An Ebook Price Rant from Test Driver Liz

Smart Bitch Test Driver Liz has a major beef with St. Martin’s Macmillan. Have a look.

How To Lose Sales And Really Enrage Readers, St. Martin’s / Macmillan Style

Book CoverHow do you take someone who loves Lisa Kleypas so much she read first person contemporary romance in hardcover and make her unable to discuss the shiny new release Tempt Me At Twilight without resorting to the type of language that requires the ingestion of a soap bar? (Because if this conversation included video, you would see the bubbles frothing out of my mouth right now. It’s entirely possible that steam is coming out of my ears, but I’m too blinded by anger to look.) As it turns out, it’s incredibly simple. All you need to do is show utter contempt for her most loyal readers through an astonishingly cynical cash grab.

Don’t believe me? Wonder if I also think we’re living in End Times? Oh, stay with me. You’ll need the soap too.

During the media blitz for Tempt Me At Twilight the price of $14.99 was floated. This led to the very natural assumption that the book was probably going to be a trade paperback. Since Lisa Kleypas’s last two books were hardcover – a great deal right? Then, when the loyal reader of Ms. Kleypas is offered the e-book at $9.99 (or $12.99 depending on your e-tailer) it seems like something you can swallow. Sure, it’s more than a mass market, but it’s not as much as a hardcover and you won’t have to wait a year to read one of your favorite authors. Ok, let’s buy it!! So you do. And then you go to Target to buy some Cheerios. Cereal is cheaper there and we’re all watching our money these days.

Wait – why is Tempt Me At Twilight on the shelf as a mass market? With a list price of $7.99? And a sale sticker making it $5.99? What the (buy extra soap, here’s where you start needing it) um, heck is going on here? You might, if you bought it from Sony, rush home to find out why Sony was cheating you. You might find that all the e-tailers have this price listed. In any other world, you’d return the overpriced product and stop shopping at that store. But e-books cannot be returned. You realize that Ms. Kleypas is most likely not making an additional cent due to this pricing structure but the publisher will be earning an extra $4 to $7 per e-book due to a deliberate increase in price for the right to have a copy of the book that did not need to be bound, shipped, shelved or returned and that cannot be traded, loaned or donated. Sure, we could argue about if hardcovers cost the same as trades cost the same as paperbacks but it’s pretty hard to tell me that a highly restricted digital copy is worth twice as much as a traditional paper copy released on the same day. In short, the publisher has extended a finger one does not use in polite company to e-book readers and author loyalists.

Here. Have another bar of Ivory. You get used to the taste.

The fluid pricing of digital books is a long-standing topic of much ire and frustration, as Jane at Dear Author wrote last December, and it’s still fluid, it’s still frustrating, and it’s still pissing otherwise devoted digital readers off.



Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. Tina C. says:

    That’s why I haven’t bought Can’t Stand the Heat, by Louisa Edwards, yet.  When I read about it on True Romance, I wanted it then and there—only to find out that the ebook price is $12.60 at Sony or $12.56 at Books on Board.  The paper version is $6.99.  I’m sorry, but that’s effed up.  I’ve been looking for it locally and, if I find it, I’ll pick it up then.

  2. Kendra Egert says:

    Sherrilyn Kenyon’s new book Born of Night is a mass market paperback listed at $7.99.  Amazon Kindle is the ONLY eBook version and is listed at $9.99.  Why???!!!  This is ridiculous. 

    I received my “announcement” newsletter from St. Martins and replied to it with my confusion on the pricing.  I received an automated message. 

    Linda Howard’s new hardback release was 16.95 the first week of release and is now $9.99.

  3. SheaLuna says:

    And hence the major reason I refuse to go digital. 

    Digital books cost the publisher, um, nothing (Ok, not nothing, but damn close to nothing.) to produce yet they charge double (Double!) what they charge for mass paperbacks.  (Which can be traded, loaned, donated, etc. etc. etc.)  It’s so far beyond ridiculous, I can barely stand it. It’s one thing if a self pulbished author charges $12.99 for an e-book (After all, most of the money is going to the author and a paper copy would cost as much if not more, so I could almost swallow it.)  It’s quite another when, as Liz so eloquently put it, a publisher extends a finger.

