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April 21, 2011


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Plagiarist Redux

Last October, I blogged about David Boyer, a self-styled author and publisher who was discovered to be committing extensive plagiarism, publishing stories and books both under his own name and his many aliases.

Despite being publicly exposed, generating quite a bit of online discussion, and inspiring an anti-plagiarism blog devoted largely to mocking him, Boyer did not, apparently, give up his borrowing ways. And he got ambitious. Not content with filching fiction from non-famous members of the horror community, he decided to plagiarize (using one of his aliases) someone really famous: Dean Koontz. For this, there may be consequences other than mere ridicule.

The evidence--including an excerpt from Koontz's original story, an excerpt from the plagiarized version, and a letter from Koontz indicating that he's considering legal action--can be found at The Horror Zine, along with a list of Boyer's known aliases, and links to information and discussion about Boyer and his exploits.

Author Solutions Redux

I know that no one but me is paying attention to this trend any longer...but self-publishing mega-company Author Solutions, the world leader in inaccurate use of the term "indie publishing," has expanded its list of publisher partnerships yet again with Inspiring Voices, a self-publishing service that it will run for magazine and book publisher Guideposts. Black and white printing packages (adorned, in keeping with Guideposts' inspirational focus, with names such as "Exalt," "Uplift," and "Rejoice") run from $699 to $6,999, and there's the usual range of expensive marketing services.

I can't help wondering at what point ASI will start to cannibalize itself. The exploding electronic self-publishing sector--which is cheap, relatively easy, and allows authors to control their pricing--is already starting to make costly POD self-publishing look a bit quaint. Clearly such services are still profitable (which is their main appeal for publishers)--but at some point a saturation point will be reached. Is ASI speeding the process by diluting their market with these partnership ventures?

Ebook Pricing Redux

I've talked a bit on this blog about the contentious issue of ebook pricing. Many commercial publishers are attempting to set ebook prices too high for consumers' perception of value, while many electronic self-publishers are leveraging success with rock-bottom ebook prices. Consumers aren't happy about overpriced ebooks--hence the angry one-star Amazon reviews for popular authors whose ebooks, thanks to the different pricing models for digital and paper, cost less than their hardcovers--but are the extreme lowball prices going too far in the other direction? Do people even bother to read the ebooks they snap up for 99 cents?

A couple of interesting articles this week address the pricing issue. Author Karen Dionne argues that 99-cent ebooks are a bad deal for authors:
Advocates for 99-cent e-books claim the low teaser price helps them gain new readers. But opponents worry that if readers come to expect the 99-cent price, it will no longer be effective as bait. Then what? they ask. Will authors start doing penny promotions in order to get their books noticed?

"Ask anybody who sells anything for a living: no business wins in a price war," Cronin warns. "And that's what we're looking at right now."

Or put another way, if authors don't value their work, will readers?
Taking a slightly different perspective, editor Rich Adin argues that 99-cent ebooks do create sales--but with them, possibly, a false picture of success, for the simple reason that readers spending 99 cents on a self-published ebook may not be doing so because they think they're going to love the book, but because 99 cents isn't much to lose if they hate it.
[N]ongatekept authors whose ebooks sell well fail to distinguish between books sold and books read. This is an important distinction. Using myself as an example, I am willing to read an author’s description of their ebook and spend a maximum of 2 minutes reading the sample online, and then, if the blurb seems interesting and the 2-minute sampling doesn’t reveal horrendous errors, I am willing to buy the ebook for 99 cents...

I am willing to spend 99 cents for a nongatekept ebook because it is not much of an outlay — it’s like buying a lottery ticket; I am willing to gamble $1 on odds of 6 million to 1 but I am not willing to pay $5.99 for such an ebook because the risk of getting dreck is much too high.
When I posted this article to Writer Beware's Facebook page, one reader quipped that he didn't care if anyone read his book, as long as they bought it. But authors should care, because the reading--not the pricing--is what keeps people coming back.


John Carroll said...

I don't need all of the copies sold to be read, but if I sell a hundred thousand books (trying to be reasonable *grin*) @ 99 cents and 1% read it, that's $35,000 and a thousand readers, some of who might purchase my other books if they liked it.

The math works in the author's favor. Write good stories, edit them well, and sell lots of copies at amazingly cheap prices.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I still think the bigger "danger" is that once people get used to the $0.99 price point, the royalty rate will change. Now it's something like $0.30 cents a copy, but there's no reason Amazon has to keep it that high.

