I have nothing against 99 cent ebooks. I’ve bought them, I’ve read them and I appreciate that now it is easier than ever for authors to put their work out there and so pricing is at an all time low. Whether books are priced $0.99, $2.99 or $4.99, it’s hardly a financial risk to try something different and when you can get 100 titles on your Kindle or Nook for a couple of hundred dollars instead of a thousand dollars, that has to be something to smile about.
However, I saw something this week that really made me wonder if the true cost of 99 cent ebooks is not in the sales they – allegedly – take away from higher priced authors or the fact that they – allegedly – devalue the perception of the quality of eBooks but actually something much more insidious and sinister.
On Amazon, I posted a review of a story I had loved. The writing was excellent, the story flowed beautifully and it was wonderful to read. As far as I was concerned it was a winner. It had cost me five times less than a glossy magazine and had been a much more enjoyable and consuming read to go with a cup of coffee. I gave it a well deserved five stars; however, unfortunately not everyone was so generous. The reviews ranged from cynical to scathing to downright nasty.
The author’s crime? This was not a two hundred page novel but a short story. A short story! To think, they had actually paid $0.99 for a short story! To think they had actually paid… er… $0.0005 per word. Hmm… when you look at it like that…
Amazon allows authors to upload short fiction in the form of short stories, novellas etc. Amazon does not allow these authors the choice of offering their work for free. If work is offered for free it is at Amazon’s discretion, not the choice of the author. Amazon does not allow authors to charge less than $0.99 for any work, regardless of length. Again, some prices may fall below this but that is down to Amazon and not the author. So when these authors are kind enough to share quality fiction with us, how do we respond? Not by considering that we got a great piece of writing for less than the cost of candy bar but by insulting them and making them feel that they’re ripping us off?
Amazon offers authors $0.35 of each ebook sold at $0.99. Take into account tax, marketing, writing time, formatting time, preparing or paying for a cover image, hiring an editor/proofreader and so on and an author has to sell an awful lot of copies to even make their money back. So who’s selling who short?
The opportunity to receive fiction at low prices is a privilege and not a right. There are countries that are still struggling to obtain adequate access to books for people, let alone ebooks. Drinking instant coffee at home doesn’t make us unwilling to splash out on a $3 cup of coffee every now and again: we appreciate the quality, we appreciate the treat, we appreciate the value in something we enjoy. Is it so difficult to apply the same principles to ebooks?
So, readers, I implore you: the next time you pick up a 200 page ebook for $0.99 and a short story for the same price, don’t feel sold short. Feel lucky that for less than $2 you’ve picked up two different pieces of fiction that otherwise you may never have tried. If you can’t do that? Go spend $5 on a glossy magazine instead. Less value and subsidised with advertising to boot but at least you’re not potentially ruining someone’s chances of selling a quality piece of fiction.