Thursday 31 October 2019

The bizarre economics of book pricing.

The pricing of books can be an emotive subject.

There are a number of things that always seem to crop up whenever it's discussed online:

1) Someone who is genuinely poor will come along to decry anyone comparing the price of a book to that of a cup of coffee in Starbucks. They'll remind you that price of both books and coffee-chain coffee can genuinely constitute a big chunk of any disposable income they have - and that the concept of "disposable" income is in fact alien to them.

This is a fair point and hard for that rare beast - the financially comfortable author - to argue with.

A sub-thread will then develop about libraries and how some people live a gazillion miles from the nearest one.

Another sub-thread will develop about whether books and coffee are luxuries, and whether books occupy some niche that coffee doesn't which makes them something that people should expect to have - as the library system seems to imply. We don't, after all, have a public coffee system.

2) Someone - usually many someones - will tell us that somehow putting the book into an electronic file rather than on paper sucks out the value to such a degree that helping yourself to it for free isn't stealing. And even those who don't advocate piracy may maintain that an e-book should be substantially cheaper than one printed on paper.

A sub-thread will develop where authors attempt to educate the world in general (against its will) about the fact that the paper constitutes a small fraction of the price-per-unit and is in fact often smaller than the chunk some governments (the UK for sure) take in tax off e-books but exempt paper books from.

The author will explain that the bulk of the cost of a book is the labour of those involved with its production and that this must be recouped across the number of copies expected to be sold. A calculation that leads to the pricing of both ebooks and paper books across the lifespan of a novel.

Let's put those genuine issues to one side for now and focus on the median book buyer, an individual who can easily afford the occasional Starbucks coffee and the occasional new book.

What's a fair price for a book?

Often the price on offer depends on whether you want the thing NOW or if you're prepared to wait. If you wanted to see Endgame when it came out you'd be faced with a trip to the cinema and a sizeable hole in your pocket. If you wait 3 or 5 years you'll be able to see it as part of your Netflix (or alternative) package or pick the DVD out of a bargain bin outside a thrift store.

With many of my books you'll have to buy the hardback if you want to read it in the first year or buy the e-book at a higher price than you'll have to pay 12 months later.

This is just how the publisher structures its sales. It's not unique to book sales. is currently listing my book for 2020, The Girl and the Stars, at $22.99 for the hardcover and $13.99 for the ebook.

Every year I will get a random outraged email or two complaining that THE KINDLE COSTS MORE THAN THE PAPERBACK!!!!  The fact is, though, that the paperback is listed a year in advance but you can't have it delivered to you until the year is out - and by that time the kindle will have come down to a similar price.

I hope you like my work enough and are sufficiently financially comfortable to treat yourselves on launch day.

However, if either or both of those things are sadly untrue ... then patience will reward you with more economic opportunities to acquire the book in due course.

In fact, if you wait long enough, the ebook will undoubtedly be offered in a promotion for $0.99.

This is a remarkable reduction of ~93% in price.

I assume that publishers have established through trial and error that this is a worthwhile strategy, and that many readers won't stint their enjoyment for months or years to save the money. Many of those readers will blow $10 or more on far shorter lived pleasures than a good book, a pizza they later regret perhaps, or a bottle of wine, who knows?

Book pricing is an odd beast. Some might say that $0.99 for a book is a race to the bottom that gives readers an unreasonable view of the value of the labour and skill involved. Others may point to libraries and second-hand stores and note that we've had access to free or very cheap books for decades - many of them classics loved by generations.

Others might point at Picassos that have sold for tens of millions and say that the fact we can buy a decent print of them for tens of dollars doesn't collapse the market.

Supply and demand are tidal forces that create many strange whirlpools.

My self-published short story Bound retails for $2.99. How do I expect anyone to buy a copy when they can buy whole books for $0.99 or indeed get books for free legitimately both on Amazon and in libraries?