    Better fork over that Ivory.

  4. neva says:

    Let me add my grrrness in as well.  Really p***ed off about ebooks in general.  Why are ebooks not released at the same time as the print form, classic example was Kresley Cole’s last book.  The ebook was released at least six weeks after the print version? You think it’d be pretty simple.  Another question, why when the print version has already been released in Australia do geographical restrictions prevent me from buying the book from Fictionwise when I can waltz straight over to booksonboard and buy the same book (albeit for a few dollars extra)? And why are some books not released as ebooks at all?

  5. Azure says:

    And this is why I refuse to buy anything from St. Martin’s/Macmillan directly.  Even though I love Lisa Kleypas, I refuse to even purchase the paperback new until her publisher stops this ridiculous price gouging of eBook readers.  Sure, I have to wait a little longer until I find her books at the UBS, but I’d rather wait than endorse what is clearly a money grab on the part of the publisher.

  6. Heidi says:

    I am so in agreement with you ladies. It chaps my hide (my Texan roots) to pay $9.99 for a book at Kindle or anywhere else and then see the book elsewhere for $7.99 in paper. This isn’t counting the fact that the paper copy could be traded, loaned out, etc. ACK! I thought the idea of the ebooks was that they would be cheaper and easier and “greener.” Hello? Sometimes it seems that they, like a convenience store selling a gallon of milk for $7 that you could buy at the grocery for $3, charge a heck of a surcharge for convenience. Hello? I can go to a bookstore or Amazon (paper copy) and get it cheaper, faster, in paper. I don’t need to use my fabulous ereader. I love it, but I’m not stupid. It’s funny that Amazon is screwing themselves because what I won’t pay in Kindle I’ll buy from them in paper. Shhhhhh, don’t tell them, ‘cause then they’ll jack up the prices of the paper books. ACK! Heck, then I”ll just go to Target or WalMart.

  7. Heidi says:

    I certainly exclaim a lot and use ACK and Hello…~sigh~ obviously, I’m very repetitive and exciteable, not a good combo

  8. Julie says:

    That’s total bullshit.

    Another example: Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Born of Night came out yesterday and the e-book was $3 more than the Mass Market Paperback. I love my Kindle, but not enough to spend more money on the books.

    If this keeps happening the digital content world is going to start failing miserably. The price breaks for my essentially RENTED books was the ONLY reason I went digital. No way will I spend more money for the “right” to read a book on a digital reader. Good job Sony, keep it up and you might drag your slice of the e-book world under just like you did the gaming industry.

  9. cursingmama says:

    Publishers are clearly doing their best to kill an up and coming technology; what I can’t decide is if it is intentional or if they are just that stupid.  Sometimes I think that they are stalling progress while they get themselves up to speed on the technology and possibly figure out how to take a greater advantage of the emerging market.

  10. Tina C. says:

    Sarah, is it possible to get someone from one of the publishers that are doing this to come and explain what rationale they use to justify this practice?  I would love to see that and maybe we could presuade them that their reasoning is severely flawed in the process.

  11. Kalen Hughes says:

    ACK! Heck, then I”ll just go to Target or WalMart.

    I just won’t buy the book. Period.

    I “went digital” for fiction and I’m not going back. If it’s not in eForm, or if it’s priced higher in eForm than in paper (which is both outrageous and offensive), I simply won’t buy it.

    And I don’t know what the fuck is up with Fictionwise, but I’ve nearly given up on them (and I adored them!!!). Their offerings are no longer even vaguely timely, and many books are simply missing altogether (book which I can find at the Sony Store, the Mobi Store and Books on Board).

  12. SB Sarah says:

    Sarah, is it possible to get someone from one of the publishers that are doing this to come and explain what rationale they use to justify this practice?

