Red Button Publishing

Publishing and Consultancy

The great £0.20 eBook debate

As an avid reader and a Kindle owner, I browse Amazon pretty much every day. When I spotted a selection of books by various authors, including my colleague Karen’s favourite Alan Hollinghurst at £0.20, my reactions were totally at odds with each other. As a consumer (and one that has just recently given up a steady salary) my response was that this was awesome, probably some sort of mistake and that I must tell Karen immediately before someone spotted it and put the price back up again. As a Publisher, my reaction was somewhat different. What on earth was this ridiculously deep discounting doing for the value of ebooks? How on earth can you value a novel at £0.20?

As it turned out, this deep discounting was not Amazon’s doing, but actually a reaction to a  promotion being run by Sony. Either way, it begged the question whether this was a good thing for books, writers, publishers and even the consumer. For what sort of quality of literature can we expect in a decade’s time if the going rate for a four hundred page novel is £0.20?

This reminded me of an incident at the London Book Fair some years ago. Held every year in Earls Court, the London Book Fair is one of the biggest gatherings of the publishing industry in the world. Whilst wandering the halls I happened to notice that Hodder Headline had a rather large crowd around their stand. As I approached I noticed that they were dishing out books from dozens of large boxes. Naturally the lure of free books is irresistible and I soon laid my hands on a copy of “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. I remember my befuddled gratitude being similar to the way I felt this morning when I downloaded a Peter James thriller to my Kindle for £0.20. Why on earth give away what looked honestly like hundreds of copies of this book to random people. I wasn’t promising a review. I wasn’t even promising to read it. Were they crazy?

Naturally, I did read the book. And I fell so utterly in love with David Mitchell’s writing that I promptly marched to my local bookshop and bought everything he had ever written. Since then I have awaited each new publication from Mitchell with the anticipation of a child at Christmas and I even bought his last book “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” in both digital and paper formats. I have espoused his writing to anyone who will listen and some who won’t. I have become a hard-core “fan”.

Would I have discovered David Mitchell without the generosity of Hodder Headline at that London Book Fair? Maybe. Did everyone who picked up a copy that day become signed up members of the David Mitchell fan club. Probably not. But it certainly made up my mind. Hodder Headline weren’t crazy. They were geniuses.

I’ve never read a Peter James thriller before but perhaps my little bargain will lead to another beautiful relationship. Perhaps there are people who are downloading Alan Hollinghurst right now who will open up new reading experiences that they just wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t been tempted by that £0.20 price tag?

The digital marketplace has given publishers and writers the opportunity to be more flexible with pricing than ever before. This is a great opportunity if used in the right way and it can be beneficial in many ways and for many different kinds of writers. But as a publisher and a reader I hope that these prices are simply a tempting and temporary opportunity to try something new, not a sign of things to come.

by Caroline Goldsmith, 23/8/2012

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This entry was posted on August 23, 2012 by in On digital publishing and tagged , , , .
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