An open letter to Dominique Raccah

I’ve been so pleased with so many of your decisions at Sourcebooks, like releasing Georgette Hayer backlist with spiffy covers and such high quality bindings that I’ve received letters from people thanking me for letting them know about them. There’s that upcoming Kinsale, too, that makes me giddy to the point of twitching.

But today’s news about ebooks? Oh, no. It’s a big ol’ clusterfuck of head shaking forehead pounding with a side order of, “Oh, honey.”

Sourcebooks is issuing 75,000 copies of “Bran Hambric,” a sizable print run in this economy, and has arranged a substantial marketing campaign and book tour for Mr. Nation.

“It doesn’t make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99,” said Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, which issues 250 to 300 new titles annually. “The argument is that the cheaper the book is, the more people will buy it. But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn’t cannibalize it.” An e-book for “Bran Hambric” will become available in the spring, she said.

Richard Curtis, Mr. Nation’s agent, concurs on holding back the e-book edition. “We don’t want to undercut the sales and royalty potential of the printed hardcover,” Mr. Curtis said.

While filing my teeth and chewing on digital media for my daily nutrition could make for some awesome seminar presentations, I have to say, COME ON NOW AND I MEAN IT.


Book CoverAs an ebook consumer, I already agree to take on significant limitations when I choose digital media. I can’t share or lend it. I can’t in most cases give a copy of the book (unless I feel like Waiting for Fictionwise) to someone I think might like it. In some cases, as with Kindle, I can’t even guarantee that I’ll be able to download and reread the book more than six times.

Yet I choose digital media because it works for me, and I liek it. So why am I being penalized because I don’t want to buy the hardcover, and should therefore wait six months or more for the digital copy.

LISTEN UP. If you read nothing else but the following paragraph, then please know I mean what I say here:




Didja get all that? Seriously, my jaw dropped so hard when I read this article, I’m going to get TMJ from the WSJ.

Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group LLC and Ms. Coulter’s literary agent, said he doesn’t allow any of his authors’ books to be published simultaneously as an e-book when he can prevent it.

“It’s no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters,” he said. “Why would you do that?”

Mr. Gottlieb, I’ll be honest: I’m embarrassed for you.

Films on DVD and feature films in theatres are NOT the same as digital books and hardbacks. A more apt comparison would be DVD and VHS. VHS, by the way, would be the hardback.

I fully admit that the format questions and the price questions about digital books are still up in the air.

But making this decision is insulting to a growing segment of the fiction buying readership, and, to be frank, ignorantly based on faulty logic. You encourage two things by delaying digital releases of book titles: piracy and ire. I’m not going to pirate books, but I am going to remember that somehow, my digital purchase of your book is of lesser value than a hardback purchase, despite the fact that I buy more books and read more books than most people.

In all things, one should listen to Sarah, in this case, Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester Research:

“Publishers are in denial about the economics of digital content,” said Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps….

Although e-books account for only 1% to 2% of total book sales, as measured by dollars, they are one of publishing’s few bright areas. Ms. Epps… estimates that by year end there will be more than three million dedicated e-reader devices in the U.S., with two million sold in 2009.

Yes, 1-2% is not a great amount, but it’s the only one that’s growing at such an exponential rate. Look at the IPDF statistics for heaven’s sake. Are any of your other revenue streams flooding like that one? In this economy, I doubt it.

I probably should not take decisions like this one so personally, but I am holy hopping angry. It’s insulting to me that I should be dictated what format I should buy, and should be penalized for preferring a different format.

This decision was poorly made and poorly defended. I’m a big fan of your company, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all this week at RWA. You are one of the companies that seems to approach publishing, specifically romance, a little differently, offering up exceptional romance titles long out of print for new audiences to discover.

Digital books are also a new audience, one that should be fostered and treated as equal to those who read paper books. I wish you held us in the same respect as you do your other readers.



Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    caligi says:

    I don’t like hardcovers either so I’ve always waited a year or so for the paperback release.

    If ebooks cost less, like paperbacks do, it’s hardly strange for them to wait on releasing the ebook. If it costs the same, then I guess that’s another story.

  2. 2

    Couldn’t agree more with you Sarah. I read about this on another blog and thought “What asses. Fuck you and your book. I’m not buying it. Dumb asses.”

