Thursday, 21 April 2011


Can books be too cheap? Yes. They can be unsustainably cheap and their cheapness can devalue the difficulty of what we do and damage our earnings. In fact, books often are too cheap, especially in the UK.

So, why did I allow Wasted to be sold for as little as £1.01 on Kindle, in a special promotion from now until early May? (Let me wait a moment or two while you go off and buy it. But not in the US, I'm afraid. Not my fault - ask a US publisher to buy the rights.)

Several reasons. (And yes, Amazon did have to ask permission from my publisher, Walker Books, who asked me, and I gave permission willingly.)
  • It's a temporary promotion. This is important because the point (for me) is to swell the number of people out there who might read it and like it, so that they might talk about it. Then, when the promotion ends, word of mouth will help sales through bookshops, too.
  • It's a promotion. Think about the word. Promoting is what we have to do, all of us who have anything to sell.
  • Even though the income from each sale will be horribly small, I would rather have a small income many times than a larger one from a few sales. (For a short period.)
  • I also happen to believe that ebooks should be substantially cheaper than the physical book anyway. 
Why do I think that? (About ebooks needing to be cheaper.)
  • Because the public perception (wrongly) is that they cost very little to produce. Actually, they cost more than people think. But perceived value is important in the psychology of buying.
  • If ebooks are cheap enough, most people won't download illegally or steal. No decent person will feel the need to.
  • If ebooks are cheap enough, many people will take a risk. I don't mind making a mistake with £2 - £3, but I do mind risking much more than that.
However, £1.01 is far too cheap - too cheap to miss! So, if you want to take a little risk on Wasted, go and try. And if you like it, how about buying the physical book for yourself or someone else, a book you can curl up with, a book I could sign, a book you could give as a present.

I look forward to the day when every physical book comes with a code giving you access to the ebook version FREE. That's my dream and that's the way that this can work for all published writers, publishers, agent and bookshops.


Lesley Cookman said...

I have always said yes to *temporary* promotions, for exactly those reasons reasons. Still aiming for your sales totals!

Ebony McKenna. said...

There is also an inherent snob factor (or am I talking about myself again?) of books being 'too cheap'.

Will they download them for the cheap price, then not get round to reading them because they bought something of higher value?

It's so fraught!

Congrats on the ebook edition. It won't let me buy it bc I'm outside UK. But I have the paperback :-)

Steve said...

I've had my Kindle since Christmas and have downloaded two books that were free that I probably wouldn't have looked at if they were full price.

In each case I liked the book and went on to buy something else by that author.

So in the long run the authors have gained from the promotion because me buying one out of two books gives them more money than me buying none at all.

david said...

You can currently buy my adult crime debut 'Bone and Cane' (7 five star reviews on Amazon!) for £1 on kindle. In a way, it makes no sense. A physical book costs £1 to produce. eBooks attract VAT, which physical books don't. Therefore, even allowing another 50p for storage/transport, any physical book costing more than £7.50 should cost more as an eBook. But I agree, it's a temporary promotion, to back a series in my case + if you look at the kindle chart, 90% of the top 100 eBooks cost around a pound. There is, of course, more profit in volume. Good luck with 'Wasted'!

Dan Holloway said...

This is one of *the* hot topics among authors self-publishing to Kindle and creates much heat under many collars on both sides. I think where everyone is agreed is teh importance of perception that you mention - what the public expects to pay for an ebook over its physical counterparts (just look at the number of threads on the kindle forums expressing disbelief at relative pricing).

The disagreement comes over what to do about it. I have heard some really impassioned pleas from writers begging other writers not to contribute to the perceived devaluation by pricing their books on the cheap. On the other hand are those (the camp into which I fall) who argue for pragmatism - in some genres you just *have* to sell at a certain price, so sell there!

I take your point about temporary promotions, and there is truth to the "what sells sells" maxim on Amazon, but those who've tried changing price amidst that have found that yes, what sells sells once you get yourself hooked into the right "customers who bought this..." algorithms, but pricing outside of the others on that bar on someone's screen will override that - and sales will pick up again when the price is dropped back. It's one of the few areas where there are genuinely more date from self-publishers who spend a lot of time titrating variables (and many of whom have sales in the thousands - especially in genre fiction - even I've now sold getting on for 1000 of my most popular title in the 6 weeks it's been on release, and that's a lot fewer than writers like Lexi and Jake and Ali and Saffi all of whom started with nothing other than a great product and learned what works).

If I may, the below is a link to my books - all at 70p except Aggie's Shoes whose royalties are all going to Tsunami Relief in perpetuity.

This is a similar discussion to your previous post. There are two ways to look at it - one looking at the inherent value of a piece of art, and one looking at the market expectation. But things become most interesting when you look at how the two relate

Book Maven said...

I have 2 books in this promotion and was not asked. My publisher informed my agent after the deal was done.

Not saying I would have refused, just that apparently my permission was not needed.

Dan Holloway said...

btw, did you see that interview on BBC Breakfast the other day with one of the head guys from Penguin who seemed to be saying that ebooks *were* much cheaper to produce than physical books. I felt the force of a thousand face-palms when he said it. He seemed rather clueless throughout.

Nick Cross said...

Nicola, your bundling idea is a good one and very similar to what is being done with Blu-rays at the moment - many new releases come with a digital copy and often a DVD version too. It would be interesting to know how much this is helping to drive sales of the newer format.

Catriona said...

