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Free eBook Site BaenCD (Fifth Imperium) Makes Changes as SF Publisher Baen Books Moves to Sell eBooks in the Kindle Store

If you’re looking for proof about how the ebook market has changed in the 5 years since the Kindle Store launched, today’s news concerning Baen Books will give you a clue.

Hints have been circulating for some time now that Baen is about to distribute ebooks outside of their ebookstore (the shrinking Baen Free Library was one clue), and recent changes to one free ebook site were the cluebat I needed to confirm my suspicions.

Baen is finally joining the modern ebook era. Some time in the next few days months I expect that you’ll be able to find their ebooks in the major ebookstores.

Baen Books was one of the pioneers in adopting ebooks. Ever since 1999 they have been selling DRM-free ebooks, in multiple formats, in their own ebookstore. They had their own store so they could go DRM-free, and (like I have written before) it was the only way to provide a decent user experience. This was before the Kindle Store launched, of course.

One of Baen’s other endeavours was to bundle CDs into the first edition hardbacks. These CDs were chock full of free Baen ebooks from a variety of authors and included a wide variety of formats.

Those free CDs bring me to today’s news. Since Baen was using them to promote paper book sales, they were fine with the CDs being passed around online as ZIP files, ISO images, or what have you. They even winked at one site, Fifth Imperium, hosting copies of the CDs which could be browsed and downloaded.

But not anymore. Joe Buckley, the webmaster at Fifth Imperium, announced last night that he would not be hosting the CDs anymore due to a request from Baen. For the near future he will be hosting the CD images (ISO files and ZIP files), but the CDs themselves will not be available to browse from your computer. Here’s how he put it:

Baen is now on the verge of launching a new ebook distribution deal with an 'unnamed third-party'.

This third-party regularly crawls the web looking for ebooks it markets and, if found, matches their price to the new-found lower price.

Finding it free tends to knock the wind out of the ebook’s sales (so to speak).

Obviously the name which everyone is careful not to mention  is Amazon, and it is equally obvious that Baen is finally going to venture beyond their own fiefdom.

That’s great. They’re going where the customers are.

image by RachelH

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Eric December 7, 2012 um 11:53 am

Disappointing, in one way, but good to see in another.

At least I’ve got my copies of all the CDs.

Thomas December 7, 2012 um 5:01 pm

You can still download the CDs from the site, but you can’t read from them online anymore. You have to download the .zip file to your computer, then extract the ebook files.

Geert December 7, 2012 um 12:43 pm

I hope B&N will be added too.

JRR December 7, 2012 um 3:33 pm

Hopefully not just Amazon – I prefer to use the Google Play store for books. Google allows publishers to not have DRM if they don’t want it. Amazon, well, maybe.

Thomas December 8, 2012 um 12:45 am

Baen was giving away nearly free books even before ebooks got going. Back in the ’90s, they made $1.99 paperback editions of the first books in a number of series. I bought a copy of David Weber’s "On Basilisk Station" for $1.99 back then and got hooked. I think I’ve bought over $500 worth of his other books since then.

I just hope that adding Baen books to Amazon doesn’t mean raising the prices to the equivalent of other publishers. Baen sells DRM-free ebooks on their website for $4-$6.

fjtorres December 8, 2012 um 6:19 am

The bundles are unlikely to be affected.
Single titles, though, might see a higher list price.

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2012 um 6:29 am

The bundles will be affected, yes. It’s complicated.

fjtorres December 8, 2012 um 6:42 am

Yes, I just heard some of the details.
I was thinking *pricing*, not *availability*, since the bundles are such an effective way to promote new authors by bundling their releases with more established writers with a following.
But availability will now be limited–apparently they will only be available *for sale* until the titles in the bundle hit print. (And since the bundles traditionally have included several existing titles…)
This hits me right where I hurt because, while I’ve been buying all the bundles to date, I only get them a couple times a year.

Thomas December 8, 2012 um 2:44 pm

Looks like prices on Baen’s ebooks are going way up:

If the book is only out in hardback, the ebook will be $9.99. (Up from $6)
If it’s out in trade paperback, $8.99
If it’s out as mass market PB, $6.99

The current bundles will be gone, the future ones will not include previously existing items.

