Saturday, 18 June 2011

Is the eBook market reaching maturity in the UK?

Something is happening in the world of publishing as it appears the major publishers are finally reacting to the aggressive pricing of eBooks at Amazon by self published authors and independent publishers. This weeks top 20 only 8 titles prepared to take titles over £1. This is great for readers but a worrying sign for smaller publishers and independent authors who have led the way with pricing on eBooks so far. Karin Slaughter’s eBook exclusive ‘The Unremarkable Heart’ is priced at 44p and publishers Cornerstone is clearly going to make a killing. The good news here though is that entrepreneurial authors such as Louise Voss and Mark Edwards continue to give the big boys a bloody nose with their higher priced independent published novels ‘Catch Your Death’ and ‘Killing Cupid’. This is undoubtedly encouraging news for authors and smaller publishers. At the start of this year we ran a trail with pricing our books at under a £ and under a $ at Amazon and while initially successful we simply were not generating the income form the sales to make the venture worthwhile after Amazon took their 70% for the pleasure of hosting and selling. Being left with 30% of under a £ (or $) to distribute is not an enjoyable experience for the publisher or the author.

There is an interesting juxtaposition faced by independent publishers and authors and that clearly is that unless you are achieving sales in the 000’s it is commercial suicide to under-price. Our trial has ended and we have set our eBooks at £2.08 and $2.99 in the hope of maintaining and increasing sales through a price differential. The market is currently flooded with books under a £ and there are some truly excellent titles their from major publishers and independents as well as self-published authors. However, eBook readers are showing in response that they are prepared to view the playing field in a far more open way than they would if they were in a book store. Mark Edwards and Louise Voss have clearly shown that if pitched right eBooks can become viral. Something which is virtually impossible in the bricks and mortar world of traditional publishing.

We may regret increasing our eBook prices but there has to become a point where the eBook reading audience has reached maturity and become comfortable with buying new titles instead of expecting to download them free or having a less pleasurable experience through downloading pirated eBooks on torrents (along with a lot of other hidden viruses, trojans and malware). I think we have passed that point. Clearly readers are prepared to consume eBooks and to do so as voraciously as they do their paper counterparts, so the market needs to establish the true worth of an eBook without alienating this growing sector of consumers.  We must be aware the large publishers can undercut any price the independents care to set, so my thinking is that we should now be leading the way with pricing which actually reflect a serious business model for eBooks. Giving away 70% to Amazon or any other store is not a true working model for independents and I dare say not for larger publishers either (Though I would be surprised if Cornerstone are surrendering 70% rrp). By the same token pricing eBooks at a level close to the paper version is insanity and a reflection of nothing more than avarice by the publisher.

I think the market can bear a pricing model which is more consistent across the board. This would be beneficial all round and allow authors such as Voss and Edwards to truly financially benefit form their fantastic sales. I think eBooks will settle at around £2.99 as the market matures, this may be a year or two away but we have to be prepared to test boundaries and sometimes react before the larger publishers.

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