I priced it at $2.99 because that is the cheapest price where Amazon gives the author 70% of the sale price. At any price below $2.99 the author gets 35% of the sale. Which is still far more than they would get if it was traditionally published. So remember - when you buy a book at 99 cents, the author gets 35 cents and Amazon take 65 cents (note: the author gets significantly less than those 35 cents if it's traditionally published - typically 25% of what the publisher gets after Amazon dip their beak).

And yes, I priced it at $2.99 because I thought that a fair number of people would consider that sum in terms of a cup of chain-coffee and just want to treat themselves to another dip into a world that they had enjoyed.

Some (many?) may point in outrage at the story and say $2.99 for a 16,000 word story is some kind of robbery. I have no answer to that other than to suggest they don't buy it, and also to note that many people allow themselves to be "robbed" on a regular basis when treating themselves to all manner of things they want when they want them.

The other answer is that a short story takes a lot longer to write than a similarly sized chunk of a book. And I expect to sell far fewer copies as the market for short fiction is very limited. As such, if it is to be in any way economic for me to take time out from writing books to write a short story, it has to be priced in this way.

You might suggest (correctly) that if I halved the price and sold four times the number of copies I would make the same income. However, my intuition is that the price doesn't act as barrier of that magnitude to the readership as a whole. I don't think if I halved the price of Bound that sales would increase the necessary four-fold. And does anyone suggest that if I keep halving the price then sales will continue to double ad infinitum?

I'll stand by my opening statement: book pricing is an emotive subject. And I'll add that it's emotive at all levels, from external commentary to the act of purchase itself. Logic takes a backseat most of the time and all I (or more often, the publisher) can do is go with our gut and guess.

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Wednesday 30 October 2019

Dispel Illusion - I have it!

Dispel Illusion is out in ebook on November 14th.

But, for reasons beyond my control, the hardback and paperback editions are not out until December 31st.

I did, however, manage to squeeze some early copies from my publisher. I achieved this by (true story) telling them Joseph Morgan (actor) wanted one. He read and tweeted about the first two, and my wife seemed far more impressed that he'd liked them than that George RR Martin said such nice things about One Word Kill 😃

Anyway, Wobble is guarding this one:

And if you've got a UK address and a fantasy book blog where you've reviewed the first two … then hit me up and I'll fix you up with a copy while stocks last!

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Monday 28 October 2019

Finalists for the 5th SPFBO!

300 contestants have been narrowed to 10 finalists.

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off finalists are listed and scored on this page

The process of selection is complete and is documented here.

Here's the scoreboard. The reviews, the books, and the blogs are all linked on this table. (click scores to get reviews)

* = Blogger chose this finalist
*= Blogger's top book.

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Thursday 24 October 2019

The magic of science.

Or the science of magic.

(Please note, that this analysis is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)

I've blogged several times on the dead and over-beaten horse of science vs magic. Today, rather than point out yet again that these two things are in fact the same, I'm going to point out an important difference.

This is not to contradict my earlier thoughts. Magic truly is science - but it's generally presented in a manner that means it is radically different to the kind of science we encounter in the real world.

This difference has political echoes and doubtless would have political consequences if we were to encounter the most commonly imagined forms of "magic".

In short, magic is typically presented in much the same way that superheroes are. To use magic you need to be specially gifted.

We're used to a spectrum of talents in life and to the fact that being on the extremes of some of those spectra can lead you to a radically elevated station. For example, if you are incredibly fleet of foot you could become a global superstar by running 100m. If you have wonderful hand-eye coordination you could earn hundreds of millions by kicking or throwing a ball into/through the appropriate net.

However, Usain Bolt and David Beckham aren't demonstrating powers that are wholly inaccessible. I can kick a ball. I can run. And the fastest man who ever lived is not running 10x faster than me, not even twice as fast (assuming I can still do a sub 19 second 100m).

With magic the "special one" is accessing a talent wholly absent in most of us. Very few magic systems encountered in fantasy suggest that every single person in the street could throw a fireball if they were given the chance to learn how.