I have just sent the amazon link to my kindle owning friend, as she has asked me to send her random book recommendations. Having bought a hard copy of Wasted and really enjoyed it, I gave a glowing recommendation. She is off to work in foreign climes for the voluntary services, so needs to stock up her kindle!

Catriona said...
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catdownunder said...

Purrowling back in after an enforced absence I have to say that I have a real paper copy of Wasted and many other books.
Books tend to be very expensive in Australia. (The price is kept artificially high by some arcane legislation I will not go into here.) Some people will go for e-books as a consequence of the perception that "books cost too much". Others in Australia will buy from abroad and cause the closure of local booksellers.
I think we need to find middle ground that combines a fair return for authors and publishers and a fair price for readers while allowing booksellers to remain in business. That is going to mean negotiation - and perhaps paying a little more for physical books. The thought of having everything as an e-book and the reader breaking down is the stuff of nightmares.
What we surely really need to do is make reading so important people want to buy physical books.

rodgriff said...

A deeply cunning plot against self publishers here??? If all the traditionally published books came with a free ecopy then it would be very hard for anyone to sell an ebook for any price above zero. However, and fortunately for self publishers out there, I think the traditional publishers are too set in their ways to embrace anything like that.
By the way I do love the words that your verification system comes up with. Swaryg is the one I see at the moment, that has such a ring to it, I actually had to fight with my iPad to get it in because it wants to change it to dearth, why I have no idea because swaryg sounds so much more interesting.

Nicola Morgan said...

Rod - that's an extraordinary suggestion! Why on *earth* would I want to plot against self-publishers? You have got me very very wrong if you think that! FGS, I'm planning to self-publish something myself. I certainly do want is to support the future of physical books (which does not mean to damage ebooks) because I love physical books and i love any way which encourages reading.

Yes, I did hear that a self-publisher was misinterpreting my views on her blog. Perhaps that's where you've gathered the totally wrong impression that I'm somehow against self-publishing. Well, I'm not. I never have been. Clearly what you don't realise is that my very first book was self-published.

What I am against is bad writing, ugly hostility, ignorance and silly attitudes, wherever I see those things. If you're a real writer, you love good writing, however it is published or sold. That's my view.

rodgriff said...

I didn't think you were against self pubs, but if all print books came out with a free ebook copy it would be very easy to fill up all those kindles. On the other hand you would need a shed to keep the paper versions in. I was being provocative, obviously not as cleverly as I'd hoped. Pricing is such a tricky business. As you have said before a lot of the cost of publishing is in the editing, design etc and not just the paper. Once that has been done for the paper version the added cost of ePub is very little, so publishers could put out eversions very cheaply, so a voucher, like an iTunes voucher issued with a printed copy ought to be practical.
The verify word is even better this time -mullise- I obviously need to do more of that

Charmaine Clancy said...

People will still buy the books they want to read, however they're published. I like the idea of adding value to your products with free attachments. I'd love to see free e-books with kids audiobooks, so the kids that struggle with literacy can still enjoy a good story and read along.
Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Lee McAulay said...

Nicola, if you own the US rights, why not publish the book yourself on Amazon US?
In addition, if you set up your ebook on SmashWords you can set the cost to £0/$0 which will then feed through to Amazon (UK and US and, recently, Germany), because Amazon won't charge more than other sites; and you can create coupons for promo purchases on SmashWords too.
However, I am peeved by the fact that an eBook attracts VAT when a physical book doesn't...

Paul said...

Instead of paper book coming with free eBook, how about the switching round a bit: eBook comes with discount coupon for paper book? Perhaps 10% off.

Border Reiver said...

"I look forward to the day when every physical book comes with a code giving you access to the ebook version FREE."
I couldn't agree more. Some CDs allow you to do that with music. I even bought a DVD that had the option of downloading it in MP4 format so that you can watch it on the go.
I don't own a Kindle yet, but it would be less likely to buy a book I already own a hard copy of. In fact I'm probably feel a bit bitter about it.
I love books, but I'm now beginning to see the usefulness of Kindle. Sometimes you get books that are so heavy you really can't take them on a commute with you.

Border Reiver said...

Oh and here's food for thought.

I used to live in Spain and you know what Spaniards say about Brits on holiday? [No, it's not that they get drunk and make a fool of themselves- although they say that too] "You can always spot a Brit on the beach- they're always reading a book."

Why you may ask? Well because our books are so damn cheap. Your average paperback book in the UK, considering all the offers we have going costs about £6. I'm talking about your average new release after Amazon/Waterstones/WHSmith have put their offers on it. In Spain new releases, yes paperbacks, cost an average of €18 and they have laws preventing discounts of more than 5%. It's little wonder they read less than us. What happens when books are so expensive? Simple- less people read them.

Border Reiver said...
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Stroppy Author said...

I totally agree about free e-books with paper books, Nicola. I suggested to a bunch of publishers about 18 months ago that all printed books should come with a free download of the e-book. They didn't jump on the idea, but they didn't dismiss it outright, either. But it hasn't happened.

It wouldn't stop people buying e-books they want and can't get in other ways, just as NOT being able to get an e-book doesn't stop people paying for paper books!

If a publisher has already produced a paper book, the cost of producing an e-book is low. But that's because historically the cost of producing the paper copy has been amortised over the paper copies. Now, production costs will begin to be amortised over paper and e copies, as they will expect to sell on both platforms. Not that I see the price of paper copies coming down as a consequence....