I didn’t buy your book this week, and your publisher is to blame

Mary W. Walters

Mary W. Walters

Dear Fellow Author who has the good fortune of working with a traditional, mainstream publishing company:

This week I read a review of your book or heard an interview with you on the radio, and I was so taken by it that I wanted to have your book immediately. I didn’t even want to take the time to make a note of the title, go down to an independent bookseller and purchase it there (sorry, Independent Bookseller). I wanted it right now.

So I went to Amazon/Kobo/iBooks to make what is known as an “impulse purchase.” (When it comes to books, I do not apologize for being an impulse buyer.)

But then I discovered that in the electronic version, your book was $13.50 or maybe $15.00 or maybe even $19.95.

Now, I can see paying that amount for a paperback, but I am sure as hell not paying that much for an ebook. Because I know how much an ebook costs to make when the book is already available in print: it costs next to nothing. I know because I have created two novels in paperback (DV and Rita) that I have converted to ebooks, and in each case it cost me a ONE TIME PAYMENT of $79. One time. That’s it. After that, I make at least 35% and sometimes 70% (depending on the distribution agreement) of the selling price on every single copy of each book I sell in e-version.

Your publisher wants to rip me off, and rip you off as well

Q: Why didn’t I buy your book in e-version at $15 if I would have paid that much or more for it in paperback?

A: Because I cannot stand to be swindled. And I cannot stand to participate in a scheme that rips YOU off as well, my fellow author. If you were being paid fairly from this widespread scam that sees ebooks being priced at over $10, you would be receiving at least 35% of the cost of that ebook in royalties or (depending on how the ebook is distributed, which is something you should know), even more than that.

Three times this week alone – with three different books by three different authors – my finger has paused over the  “Buy It Now!” button, I’ve thought about the price, I have not clicked, and I have closed the screen. And the problem is that I will probably now never buy that book of yours. It’s sad. I’m sad for you. You may have lots of other advantages over those who publish on their own, but for the reason of ebook sales alone, I’m glad it isn’t me.

P.S. Joseph Boyden has edited a new anthology that focuses on the plight of first nations women. It is called Kwe: Standing with our Sisters, and it features contributions from Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Gord Downie, and many others. It was published by Penguin/Random House and it is available as an ebook for $2.99. Now thats more like it.

(You are welcome to forward this message to your publisher.)

12 responses

  1. Listen, someone who publishes their own books is not an author. They don’t get to call people who are actually published fellow author’s. Someone who can’t get someone to pay them for their work simply has a hobby.

  2. Mary–
    Would that things were so simple. But I won’t be buying the book you recommend, because Penguin/Random House has acquired Author Solutions–a rip-off operation if ever there was one–and Penguin/RH gives every indication of keeping it that way. And of using it to hoodwink writers in second- and third-world countries. So, no, I won’t be buying their tease of an anthology.

    • I doubt any of the writers in the collection is making a cent. However, if it raises awareness on this important issue and the price is 2.99 (which means that the publishing company isn’t reaping an exorbitant profit) I can at least buy it in good conscience on those two fronts. But thanks for raising this point, Barry. Author Solutions does indeed have a reputation for ripping off writers.

  3. When a publisher publishes both a print and e-book edition of a book, and a reader buys the e-book in preference to the print edition, the publisher must recover the same profit or close to it that they derive from the sale of the print edition. They are relying on that revenue to pay for the publication of both editions. Every e-book edition of a title sold is a loss of a sale of the print edition, with the corresponding loss of income.

    • Your argument is akin to a company charging the same price for a synthetic “leatherette” covered couch as for a couch upholstered in genuine leather, because the leather-covered one costs so much more to make. These arguments don’t fly with consumers in the know.

      I disagree that an ebook sold is a lost print-book sale. This is not what the stats are saying, and even if they were, publishers could print fewer books. Most of the cost of the print book is associated only with the print book — printing, storage, distribution, eating the returns, etc.

  4. “This is not what the stats are saying” As my old law school prof used to say, “Prove it.” I’m extrapolating from my own experience, but I never buy multiple editions of a book. “publishers could print fewer books” Printing fewer copies of a book requires raising the list price. Stats show that the majority of books are still purchased in print editions.

    • I guess I didn’t express myself as accurately as your old law prof would have liked (the only people as obsessed with words as writers are lawyers): What I meant was just what you said — the stats show that people are still buying print books more than they are ebooks.

  5. The book is $2.99 at Chapter Indigo
    and Penguin Canada is donating all proceeds of sales to Amnesty International’s No More Stolen Sisters Initiative

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