Debra Mullins

Day 16 of the 31 Days of Books Giveaway: Let’s Talk About Book Prices!

Congratulations to Janie McGaugh, who won yesterday’s drawing! I’ll be emailing Janie to arrange delivery of her choice of book.

Today I thought we could talk about book prices. It’s no secret that the price of paper books has gone up considerably over the past ten or twenty years. I remember being able to go into a bookstore with $20 and walk out with four or five paperbacks. Now that same $20 will get you two or three. It just doesn’t stretch that far anymore.

The increased price of paperbacks has a lot to do with things like the price of paper. Every book is allocated a certain number of pages by the publisher for cost purposes. Writers have to write something of a certain length to be published by a certain publisher or particular line. If your book is too short, you have to add pages. If your book is too long, you have to cut things.

Add in the skyrocketing price of gas in the past few years. Publishers have to ship the books somewhere, and that is costing more. They have to store the books in warehouses, and that costs more. Editors and cover artists have to eat and pay rent, so throw in some cost of living raises. Where are publishers going to get that money? From the cover price of a book. If something costs more to produce, the price to the consumer rises as well.

Enter digital publishing. When producing an ebook, the cost is much less. You don’t have to pay for paper, shipping or storage, but you do still have to pay for the people who edit and format the text and those who create covers for the books. Still, you are usually handing out less money to produce the ebook than its paper counterpart. As a result, the price of the ebook may well be less than the price of the paper one. For example, my book Prodigal Son has a cover price of $14.99 for the trade paperback. (Trade paperbacks are the bigger books. The smaller paperbacks are called mass market paperbacks.) Today on Amazon, the price for the paper book is on sale for $12.17, but the Kindle version is only $8.89.

That’s if a writer is going through a traditional publisher. There are many electronic publishers out there these days. Often these publishers only produce digital books, with the option to add a paper release if sales demand it. Electronic publishers have less overhead (shipping, storage, paper costs) so they are able to price their books less expensively. For instance, the normal cover price of a new digital release from Samhain Publishing is often in the $4.50 to $5.50 range. This means my $20 will once again allow me to buy at least four titles from them.

Enter the independently published author. This is an author who can use the tools available today to publish her own work herself, without involving a third party publisher. Indie authors still need to cover the costs of publishing a book: hiring editors and copyeditors, hiring an artist to design the cover, and paying whatever fees necessary to get her book into the correct formats for all the electronic devices out there. As a result, the author determines the price of the book. In the other models, traditional and electronic publishers determine the price of the book. The author has no control over it.

The plus side for the reader is that an indie author can price her book considerably lower than even electronic publishers because they have less overhead. These days $2.99 seems to be the sweet spot for full price of an independently published ebook. Often you will see the price dip as low as $0.99 or even free as a special promotion. This may be done if this is a new author trying to draw in readers or maybe the first book in a series.

The minus side is that some indie authors don’t go through the editing and copyediting that needs to be done, so the quality of the book may suffer. Not all of them, just a small percentage. I want to make that clear. There are plenty of indie authors who have taken all the steps to turn out a quality product and have done quite well. Debra Holland comes to mind. Also Barbara Freethy, Beth Yarnall, Shannon Donnelly, Susan Squires and Cate Rowan. Some authors have been discovered by traditional publishers after becoming successful indie authors. Some have even made bestseller lists.

Now at cover prices like $.099 to $2.99, my $20 goes even further than before. Digital publishing has changed the book marketplace forever, and independent publishing even more so. But there are still readers who prefer paper to digital, and that’s okay. I don’t think the prices of traditional paperbacks will be dropping anytime soon due to costs beyond the publisher’s control, but there are many wonderful stories out there in digital format, whether produced by a publisher or independently by the author.

I should also point out that many indie authors choose publish this way, so it’s not a case of not cutting it in the traditionally published world. Some authors were award winning, list making, traditionally published authors who stepped out of that world to become award winning, list making, independently published authors. Why would anyone do this? Because publishing their own work gives them more control over how the work is produced. It also, because they are taking all the financial risk, makes it more lucrative than a contract with a traditional publisher. It is entirely a personal choice, and these authors are careful to make sure the quality of their independent work matches anything a publishing house could do.

My goal here was to give you an insight into why books are priced the way they are. I know I’ve been reading more digital these days if only to get more titles for my money. What about you? Have you taken the plunge into digital reading? Have you discovered new authors that way? Tell me your thoughts. Those who comment get entered in today’s drawing for a free paperback title from my backlist!