Thomas December 8, 2012 um 2:46 pm

BTW, why does the "unnamed third party" have an obsession with prices ending in .99?

fjtorres December 8, 2012 um 3:12 pm

Not a joy.
And yet, it’s easy to see what is going on.
It’s called market pricing.
Baen as a publisher needs to deliver as much as they reasonably can to their authors and with the ebook market running at $9.99 for recent releases, unless their volume is much higher than the competition or their ebook royalties much higher, at $6 their authors are getting shorted.
If Baen doesn’t line up with the rest of the market, they risk their authors lining up elsewhere.
As is, getting access to the mainstream ebookstores (at those prices) it looks like they’ll be grossing $5-7 per ebook from the new venues so they are trading off a bit of sales volume for the broader marketplace access. It’ll likely be revenue neutral at worst once you factor in the higher royalties they’re apparently giving the authors.
As I said, not pretty but understandable.
Now that ebooks are mainstream products they have to run with the mainstream or get run over.

Thomas December 8, 2012 um 5:45 pm

The higher prices do show the problem of having one retailer being the most powerful influence in the ebook business. Baen has to raise their prices to make up for the retailer’s cut, and won’t be allowed to sell themselves at a lower rate. If the other publishers had got their act together five years ago, they could have set up their own distribution system and left Amazon twisting in the wind. They were just too afraid of undercutting their physical book system. Now, with all the retailers selling self-published books themselves, the publishers are becoming the unnecessary link in the chain.

Diane December 8, 2012 um 5:50 pm

After reading this post, I went to Baen to buy a few books because I thought the price would go up. They were no longer available at Baen, but were on Amazon for $6.99. They also seem to be encumbered with DRM. At least that’s what Calibre told me when I tried to read the file using it.

fjtorres December 8, 2012 um 6:11 pm

I just took a look and found prices at $5 and $6 on the first few pages…
Plus the usual bundles running from $10-$30.
It may be a phased transition…

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2012 um 6:22 pm

Me, too. I found a bunch of titles at $4, $6, etc.

Diane December 8, 2012 um 6:33 pm

Upon further trying, I found other titles in both sites. The ebooks I was originally writing about were Shards of Honor and Barrayar. I thought they were originally offered at Baen. Maybe I was wrong about Baen being the publisher. As to the ebooks on both sites, they are cheaper from Baen. A book that was $6.99 on Amazon was $4. on Baen.

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2012 um 6:41 pm

The Bujold titles on Amazon were likely uploaded by the author (or on her behalf). That’s why they don’t have the same cover as the ebook sold by Baen.

The funny thing about Baen is that they don’t currently have exclusive digital rights, so authors can sell the ebooks elsewhere.

fjtorres December 8, 2012 um 7:22 pm

You *might* want to look into Amazon’s return policy.
Those two books are included in Baen’s CORDELIA’S HONOR omnibus. For, ahem, $5.
Baen carries the bulk of Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga in the form of omnibuses.
(Except for the most recent ones: CRYOBURN and CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE. The latter is a fun one, the former more serious.)

Diane December 8, 2012 um 9:14 pm

Oops! Thanks. I actually already bought Cordelia’s Honor in 2008. I just returned them for a refund. I forgot they were bundled. You saved me some money!

fjtorres December 8, 2012 um 10:09 pm

You’re welcome.
Now go read it; it’s good stuff. 🙂

Joe Buckley December 9, 2012 um 6:15 pm

Please note the last line in my site notice (not quoted in the article):

"The full CD ISO files are, for the time being, still available, though."

It is only the directly browseable versions of the CDs that have been retired.

My site has been seeing record traffic for the last few days as everyone scrambles to get copies of the disks.

Kay Shapero December 12, 2012 um 12:48 am

I just hope Baen isn’t shooting itself in the foot. It wouldn’t be the first time making a drastic change supposedly to attract more purchasers merely succeeded in driving away the ones you had already. I find Amazon’s ebook charges generally sufficient to make picking up hard copy with the attendant advantages much more attractive.

Raymond December 13, 2012 um 3:29 am

What about us that have a Nook? The nice thing whith Baen being independent was that we could get books in our prefered format. This will actualy hurt their sales due to B&N customers not being able to purchase for Nook.

Nate Hoffelder December 13, 2012 um 7:28 am

That is coming too, I would think.