    Pretty ridiculous to pull a stunt like that. And what’s the point? He’s going to sell a ton because he’s known for being the “Twilight Guy” so they just need to tuck in their pussy and release the ebook at a decent price.

    So, they wait 6 months and all that time they will be losing sales that potential ebook readers would have been making.

  3. 3

    You tell ‘em!  Some people just do not get it. I have a house FULL of books and I need to stop buying printed books!  I spent over $300 on an eReader so I don’t have to. If a publisher doesn’t want to publish in ebook form, then they can do without my business.

  4. 4
    tracykitn says:

    I’m not a digital reader, primarily because I can’t afford a dedicated e-reader just yet (maybe next spring?) but I am such a big reader that the ONLY way I will buy a hardback is when it’s hit the “Bargain Book” status and is priced at less than the full price for a mass-market paperback. I will die and drool and wish until it’s out in MMPB, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much I want the book. I will wait on endless lists at the library before I will buy a hardcover book.

    Well, except for old books, of course. But they’re not really at issue here, are they? Or, perhaps if it’s a really really special copy of a really really special book….but I digress.

    Down with the hardback!

  5. 5
    Lynda says:

    As a bookseller I have mixed feelings toward ebooks, but they are here and we need to deal with them.  What I don’t have are mixed feelings toward hardcovers.  I hate them.  With the exception of the occassional prestige publication, or phenom books ala Harry Potter and Twilight people don’t like them and won’t spend the money.  In my perfect world they would release paperbacks and ebooks together, and then do a small print run of hcs for collectors.

    Oh, and IFC does release movies in the theater, on dvd, and for On Demand at the same time, dude.

  6. 6
    Clothdragon says:

    I buy paperback. I like being able to share with my friends and discuss afterwards when I find good books. I keep considering buying an ebook reader, but won’t until the cost of ebooks are more comparable with what I feel like I get—a very limited version of my paperback. I don’t ever buy hardcovers.

    Ok, I have a few I’ve gotten at garage sales for fifty cents, but even then they sit on my bookshelf unread for years because I don’t like hardcovers. I don’t like reading them, I don’t like holding them, and I won’t buy them from a publisher even if I have to wait longer to read an author I like. I love love love Kim Harrison—enough to use the word love several times there—and I still haven’t read her newest. I’ll read it next year when it comes out in a format I can hold in one hand while I read it, and I can keep to read it again just before the next one comes out.

  7. 7
    ev says:

    I am the same way. There are very few authors I buy in HC any more, and those only because I started out that way a long time ago. And HP, of course.

    But my primary reading format is now ebook- I have run out of room, and I like the convience. Esp since my store has a crappy romance section now that I am not there. LOL

    And I am sorry, but it is assholes like that that make pirated books so popular. Someone is going to put it out there sooner or later and sooner than their version.

    (I did find out this weekend from the Sony store,that I can reg up to 3 ereaders and 3 comps under the same name and share the books. So I bought one for Daughter #1 who shares much of the same reading interest and we are going to see what happens. If it works, Daughter #2 may deauthorize her book and put it under my acct too. We shall see what happens.)

  8. 8
    Kris Eton says:

    I read this and almost puked myself. What person in their right mind would buy a hardback version, wait six months and then buy the ebook?  There IS no consumer like that. Ebook buyers are ebook buyers and hardback buyers…are, well, spending too much money (LOL!).

    To postpone an e-release thinking it will impact sales for your hardback release is just ridiculous thinking that tells me this publisher does NOT understand the ebook market or readers of ebooks.

    Oh, and guess what? I’m one of those people who WOULD buy the DVD the day the movie came out in the theater, b/c the theater has been such a HORRIBLE expensive experience lately that I prefer to watch movies at home, on my own time. Buying a new movie for $19.99 is much cheaper than dragging the family to a theater to shell out $8 or $9 per person, plus another $20 for over-priced food—oh, and I have to put up with jackass who text, talk on their cell, stumble over my feet, spill crap on me, and chat all the way through the movie to boot.

