

Someone might argue that by pricing my book so low — even offering it for free, when I can — that perhaps I’m giving the impression to potential readers that my book isn’t really worth reading at all. Some might argue that Meyer’s novel in ebook form still costs a lot because it is a valuable commodity (especially at this point in time with a new movie out). My response to that is, What about Project Gutenberg? All of the ebooks available there are available for free. You can download the entire collected works of Shakespeare for nothing. Does that mean that Shakespeare’s plays are worthless? Of course not. We need to get away from this idea that the value of a work of art (whether it is literature or music or film) is tied directly to the amount of money that one must pay in order to possess a copy of that art. The music industry, in particular, has tried to tie the value of a song to its price tag. One of their [failed] arguments against file sharing is that if one acquires a song for free, then that degrades and demeans the artistic process that produced the song in the first place. They argue that without the economic incentive, artists will no longer create music. It’s an absurd argument. Art exists independently from the economic costs and gains that are required to produce it. Human art pre-dates any human economic system, and the desire to create art will exist long after every economic system has been laid to rest.

For me, creative writing has never been about making money. That’s one reason why I don’t feel it’s necessary to prostitute my work out to a publisher. What is most important to me is the act of creation and then sharing that creation with others. Making money is, at best, a secondary concern.

The Problems and Potential of Ebooks

It is economics, in fact, that is slowing the widespread adoption of ebooks and ebook readers. Reading a novel from one’s desktop computer is not an ideal experience, so there are a number of handheld devices (like the Kindle or Sony’s Reader Digital Book) that recreate the portability of the traditional book. I’d love to have one of those devices, but for now they are too expensive, and I don’t like the proprietary software and DRM that the devices force readers to use. An ebook reader ought to be able to open and display any PDF file, just as music players can now open and play any mp3 file.

Fortunately, other devices that weren’t originally intended to be used as ebook readers, can be used in that way. Two examples: Apple’s iPhone (and the iPod Touch) and the Nintendo DS.

Older readers pooh-pooh ebooks and ebook readers, saying that this technology will never catch on, that people will always prefer to read from a physical book. I’m not so sure about that. The “book” may be the “technology” that folks my age and older will always be more comfortable with, but the younger generation, and the generations not yet born, will be more likely to use electronic devices for most, if not all, of their reading. And if ebooks are how my intended audience (young people) are getting their reading material, then that’s where I want to be. And if young people are more willing to go for something that is free than something that costs $10.99, then I’ll offer my work for free. If that’s what the marketplace demands, then that’s what I’ll offer (how’s that for economics?).

Sorry this post is so long. But what about YOU? Do you have an ebook reader? Do you download ebooks? What do you think about the prices that publishers have set? How much longer will the traditional paper-based book exist? Is it on its way towards extinction?



  1. I don’t have an e-book reader yet because most of the e-books I’ve downloaded so far have been available as PDF files I can read on my computer. I’m not yet ready to make the switch and start reading novels or serious nonfiction on a reader. Not my cup of tea.

    One challenge I see here with giving away books for free is that that may signal readers that a person’s not a professional writer. If s/he was a professional, they couldn’t afford to give away all of their books for free simply because writing is a business. How does a writer survive by giving it all away?

    (I’m not sure using Project Gutenberg as an example of free stuff factors in here because none of that work is current. It’s all in the public domain.)

    It will be interesting to see how your plan works. If it does, I’ll be back for some advice. :-)


    Comment by knightofswords — December 10, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  2. The Sony Reader can indeed do PDF, but PDF is a format really made for 100% scale reproduction of the source material. Adobe has tried to get around that by delivering PDF text reflow for Sony, but the results can be gruesome, depending on the genealogy of the PDF file. You can try all of this out for yourself by downloading Sony’s free eLibrary desktop software. When you enlarge the text in a PDF, you will see the reflow that usually also happens on the Reader.

    PDFs are best created optimized for the Reader itself:

    — and note, those PDFs will then also look great on other eInk readers (though they won’t be able to do text reflow).

    Comment by mikecane — December 10, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

  3. @Malcolm:
    In my case, I don’t depend on my writing for my livelihood — I have a day job. If my paycheck did depend upon my writing, then obviously, that would be a different situation. I suppose that means that I’m not a “professional” (and I’m not sure what that means in terms of creative writing), but as I wrote in the post, what’s important to me is building an audience, not making tens of thousands of dollars.

    It may seem paradoxical to give away one’s work as part of a marketing strategy, but think of it this way: I’m a no-name nobody. I’m not a household name like Stephenie Meyer is. Thus, if I offer an ebook version of my novel for $5, $10 or whatever, readers are less likely to download it because they don’t know who I am or if what I’ve written is any good. If I offer it for free, then I’ve removed that barrier — the financial risk that is involved in purchasing an ebook. A reader can download my novel for free, and if they don’t like the first few chapters, then they can delete it from their device, no harm, no foul. If the reader really likes what I’ve written, then maybe they’ll be more likely to purchase a copy of my book or purchase my next book. But I would never have attracted that potential customer if I didn’t give my book away in the first place.

    Comment by jmreep — December 10, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

  4. I agree with you completely, and thank you for answering to my blog about what readers like to see, it was helpful.

    I am also standing up against the world of publishers, every rejection angers me, because its based on so little. I know when my book hooks, and its in chapter two, but everyone wants chapter one.

    I’m not about to minipulate my story either, put all the action in the front and allow it to fizzle. I like to build my stories, make them into something so titilating, people come back for the second and third volumes.

    For this reason, and thank god a have the talents for design, I’m going it on my own.

    SO CONGRADULATIONS! and high five :)

    Comment by featherbookseries — December 10, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

  5. and i’m not about the money either, i just want people to read the story, understand life from a different view. Live my story per say.

    Comment by featherbookseries — December 10, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

  6. @Feather:
    I really believe that the Internet will change the publishing world utterly, just as it has completely changed the music and newspaper industries.

    And it’s interesting what you say about stories that start out strong but “fizzle” at the end. I can think of at least two contemporary novels that I’ve read that were really fascinating ideas for stories, started out strong, but just fell apart by the end, as if the authors didn’t know how to end their stories. That’s not an indictment of the publishing world, but it does suggest that the way novels find publication might not be very healthy for the creative process.

    Comment by jmreep — December 10, 2008 @ 9:30 pm

  7. You should make your book available for free via Stanza, the popular iPhone eBook reader.

    Comment by Sharon — December 10, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

  8. I read ebooks from Stanza on my iPod Touch. I find it very convenient, therefore I doubt I would purchase a Kindle or Sony Reader. So far, all of the books I have found at Stanza have been free.

    I also have a library from TextOnPhone at Facebook, which allows me to easily read on my computer, however I have not really used it yet. It does look good. Those books have been free also.

    Comment by neddy — December 14, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

  9. I’ll look into Stanza. If I can get my work there, I will.

    Comment by jmreep — December 14, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  10. […] describing my self-publishing efforts in my current blog, Revising Leah, I sometimes contrast the process of self-publishing with that of “traditional” publishing. The more I think […]

    Pingback by What “Tradition”? « Publishing Renaissance — January 19, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  11. We just hi 200,000 titles on our eBooks tab. This industry is certainly going to grow and overtake printed medium by at least 50% of total market size within next 10 years.

    Comment by Char — January 25, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

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