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Not All of Us Drink a $4 Coffee, Mr. Weeks

Did you catch this tweet from Brent Weeks? It’s been making the rounds.

It looks like a debate on ebook prices is about to break out again, and there are a number of points I can make about this.

First, it stands as an example of why you shouldn’t make off the cuff flippant remarks on Twitter. Brent has probably turned off a few potential readers with his temporary doucheyness.

Second, the reader need not worry; this is a Hachette title. This publisher was one of the 3 that settled with the DOJ over the price fixing conspiracy and that means that the price will be coming down before the end of the year.

I’d like to try to understand where he’s coming from but the fact he clearly doesn’t grasp the obvious disconnect between the work he put into the book and its market value makes that kinda hard.

With most authors there would be a subtext here which you cannot see in the tweet. As a traditionally published author, Brent has absolutely no control over the price of his ebook.  I’m sure you knew that on some level, but when you add it to the fact that he likely gets dozens of emails like the one he references, you begin to understand why an author in his position tweeted a flippant response.

On the other hand, I hope he doesn’t ever go on Amazon and check the prices of his backlist. If he gets pissy because a reader doesn’t want to pay $13 for an ebook he’s liable to go into a screaming fit over his backlist being available for under $4 a copy in paper. And those are new copies, not used.

The ebooks, on the other hand, are all priced at $8 each.  That says a lot about the screwed up priorities of the major publishers, doesn’t it?

Hachette is getting almost nothing from the $4 paper books; they’ve probably been remaindered. But those $8 ebooks are earning Hachette better than $5 a sale. What’s more, since the ebooks cannot be resold each is effectively a final sale. With that in mind, you gotta wonder why Hachette isn’t trying to convert paper book buyers to ebook buyers. Even if it were priced at $4, the ebook is worth more than the paper book.

And let’s keep looking at the price of a $4 paper book; there’s another detail you cannot see. Most of those books on Amazon cost $8 after shipping. They’re being sold by 3rd part sellers, so this means Amazon gets to take a commission without having to handle the book.

Here’s the interesting part: Amazon makes $3 from each sale. That’s more than Amazon would make off of the $8 ebook.

I’ve never liked high ebook prices, but until today I never really understood what a stupid idea they are, and on how many levels. By propping up the paper book market, Hachette is both leaving money on the table and putting more money into the coffers of Amazon.

If I were one of their authors I’d be more pissed at that than I would be annoyed by a reader. I know which one would be costing me money, and it’s not the reader.

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fjtorres August 14, 2012 um 10:51 am

He may have been in a bad mood after getting one of these Hachette letters:

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 10:53 am

Um yeah. That. I’m not sure I believe it (I need to see the actual letter).

Also, I think that went to Tor authors, not Hachette authors.

Doug August 14, 2012 um 12:44 pm

It went to Hachette authors who had published with Tor elsewhere. Hachette is worked up about the competition from un-DRMed Tor e-books of the same title leaking into the territories where Hachette has sales rights.

So it’s not just about DRM, it’s also about the wacky geographical restrictions and using different publishers for different parts of the world.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 1:30 pm

Do you know where I can get a copy?

Tyler August 15, 2012 um 9:08 am

<— sipping on his $5 cup of coffee. Who wants the crappy $4 one. 🙂

Robert Nagle August 14, 2012 um 11:18 am

The other reality check is the price of used books. I talked to one author who was considered allowing an ebook publisher publish some of his titles for $8. I pointed out to him that used copies of the same book were still floating around on Amazon/ for $1 or $2 plus shipping (which ranged between 2 and 4 dollars).

One other thing: who can afford $4 coffee these days? I certainly can’t!

cheap August 14, 2012 um 12:40 pm

You want books for cheap, there are plenty of $0.99 and free self-published email. You want a brand name, and the quality that goes along with a book that has actually been edited. Pay full price or get it from the library.

cheap August 14, 2012 um 12:40 pm

Sorry, not email, ebook.

Robert Nagle August 14, 2012 um 1:34 pm

Sorry, I don’t want to pick on this author — who I know nothing about. Maybe he’s a nice guy, and surely I have tossed out my own barbs on occasion.

But a author competes not on price but on quality. There are thousands of great public domain titles out there, and the hapless reader would not be disappointed if he limits himself or herself to what is available for free. Even for 99 cents, you can find some pretty awesome titles. Sorry to plug a writing teacher of mine, but this book (which I reviewed) is probably one of the best titles I’ve read in the last few years — it’s certainly one of Flynn’s best. And guess what? It’s 99 cents! (And Glen Beck’s latest ebook is $12.99). There are oodles of cheap or free titles which readers can find that are much better than these high-priced titles. That’s what the literary game is about. If the author can sell things for $13, more power to him! But spare me the indignation!