    Why are these publishers so reluctant to publish in electronic format? Why are they so reluctant to share a higher percentage of the price with authors? Why are they not embracing the potential in ebooks in a very crappy economy? As far as I can tell, they deserve to fail if this is how they operate.

  9. 9

    In this case, I wonder how a digital edition is different from a mass-market edition? I know many people (including myself) who will wait for a year before buying a book that came out in hardback. It’s cheaper, and I’m willing to delay gratification so that I can pay less.

    I’m fine with any publisher who releases first a hardback edition and then follows it up with a mass-market. And I think that any e-book priced at $25 is ridiculous. But why should they come out with a $10 ebook in conjunction with a $25 hardback? Readers aren’t entitled to that any more than they are entitled to a mass-market available alongside a hardback.

    Not that I don’t think it’s kind of shortsighted NOT to issue a digital edition with the print edition. A huge selling point for the Kindle was the $9.99 digital edition. But publishers aren’t selling Kindles, they are selling books—so I’m not sure that loss leader is worth it to them in the same way it is for Amazon.

  10. 10
    joykenn says:

    Dah! Have you guys never heard of a library!  Like the previous poster, I’ve got a houseful of books so I switched to an ebook reader.  I just don’t buy print books anymore.  If someone charges an outrageous price for the ebook, I generally reserve it in print from the Library.  So many times if I read it from the Library I seldom feel the need to wait around a year and buy it electronically.  I’m on to the next book instead. 

    Click on one lost sale for you guys.  Multiply me by the tens of thousands of other readers just like me and you’ve got a heap of remainder books to sell!  Just sayin’….

  11. 11

    Sarah Rotman Epps’ observation is the primary reason I haven’t gotten all that involved in the current e-pub tussle with RWA.  I have joined Romance Writers for Change, and I gave Kristen my proxy, but I haven’t blogged or tweeted or commented about it, and here’s why – epubbing is the future, whether or not New York realizes or wants to admit it right now.  We are in an L shaped recession that could (and, in my pessimistic view, almost certainly will) get worse before it gets better.  Publishers are suffering, and they’re going to be suffering for a while.  Sarah (our Sarah) is right – while ebooks are a tiny fraction of the market RIGHT NOW, that market share is going to grow.  I don’t think ebooks will replace paper, but I do think in the near future they will be on equal footing. 

    It’s why I just roll my eyes every time an RWA board member says something stupid about e-pubbed authors (I just qualified for PAN, BTW, with an e-book) or publishers get all medieval monkish about the glories of paper (no illuminated lettering?  Mass produced typeset pages?  Oh the barbarity—we mustn’t put all the brothers in the scriptorium out of work!) 

    Movies to TV, TV to video, video to DVD, mainframe computers to PCs to laptops, newspaper to internet, blah blah blah – there’s information, and there’s format.  The format is not the information.  Peoples’ appetite for information does not change – their preference for format does.

  12. 12
    Sandia says:

    I think publishers are being incredibly shortsighted on this – their efforts to squeeze every penny out of consumers.  They don’t seem to understand that the consumer experience of buying an ebook is totally different than paper books.  If you are not paying for the delivery of the book to the retailer, you are not paying for the paper and the ink to print it, why are you charging me a premium?  Especially if I am purchasing a DRM’d version which I acknowledge that I will not and cannot resell??

    I hope they open their eyes up soon because you see all those movies being pirated on torrent sites?  Those are HUGE HD movie files.  It’ll be nothing to start sharing books when they’re only in the kilobyte sizes.

  13. 13
    darlynne says:

    Well, that explains why Michael Malone’s Four Corners of the Sky hasn’t been available anywhere in e-format: Sourcebooks is his house. I bought his book in hardcover when it first came out and that’s only because I want to support any endeavor that involves him. I won’t throw an author I love under the bus because the publisher is an idiot. All others, it’s “e” or it’s paperback.

  14. 14
    ghn says:

    These days I buy lots more e-books than Dead Tree. Mainly because what little shelf space I have must be carefully rationed. I _do_buy the occasional HC book, but they are few.
    When I can’t buy e-books, I _might_ decide on a Dead Tree format, but the publisher shouldn’t bet on it. More likely, those money will go to another publisher – one that sells products that I want.
    For an author whose books I love, I would probably buy Dead Tree when e-book isn’t available. An unknown? Forget about it!!

