In which I am a broken record

I’ve posted before about the prices attached to ebooks, particularly e-only releases.  There are some epublishers whose prices are, frankly, highway robbery, given the material and production values involved.  I won’t go into the prices of ebooks from the major NY publishing houses, because that’s been covered ad infinitum by better and more knowledgeable bloggers than I.  And if you don’t want to read this version, feel free to click away or to find one of my earlier versions, most likely posted under the “sbd” tag.

Anyhow, ebook prices.  One ebook with an intriguing blurb at a review site prompted me to check out the excerpt posted at the publisher’s website.  Interesting.  Maybe, and at $3.99 not too expensive…until I checked out the length.  Which one does when one has been burned by piddly stories for insane prices, as I have been.  Fifty five pages.  Seriously, epublisher?  Four dollars for what amounts to a short story?  I don’t think so.

Last week I tweeted in irritation about the *extremely* short story by Josh Lanyon (an auto-buy author) that works out to about 20 pages.  The price?  $2.99.  My own fault — I should have checked the file size or page length before buying but was in such a rush for new Lanyon material (he’s on hiatus this year) that I clicked without doing any due diligence.

Okay, I want authors to be able to make a living, and be able to continue writing and thus entertaining me.  But I do not appreciate price gouging, especially when half the time (although not in the Lanyon example above), the editing is lousy and the book is essentially a first draft with crappy craft, misused punctuation and uneven pacing.   And yes, I know that unless an author is self-publishing, s/he has no ability to control the price set by the publisher, who in theory is setting the price based on cost plus whatever estimated profit margin.  Except I wonder what cost is incurred sometimes, especially when the formatting is wonky or homophones are misused or basic points of history are incorrect.

At about the same time, another reader was complaining about the length and content of the new Suzanne Brockmann short, Beginnings and Endings, which cost $1.99 and was about 35 pages.  There was a little bit of Authors Behaving Badly (or acting entitled), too.   I received a paper copy as part of the promotion for the most recent hardback, so I didn’t pay for it outright (although technically I did, because I wouldn’t have pre-ordered the hardback but for the extras provided), but would have probably been unhappy with the value for money if I had.

Assigning value for money to a book purchase seems like a losing proposition.  In the end, it feels like a price per word metric, which isn’t what I really want to do.  (It did seem to work for Charles Dickens, though, didn’t it?)  Certainly there are authors whose very short works I would be willing to pay top dollar for.  It just seems like a lot of epublishers aren’t giving a great deal of quality for what they are charging, and the lack of uniformity from one epublisher to another is maddening.  After buying from enough of them, you realize that some (backspaces and removes names) are habitually overpriced when quality and length are considered.

What does this all mean?  For me as a reader, it means I’m less likely to try new-to-me authors from an epublisher.  Why spend $4.99 on a very short story by someone whose voice/style/worldbuilding I may not like when I can spend the same on a trusted author or an author from an epublisher whose quality to price ratio is more reasonable?  It means that I download a lot of samples and excerpts, and then pay attention to how much or how little polish there appears to be, and make a buying decision based on that.  FWIW, I’ve deleted a LOT of samples lately without purchasing, sometimes because the story doesn’t appeal but more often because of awkward dialog tags, missing direct address commas and the ubiquitous your/you’re, etc.  And every time I click the delete button, I wonder what, if anything, the publisher did before slapping on a price point and uploading the book to its website.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “In which I am a broken record

  1. The Karin Slaughter short was 73 pages…and was priced at $1.99. What do you think about how that was priced? It was a really good short story so the pricing for me was overlooked because it turned out to be a rewarding reading experience.

  2. I probably wouldn’t have thought it was overpriced (or won’t when I eventually read it, since I did buy a copy). But I knew how long or short it would be when I bought it. Fair or not, how much I enjoy the book plays a part in the calculus of overpriced or not. And it’s definitely not fair, because the calculus is different for print books. The lack of uniformity and transparency is what drives my frustration, along with the extremely varied editing that epub-only houses seem to add to the package.

  3. I find the pricing of ebooks to be crazy these days. Everything from free to .99 to 3.99 and up, and no relationship between length, quality, and price.

    I think the Slaughter is very well priced for value, Keishon.

    I wonder if Lanyon was experimenting. I think he’s said before that he’s not willing to sell his shorts at rock bottom prices, and since this was essentially an extra in his sabbatical year, he could go ahead and see what the market would bear.

    When Riptide first announced its prices I was sure I’d never buy from them. But given the shoddy values of so many publishers in m/m now, I’m more amenable to paying them because I trust the books will be better made.

    • While I like Lanyon’s voice and appreciate his position on avoiding rock bottom prices, I think that short was way overpriced. The longer I think about it, the more irritated I get.

      I haven’t been persuaded to buy Riptide books yet, their prices still look too high to me: none of their authors (so far) are ones I’m willing to spend $7.99 on for the equivalent of a Harlequin Presents length book. But that could change.

      Fair or not, the ebook industry as a successor or companion to the print book industry does suffer on the pricing side when you compare the two. The utter lack of consistency kills. I’m so much less likely to one-click buy now than I used to be, and must less inclined to forgive poor editing or publishing values.

  4. My related bug bear is when an author tells you their new novel is out and the ‘novel’ is only 80 pages long. i am not sure that there are hard and fast definitions anywhere where there is a definition of what each type is. And then when you get charged a full novel price. Grrrr!

    • Yes! When did 80 pages become a novel? A while back I poked around online, looking for any kind of “standard” or definition; everything was by word count, and the general concensus was that a novel was at least 50,000 or more.

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