Amy Kidd said...

I agree that .99 cents is low for a full length book,with 50k words and up, but any with a lower word count and books that have been out for a while, I see nothing wrong with a .99 price tag.
I don't believe Amazon will change the royalty rate on us. If they do, we just make $2.99 the new standard for cheap ebooks.

PT Dilloway said...

Sweet, I got quoted! BTW, I plagiarized that line from Helen Fielding on "The Simpsons."

99 cents has been the standard in music for quite some time now. I've seen some really popular ones going for $1.29 on Amazon and some discounted to $.89 or less, but mostly that's the industry standard for now. In time that might be the same for ebooks, or the market will find its own pricing model. At this point it's mostly in flux, so we'll see how it shakes out. In the meantime, I'll take the $100 I made off it versus nothing.

Wendy@FabNouveau said...

This is a reader's perspective, and that's all I am. I'd rather buy a 99 cent book to check out whether its worthwhile to buy the book. And thereafter I will buy it in hardcopy. As it is, if I haven't had some kind of preview or gotten a review or feedback from a trusted source, there's very little chance that the book would make it to my basket, almost zero because I hate spending good money on a crappy book. I think that explains why some people go to library's or borrow books. 99c is like borrowing a book.

Gwen said...

eBooks have been and continue to be poorly marketed. Information about them, beyond titles, is severely limited.

Having conducted my own experiment by purchasing a number of books in this manner and having actually read them (or having at least made the attempt to read them...) I would be willing to bet that a significant number of the ebooks that are sold in this manner never get read.

Even at 99 cents a copy, people are going to quickly tire of buying a pig-in-a-poke.

Why would I wish to sell my work in this manner...

Change must an is coming to the publishing industry, but I think that the kind of radical 'throw the baby out with the bathwater' approach that some self-publishers have adopted does more damage than good.

It will, in-the-end leave the consumer feeling betrayed and disinterested.

Just because you can publish a book doesn't mean you should.

...and the next person who calls themselves an Indie Publisher...

Janice Maddox said...

I just don't think a book should cost the same as a song, or a ring-tone. I think it diminishes our hard work, personally. But, who knows what I'll end up doing when my book comes out. The plan is to price it at $4.99 on e-book, except for promotional periods. Maybe I'll only sell ten books, but I believe in the product and will be pursuing a variety of marketing paths. I'm in the lottery, not the discount store. We'll see what happens.

Unknown said...

Both theft and pricing are things authors must contend with as the industry evolves.

99 cents is far too low for a book. It may as well be free, because like you've summarized, at that point people aren't caring about the investment they've made.

An undercutting price war is just plain bad for everyone, not just writers, as it will only work to erode overall quality.

barrettmanor said...

I agree that 99 cents is generally too low for a book, for most of the reasons already mentioned.

Also, while a buck a book is cheap enough to try, how many will come back for the second book by the same author if the first was not a good read? It may be a good "hook" price, but you'd better be able to follow up with darned good material.

Shawn James said...

.99 cents is good for an introductory price, but I prefer to put the eBook versions of my paperbacks at $2.99. Amazon won't let an author get a 70% royalty otherwise. Plus I feel if I put a value on my work, others will too.

Paper Cut said...

We're in Cowboy Country now. There's a lot of fear in the publishing world and writers are fearful too. The price wars will continue, but at some point the .99 cent book will remain just that.

Consumers are much smarter now than ever before. They will not pay .99 cents for something that's junk. They will demand quality.

Writers, bring your A-game!

Claude Nougat said...

Great post, as always! I would just like to add a reflection:
I think that the success of 99 cents is also explained by the fact that there's been a SHIFT in the ebook market structure: with e-readers bought at Christmas as gifts for the family - and we all know there's a huge spike in e-reader sales at Xmas! - a large (if unknown) proportion of e-readers land in the hands of teen-agers. These are would-be readers with very limited pocket money! So it's only natural that they load up on low-priced titles!

A teen-age wave of interest in e-books probably also explains the success of YA writers such as Amanda Hocking...

Sharon Hamilton said...

One thing I think gets overlooked in the .99 pricing is an indie author can raise their price as their readership grows, or, lower it if sales take a dip. Hard to match that with the traditional e-pubs, where the author has no control.
I know several authors who start out at .99 and then raise their prices within a couple of weeks or a month later, and then offer them for free with the release of a new book. These kinds of marketing decisions can also affect the success of an author.