Robert August 14, 2012 um 1:38 pm

So what if his book took 2 weeks, 2 years, or 20 years to write? Is he proposing book prices should be based on how long it takes to write them?

Peter August 14, 2012 um 1:46 pm

And… I just bought his book. Mainly out of spite.

Sorry, Nate, but please don’t throw your hat in with the ebook price Nazi’s.

Agency model or no agency model, companies price things to maximize revenue. That’s how capitalism has always worked. Price tag too high for you? then don’t buy it. -I- don’t need or want to hear about it.

A big part of the reason why I stopped reading Teleread altogether was because of these meek little weekly diatribes where some slacker working at Best Buy thinks they can just complain the price down.

It doesn’t work that way.

Want the price to come down? Then do two things.

1. Stop complaining. This accomplishes nothing and it makes you look like the pot calling the kettle black when you criticize publisher’s and booksellers.

2. Put your money where your mouth is (this is directed at the anonymous twitterer). Mr. Weeks has at least one ebook title on sale for $2.99 – that’s actually the one I bought! Buy that one; encourage other people to buy that one. Don’t make an excuse not to. When author’s and publishers TRY to give us cheap ebooks and we still don’t buy them, then they know we’re full of sh*t when we complain about the higher price.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 1:59 pm

"Agency model or no agency model, companies price things to maximize revenue. "

I just showed you that Hachette is not maximizing revenue. It’s not all that complicated.

Peter, I’ve agreed with the "ebook price Nazis" ever since Agency pricing first came about. I just don’t say anything about it unless I have a compelling argument like the one above or the sales data that Smashwords released in April.

Say what you will about people liking cheap ebooks, the figures back them up. It’s not just a personal preference.

Peter August 14, 2012 um 2:17 pm

I’m not bothered by or against the existence of cheap ebooks. I recommended buying them in my last comment. And if I wrote an ebook, myself, I’d probably give it away for free.

But my point is that your above logic was ruined by the simple fact that I just learned about this guy from your post and spent $3 on his book. Other people probably bought the full priced books. Had he not gotten into your head, I never would have heard of him and he would have gotten $0. So, in this case, high prices won over low prices.

It’s like Chick-Fil-A setting sales records after bashing gay marriage.

Theory is simple, reality is more complex.

So what I’m saying is, two wrongs don’t make a right. The most effective form of criticism is to ignore.

Which has the added benefit of making me happy 🙂

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 2:20 pm

I’ll be honest. I was going to post a rant about him, and that’s where the title originally came from. But then I did the maths and found a better argument.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 2:46 pm

Just because you choose to respond emotionally does not mean my argument failed. I wrote this for publishers and authors; I’m trying to change their minds by way of their pocketbooks.

Peter August 14, 2012 um 3:38 pm

Fari enought, but I don’t think what I’m doing is an emotional response.

Hachette executives aren’t reading your post or my comments, and if they are, they don’t care what we think. Decisions are made based on the sales data in front of them. Hachette sales data, not smashwords sales data.

By buying the $3 book, and clicking on but ultimately ignoring the more expensive ones, I impacted that data. If enough people do that, I’m confident the prices will come down.

Anything else, you are hitting your head against a brick wall.

fjtorres August 14, 2012 um 5:41 pm

Do you mean you bought it at $13?
At $3 nobody would be griping…
…unless it were *really* bad.

cheap August 14, 2012 um 2:08 pm

I’ll spare you the indignation if you spare me the self serving entitlement

As it happens, I read a ton of self published authors. I can even make a list of decent ones. This isn’t about indignation, this is about reality.

You are complaining about a four dollar cup of coffee. Well nothing says you have to shop at Starbucks. Feel free to brew it yourself, go to Dunkin' Donuts, buy it from some guy on a street corner for all I care. The nice thing about coffee is that there are plenty of choices and plenty of price points.

Brent Weeks or Glenn Beck or Joe Blow charge that much money because that is how our capitalist system works. Yes, the system isn’t perfect. Frankly it is fucked. I would love to see ebooks prices lowered, as long as they were lowered to a reflect a more organic price, taking into consideration the entire book market. More importantly I would love it if people actually had the choice: Want to buy the hard cover fine. Want to wait a little bit and buy a cheaper soft-cover that is fine too. Want the convenience of an ebook, well that is fine too.