    Oh – and if a legal electronic version of a popular book isn’t available, a pirate version is sure to appear quickly. _I_ prefer to properly buy my books, but there is always a market for the less than legal stuff. And this sort of attitude just encourages it.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    I’m fine with any publisher who releases first a hardback edition and then follows it up with a mass-market. And I think that any e-book priced at $25 is ridiculous.

    Hey MelJean! I’m with you there. My problem is that the price of ebooks remains so fluid, and because of that it’s creeping upwards. If a hardback is available for $25, and it’s a brand new release, surely there is a middle ground between consumer price ideal and publisher price ideal that would allow for a digital copy to be available at the same time. Despite the DRM and possibility of limited download, I would potentially pay a higher price for a very-much-wanted new HC release in digital.

  16. 16
    Caroline says:

    I’ve gotten so that I only buy ebooks. If a book isn’t released electronically, I pick it up at the library instead.

    BUT…I don’t really see how this is very different than publishers waiting several months to release a book in paperback so that paperback sales don’t cut into hardback sales.

    And I’m no expert, but if I were an agent, I’d probably push for a delayed ebook release for my authors, too. After all, 7% royalties for a 16-30 dollar hardcover is more desirable than 7%* royalties on a 9.99 ebook. 

    So, yeah. It may be more inconvenient for me, but I understand the reasoning and don’t really have a problem with it.

    *Epublishing aside, authors don’t get a higher royalty rate for electronic releases, at least not from what I understand. Someone with more knowledge, please feel free to correct me.

  17. 17
    Sandia says:

    I get upset at this whole debate because all I see is publishers trying to really screw over the consumer.  For example, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s “I Shall Not Want” came out in Mass Market Paperback in April.  However, the ebook pricing didn’t change at all – stayed at 9.99.  Now tell me this, why should I have to pay more to own an ebook when the MMP is available for cheaper?  Makes me feel like I’m purposely being punished for being an early adopter. 

    Also – about the cannibalizing of sales.  I used to go to the library for all my reading.  Once I got my Kindle I started buying books.  So I’m actually a customer who never would have bought that book ever if it wasn’t available to me at a reasonable price in ebook format.  They’re losing new customers, not cannibalizing existing customers.  They need to get that, and they don’t.

  18. 18
    FD says:

    @ Caroline – actually as I understand it, royalties for ebooks can be significantly higher for e-releases unless as with some of the NYT bestsellers crowd, they do better out of the print arrangement.  The e-edition and the deadtree editions can and often are covered under different contracts or sub clauses of the contract.

    What that argument misses is that for many ebook people, not releasing the ebook until after the hardcover does nothing to help the hardcover sales, because the typical ebook reader, esp in this economy, wasn’t going to buy the hardcover anyway. 
    I’m a voracious reader and have virtually switched all my reading to e-books.  If I really really adore it, and will want to read it in the bath, I’ll buy the paperback.

  19. 19
    Maggie says:

    Honestly, I don’t understand why they do hardback for the majority of books. Even if ebooks didn’t exist I still wouldn’t buy them. They are big, clunky, expensive, and not comfortable to hold. Holding back the ebook edition based on the idea that it will increase hardback sales is simply foolish.

  20. 20
    GrowlyCub says:

    I agree with the analogy of waiting a year/6 months to bring out a pb for a book with an initial HC release.  That’s a valid analogy to e-books and I can’t refute it, but what I can say is that as a consumer, I don’t buy those books that come out as HC originals.  By the time the book comes out in pb, I’ve forgotten about it or am no longer interested in the series or title.  As joykenn said above:

    ‘Click on one lost sale.’  Same goes for delayed e-book releases.

    By the time the publisher deigns to release an e-book, I’ve moved on to the next book, next series, next author; especially if it’s a new to me author I will forget you in a year, no doubt about it.  And if I absolutely cannot live without reading that particular HC book, library here I come! 

    So, while the analogy is valid, there are still more sales lost than money earned by withholding a pb or e-book version, because if I like a book, even if author only gets 7%, she’ll also get it on the next in the series and the one after and then the one after that that isn’t part of the original series and she’ll get it from my friends when I recommend the book, whereas the buck stops at 0% for a HC and pretty much applies to all following books, even when they revert to pb original releases. 