    I haven’t heard a consistent response from anyone at St. Martin’s or Macmillan, though I did ask a few St. Martin’s folks at Louisa Edwards’ book party last week. Their response was variations of “We hear you and it’s being discussed” but not much more than that. I hope they’re hearing this discussion loud and clear because so long as the price for ebooks seems so fluid, inconsistent and at times insulting, as Kalen said, people just won’t buy the book at all. Myself included.

  13. Azure says:

    I haven’t heard a consistent response from anyone at St. Martin’s or Macmillan, though I did ask a few St. Martin’s folks at Louisa Edwards’ book party last week. Their response was variations of “We hear you and it’s being discussed” but not much more than that. I hope they’re hearing this discussion loud and clear because so long as the price for ebooks seems so fluid, inconsistent and at times insulting, as Kalen said, people just won’t buy the book at all.

    But this has been going on for quite a while, and every time it comes up, they claim they’re “discussing” it.  But they’re never doing anything about it.

  14. ~B says:

    Macmillan’s been doing the same thing with some Tor books.  They set a list price for the print edition at $7.99 and a list price for the ebook edition at $14.00

    Looking at this article

    In a survey of publishers about 4% think ebooks should cost more than print books.  Bet most of them work for Macmillan 😉


  15. Anna Murray says:

    Amazon Kindle Store allows you to request a refund within 7 days of purchase.

    The big publishers can learn something from the indie authors at Kindle Store, who are leading the way on pricing. Their rankings show that people want and respond to good value prices on digital downloads. My value-priced books on Kindle are selling well.

  16. StephS says:

    I’m convinced there is a generational aspect to this as well and “old school” publishers better get a grip on it.  The generation of young college kids and teenagers today grew up immersed in technology.  New tech, or versions of it, have come out consistently all their lives.  They are comfortable with it and savvy about it.  While the generation above them is generally “OK” with technology it is still seen in a “Oh Wow look what that can do!” sort of way where these younger people just go “Uh huh.  Well it *better* do that or I won’t bother with it.”  If they feel the technology isn’t living up to it’s potential or is taking advantage of them (i.e. price gouging) they will reject it or figure out a way to make it better and compete against you!  (Case study: the music industry) 
    As my kid would say, “Epic Fail!”

  17. Elaine says:

    Kelley Armstrong’s just released Frostbitten hardcover is $15.21 at Amazon, and the Kindle (DRM infested rental)  ebook is $14.30.  I’ll wait and get it from the library, thank you.

    Hmmm….word is pay89.  I don’t think so.

  18. caligi says:

    I usually auto-buy Kleypas, but I recently switched to ebooks. I wasn’t paying $14.99 for an ebook version of a $7.99 MMP, so I waited.

    In the meantime, people who bought the MMP reviewed it, and said it wasn’t so great. As a result, I’m either going to skip it, or buy it used.

    St. Martin’s shot themselves, and Ms. Kleypas, in the foot there. Making me wait only made me rethink my purchase.

  19. Ciar Cullen says:

    Had a very similar experience with YA Intertwined. What’s up with that? The charge for getting it instantly? I don’t think readers are going to fall for that. I did not. And since I am on a one-year experiment of buying only ebooks, I have not yet been able to read that book. Sale lost.

  20. Francesca says:

    From what I understand of the current contracts offered by the big print publishers, they are paying lower e-royalty rates to their authors than I get from my e-pub. Yet those same print publishers are jacking up the prices on the e-books. What’s wrong with this picture?  ~Shaking head~

    Writers – KNOW your e-royalty rates and how they compare industry wide so you can make sure you’re getting a fair shake. EVERY author out there today is e-published whether we’re pubbed by St. Martins or Ellora’s Cave.

  21. Mireya says:

    Lisa Kleypas is an autobuy author for me, hence, I went for it and spent the extra $$ on the e-version.  However, this was the last time I am going to do so.  My budget nowadays is extremely tight and I can’t afford it. 

    It seems to me that there is a misperception that ebooks are for the “privileged” and since we are “privileged” we can pay extra for ecopies of books.

