Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I’ve Contracted Stingy Book Buyers Disease

by James L. Rubart @JamesLRubart

True (embarrassing) confession. I’ve become cheap when it comes to buying books.

What‘s wrong with me?

A few months back the e-book version of Patrick Carr’s first novel, A Cast of Stones was offered for free. So I downloaded it on my Kindle. I liked it so much I bought the second book in the trilogy for my Kindle. Cost: $4.99


I finished The Hero’s Lot this past Saturday. Loved it. So I jumped on the web to get book three. Then I saw the price. $9.99?! Are you kidding? That expensive? I debated back and forth for at least twenty minutes before buying Draw of Kings.

But I didn’t hesitate for even a second when I strolled into Subway the other day and they wanted $9 for a flatbread pastrami sandwich.

The Conditioning Factors
We’ve torched ourselves haven’t we? If I had been buying quality sub sandwiches for the past three years for free, or .99 cents, I’d probably balk at paying nine bucks for a sub. But I haven’t.

We sure have been conditioned when it comes to books though. With Bookbub, and eReaderIQ and the like, we’ve trained readers (and ourselves) to think paying anything over five dollars for an e-book is a considerable amount of money. (Have you balked at paying even .99 cents for a book that looked good? I have.)

A few weekends back I flew to Oklahoma to speak at the ACFW chapter in Oklahoma City. I sat next to a man who is a rabid Lee Child fan. Has read every one of his Jack Reacher books. But he couldn’t imagine paying $15 for Child’s latest.

Lamonts
In the 80s and 90s there was a clothing store in the Seattle area that was basically a cheap version of Nordstroms. They sold a lot of merchandise until they implemented an advertising philosophy that was essentially to have everything on sale all the time.

I’m not talking 20% off sales. I’m talking 70% off.  All the time. How could they sustain that type of deep discounting? They couldn’t. Lamonts ended up filing for bankruptcy twice during the 90s and closed their doors for the final time in 2000 when they sold the company to Gottschalks (which went bankrupt as well in 2009.)

I Wouldn’t Want to Be a Publisher
I love my publisher. My editor has become a dear friend. But wow, I wouldn’t want to work there. They are up against significant challenges. I don’t mean them specifically. I mean any publisher. That’s a battered ship at the moment. (I do know what'd I do to turn the ship around which I'll share in a later column.)

What’s My Point?
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You realize we’ve cut our own throat. When your publisher is selling your books for .99 cents, you’re not making a lot of bank.

So what do we do? As authors I believe we need face reality (as many of you already have) and admit the only way we’re going to find an income is to embrace the hybrid model. I used to think it was an option. Not anymore.

Yes, I hear some of you saying, “Uh, James, where have you been? You just now waking up to that certainty?” Yeah, I suppose I am. But I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Three Questions
  • Have your buying habits changed?
  • Are you embracing the hybrid model? (Or the fully indie model?)
  • How can publishers keep from becoming Lamonts? 


James L. Rubart is the best-selling and Christy award winning author of six novels. He’s also a professional speaker, and marketer who helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at http://jameslrubart.com/

32 comments:

Rachel Hauck said...

Great post. But even a $9.99 in the "old model" authors weren't making a lot of bank either. At least at the $.99 model, we have the chance of making bank in volume sales rather than high price sales.

The marketing notion of creating something cheap or free for discoverability has also created exactly what you describe: a reader who feels a $6.00 book is outrageous.

I can't wait for your solution post!!

It seems to me Amazon is driving all of book pricing. With brick and mortar stores failing, and readers moving to e-readers, publishers are fighting for their rights, so to speak. And the cheap book is here to stay -- for now.

Ane Mulligan said...

I'm finding myself more open to paying more for an e-book by an author I know. If I love their writing, and the paperback isn't available, I'll couigh up the money to read their book. But I still prefer the paperback. And so do young people! I've been at some career fairs lately, talking to high schoolers and middle schoolers. They dont' like the e-readers as much as a "real" book.

Karen Robbins said...

Because of the volume of reading I do, I get a lot of my eBooks from the library but if something truly catches my attention, I don't mind paying the price for it if it's reasonable. I find my price point is $12 or less for eBooks. I wonder if readers balk at high prices for eBooks because they figure their is less money involved in production?

Patrick W. Carr said...

Ummm, thanks?
I hope it's worth the investment. :-)
Seriously, I'd love to talk about the process if only because I have manuscripts I'd like to rework to test the waters. You're the man.

Nicole said...