    Guess I’m fickle, or have the attention span of a gnat or something.

  21. 21

    Despite the DRM and possibility of limited download, I would potentially pay a higher price for a very-much-wanted new HC release in digital.

    And I agree that’s very much the crux of the problem. The piracy issue isn’t an issue to me, because digital edition or not, anyone who doesn’t want to pay a high price for a new e-book or a hardback book is either going to wait for the cheaper version (be it mmpb or a lower-priced ebook) or they will pirate it. And that pirated version will show up within a day of release whether it is out in print only or also in digital.

    I can understand the publisher thinking: we want that window of time when the only version available is the $25 version, the premium version. Because the people who like that format and really want it, and don’t mind paying the extra bucks are going to buy it. So of course there are going to be ebook buyers who don’t mind paying a premium price to read it early, too. But a $25 ebook (or even $17 ebook) is *just* paying for the ability to read it early, without the premium format and durability. They are essentially paying $25 for an early mass market, which is, hoo-boy, way overpriced any way you look at it. And that raises ire, too, because the reader is being gouged.

    And I have a difficult time believing that the profit margin on a $25 hardback is so much greater than a $17 ebook that it cuts into publisher profits all that much. I can see where royalties might be affected, though (although even that is questionable, because those ebook buyers who had to wait to buy the cheap ebook version still won’t buy the hardback). That wouldn’t be a reader’s concern, but I imagine that’s an issue for both the publisher and the author.

    So I’m with you; I just don’t know where that happy middle is, although I think there must be one. And unless there is some other ‘premium’ attached to an early, expensive ebook (additional content, maybe a discount at the publisher’s ebook store) then I can also imagine an uproar when the ebook price drops to match the mmpb price point.

    Things that make my head explode:
    Print books without digital counterparts.
    Ebooks priced higher than the the print versions.
    Ebooks that are priced higher than the mass market reprint versions.

    I imagine one of those things will have to give. Either ebooks are just going to settle at a higher-than-mmpb-lower-than-hardback price, so that ebook readers are paying more for their preferred format, or ebook releases will be delayed so that they are more like a mmpb release.

    Which makes me super-glad I’m never likely to be published in hardback. It makes the digital-release-coincides-with-paperback part of my life that much easier.

    (Also, sorry if this is a bit incoherent. I’m a little drugged.)

  22. 22
    G says:

    Am I the only person who actually does buy HCs?
    If I like the author, if I want to read it when it comes out, not only do I buy HC but I then gather them up and ship them to myself in M-bags, so I can read it a year earlier than when it comes out in the UK or in pb. If I don’t care, I wait for the PB.
    I also hit a problem with e-galleys this year: Adobe Editions won’t install on my Mac. I won’t be buying an e-reader for a very long time. Leaving aside the general (I read everywhere- sometimes even in the shower- catch that with a Kindle!) the more specific is that I like owning it, holding it, lending it, pushing it on my friends.I read enough on screen and I don’t like it (yes, blogs, books, zines- aghh).
    So yes, I totally understand waiting to put out a cheaper version and I say, support authors! Amazon takes over 50% of the sales price for a Kindle book- what’s left for the author? Let alone the indie book store or small press I wander upon while trolling a real store?

  23. 23
    Melissa S. says:

    I have to admit, I’m willing to wait. (I’m waiting on Meg Cabot’s Being Nikki because the hardcover prices have gone up 2 dollars and I want it on ebook). The pricing is an issue that I really want ebook stores to take care off because right now Kindle is getting the best deal and I don’t have a Kindle (don’t want one either). Also I’ve noticed that even when the book comes out in paperback, the ebook is still selling at the hardcover reduced rate. I mentioned before that I was only willing to pay at tops 10 dollars for an ebook, and I’m sticking to that, but I think that Sourcebook may be right in holding off on releasing it’s books into a market that doesn’t even have an understanding on what a fair price would be for the new format.

    At this junction, I believe that readers forcing a pricing “standard” on some of these out of hand stores like would help publishers feel safer about putting their books out in ebook form and everyone knowing they are getting the best deal possible.