    Well… they can shove it …

  22. Lisa J says:

    This is why I only buy my e-books from EC, Samhain, LI, LSB, and others.  The files are DRM free and for the most part much less expensive than the paper version of the same book.

  23. Suzanne says:

    Francesca, thank you for the thoughts on e-royalties….it seems that the publishers are trying to have it both ways…price gouging readers and short-changing authors. Not nice…which is why they may eventually lose marketshare to indie or self-publishers….

  24. AngW says:

    Every time I’m tempted to throw down the cash for an e-reader the subject of ebook pricing comes up and I put it off until publishers pull heads from sphincters.  Maybe sometime next Autumn I’ll finally own a reader.

    simple68—it should be simple to have standardized pricing

  25. Karenmc says:

    So St. Martins does this often, eh? I saw the ebook price, choked on my coffee, and found the paperback at 25% off at Fred Meyer (west coast chain). I can’t think of a single justification for the higher ebook price other than greed. Does Lisa Kleypas realize that her publisher is antagonizing many of her readers?

  26. ~B says:

    Folks with Kindle’s can now get this book for $7.99 (was $9.99).  It still has a list price of $14, but Amazon has discounted it to get the price to equate with the MMPB

  27. Melissa says:

    Stories like this are one of the reasons I won’t buy an e-Reader.  Money’s already tight, and I found out I’m getting furloughed for 6-10 days next semester.  There is no way in heck I”ll pay extra for digital copy of a book, even if I got a free e-Reader for Christmas. 

    Like many others, I’m using the library and UBS for some of my reading, and simply doing without in other cases.  (With the exception of Anne Gracie books.  Hers I will buy from B&N.)  Unless publishers get their act together, this won’t change any time soon.

  28. JoanneL says:

    I won’t cut off my nose to spite my face (thanks for that mental image, Mom) which is why I go with the distributor who has the book, at the best price, for the authors I want to read.

    Whether it’s ebook or paper matters not a whit to me so if it matters to those people selling ebook readers then they best put themselves in a position to find out WTF is going on with the price gouging

  29. Henofthewoods says:

    I agree about pricing but…
    I don’t want to screw up someone’s sales. The actual author needs that purchase (times all the pissed off people) or their next book is less likely to be published. The publisher won’t realize that it is their own fault.

    There are so many authors that I liked but couldn’t afford to buy who are now not writing. There are so many authors that I don’t like selling on and on. My dollar can only say so much, I want it to say “keep this author under contract” before it says “revamp your ebook sales policy”.

  30. SB Sarah says:

    There are so many authors that I liked but couldn’t afford to buy who are now not writing. There are so many authors that I don’t like selling on and on. My dollar can only say so much, I want it to say “keep this author under contract” before it says “revamp your ebook sales policy”.

    So well put, Hen.

    I hope St. Martin’s is listening, but also authors – books are more and more a luxury item, and policies like St. Martin’s make the purchase hard, even if readers want to support the industry, the authors, and the genre.

  31. Becky says:

    Why not start a protest?  If the ebook price is out of line, and you choose to buy the book used instead, mail the publisher a letter telling them why you chose not to buy the ebook and the receipt from the UBS.  Maybe if they receive enough concrete evidence that they’re losing money because of their outrageous pricing they’ll stop “discussing” and actually do something about it.

  32. Mary G says:

    Yep – this is the part of the ebook thing that kills the concept for me.  Yes, it’s more convenient (potentially), and I loved carrying around a library in my purse on the test-drive.  But for me to plunk down a few hundred dollars for the reader, and THEN be charged higher prices for the books (when paper is a perfectly workable alternative)… NO F*ING WAY.  Guess I need the soap too (my teacher used to use Cashmere Bouquet because it had the nastiest taste… and yes she taste tested soap).

    These publishers should be Harvard Business School case studies in how to cut your own throat in a declining business, and retard the growth of a future revenue stream all at the same time.  Epic fail indeed.