Nook might not be as popular as Kindle but the customers in the Nook Store still outnumber the ones who find Baen.

Brian December 13, 2012 um 10:25 am

Toni has said other outlets besides Amazon (such as B&N) are also coming. Also there is nothing stopping people from buying from the Baen eBooks site like they do now, it’s not going away.

Stephen M. St. Onge December 18, 2012 um 2:59 am

Actually, Baen was trying to "venture beyond their own fiefdom" at least six and a half years ago. I know, because I was authorized to deal with Amazon and others with the aim of getting a deal for them to distribute Baen eBooks. When Jim died, Toni took charge, but the problem was always getting Amazon and others to agree to a deal that didn’t screw over the existing customers.

And while at the moment only Amazon is a third-party seller of Baen eBooks, Toni is working on deals with Barnes & Noble, Apple, and others.

Nate Hoffelder December 18, 2012 um 7:19 am

Ah, I was wondering why this didn’t happen years ago (answer: it almost did).

Who were you talking to 6 years ago? Was it Overdrive, Fictionwise, who?

Stephen M. St. Onge December 19, 2012 um 5:19 am

I was AUTHORIZED to talk to any and every bookseller in existence, including brick and mortar stores,. But this happened only a few months before Jim’s death.

When Jim Baen died, I was still in preliminary stages, doing some research into really basic things, and discussing how the "e-sales in brick and mortar stores" might be made to work with Arnold Bailey, who was then single-handedly in charge of everything related to Baen’s e-bookstore. It turned out that Toni hadn’t been informed that I was Jim’s agent, and other problems were raising their heads, so I backed off while Toni was scrambling to fill her new role as publisher.

I haven’t been in the current negotiations, but from what I’ve heard, and looking at the new deal, the reason for the delay was Baen’s existing prices and policies. Jim’s policy of "no DRM, no limit on the number of downloads, available in all formats except PDF [Jim hated PDF as an e-book format], much cheaper than paper copies, discounted monthly bundles and Free Library copies available" were just so far out of the mainstream that Amazon and others balked, while Toni insisted the exising customers not get screwed over. Based on things said at cons and posted at Baen’s Bar, we knew there were ongoing discussions, but details were closely held. I did hear that most Baen authors supported Toni’s negotiating position.

What’s finally been worked out seems a reasonably fair compromise to me: still no DRM, books still available in multiple formats and with unlimited downloads at Baen’s bookstore, monthly bundles still sold. The Free Library has lost most of its content, but Baen is hoping to restock it by creating new editions of the books that used to be in the Free Library, and selling those. The old ones can then be offered free. An example: David Weber’s OATH OF SWORDS got supplemented with a long novella, SWORD BROTHER. That combined edition is for sale at Baen eBooks and Amazon, while the original book, without SWORD BROTHER, is availble in the Free Library. As for the monthly bundles, they’re no longer for sale once the new e-books in them are released as individual e-titles, but the buyers can still download them.

One reason Baen was slow to make a deal MAY be how well they were doing without one. I’m not privy to the accounting books of Baen Books, but from what we’ve heard Baen made as much off it’s e-books as MacMillan, Hachette, or Random House was doing with their much greater number of titles. Baen typically rolls out about thirty-six new books per year, while Hachette, smallest of the Big Six publishers, does around 600. When your policies generate better than an order of magnitude more sales than the typical publisher’s, you tend to resist imitating said typical … or at least, so I expect.

Helen Waldron January 23, 2013 um 1:43 am

For those of us who live outside the US, Baen has been one of the few sites to allow ebooks to be bought in all formats. Living in NZ the only ebook site are Whitcoulls (associated with Kobo) with a limited selection or Google Books (having to read online).
Are Baen going to allow the Sale of their books outside of the US in all formats or are we restricted to Kindle?

fjtorres January 23, 2013 um 7:04 am

They haven’t closed their ebookstore.
What you could do before you can do now.
(But the price is higher.)

earl August 8, 2015 um 3:32 pm

One thing you should note, ebooks bought from amazon and b&n are encrypted so you must use kindle or nook. You have no access to a file you can make a backup of, in spite your book being DRM free. You are at their mercy as far as control of backups of your legally purchased books. This means if amazon or b&n go bust, bye bye go your books.

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