  24. 24
    cursingmama says:

    Maybe ebook readers should just stop purchasing all together & wait their turn on the library list instead?  Most of the lists go pretty quick, certainly quicker than the 6 month lapse between hardcover & ebook and there are no penalties if you want to check it out & re-read it more than 6 times.

  25. 25

    @Sarah – Did you notice this in today’s Publishers Weekly?

    “Sourcebooks has begun collaborating with Smashwords—a one-year-old company that produces and sells DRM-free versions of e-books—to make 14 mass market romance novels released under the company’s Casablanca imprint available for sale though Smashwords. The e-books will be priced at $6.99 and will be available in nine formats…”

    Full article is at: 

    So it looks like the company may be listening to the anti-DRM part of your argument, at least :-)

  26. 26
    GrowlyCub says:

    At this junction, I believe that readers forcing a pricing “standard” on some of these out of hand stores like would help publishers feel safer about putting their books out in ebook form and everyone knowing they are getting the best deal possible.

    Melissa S, could you elaborate on that?  I have no idea what you are trying to say and I really want to!

  27. 27
    Amy! says:

    So … why are the publishers talking about retail price, rather than gross/net profit?

    What do those numbers look like, for hardcover, trade paper, mm paper, and ebooks?

    I’ll note that this is largely irrelevant to me, since I won’t buy DRM unless it’s trivial to break it (and I haven’t yet decided to make inept work on a non-Windows system), because I’m not interested in renting books (no offense intended to those who prefer to rent).

    But the debate always seems to go forward about retail prices of these things; are the margins smaller as the retail price drops?  If, for instance, the net profit for a $25 hardcover is $10.00, and the net profit for an ebook is $9.95 … uh (and yes, it’s possible; the marginal cost of production for an ebook approaches zero).

  28. 28

    Yet I choose digital media because it works for me, and I liek it. So why am I being penalized because I don’t want to buy the hardcover, and should therefore wait six months or more for the digital copy.

    I don’t mind them staggering the releases, as long as the ebook is priced appropriately for the format (i.e. less than mass market ppb). But I do think their reasoning is predicated on a false assumption that people would rather pay $25+ for a book right now in a format they don’t like than wait six months and pay less for one they do.

    And I’d also add that if the author was making an appropriate royalty percentage on digital, they’d be earning almost as much per copy from that $9.99 as they would from the $25 hardback. So would the publisher, most likely. And they’d probably sell more copies…

  29. 29

    But the debate always seems to go forward about retail prices of these things; are the margins smaller as the retail price drops?  If, for instance, the net profit for a $25 hardcover is $10.00, and the net profit for an ebook is $9.95 … uh (and yes, it’s possible; the marginal cost of production for an ebook approaches zero).

    I don’t know for certain, but I suspect the focus on retail price comes from royalty considerations. I can easily imagine the process going something like this:

    PUBLISHER: Let’s put out a $25 hardcover and a $25 ebook!
    EBOOK READERS: WTF?! (Pirate and/or don’t buy.)
    AUTHOR: Yay. But, dudes, why didn’t I get any ebook sales?
    PUBLISHER: WTF? Why didn’t we sell any ebooks? Okay, $25 hardcover and $10 ebook.
    AUTHOR: WTF? Publisher profit margin is the effing same, but I lost a huge amount of royalties on that ebook because they put it out at the same time as the hardback?
    AGENT: Okay, we’ll ask for higher ebook royalties.
    AUTHOR: Yay!
    PUBLISHER: OMG our profit margin for ebooks! Raise price! $15!
    SOME EBOOK READERS: Meh, it’s still okay.

    AUTHOR: Ebooks are priced too high and aren’t selling! I’m losing out to pirates and to other books that are priced more reasonably!
    PUBLISHER: Er, should we lower the ebook price now? Um…okay.
    THE CHORUS: Sobs.

  30. 30
    DS says:

    I like hard covers also but I have no idea what Bran Hambric is so I don’t think I am in the hard cover audience for this book—maybe not even the eBook audience.  I also buy lots of eBooks—throw away reading I share with a friend (legally, we are both on the same Kindle account) but only at the “right” price for an eBook—in other words NOT full deadtree price.

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top