The problem is that wonton copyright infringement has undercut the value of all books. Just like Apple justifies their 0.99 cent price or Amazon their 9.99 price by saying "Price it any higher and you will encourage pirates. And you will not make any money for the content you produce." And people — admittedly like myself who occasionally torrent — talk about the speed the product comes to market, and how quickly I can get my hands on something I legitimately want to buy.

The problem is "Do it a certain way or it will be stolen" is not a valid argument. A valid argument is "Consumers want this format. Consumers are willing to pay X dollars for it. The price is competitive with similar products. The costs are covered bringing the product to market. Both the consumer and the creator feel they have been treated fairly by the transaction. The creator has a choice in how the product is marketed and sold."

Regarding the final point: if an author wants to self publish, just as if a programmer wants to provide shareware, freeware, open sourced, creative commons, etc… well more power to them. I think that is awesome and I respect their choices. But this should be their choice. Frankly if anybody has a better choice at a better price point, then by all means use it.

But saying "I disagree with how something is marketed, so I will come up with a self-justifying way to steal it" is just pathetic. As is saying “Something will be stolen anyway, so we will price to deter the thieves is also pathetic.” And the same goes for “I don’t like the way a third party is pricing their work, I am entitled to cheaper stuff…”

I repeat. If you don’t want to pay full price for Brent Weeks book (which I haven’t read by the way), don’t pay full price for it. Get it from the Library. Go into a bookstore, find a comfy chair and read it, I don’t care. If you can’t do this, well Weeks is epic fantasy, and there are literally thousands of competing self published epic fantasy novels on smashwords and kindle for sale. Some good, one or two legitimately great, but mostly horrible.

But if you want the quality of a known product, pay the price what it is on sale for or don’t read it at all.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 2:12 pm

It is difficult for me to express the magnitude of how much you misunderstood my post.

I didn’t complain about the price. I showed that a lower point price made more sense.

cheap August 14, 2012 um 2:27 pm

You said you that you didn’t want to pay for a four dollar cup of coffee. I pointed out that there were cheaper legitimate alternatives. What is not to understand? That you want four dollar coffee without having to pay four dollars for it? Welcome to the club. So do I. I also want a yacht.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 2:38 pm

I said almost nothing about coffee, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Robert Nagle August 14, 2012 um 2:18 pm

The best inoculation against piracy is cheap prices.

cheap August 14, 2012 um 2:24 pm

The best inoculation against piracy is not to pirate.

No matter how cheap the price, people will only want it cheaper.

Anon August 14, 2012 um 2:52 pm

Actually, even my "free books" get pirated. (A lot.)

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 2:53 pm

Except that the pirate is not harmed by piracy, so there’s no reason for them to stop.

And we’re talking about what the publisher can do in the ebook market, not pirates. If the publisher wants to inoculate against piracy they could lower prices, just like Robert said.

cheap August 14, 2012 um 4:22 pm

The pirate not being harmed is irrelevant.

Just because a shoplifter isn’t caught doesn’t make it right. If you break into a house and loot everything in sight, it is still wrong even if you get away. If a murder isn’t caught it is still murder.

What you are talking about is the failure of a still nacent liberal humanism. You do right because it is right. Not because government, or the church, or big brother is watching over your shoulder.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 4:24 pm

Again, we’re talking about what publishers can do to act in their own best interest. Your ramblings about the morality of piracy are irrelevant to that discussion.

Peter August 14, 2012 um 4:02 pm

A valid argument is “Consumers want this format. Consumers are willing to pay X dollars for it… The creator has a choice in how the product is marketed and sold.”

-This! These two points.

The rest of the post, not so much.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 4:22 pm

First, there was a misunderstanding. You mention a $2.99 ebook so I thought you were talking about his $13 ebook and had a typo.

Go ahead and vote with your pocketbook, but I hope you know that in not buying the more expensive ebooks you’re remaining silent; you’re not communicating anything to the publishers because they cannot tell who is and is not buying the ebooks or why.

Peter August 14, 2012 um 6:07 pm

"but I hope you know that in not buying the more expensive ebooks you’re remaining silent;"

Not entirely- they know how many pageviews the book title gets. That’s a data point, and I would imagine they are looking at it.

cheap August 14, 2012 um 4:25 pm

The rest of the post yes.

If Brent Weeks decided to charge $1,000,000 for his book, most people would choose not to buy it, but he still has a right to charge that much for it, and people still have the right to choose to say "I will not pay that much for it."

