Then I received a Kindle for my birthday and, to be honest, I've had to re-examine my thoughts about e-book readers, e-publishing and Amazon in general.
Let me start by saying one of my biggest complaints against ebook readers is that they aren't books. I like the feel of a book in my hand, of being able to curl up in bed with a book before bed. You can't do that with a computer and I assumed you couldn't with an ebook reader. WRONG. Yes, it felt different when I first received the Kindle. However, it is close enough to the size of a book, although not the depth, to almost convince me. Then I bought the cover for it and now that it "opens" like a book, a lot of the issue of it not being a book has gone.
Then there is the sheer convenience of a Kindle. I'm a reader. No, I'm an avid reader with what can best be described as eclectic tastes. Add to that the fact I always have at least three writing projects going, at least one of which requires research in some form or fashion. That means books, lots and lots of books. Which, before the Kindle meant carrying a backpack or more whenever I left the house to work. After al, I had my notes, my laptop or eee and power cord, MP3 player, research books, probably one book to read for entertainment, my purse or at least my wallet...well, you get my drift. Now, I carry a book bag, if that. My purse can hold the Kindle and eee. I still carry an MP3 player even though the Kindle has the ability to play my tunes. But I don't need to carry all the books, not when I currently have over 100 books on the Kindle with much more room to grow.
The biggest issue now facing ebook readers isn't the cost of the reader itself, although that is still an issue. The biggest issue is the cost of the books. However, before you start thinking I've lost my mind and have mortgaged the house for the books currently on my Kindle, I have to confess that a good number of them come from Baen -- the one "traditional" publishing house that has the right idea about ebooks and their pricing. Another large group of the books comes from Amazon itself -- and for free. Each month Amazon lists books that have been best sellers or are first books for best selling authors or the first book in a series for free. Is it a hook? Sure. They are wanting to hook you so you will buy the other books in the series. Nothing wrong with that.
Amazon also lets you download the opening of a book, either a few pages or a few chapters, onto your Kindle to see if you actually want to buy the book. I happen to like that idea as well. Just like I appreciate being able to use my Kindle to check my email or look up something on wikipedia.
So what's the big issue about pricing, you ask? It's the cost of the ebooks themselves. Amazon is attempting to hold firm to the idea that ebooks, including best sellers, should list at $9.99 or less. The traditional publishing houses, on the whole, hate this idea. They call it "unrealistically low". My question in response is why? As Dave and others have pointed out, publishers don't have the same financial input regarding an ebook as they do with a dead tree version of the same book. There are no printing costs, no transportation costs, no housing costs. Accounting for ebook sales is much easier as well -- oh wait, that's good for the author, not necessarily for the publisher.
Basically, the time has come for the publishing industry to realize they have to take a hard look at their business models and adapt to the times. Our children have been raised with computers. They think more in terms of bytes than pages. They use their cell phones for everything from making calls and texting to playing games and surfing the web. Universities are using ebooks more and more to help keep costs down for students. I won't even get into the "green" benefits of an ebook reader and ebooks as opposed to traditional publishing.
Frankly, if the traditional publishers and big box bookstores aren't convinced that times are changing, they need to take another look at the pricing war currently taking place between Amazon and Walmart. Both of those retailers understand that the average reader can no longer afford to pay $25 or $30 for a hard cover book, nor do they want to pay close to $9 for a paperback. Are the publishers screaming? Hell, yeah. Are the big box bookstores screaming? You betcha. Do I have an answer, no. Publishers have to make a profit to stay in business. However, trying to do so by raising the price of ebooks to the same, or almost the same, as a dead tree version isn't the answer.
One recommendation I do have is to bring their backlist out as ebooks, price them reasonably and introduce a whole new generation of readers to authors and books they've never heard of before. Oh, yeah, along with that, pay the writers a reasonable percentage of the ebook sales. Take a look at those ebook publishers who are making a go of it and follow their business plan. Everyone will gain that way - readers, writers and the publishers.
What are your thoughts? Has my soul been forever blackened by its conversion to the Kindle? How should the publishers react to the growing demand for ebooks, especially reasonably priced ebooks? And what is a "reasonable" price for an ebook?
Off-topic and your fair warning advisory: Sarah said to tell you she can't be all places at once and is afraid her pointy toed boots would be blunted by all the butts she has to kick because of folks dragging their feet about sending out their work. Sstarting Wednesday, she will be holding an on-going short story clinic to help "encourage" everyone to let go of their "babies" and send them out into the real world. So sharpen your pencils, get out your paper and be prepared to work!