That being said, the author can get it wrong, too. But honestly pays for it in lack of sales and readers.

Writerz Life said...

New guy here, or at least first time posting. If you are a new author I see the advantage in getting your work out there for 99 cents, in fact one could consider the 99 cents an opportunity to return to pulp fiction. The cheap easy to read stories by an author. As a consumer I see nothing wrong with it, it is an easy choice to make when considering a story.

Enter the 1.99 or 2.99, again these are not all that bad either. It is when I have to consider the 10.99 price tag I get antsy. If it were a physical book I don't mind because I can always resell it, trade it away, or even return it. Ebooks I am not able to do that (there really needs to be a 24 hour period to return ebooks then you would get a better apples to apple comparison). Still ebooks priced at 2.99 and below are "safe". If it is bad I don't feel so cheated out of my money.

The price of coffee....but...that does mean on less coffee that month *sigh*.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm always a bit amused and befuddled when someone plagiarizes from someone famous. Do they really think nobody will notice?

As for the cheap e-books, I'm pretty reluctant to buy any that cost 99 cents. Unless it's a sale on an author's backlist (and usually I'll recognize the name, and that will give the books some legitimacy), I fear that the quality is going to be bad. Now, there are good self-published books out there, but that segment still has a stigma against it and I fear that these 99 cent books are going to be poorly written and edited. I liked the $6.99-$9.99 model and am hoping that market forces eventually make that the standard. $15 is too high for me and I'll wait or borrow before paying it, just as I used to wait for the paperback to come out instead of buying the hardcover.

Unknown said...

I mentioned the trend was bad for everyone but here's the reason why:

The future trend of 99 cent ebook pricing will likely polarize pricing and readership but cutting out the middle ground.

Readers will either go with the risk price of 99 cents, or go with the quality expectation of a higher price. The smart readers will aim their shopping at the higher priced books. The Wal-Mart-style readers will obviously horde the 99 cent bin.

And the middle ground readers? Consumers will continue to let the economy influence their shopping and side with the lower price.

Dr John Yeoman said...

'Price' has always been an issue, where intangible products like ebooks are concerned. Is the customer just buying a bunch of electrons? If so, even 99c is too high a price.

The faster indie publishers discount their price, in a bid for cheapie readership, the faster they'll lose heart. Because they'll attract only cheapies. True, the self-publishing of fiction has a lot to do with ego-glow. But would an author with any ego (qua pride) feel happy, prostituting it for 99c a shot?

One future direction might be to sell ebooks at the same price as a cinema or theatre ticket eg. $30 upwards. Madness? Not necessarily. The author is delivering a performance, not just electrons.

How could that price be justified? Add value to the book. Personalise it. Produce it individually on demand, every word spun to create a unique product. Cory Doctorow has pioneered the former approach. has gone some way toward the latter.

Value is in the mind. An indie publisher should be building value, I contend, not wrecking the perception of value by discounting the price!

Anonymous said...

I think people should make ebooks 7 dollars, which is what I normally pay for mass market paperbacks..

MCPlanck said...

I would think the logical price of an ebook should be the price of the paper book, minus the cost of printing, shipping, and stocking.

But what do I know? :D

Miranda Paul said...

I have several .99 cent books published, but they are 12 sentence "board books" for toddlers. As a precaution to me, I was paid up-front fees to write them so I know that my time is well covered and paid for.

What do you think of that? Do you think authors like me are bringing down author's salaries? It is my experience that very short books for toddlers aren't usually given royalties or rake in huge dollars or authors in the first place.

Here's the link to my 99 cent books for authors:

Amy Kidd said...

I agree with your pricing on your books.
I think this discussion happens with any change in book sales. I remember people discussing the prices of the Harry Potter books in much the same way they are discussing ebooks now.
The prices and in-store reductions of HP didn't change any prices of any other books available now, and .99cent ebooks aren't going to make a $9.99 book sell less.
It's all about reputation, representation, and our own abilities as writers.

Unknown said...

I also agree that $0.99 is way to low for an e-book. As authors we need paid for all the time,work,and creative originality in which we put into our work. With prices like that how can anyone make money. Ihave 5 kids to feed clothe and put through college. I might as well go apply at Mcdonalds for money like that.

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