  33. I get so frustrated by posts like this, and pricing structure horrors stories like this and like the one surrounding When Alex Was Bad, which was the same fucked up deal – $15 for the ebook and $9 for the paperback—don’t blink, you read that right.

    I’ve spent 10 years as an epublished author, sitting in the vanguard of the epublishing industry and trying to be a recruiter, educator and promotor and this sort of shit makes my heart sink…it sets back the industry in the eyes of readers and the public by about two years at least.  Readers who get burned aren’t ever going to come back unless they have no other choice.

    You’d think that professionals earning more money than me would be smarter.  Apparently not.

  34. Diane says:

    I spend upwards of $4,000 each year on books – of which maybe $100 is on ebooks purchased from MyBookStoreandMore.  I have a palm that I use to read my ebooks (bought it 5 years ago to read stories from Elloras Cave) and have no plans to buy either a Kindle or Sony Reader.

    The main reason I won’t be buying a reader—the pricing of ebooks.  I’m sorry, but it is fricking ridiculous to charge the same or more for an ebook as a printed book.  No justification at all for the pricing, since (HELLO!!) it definitely costs more to have a physical copy of the book than download a file.  Also, the mere fact that you can’t trade it or know that you actually own the ebook – the first time that Amazon yanked books out of people’s Kindle that they had paid for should have sounded the death knoll of the Kindle in my opinion – is a definite huge negative.

    Now if publishers were smart, they’d be selling all ebooks for $4 and trying to win back the loyalty and enthusiasm of their readers. 

    At this point, I’m planning on revamping my budget for books for 2010 since so many of my once favorite authors (Howard, Leigh, Coulter, Moning, to name a few) have been demoted from my auto-buy list due to poor writing and even worse editing.  I used to be the reader that publishers dream about—racing to buy new books on their street date (and usually checking on Friday to see if the books got put out early) and spending more than $400 each month.  In 2010, except for books by JD Robb and Maya Banks, I’ll probably wait for the books to be available at my local library—- which means I’ll easily add about $3,800 back to my budget for other things.

  35. SonomaLass says:

    I recently found the ebook version of a $25 hardback, new release, for $6.  It even had cover art (score!). I couldn’t get it in dead tree form from Borders until Oct. 14, but could get the ebook instantly.  And I did, even though I have to read it on my laptop.  It seems to me that’s how it should be—digital version is cheaper and available at the same time or earlier.

  36. Gwynnyd says:

    I’m wondering why, if the e-books are essentially rented anyway, why there isn’t a “rental” option.  I would not mind paying 99¢ or $1.99 to have access to an e-book for a week. If I like it, perhaps the rental fee could apply to the purchase price. 

    They rent DVDs. Why not books?

  37. Gwynnyd says:

    Like NetFlix for books… put in a wish list and they just send them to me when I return the previous ones. Wouldn’t that be cool?

    That I’d pay for!

  38. Francesca says:

    You know – this really ridiculous pricing explains some of the e-piracy out there. People figure they’ll buy ONE copy (at higher than print price) then they’ll just share the book with friends. Then it turns viral and the book gets uploaded to some piracy site and suddenly neither the publishers nor the authors are making money.

    Publishers aren’t just shooting themselves in the foot by ticking off their readership, they are fostering an environment which encourages theft. People think stealing a book is no big deal because, hey, the publishers ripped the reader off in the first place. This is just bad news all around.

  39. liz m says:

    @ Julie – In all fairness, hold the Sony ire. I thought it was them as well, but investigation showed it was certainly the publisher. Sony was actually pretty responsive to this and discussed it with me. But not refund responsive.

    @ Gwynnyd – my brother’s library works like this, but the selection is a bit limited. I think as e-books gain in adoption, the selections will be more in line with what is in the libraries themselves. My library offers no e-books so I am seriously skewing his lending profile!

  40. Sandy D. says:

    There are netflix like book rental sites (like, but I don’t know of any that do e-books.

    The only way I can justify buying new books that I’m not planning on keeping forever is to sell them on or ebay. Until buying an e-book is less than the amount I’m out doing that,  no digital for me.

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