I think there's one additional point here worth mentioning. To produce an ebook is considerably less than a print book. For indie authors they will at least BE published and not have to wait until the turn of the century to maybe get a contract from a trad publisher. The margin of profit for an ebook (even if not fully indie) is huge compared to trad publishing or a trad-published ebook. And with a print novel, the retail prices often were too high, didn't reflect quality (they too had plenty of typos, etc., negligible storylines, writing, etc.). Not all trad published fiction was worth the asking price - so it's hardly a factor when some people decide to trash indie writers. Trad publishers, in my opinion, refused to see or listen to those authors they chose to discard or disregard. Asking authors to do more and more but paying them less? They might as well do it themselves. The system needed to be shaken up and now it is. (Again: JMO)

Richard Mabry said...

Jim, I find myself in the same mindset, and it's given rise to a mild case of schizophrenia, since as an author I like to see book prices high--the higher the better--but as a reader I'm...let's face it: cheap.
I'll eagerly await your answer to this dilemma. Meanwhile, thanks for sharing this much. I feel better knowing I'm not alone.

Sally Bradley said...

Exactly, Nicole. So many trad pub authors are going indie or are about to because of exactly what you said--no control, can't write what they want, paid less, told to do more work, no support from the publisher. I've heard this from some myself.

I'm on the other side of this; I don't see the cheap e-books as a problem. I'm buying more books than ever, supporting more authors than ever--but that's really only true if it's an indie book because the majority of that price goes to the author. I'm just past month two on my debut novel--only $3.99--and it's selling well and earning me nice money, more than I believe I would have made with a publisher. When you compare the two options, the indie option has a lot to offer.

Carrie Fancett Pagels said...

I'm concerned for publishing houses, too, and agree hybrid is the way to go and have already embraced that. There has to be a balance somewhere. My own ebook is priced as part of a series at 99 cents as this seems to be the price point people are aiming at for certain goals. But when I go to Starbucks and pay $5 for my son's frappe I can't help but wonder why readers won't pay that for a novella-length ebook, which will last much longer.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I see your point, and it's something indies do ponder all the time as we set our own prices. How low do we go, so to speak. But I have found that going free with books (either permanently, with the first in series, or occasionally for a few days) has extended my reader reach far beyond where I'd hoped to reach with traditional CBA publishers. In other words, indie authors (with low prices or freebies) can pull in more crossover readers who wouldn't consider Christian worldview novels otherwise. Yes, that means we get some one-stars due to Christian worldview. But that also means we get new readers who are hungry for something different. For me, it's been worth the risk to reach more readers. And keeping most of my royalties and all my rights is a big lure to STAY indie, now that I am.

Baseline indie prices have actually gone up a bit, and the permafree strategy may not stick around forever. The cool thing in this business is learning how to change and adapt to what readers want. Because in the end, it is about what the reader wants. I'm SO thankful we don't have to be TOTALLY starving artists now (published only posthumously or something) and we do have the option of getting our books out to those who want to read our genre/niche.

Connie Almony said...

James, this is not a new phenomenon only relevant to the publishing industry. Does anyone remember what the old Betamax video players cost—hundreds of dollars. We can now buy a DVD player (much better quality) for as little as $30. So what happened to inflation??? Remember when computers first came out … and what little they did for the ridiculous price tag they carried. Anyone remember the old AT&T commercial with the girl touting her long distance plan only cost 25cents a minute.
The truth is, technology has allowed the cost of ebook production and distribution to be reduced. (We indies are proof of that) It only makes sense that some of that cost reduction be passed on to the consumer. Why hasn’t the publishing industry done this as all other industries do? Yes, they still have to pay editors, cover artists, etc. (as do I!) But they don’t have to pay storage, shipping and printing on these items. Some of that should go back to the consumer who has invested in the technology to receive their books. Of course, this creates a problem for the author who only makes a percentage of the cost. Well, that just needs to change!
You use the Lamont model. I’d use the indie model. If indies can make a living selling fewer books (cheaper) because the overhead is so much less, what are the publishers doing when they sell more? I’d love to see the books. The math just doesn’t add up to me.

Vannetta Chapman said...

I think the key to your post is the word "hybrid." It's not an either/or scenario (See Steve Laube's post from yesterday). Yes, we all like a good "deal," but there are a few authors on my list that I buy as soon as they come out--pretty much regardless of price. Our goal, as an author, is to be on THAT list.

Michael Ehret said...

Patrick, your books are totally worth the investment!

Nancy Kimball said...

Exactly Vannetta. I have three authors that are I just don't care I'll pay whatever they want as soon as I can get my hands on it. And oddly enough, I discovered them through "cheapies" when their books were free or 99 cents. But everyone else? Yeah, 4.99 is as high as I'll go on the ebook. I only buy print anymore if I absolutely loved it and want to see it on my shelf and reread my favorite parts in paperback.

cristineeastin said...

