Friday, January 14, 2011

E-Books and Royalty Ethics - A Reader's Perspective

As I said on Wednesday, I read a lot. The sheer volume of books I own and the storage problems they create have convinced me to buy an e-book reader, even though I still love paper books and always will.

Once I'd made this decision, another benefit of ebook readers struck me.

I don't earn much money, and although a sizeable chunk of my disposable income gets spent on books, I have to be selective about what I buy and how I buy it. Unless I am in love with an author, or very stuck for something to read, I won't spring for the hardback or giant new-release paperback edition (NOTE TO SELF: Look up proper term for those so don't continue looking like complete uninformed idiot on blog. Ooops). The extra cost could mean half of another book.

And unless the author is a debut, a small press or otherwise very much in need of the sales numbers - essentially, unless it is a situation where, if I hate the book, I can reclassify the amount in my head and consider it a charitable donation - I will often try a new author by borrowing one of their books from a friend (how I discovered Cassandra Clare), picking up a copy second hand, or stalking the aisles of the local library until something shows up.

Now, if I like a book, I will make an effort to buy a new copy so the author gets a sales record and a teeny amount of royalties (I once had a horrific moment when I realised I had never bought a new copy of a book by one of my top-ten authors ever, and have been trying to atone for it since by giving copies of her books as gifts and replacing my originals).

If the author has written a lot, I won't always replace my second-hand copy of the original book. Instead I will buy most or all of their other books new. It seems like a good compromise between spending the money I budget for books in an ethical and author-friendly way, while not over-spending. Not over-spending also means I can maximise the number of authors I can support. Buying a new release hardback may mean I can afford two books fewer that month. If I wait for the paperback, three authors get to record a sale and pocket a teeny amount of cash that was once mine, and four people are happy instead of two.

[Yes, I do overthink everything in this fashion. I'm pretty sure people have died waiting for me to make consumer decisions.]

Which is where the happy side-effect of the Kindle comes in.

I've wanted to read Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series for a while (I tend to like the Nelson Literary Agency's taste) but they have only just become available in Ireland and thus are fairly pricey. Now I can just buy the Kindle edition - Ms. Carter records a sale and gets some form of royalties, neither of which she would get if I borrowed the book from a friend or bought it second-hand.

If I have twenty euro of my book-budget left, based on Dublin book prices, I can buy either two new paperbacks or four second-hand paperbacks. In the Kindle store, if I use the US store (which Amazon says I will have to), that comes to just over $25. I just did a search and yes, I can buy six ebooks through the Kindle store for that, and I deliberately restricted my search to authors I haven't read and want to try, to the books I would logically start with, and to books also available in print formats.

I'd be interested to know how any author-readers feel about this (published or unpublished). Would you rather more readers thought like this? Or would you rather take your chance on being one of the two paperback authors I spend a tenner on, instead of one of the six ebook authors I spend an average of $4 on?


  1. Wow, you do like to analyse things! :) Authors get a higher royalty percentage on ebooks than on paperbacks, so I reckon it all equals out in the end whether you buy ebook or paperback.

  2. My jaw drops everytime I see the price of an ebook on the amazon kiindle page as opposed to the paperback but do I have £109 now to buy me a kindle? Or £149 if I want network access? Ooooh.

    I buy hardbacks of my favourite authors, first editions. It's my biggest book extravagance! I see this as my treat!

    Take care

  3. I would think that more units sold at a lower price totally equals less units at a higher price. The scales will be tipped by technology!

    It's too bad that the decision will be taken out of our hands. Paperbacks will disappear and hardbacks will be very expensive. What has already happened to music and movie media is now starting to happen with books.

  4. Since space is the strongest advantage an e-reader has over paper books, and paper books have several advantages over e-readers, I'd hope that we see them continue to be widespread.

    To do have to admit though, when I'm in the position of seeing my books sell, I'd rather see the sales figures go up, regardless of the format.

  5. Talli, I think about everything this much - I try to be a responsible consumer but it's time-consuming! :) Interesting point on the royalty rate.

    Kitty, I'm not a huge fan of hardbacks myself because I tend to read on the go and they can be so heavy - but I do buy new releases by my very favourite authors as soon as they come out, regardless of format. Luckily none of them write too fast!

    Pat, I think books will go the way of the vinyl record, because unlike films or CDs, they are a physical medium that people are attached to. These days, it's almost easier to buy a vinyl record in Dublin than it is to buy a CD, and I see books going that way - most people will have most of their collection digitally but collectors will still buy paper books.

    Paul, the idea that writers like their sales figures to go up rather than down is implicitly understood :)


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