Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ranting about ebooks

I have read all the books in Kim Harrison's "The Hollows" series, and was looking forward to the latest, "Black Magic Sanction," which was released in February. I don't buy hardback books anymore (except for Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" books that I buy for Bob); I either put the book on hold at the library and wait, wait for the paperback, or, increasingly, wait for the ebook version.

Publishers are now tending to hold the ebook version for a period of time after the hardback comes out; this seems to have started with Stephen King's "Under the Dome" (which I ended up buying in both hardcover, audio, and ebook versions). Before that, it seems that the ebook versions were released at the same time as the hardback. But I can understand the motivation--it appears that the publishers believe that if the ebook version isn't available, people will just go ahead and pay for the hardback version, although I don't think that's true.

In any event, it isn't true for me. I'll wait. I was looking forward to Ms. Harrison's latest book, and the release date for the ebook version was April 6. I could have pre-ordered it a month or so ago at $8.65, but since most Kindle books at Amazon are $9.99, I figured that wasn't a huge savings, and I might as well just wait and pay the money when it comes out. But April 6 came and went, and now Amazon is showing the ebook version of Black Magic Sanction as "no longer available." I also noticed that the Kindle version of Charlaine Harris' "Dead in the Family," her newest, due to publish in May, also appears as "no longer available," and the Kindle version of "Changes" has disappeared also, although I see that the hardcover version is listed at $9.99. I ordered it for $12.99 at WalMart, plus a couple of dollars shipping; with all the book pricing volatility it's just impossible to know if you're getting the best deal or not.

When Black Magic Sanction was theoretically available to purchase in ebook form, the latest price at Amazon was something like $12.65, and another book that I'm interested in reading, Jennifer Crusie's "Wild Ride," is $12.99. When I saw those prices, I thought, well, I'll wait and they'll come down, like the hardcover prices tend to do. Ebook version of most backlist books are available at Amazon for around $6.50. But after reading this, I suppose they won't, or maybe they won't for a year or more. I just have no idea.

I guess one thing I don't understand is, if Amazon and other online retailers are discounting the hardcover versions so steeply, what difference does it make if you pay $9.99 for a hardback or $9.99 for the ebook version? I don't pretend to understand or know anything about the publishing business, but it would seem to me that publishing a hardback book would cost quite a bit more than producing an ebook version. I'm not going to get into that argument, because I know you're not paying for the paper itself, but for the work that went into writing and producing it, but an ebook, being only bits, obviously contains less physical production cost, so if they're being sold for the same price, why not release them at the same time?

There's a page at Kim Harrison's blog where she has opened up comments for people to rant about their dissatisfaction with ebook pricing, ebook delayed releases, etc. Either of things are certainly not the author's fault, and I hate to see people direct their comments at her, or at any author. They're as much a victim here as anyone.

I just wrote an extensive review of iPhone ereader apps over at my iPhone blog yesterday. As I said, I love books, and I love ebooks. I love the convenience of reading books on apps on my iPhone. I'm very conscious of price, though, and will very seldom pay what has, up 'til now, been the "normal" ebook price, that is, $9.99. Still, there are a few books that I will pay that price for. I bought Patricia Briggs' "Silver Borne" last week, and I see that it's still listed at $9.99 for the Kindle version at Amazon. "A Local Habitation" by Seanan McGuire is $6.39, but there was no hardcover version, it was released in mass market paperback.

While I was reading Kim Harrison's blog yesterday, I discovered that I could buy the "enhanced" combination ebook/audiobook version of Black Magic Sanction for $16.99 in the iTunes store. I do have about $6.50 worth of credit in my iTunes account, so that would make it cost about $10, but I was going to buy Swankolab . . . And the thing is, I hate the idea of buying a dedicated app for one book. I don't have that much real estate space on my iPhone, I definitely don't want to start loading it up with an app for every book that I want to read. I guess I could read them, then delete them, but I kind of like hanging on to the ones I like.

I don't know. I guess it will be an interesting issue to follow. I hope they figure it out soon.

Update: "Black Magic Sanction" came out in Kindle on April 7, just one day late. I still haven't bought it, though. I think I may wait to get it from the library.

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Joanna said...

I've got at least 100 paperback books at home that I haven't read so am not letting myself even think about ebooks until the real books are read. 'Guess I've got time to let the whole thing work itself out. I'm with you about dedicated apps, though. No way.

Liora said...

I have so many unread books at home and on my Kindle. Getting the Kindle has definitely cut down on my compulsive buying (I don't go to physical bookstores hardly ever anymore). I think $9.99 for a book you're just going to read on your iPhone sounds pretty steep, too. Have you considered getting a used Kindle from eBay? The reading experience is really nice (not so much eye fatigue). I know the iPhone is always with you, but they sync to where you are in the book.

I don't get the pricing wars, either. It doesn't make much sense. I think maybe it's really just a show of muscle right now. Publishers feel that Amazon has gotten too much control with setting the rules, so they're trying to reestablish themselves.