Let Them Have Cheaper Ebooks!

In the middle of the French revolution, as the angry working class was banging on the gates of the monarchy, Marie Antoinette was rumored to have said: “Let them eat cake!”

Five years after our economy collapsed, after the housing market collapsed, not one too-big-to-fail banker or Wall Street guru or financial regulator has been held accountable for what was undeniably a man-made economic disaster. Yet robo-signers are still allowed to foreclose on people’s homes with impunity while the banks lose or fudge the paperwork. Obviously, there is no shortage of white collar robber-bandits to be investigated for fleecing the system. So why exactly is the United States Department of Justice going after Apple and six book publishers claiming they colluded to raise ebook prices?

Are eBook prices really an urgent national priority? What about gasoline?

Like many authors, I’ve been following the unfolding story trying to figure out what it means for eBook publishing. Ever since Apple imposed the agency model on Amazon, the idea of self-publishing has become attractive and viable to independent authors like myself. Now I’m all in favor of cheaper eBooks. I don’t believe eBooks should cost as much as paper books. As is stands now, it’s the traditional publishers who are profiting from high eBook prices, not their authors. Their authors get the same tiny percentage they’d make on a physical book. But the traditional publishers are just bailing water to keep their industry model afloat. Who benefits from the case brought by the Justice Department? Ultimately Amazon does.

Unfortunately, cheaper eBooks will mean a cheaper quality of writing. When you impose a $0.99 app model on eBooks you’ll eventually get a whole lot of crap to wade through. Of course, I’ll start out pricing my own book at $0.99 to attract readers, but you shouldn’t be surprised if the price of independent books rise proportionally with their popularity. Personally, I don’t believe that a novel I’ve spent almost 15 years effort on should sell for less than a cup of coffee. At some point eBooks prices are not about a lack of paper; they’re about the skill, effort, and talent of the writer who transformed a blank screen into a fictional story. But as an independent author I would probably never charge more than $4.99 for any eBook. Right now such a price still makes it relatively easy to compete against traditionally published best-sellers that charge $9.99 and up.


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