A Response from Dominique Raccah

I haven’t been online more than a minute at a time, but I received the following letter about 2 days ago from Dominique Raccah. My apologies to Raccah and to y’all for not posting sooner.

Sarah, hold the tooth-file until I tell you the reasoning behind this heinous decision and then gnaw away if you so desire.

Please keep in mind we’re talking about one hot frontlist children’s hardcover (Bran Hambric)—trade paper and mass market originals won’t be affected. We have exactly ZERO hardcover authors in the romance category right now (though we would love some!!)—when we have a Debbie Macomber or Nora Roberts on our list, we’ll definitely want to have this discussion again. Please. Right now, every trade paperback and mass market romance title that we publish, is published simultaneously in both print and e-version.

So why this book? Here’s the thinking that led to this decision (and obviously people will disagree):

  * I agree wholeheartedly that digital formats should be readily available,  immediately (you can see from other decisions we’ve made how important digital is to us).
  * The inherent value of ebooks is an open question—they are not physical; they are not easily ported; they can disappear at any time; etc. The value issues of ebooks are not issues that can be solved by a single publisher—it’s going to take a community.
  * E-retailers insist that the “right” price point for an ebook is maximally $9.99. 
  * We can’t control what retailers charge for books or ebooks. The choices book publishers have are:

      —To make the product available
      —To have a relationship with that retailer

  * So that’s the fundamental decision—not, what’s the right price for this author or this book…it’s just do we make it available and when? 
  * So, if we are saying that the price of an ebook is maximally $9.99 because the format is simply not that valuable to people, then that’s comparable to a lower end trade paperback or more expensive mass market book.
  * Book formats have a lifecycle—hardcover is traditionally succeeded about a year later by the trade paper, so we should be releasing ebooks at the same time that we release the trade paper or mass market of the hardcover and can then price appropriately to that. To me the decision is analogous to a new release in movie theatres; we don’t expect that movie to be immediately available on DVD.
  * If you continue with the lifecycle concept, the vast majority of the books we (Sourcebooks) publish will release in e-formats at the same time as p-formats because we are primarily a trade and mass paperback publisher. And in fact our xml workflow structures towards simultaneous release in multiple ebook/reader formats.
  * I think, if hot frontlist titles are to be available in e-formats, they need to be priced by the publisher, at a reasonable discount from the hardcover retail price (to take into account the devaluation of e-formats). I am totally open to that. But that’s not an option currently available.
  * I think people may be willing to pay the premium to have the new new thing, or they may want to wait until the price falls with the trade paper edition, at which point the e-book price should be adjusted and $9.99 may make perfect sense.
  * Another thing of strategic importance to the author is that e-book sales that displace p-book sales can also impede a book from reaching a bestsellers list.

As a publisher, we have to be strategic, book by book. And that’s the way we made this decision for this one book, Bran Hambric. I don’t know whether I should point out that we have more than 850 ebooks available. So we value ebook readers and are working hard to convert all of our titles into ebooks.

What worries me is the author side of this equation. I worry that if we devalue (price lower than is viable) the author and the book, this digital transformation can’t work. We aren’t like the music industry. All authors have are their words. They don’t have live performances for which they get paid (or at least most don’t) and few get to sell t-shirts.

In fact, I would argue that music is absolutely NOT the right model to compare books and book publishing to and newspapers even more NOT. However, that’s a really long conversation and I’m a publisher not a pundit. 🙂

The exciting thing is that we’re at the beginning of model building—and this kind of vibrant conversation (including heated exchanges and teeth gnashing) should move us all forward. Thank you for allowing me a chance to explain. I’m sorry it took so long to get this to you. And I look forward to seeing you this week at RWA 2009.



General Bitching...

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  1. stp says:

    What a thoughtful response, Dominique. Thanks for taking the time!

  2. Robin says:

    Buying an actual book and an ebook are not analogous so pricing them the same makes no sense to me. When I buy a hardcover or paperback book I buy a book – and first sale doctrine dictates that when I am done with it I can resell it, pass it on to someone else or donate it as I wish. When I pay for an ebook I am paying for the right to read it ONLY. Since I am only paying for the words on the page why should I have to pay the same as I do when I buy the page AND the words?

    And why assume releasing an ebook will cut into sales in another format? Word of mouth sells books. Since I won’t be able to pass along my copy of an ebook I love and most people don’t have ebook readers those people who want to read a book I recommend will have to buy a print copy. My being able to purchase an ebook upon release could easily result in additional print sales.

    As one of the Sony reader test drivers this whole idea of not being able to share books (even with my husband, who hates reading on a screen since he spends all day at work on a computer) is something I am grappling with. I wonder what impact publisher’s charging the same for less and limiting access to new releases will do to the rate of growth for ebooks and ereaders.

  3. Myriantha Fatalis says:

    Ugh, I’m so tired of the ever-increasing assumption that ebooks = Kindle.  If you don’t like Amazon’s pricing scheme, go with another format.  At Fictionwise and eReader, for instance, ebooks are released at the “hardcover price” initially (higher than the Kindle price, of course) and then after a year or so, the price lowers to the “paperback price” (usually lower than the Kindle price).  Presto!  You can release the hardback and ebook versions concurrently and not lose any money.

  4. My basic problem with the pricing of ebooks is the lack of cost to do them.  No paper, no binding, no shipping, no massive numbers in a warehouse somewhere hoping to be sold (and if not, forced to be shredded or sent to discount locations), less employees needed to do all the grunt work of publishing a book.  Should they all be the same price?  That would be ideal, but probably unrealistic.  The cost of the ebook does have to include the ranking of the author, obviously a Stephen King or a Nora Roberts get more money for their work so the cost being passed on to the consumer is higher.  I don’t really have a problem with that.

    Should ebooks be released at the same time as the hardback?  Of course they should be.  Just as the CD version is.  The pricing of these would naturally be in line with the hardback’s price.  This is what the Sony Connect site does.  Unfortunately, when the book is released as a mass market, the price takes forever to come down on the Sony site.

    Actual physical books will always have their place in the world, but ebooks are a great way for those who don’t want to keep a book, just wish to read it, to help keep the world green.  As to the ebooks lack of life?  That is purely a company decision.  There is no real reason for an ebook to ever disappear.

    evening46.  It is getting toward evening, but it is nowhere near 46 degrees.  Try 98 instead.

  5. Carolyn says:

    I primarily buy books for my e-reader now and try to avoid paper books since my reason for buying the $$$ e-reader was to decrease the number of paper books I have to box up and ship every time the Army moves my family to another duty station.  So, when faced with an interesting new book that I find isn’t offered as an e-book I’m FAR more likely to just move on to something else than to buy a paper copy, and I have yet to go back and look for said book again as an e-book several months later.  I doubt I’m the only sale publishers lose out on when they decide not to offer new releases as e-books until HC sales peter out.

    And for what it’s worth, I’m willing to spend more than $10 for an e-book if I’m interested reading it.  I won’t spend anything if an e-book isn’t available when I look for it.

  6. It occurs to me that much of this pricing discussion has been devoted to the pricing of ebooks that actually have parallel print editions—which, in the case of romance in particular, isn’t anywhere near a universal consideration.  And it is, in fact, a significant issue, because in the ebook marketplace, electronic-only texts are competing side by side with texts available in both print and electronic form. 

    Looked at from that direction—and given the relatively short life cycle of printed books vs. the long life cycle of e-text—a case might be made that for business purposes, the e-texts should be considered the baseline original edition of a work, whereas print books should be considered short-term “value-added” editions.  This definitely has implications for pricing models.

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