"This book has been on the shelves for three weeks and is already in the remainder bins," wrote Wayne Fogel of The Villages, Fla., when he left a one-star review of Catherine Coulter's book KnockOut on Amazon. "$14.82 for the Kindle version is unbelievable. Some listings Amazon should refuse when the authors are trying to rip off Amazon's customers."
So let me see if I've got this straight, shall I?
1) The author sets the price, not the publisher.
2) The author is, apparently, getting a huge percentage of the cover price.
3) The right way to object to this is to make people think the book sucks.
4) It doesn't matter if this means the author can't sell another book; they shouldn't have been greedy.
There is this incredible, eye-burning, heart-shattering impression that all authors are rich; that we sign that first contract, receive that first check, and spend the rest of our days lounging on the beach in Bura-Bura while dictating our works of creative genius to a scantily-clad cabana boy named Chad. If this is true, something's wrong with my authorial contract. I've sold six books—by the standards of any beginning author, I'm doing pretty well—but Chad has yet to put in an appearance, and I'm still not sure where Bura-Bura is. Instead, I get up every morning at 5AM to travel an hour and a half to get to work, spend my evenings hammering away at my keyboard and praying for another sale, and all my grocery purchases are heavily influenced by what's currently on sale. I make a weekly trip to Target to stock up on frozen dinners and kitty litter, because I can't actually afford to let my cats crap on silken beds of cedar shavings hand-milled for them on a little organic farm in Minnesota. I buy sweaters at Goodwill, and consider myself blessed by the Great Pumpkin when I find an Ann Taylor top for five dollars, because it saves me a trip to the mall that I really shouldn't be making. And I'm doing well.
The fantastic rolanni has posted a very realistic view at a working author's finances. This is someone who's been publishing for years, and has actually reached the stage of getting royalty payments (not every book will reach the royalty stage; many books never actually earn back their advances). If anybody deserves their ticket to Bura-Bura, it's her. And she ain't on a plane right now.
Look: the $15 price point that some publishers are proposing is for the hardcover edition. The Kindle edition of Rosemary and Rue costs $6.39, which is 20% less than the price of the physical item. Because the physical books are published, at least currently, in bulk, 20% is a fairly valid reflection of the cost of paper and distribution. 80% of the cost of the book goes to the author, the editor, the copyeditor, the layout artist, the cover artist, the marketing department, and the magical mystery adventure we like to call "keeping the lights on at the publisher's office." Saying that an electronic copy of the book costs the publisher "nothing" is like saying that an MP3 of one of my songs costs me "nothing." So wait, I don't have to pay my recording engineer anything if I'm only selling virtual music? It's all free money? Score! Sure, Kristoph won't be able to make his mortgage payments or upgrade his equipment, but what do I care? Free money!
If publishers aren't allowed to charge more for the electronic editions of expensive books, they'll refuse to offer the electronic editions until the mass-market paperbacks come out. Hardcovers cost more for a variety of reasons—including the fact that often, hardcover authors are getting slightly larger advances. So that is, I suppose, a bit of authorial greed, because we're putting our desire to feed the cats (and ourselves) ahead of the consumer's desire to pay six dollars for something we spent two years writing. Sorry.
Also, these reactions are, well, hurtful. By saying that authors are "greedy" for wanting to make a living, people are saying that our time has no value. These are often the same people who will willingly pay ten dollars for a movie ticket (and ten more for popcorn and a soda), knowing that the actors were paid thousands, if not millions, of dollars to speak lines that somebody wrote. Every cool quip you've ever heard in a movie or on TV? Yeah, somebody wrote that. If somebody had been flipping burgers to keep the lights on, maybe somebody wouldn't have had the time to come up with that awesome line. Authors need to eat, and if we can't do that through our art, we'll find another way to do it...and things won't get written. I mean, look:
Time to write a book, six months to three years.
Time to sell a book, six days to eternity.
Time to edit a book, six months.
Time between publication and print, one to three years.
How much money do you make during that time? (Don't actually answer that, I don't want to know. I'm just making a point.) Unless you're Stephen King, writing is never going to make you rich, and saying you'd like to eat doesn't make you greedy, it makes you sane.
I am not saying that publishers should be charging whatever they want for everything—just that e-books cost money, too, and that not all the costs of creating a book are in the physical artifact you can point to and shout "book" about. My publisher wants to make money. My publisher wants me to make money, because when I'm making money, so are they, and more, when I'm making enough money, I can actually get that cabana boy and spend a lot more time writing. Right now, I'm literally working myself sick, spending three days in bed, and then doing it again, because that's the only way to stay on top of all the things I need to do.
Authors, as a class, aren't greedy. We're just tired.
Now where's my damn cabana boy?