Saying fuck you Weeks, you greedy bastard, I don’t care about your rights, I will give your million dollar book away for free. Not so much.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 4:32 pm

"Saying fuck you Weeks, you greedy bastard, I don’t care about your rights, I will give your million dollar book away for free."

I’m sorry, but are you on drugs? Where the hell do you see that in my post?

cheap August 14, 2012 um 5:44 pm

Except in hyperbole, nowhere of course. But that is the point.

Or rather, except in the sense that of course you know better than anyone how to best price books. Let’s base book prices on remaindered prices. Or, as I saw on one blog post, not here, was that the only fair price for an ebook was a penny plus the price of postage, because that is what used books on Amazon cost.

I repeat. If you don’t like the way publishers prices their books. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BUY BOOKS BY PUBLISHERS. There are plenty of alternatives. If enough people don’t buy regularly priced ebooks, guess what, the price will come down. Supply and demand. Nothing more.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 6:04 pm

But I never said I know better than everyone nor did I even imply that. And until I actually checked Amazon and did the maths I didn’t know that for a fact that a lower priced ebook was a good idea. I beleived this to be true but did not have any figures to back it up.

And you still don’t get it. I mention the remaindered books because publishers are in fact competing against their own discarded product. That is a fact of the market. What’s more, a properly priced ebook could kill that competition while making more money for the publishers.

Do you know what? Just go away. You have admitted that you deliberately misinterpreted my post. You’re not actually adding to the discussion.

Hey, Author,* About My $4 Coffee … | Something More August 14, 2012 um 2:21 pm

[…] drink coffee” and “I’ll spend my money however I want.” More thoughtful is one from Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader, who points out the illogic of the publisher’s e-pricing for the […]

Mike Cane August 14, 2012 um 2:30 pm

Some day people will learn the effing difference between "free enterprise" and "capitalism." But apparently not today and not in these comments. (And those who don’t know the effing difference should just STFU instead of flinging around "capitalism" as if they know WTF they’re saying.)

cheap August 14, 2012 um 2:38 pm

And sometimes the differences between the two systems are so minimal that telling someone STFU makes you look less intelligent than you think you are.

DavidW August 15, 2012 um 7:12 am

I have no problem with price matching against the MSRP of the mass market paperback. But I agree that there is more profit to be made at a lower price point. Weeks isn’t getting my money anyway because I plan on reading his trilogy from the public library.

If you know anyone that regularly (perhaps daily) spends $4 on a coffee, latte etc buy them a coffeemaker for Christmas. It will save them alot of money!

CJJ August 15, 2012 um 9:49 am

Thank God people have become conditioned to expensive coffee. I use that reference myself to sell my higher priced products.

But I get Nate’s' point. If 5 people will buy a book at $19.95 but 20 people will buy the same book at $8.95 one would think the choice for publishers would be obvious. Unfortunately I’ve yet to see any rational thinking in the publishing industry when it comes to eBooks.

line up the links and bring the firing squad « Requires Only That You Hate August 20, 2012 um 9:37 am

[…] forgettable dribble featuring cover art that looks like recolored Assassin’s Creed boxes, made a whiny tweet to the tune of “how dare mere mortals–like, readers!–complain ebooks are […]

Why Aren’t Publishers Pushing eBooks? « An American Editor August 22, 2012 um 4:02 am

[…] from author Brent Weeks, Nat Hoffhelder of The Digital Reader wondered, in his blog post “Not All of Us Drink a $4 Coffee, Mr. Weeks,” why publishers aren’t “trying to convert paper book buyers to ebook […]

Jeff Rutherford August 23, 2012 um 10:06 am

Volume, volume, volume. But, I guess Brent would rather his publisher keep the prices of his books high vs. competition, and he remains an author with a limited readership (paying some artificial price for his two years of work) vs. making money off of a very large readership willing to give his book a try because of a low price.

I’m paraphrasing here, but Sam Walton said, I’d rather make a nickel off a 50 cents pair of socks – and sell them by the truckloads – vs. $1 off a $20 pair of socks – and sell a couple pairs per day or week. I think the financial success of Wal-Mart speaks for itself on the volume question. (And I’m using the Wal-Mart example in a narrow case here. If someone responds about Wal-Mart’s greater evils, you’ve certainly missed the point completely).

Why Aren’t Publishers Pushing eBooks? – The Digital Reader October 12, 2014 um 10:41 pm

[…] a post discussing a tweet from author Brent Weeks last week Nate wondered, in his blog post “Not All of Us Drink a $4 Coffee, Mr. Weeks,” why publishers aren’t “trying to convert paper book buyers to ebook […]

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