Where in the world are we? Digital downloads—ebooks and video

What an amazing time to be a writer! You now have control over your writing life and your income in a way never dreamed before by writers, not only of earlier generations, but even just a few years ago. It’s astonishing… and wonderful.

It’s not so wonderful for most publishers, because this career freedom the writers now enjoy in most cases comes directly from the income of their former publishers. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. If publishers are able to switch mentality from Big Business Boss to “publishing partner,” things can be real bright for everyone. My sense is that most writers really have no desire to pay for editing, cover art or learn how to typeset, index or format digital files. They’re just fed up with making 10% of retail, or maxing out at $10,000 for three year’s work after waiting two years for the book to be produced. Who can blame them?

Smaller, more nimble publishers can adapt to this new market if they can put aside traditional bookmaking in favor of today’s new opportunities. On the print book side, this means printing fewer books per print run, and, for publishers like On Target, limiting or even canceling the old-school open returns policy. Returned books are the biggest area of loss for a publisher, about which the writers and customers are usually in the dark. Let’s just say if only half the books come back from a store, dinged-up, for full refund, that’s considered a good sell-through. cRaZY, is what that is, and smaller publishers, while possibly losing a few random bookstore sales (and honestly, I’m not even sure that’s true anymore), would be well-served to consider outright cancellation of the decades-old full returns policy.

On the ebook side, we need a radical change of mindset. What has happened to most publishers is different than what’s happening with writers who are self-publishing to the digital market. Writers are playing with pricing, and, although bouncing around some, are mostly trending down, even way down. Publishers took a different track; they mostly price their ebooks based on print book pricing. I think the idea behind that is to help hold up print book pricing, but I’m pretty sure that’s backwards.

Certainly publishers are telling the truth when they discuss the costs of editing, artwork, indexing, typesetting and formatting. Those costs are the same, regardless of format. The book printing, shipping, warehousing — and the ugly returns — are the part that goes away as we move from print to digital. The other costs are still there.

But where the thought-process breaks is in the attempt to lump all book customers together. Here’s the thing: The print customers and the digital customers are different. There’s some crossover, certainly, but most readers are one or the other. And even if they still read both formats, they — we — think differently when we consider a book purchase. Amazon has changed our comfortable price points, and guess what? $9.99 is where we’re going to find the top for awhile. Sure, I’ll buy a higher-priced ebook, but a price over $9.99 slows me down with an “I’ll decide later,” which of course never happens — for the publisher, and the writer, that is a lost sale. And this is even for a book I know I want. A book I happened to scroll across has absolute no chance over $9.99… none. The mental pricing for print books is much, much higher, and it doesn’t matter a jolt that I understand book publishing costs. Amazon has trained me, just like it’s trained nearly every other ebook buyer on the planet.

Now we’re to the part where I tell you which direction On Target is going. Oh, heck, I don’t even need to tell you… you’ve already guessed: Our top ebook price is $9.99. This is now in place across all the digital resellers, and on our On Target and davedraper.com sites. Our ebook pricing is no longer related to the print book price. It’s a different product, different market, different pricing guidelines.

In partnership with the writers, which is exactly how I see small presses succeeding as we move forward — a partnership — we’ve decided to put all the digital formats in one package when buying from our site. I can’t make that work for people who want the convenience of buying from Amazon, BN.com, Apple or the other reseller sites since they only sell in one format, but if you buy from us, you’ll get the full package, epub, prc and PDF files that will work on the full selection of readers and devices. This will allow you to move from device to device — we don’t use digital rights management (DRM), you’ll read it on your phone, your laptop and your iPad, all for the same price. I am so happy to have settled into this, thrilled really. It just feels… good.

The benefits of the new pricing range from increasing the potential customer base, to allowing people on a budget to grab a digital copy in addition to an earlier purchase of a print book that rests on a now-dusty shelf. The biggest benefit for publishers and writers is that instead of crushing the book market, digital devices have exploded the practice of reading. The readers are there, more now than ever. We just need to learn how to respond better to their reading needs.

On Target Publications, digital