... I'm a writer. But before I was a writer, for many years I was a reader. (Well I still am, but I just don't have so much time as I used to.) And for over twenty years now I've read ebooks, first on a small PDA in MS Reader format, then on a Kindle, then a tablet, a Kindle Fire ... well you get the idea. I've been doing this for a long time now.
Now I know that for some reason traditional publishers don't like ebooks. And indeed some readers don't like e-readers. Me, I think they're wonderful, a whole library in something smaller and lighter than one paperback. My friend and I used to buy our handbags big enough to take a paperback book, and that is no longer necessary. Admittedly my handbags have not grown smaller, but then I've had children and grandchildren who need regular nose-wiping etc. Also I've started writing which requires a notebook and half a dozen pens at least just in case I run out. But you see my point.
One of the main attractions for me was that ebooks were considerably cheaper than dead tree books. It made sense to me; no printing costs, no warehousing costs, low distribution costs. To be fair to the consumer of the book the price should reflect this. And I bought lots of ebooks. I mean, two or three thousand by now.
I still buy lots of ebooks. I know I don't purchase the actual book, just the licence to read it, but that's a subject for a different day. I have lots and lots of ebooks and I read and re-read them. Most of them cost me less than £5.99, even the ones from big publishers, but that adds up to a considerable sum of money that has changed hands over the years.
I keep a wish-list which is very long and check daily for price reductions, and at least once a week I buy a book. But recently I've noticed a trend. A couple of ebooks on my list, and one I didn't even bother putting on the list, cost nearly £10. Or putting it another way, not a lot less than the price of the paperback. Indeed I've spotted one or two that were actually more expensive than the paperback.
At the same time I've read lots of articles about how the day of the ebook is over, the market has reached its peak, that sort of thing. Articles based on the sales figures of traditional publishers.
All I can say is are you really surprised? Really? Are you sure? Because I can tell you, I'm not about to pay three times the average price of an ebook for something that's cheaper to produce and distribute than the physical version. The books are on my list because I want to read them. What I intend doing is waiting till the paper version is on the second-hand market and get a second-hand copy.
To all my friends who are authors I'm sorry. I know you don't get anything out of second-hand sales. To all the publishers who thought this was a cunning strategy, you are getting what you deserve. To all my friends who are indie authors and price their product at a sensible level, well done. Your books will sell. I will buy them. They won't of course appear in the statistics, because these show only traditionally published books. To see a set of statistics which attempt to account for all the indie authors as well, you have to turn to Data Guy and his occasional reports. These seem to give ebooks around half the total market
I'll finish up with a couple of quotes from Arnaud Nourry, Chairman and CEO of the Hachette Live Group since 2003, which typify Big Publishing's attitude to ebooks. Make of them what you will.
"It’s not that we’re against ebooks. People have to pay a price that is about 40% lower than the print price. And it works. The ebook market has gone down a little bit, not much, from say 25% to 20% in some countries. There is still a readership for ebooks but at a price that keeps the ecosystem alive."
"There are two different geographies to look at for this. In the US and UK, the ebook market is about 20% of the total book market, everywhere else it is 5%-7% because in these places the prices never went down to such a level that the ebook market would get significant traction. I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.."
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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