So magic, as traditionally presented, is reserved for an elite, and that elite are selected by random chance &/or fate. Just like you can't buy yourself Thor's powers or Hulk's you also can't buy yourself Harry Potter's. You're a muggle and there's nothing you can do about it.

Science on the other hand is more egalitarian. Once science has filtered through into technology then any Tom, Dick, or Harriette can pick it up and use it. We can all point a gun and pull the trigger. We can all use the internet. Sure, there are some financial and legal barriers imposed - I can't afford an F-14 and the training to fly it, and if I could I would not be allowed to buy one. But in principle any piece of technology is available to anyone. Whereas in most imagined worlds if you don't have the spark/shine/gift then magic is a wholly closed book.

You might say science is closer to a democracy and magic closer to an oligarchy. In fact, since magic by its very nature generally stands in opposition to egalitarianism - how can society be equal when a small number of individuals wield great and inaccessible power as a consequence of their birth - then it can actually be considered fascist - even (to quote from a recent forum furore that I've only caught the edges of ... structurally fascist) since Wikipedia implies that opposition to egalitarianism is part of the definition of fascism (though admittedly "in world" the special-one nature of magic is not chosen … but it is chosen by the author/genre).

Anyway, I don't believe this was the argument behind the recent online accusation that fantasy is structurally fascist  - just another take on it. And it's not something I have a problem with. When I write fantasy I'm not advocating that my magic systems be adopted by reality or that we build fascist societies in order to somehow replicate the in-built opposition to equality that such magics exhibit. I'm just having fun with imagination.

So, peace out. I'm just pontificating.

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Thursday 10 October 2019

The Magical Middle


The milk of human kindness &/or the desire to free up bookshelf space has prompted me to give away signed copies of all my middle books. My four book twos.

But wait! There's more! There are FIVE prizes. Four of them are one of the four signed books (chosen randomly). These will be awarded to random entries. And one of them is ALL FOUR signed books - this will be awarded randomly to one of the most creative entries (I'll select which I feel qualify).

To enter the draw simply send me (for posting here) a photo of your favourite book 2, or indeed anything at all relating to the (non-toilet-based) number 2, or middle of something. You can even send me a photo of your middle if you must. Though what kind of crazed attention seeker would do something like that I have no idea...

Many thanks for some great entries. Apologies to the good ones that didn't win. has spoken!

Random winners (1 book each) = 61, 15, 49, 26
Random winner from the best entries (4 books) = 29  (The suspiciously shaped dog).


#69 Jeremy

#68 Andrew

#67 Joanne  -  middle shelf, bookcase number 2

#66 Chris

#65 Ruairi

#64 Djerri

#63 Sarah

#62 Charles

#61 Linda

#60 John

#59 Dooki

#58 Taylor

#57 Lewis

#56 Coen - Middleton's middle

#55 Yiannis

#54 Job

#53 Riley

#52 Mike

#51 David

#50 Debora

#49 Daniel

#48 Aurel

#47 Vickie

#46 Peter

#45 The middle of Cody's back

#44 Raffael

#43 Rumla

#42 Mackenzie

#41 Raymond

#40 Sethia - middle school

#39  Warren

#38 Oliver - New Zealand Middleweight Robotic Boxing Championship

#37 Ariane

#36 Thomas

#35 Rachel

#34 Lindersson

#33 John

#32 Marcos

#31 Oliver

#30 Suzanne

#29 Martin

#28 Tiago

#27 Andrew

#26 Emmett

#25 Daniel

#24 James (bookless middle child)

#23 Phil (Middle Earth, Middle Book)

#22 Joakim (2nd of the day)

#21 Tony

#20 Mark

#19 Taylor

#18 Krissi (so dark!)

#17 (Reservoir) Deb

#16 Kyle (middle child)

#15 E

#14 Barry (in the middle of a game)

#13 Simon

#12 L.A

#11 Kurt

#10 Laura

#9 Jackie

#8 Tania

#7 TJ (middle child)

#6 Ross

#5 Anne-Sophie

#4 Matt

#3 Barbara

#2 Helen

#1 Jack

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