My life took an interesting turn the last few weeks. By the end of December, I had a few hundred readers enjoying Muirwood and my other books. As of this writing, the number is about 12,000. More people have started on Muirwood in the last week than all of last year combined. The reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been amazing.
It started with an e-mail from Amazon in December with an offer. Provide the Kindle store an exclusive right to distribute the e-book version of my books and in return, be able to start marketing it through their store. I thought I would give it a try. In two days, I had over 10,000 readers. By the end of the week, it was 11,000. Readers are telling other readers. The snowball is beginning to grow. For a few days, The Wretched of Muirwood ranked in the top 20 sales at Amazon for children’s fantasy books, right up there with Percy Jackson. Just seeing my book in the same list was a treat (the best day was Friday that week, when it hit #13 for just a little while).
Something is happening in the publishing world. It has the same feeling that happened back when the iPod started to transform the music industry. Two recent articles in the New York Times help explain it better. Both are long but worth reading:
“The Bookstore’s Last Stand”
“Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal”
The ability to download e-book versions of books has hit the tipping point. I have experienced it first-hand myself the last few weeks. But there is something I don’t quite get. While watching Muirwood in the top rankings of Amazon, I noticed that the e-book versions of the Percy Jackson books were selling for as much as the print versions. I already own the print versions of Percy Jackson. I also got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. Now I have to make a choice when I purchase a book. Digital or print version. But why not both?
Is it right to charge the same price for an e-book version?
Let me explain. When a publisher prints a book, there are a number of costs involved in its physical creation, not accounting for the editors, graphic artists, proof-readers, etc. The paper and ink aren’t free. There are expensive machines that cut and glue. Books must be stored in warehouses. They must be shipped in boxes, incurring the cost of cardboard and a transportation company. If books aren’t sold, they must eventually be returned (more shipping and cardboard) and eventually, sadly, destroyed if they cannot find a reader willing to pay for them. There are economies of scale in printing large volumes, but if they do not sell, it creates a big expense to dispose. And publishers do not know which books will sell and which won’t. They have to assume the risk. So all of these costs, the seen and unseen, need to be factored into the price of a book. Add a little profit to be shared amongst the bookseller, the publisher, the agent, and the author, and you have a price selected to sell the book.
An e-book does not have the same costs. It is stored on a server. It is shipped digitally. There are no costs to destroy surplus copies, because there are no surplus copies. If a customer returns their copy of Wretched of Muirwood, it gets deleted from their Kindle. Snap, just like that. The transportation costs are already paid for by the customer (who pays for internet service in the home). So why charge the same amount for an e-book version as a physical copy when the cost structures are so different?
Apple figured this out with the iPod. Charge a single price, 99-cents. That has changed, of course, but it is still very inexpensive to buy a single song you like, instead of the entire album. It lowers the risk of owning a song. Books should follow the same model. A buck or two for a new book. Buying an entire trilogy for $5. I have seen working at Intel that the lower the price of computers have fallen, the more computers are sold. A few years ago, a decent laptop cost $2000. Now the latest, fastest one is less than $1000 and they get cheaper every year. Because they get cheaper every year, people in countries with lower incomes can now afford them, opening up the market even wider.
To me, the math is pretty simple. I would rather have a million readers from all around the world than a limited audience in a local market. I would like to have e-book versions of all the books I love. But I don’t have to buy them twice if they cost the same. If I want a print version for my bookshelf, that’s my choice. But the price of the e-book version should be drastically lower than the print version. I personally want as many readers as I can get. So if selling my books for 99 cents helps me sell 1,000,000 instead of only 10,000, it is worth it. The volume makes up for it. All the Kindles, Nooks, iPads and digital devices are revolutionizing the publishing industry.
Guess instead of waiting for a publisher to call me, I should start hoping Amazon does. So what do you think, Percy Jackson?