Lee Harris is the editor at Angry Robot Books and the publisher of Hub Magazine, and although he has been reading eBooks for nearly ten years, he still manages to find space for physical editions. It doesn’t have to be either/or …
Lee has a very important perspective on the ebook debate. As an early adopter of ebooks himself and now an editor for an established publisher, Lee has the opportunity to guide Angry Robot Books into a market-leading position. Already, Lee and the team have made great strides with their ebooks – they are DRM-free, have no territorial restrictions, and their novel prices hover around the £4.49 mark.
The difference between Angry Robot Books (which began life as part of the Big Six when it was in the HarperCollins stable) and the other majors is that they have a small, dedicated team who have been determined from the onset to do things differently. My tip: with all the uncertainty around ebooks, a niche player like Angry Robot will rise to the top of the field while other, bigger publishers will dwindle away over the next decade.
Here’s Lee view on the worth of ebooks:
“What is an eBook worth?”
As far as the actual production of the book is concerned, the difference in cost between an eBook and a paperback is minimal. There are plenty of online articles that cover this, so I’m not going to retread that old ground here. I’ll retread some other old ground, instead. Not what a book costs, but what it’s worth – to the publisher, to the author, and to the reader.
Let’s get that pesky publisher bit out of the way, first.
There are those that believe that electronic publishing will be the death of the publishing industry, that – because the cost of creating the eBook files is roughly the same for everyone – the publisher is no longer necessary. That’s wrong for so many reasons, and it is the basis for a whole new set of articles in itself, that to dissect the premise here would distract from the focus of this feature. So, let’s assume that you accept that the publisher is here for the long haul. Or skip ahead to the next bit – that’s fine, too.
So, the publisher – what is an eBook worth to them?
Well, an eBook represents a number of things. It’s a sample of the work produced by the company, and therefore, represents the publisher to the reader, the retailer, the distributor, potential agents, and their authors. It tells these groups of people what the publisher is. It’s also the culmination of a long process of collaboration between the author, his or her editor, the copyeditor, the proofreaders, the artist, the designer, the marketing people, and all the unsung heroes in the back office. This means that it is also the product of a series of investments – both artistic and financial – and a product which needs to be sold in order to not only recoup the costs of its production, but also to make a profit in order to further compensate the author, and to compensate the shareholders, whose money was used to produce the book in the first place. Profits are also used to offset the losses made by the eBooks that don’t recoup their costs.
So the publisher wants to price an eBook at a level which makes the most profit – it’s a business, after all. This doesn’t mean the publisher should set the eBook price high – too high, and few people will buy it. Nor should the publisher necessarily price it in the bargain basement – below a variable cut-off point, low price isn’t necessarily an incentive for more readers to buy it. The eBook should be priced somewhere in the middle. It’s further complicated by the cost of associated paperback and hardback editions, and the inevitable comparisons that are drawn.
So, what’s it worth to a publisher? It’s worth investment.
The Author – what’s an eBook worth to them?
This depends on the author, of course – the book is a culmination of several months (or years) of hard work; it’s a piece of their soul; it’s a commodity to be exploited; it’s their next few mortgage payments and a weekend away with the family; it’s everything they ever wanted to achieve; it’s the first rung on a ladder of indeterminable height; it’s their livelihood; it’s their life.
Few professional authors write full time – most have day jobs – but writing is a profession, and the professional author expects to be rewarded financially for their labour. If an author does not get paid, what incentive is there for them to continue to write? The creation of art is rarely enough.
So, what’s an eBook worth to an author? It’s worth an investment of time and craft, and heartache and stress, and labour. It’s worth a salary.
And what about you, dear reader? What’s an eBook worth to you?
Do you enjoy the author’s words less if they’re on a screen? Does the physical object of a paperback or hardback add value to your purchase, or does the convenience of immediacy of purchase and zero weight/shelf space outweigh this benefit? Do you want to download cheap/free books from authors who might never be able to afford the time to write their next book, or do you want to pay a fair price for the fruits of someone else’s toil?
Every time you buy a book – whether it’s paperback, electronic, hardback or audio – you are investing in the next book you buy. Think of your favourite author. Think of their body of work. Would they have written all those books if they didn’t get paid a fair sum for their efforts? Would they have been able to afford to? How much richer did they make your life? Isn’t that worth your own hard-earned dollars? Think of how much you paid for those books and how many hours of enjoyment they gave you. Think of how low that hourly rate of entertainment actually is. Think of what it’s worth to you.
So, what is an eBook worth?
It’s worth the trouble to write. It’s worth the cost to produce. It’s worth a fair sum to buy.
And what’s a fair sum? I don’t know. No-one does, not really. I know what I’m willing to pay, but until the market stabilises, it’s not a question that can be easily answered for the book-buying public in general. EBooks are still turning the publishing world on its head. We’re in a state of flux.
An eBook is worth whatever you’re willing to pay for it – both in cold, hard cash, and in the potential future scribblings of your favourite authors. It’s worth your money. Spend it wisely.
The latest issue of Lee’s Hub Magazine can be downloaded for free here.
Angry Robot’s ebooks are available from the Angry Robot ebook store and Amazon (without DRM or territorial restrictions).
The Grand Conversation on ebooks will run here at www.jiraiya.com.au until February 28. If you’d like to contribute a guest blog post, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted in: writing