Uh, I'm so cheap I balk if it's not in the library. I just haven't adapted to the e reader yet.

Robin Patchen said...

I'm getting much more discerning in what I'm willing to put on my Kindle. Even if it's 99 cents--heck, even if it's free, if I don't think it's going to be great, I don't get it. Life is too short to read mediocre books. And if a great book comes out by an author I want to keep writing, I pay for it. I'm as cheap as they come, but I spent $12.99 on Charles Martin's latest novel--and I had my library buy a copy, too. And then, just last week I plopped down serious jack for this paperback called Souls Gate. But I got the author's autograph, so it was totally worth it. (BTW, I'm really enjoying it so far.)

Jim Rubart said...

It's the music industry all over again (as we've all known for a long time) but they figured out that concerts had to be the money-maker. So we need our own kind of concert ...

Jim Rubart said...

If I'm on a trip, love my Kindle. If I'm at home, give me the paperback.

Jim Rubart said...

I agree with you, Karen. "If something truly catches my attention." But that's the problem with my own book buying. I used to buy a book if it looked interesting. I'd take a chance. Now I've found myself to be conditioned not to take a chance and pay $12 for a book (e-book or paperback.)

Jim Rubart said...

I'm loving it so far, so already worth the investment! Yes, we need to get on the phone and discuss soon, Patrick.

Jim Rubart said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Nicole and Sally.

Jim Rubart said...

And now I know I'm not alone. Thx, Doc.

Jim Rubart said...

Exactly.

Jim Rubart said...

"The cool thing in this business is learning how to change and adapt to what readers want. Because in the end, it is about what the reader wants. I'm SO thankful we don't have to be TOTALLY starving artists now (published only posthumously or something) and we do have the option of getting our books out to those who want to read our genre/niche"

So well said, Heather!

Jim Rubart said...

A feast for thoughts, Connie. Appreciate you sharing them.

Jim Rubart said...

And that's why perma-free is working for a number of authors ...

Jim Rubart said...

Library? That's that place that loans books for free, right? :)

Jim Rubart said...

I think I've heard of that book ... :)

I'm with you, Robin. I've stopped grabbing the free e-books that I'm not sure about. But, if there's an author I really like, I'll pay, because that book is a friend I want on my self, even if I never read it again.

Ane Mulligan said...

That's me, too!

rbclibrary said...

My ereader is stuffed with free and 99 cent books My shelves are stuffed with $15+ books. I don't mind paying money for a physical copy, even though I generally give the books away to friends, family or the church library. But somehow I have a hard time paying a lot for an ebook. That's not to say that I won't or don't. I belong to 2 book clubs and almost always buy the ebook regardless of price. There are just sooo many books out there being published just for ebooks, and I have found the quality not always good. But if you hook me with the first book, I will probably pay more for your second, third, . . . . I also buy audiobooks. They are pricey too, but of course you own them for life and the publisher has to pay the readers, so they are probably really a steal.

R Merr said...

For the authors I love, I will buy their paperbacks new and full price...no problem. It us only ebooks that I won't buy. My Kindle died, I couldn't afford to replace it. A friend eventually gave me one. During that time I couldn't read the ebooks I had. I can't read on a lit screen. I hadn't spent a dime on a book at that point....and I don't anymore because if my ereader dies...I'm out any books I purchased unless or until I can buy a new one. That experience puts me in the " I only buy real books" column. If I like the free ebook, I'll buy it in PB. If the freebie EBOOK is one I love, I'll buy the sequels...only in PB. I just cringe at buying something that isn't exactly " real" to me.

Iola Goulton said...

Yes, I'm more price sensitive than I used to be. Here's why:

I currently have 42 books in my To Read and Review folder on my Kindle, including Memory's Door by James L Rubart. Yes, I'm a little behind. Don't worry Carrie--I promised to review yours by Christmas and I will.

Then I have 60+ unread Kindle books I paid money for (including Sally Bradley's Kept, recommended by Relz Reviews), and almost 1000 other books (mostly free downloads, but some I paid for).

I also have 30+ unread paperbacks that I paid full price for (which is $25 here in New Zealand), but please don't tell my husband that. There's also the ones I got free at the writing conference, the ones I've borrowed from friends, and the ones from the library ...

I simply can't justify spending more money on books until I've read the ones I've got.

Jim Rubart said...

I've heard of that Memory's Door book. :) And I have a similar problem with all the books that have built up.

I think, Iola we simply need to stop sleeping.