Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are books too expensive?

Contrary to popular belief, it would appear that you can, in fact, give this shit away.

Since being dropped to free on Amazon, Natural Causes has shifted over 72,000 copies in the UK and over 22,000 in the US. For the first ten days of June it was being downloaded at a rate of 2000 a day in the UK. It's been top three of the Amazon UK free charts pretty much non-stop, dipping to number four a couple of times since it jumped up from nowhere on May 12th.   Its longest run at the number one spot was ten days. My gob is so smacked it may have to be wired together so I can eat.

Reviews have been ego-massagingly nice, too. Mostly of the 'OMG! I can't believe this book is FREE!!!' variety. A couple of people have stumbled over the opening scene and felt that they needed to leave one star reviews as a result, but frankly I'm fine with that. It adds balance, sort of. 

On the other hand, the reviews that go 'I only picked this up because it was free, and blow me, if it isn't actually quite good...' I actually find rather depressing. I'm delighted that someone has read my book, doubly so that they enjoyed it, and verging on the dangerously ecstatic that they took the time to tell the world. But there's something rather hopeless about trawling the free books in the desperate hope that you might find some gold in the mire. 

And yet tens of thousands of people do just that. 

I'm a very slow reader. I don't have a lot of time to spare, so tend to snatch a half hour or so before turning off the lights at night. Last night I (finally) finished Christopher Paolini's Inheritance, the last book in that cycle. It's taken me the best part of a month to get through, and not just because it's by far the worst of the four.* I've got Damien Seaman's excellent (so far) The Killing of Emma Gross on my iphone, and Chuck Wendig's latest, Blackbirds on the go as well. (I dipped into the first chapter when it arrived, then put it down before I lost a day.) And of course I'm re-reading The Book of Souls and the third book in the Sir Benfro series - but that's work, so it doesn't count.

The point is, I'm all booked up until the middle of July. Then it'll be Harrogate, and who knows how many titles I'll come back from there with. Enough to keep me going up to Christmas, easily.

And yet some people read a book a day. My father, when he was recuperating from his hip operation and could do little else but read, was getting through upwards of three a day, but he always was a phenomenal speed-reader

I like hardbacks. There's something about the solidity of them, and of course the fact that they tend to come out first - at least with the current establishment publishing paradigm. On the down side, they are undeniably expensive. Getting through maybe a dozen a year, this is a cost I can easily enough bear.  I buy paperbacks as well, and though I've not yet bought a kindle or similar device, I'm warming to the eBook. Paperbacks these days are not exactly cheap, though - a quick look on my recently read shelves varies from £7.99 up to £14.99. Discounts are available on-line of course, but even then you're talking a decent chunk of disposable income. Multiply that up by say, three books a week, and that's the grocery money gone.

eBooks are a bit different; a lot of authors' back catalogues are being made available at knock-down prices. But in general the mainstream publishers are keeping prices up. Stuart MacBride's books are all a fiver, for example, except for the latest which is seven pounds. I don't think this is too much, really. It takes upwards of a year to write a book of that quality, and there are many people involved in the process of getting it from manuscript to kindle, all of whom need to be paid. Even at a fiver, though, a book a day is an expensive habit.

Hence the popularity of the 99c/77p and free brigade, I guess. And at that price, what does it matter if most of the books are rubbish? You can always pick up another one, right? And who knows, there might even be a few gems in amongst the rubbish. There's no doubting that giving stuff away sells - how else does an unknown author shift 100,000 copies of his first book in a little over a month? But does this mean that eBooks, and books in general, are too expensive? 

Well, perversely, I don't think eBooks are. A fiver for something the quality of Cold Granite or Flesh House is not too much to ask at all. Hardbacks are a premium item and can command a premium fee, though publishers are missing a trick not including a free code to download an eBook version for those early adopters and hardcore fans.** I think perhaps that paper books have become too expensive though. Stuart's books in paperback are all listed at £7.99. Sure, Amazon discounts that to around the five pound mark, but the starting price is high enough to make you think twice about picking it up with the groceries, or whilst browsing in your local shop. Worse still are the large format paperbacks - all the expense of a hardback, with none of the collectability.  Fans will pick up the next one from their favourite author regardless, but un-discounted prices may be a little steep for someone looking for something new.

There's a legion of readers out there, voracious in their appetites and seemingly willing to take a punt on anything if the price is right. eBooks would seem to have tapped into that market well, but if publishers don't address the growing cost of the old form of mass reading device, then they may well price the paperback out of existence.

*A lot was made of the fact that he was only 14 or 16 when he wrote Eragon, but if you asked me which book was written by the inexperienced teenager, I'd have to say this one.
** It works for DVD and Blu Ray sales, so why not hardback books? And given the size of some of the tomes I've read recently, kindle versions would be a lot kinder on the arms, too. Yes, I'm looking at you Mr Martin.

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Anonymous Tez said...

The children bought me a Kindle for 60th birthday so Im one of those people who put "free books" into its search engine. In my defence it was part of getting to know the gadget. The children knew I read a lot anf felt it was the perfect present for me and I do really enjoy using it. I think hardbacks , unless heavily discounted , are too much money for me, but they are great to own. I would usually scour charity shops and second hand bookshops for my reading. However since having the Kindle I have not purchased a paper book. I have gone on to purchase quite a few Kindle books(including Book of Souls and The Rose Cord!)
There is still something really great about owning a paper version- including the smell- but my personal finances wont allow me to do both, and at the moment the Kindle wins.
I have left reviews on Amazon and look forward to next installments of Benfro. I hope also there will be some more Inspector McLean. Thanks for giving me some good reads to keep my brain going.

July 24, 2012 2:26 pm  

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