I wasn’t surprised to learn that almost all of the books I bought and read in 2016 were ebooks—bought online from Amazon. In fact, a number of the books I decided to reread I already owned in print, but I decided to buy ebook editions after I started to reread them. This was because those books that were paperbacks (some that I bought over 30 years ago) were generally in terrible shape—covers falling off, pages falling out––and the small print made some of them unreadable. The hardbacks were in better shape, with larger print, but they tended to aggravate the arthritis in my wrists when I read them for any length of time at one sitting.
In contrast, my Kindle Paperwhite is small, lightweight, with adjustable fonts, and it is easy to dust so I don’t sneeze when I pull it out to use.
Of course, all of these reasons for my shift to ebooks are to a degree related to my age, but there was another reason I was willing to pay for a book I already owned, as well as buy so many other books by new authors; the relatively low prices on many ebooks.
Throughout this past year, there has been a constant stream of articles stating that ebook sales are in decline (and print sales are up.) See this post as one of the most recent examples.
While the data coming out from traditional publishers—and the Association of American Publishers—seems on the surface to support this claim, what anyone who has followed this discussion should know by now is that this data only describes what is happening with books published by traditional publishers. In contrast, the Author Earnings Reports, which are the most comprehensive data we have on ebooks, conclude that Amazon ebook sales rose 4% in 2016.
The main plausible explanation for this negative trend in ebook sales for traditional publishers is their pricing. Once the big five got back the right to set their own prices for ebooks without discounting (something they had lost temporarily when they were found guilty of anti-trust violations), they went back to pricing their ebooks higher—often at the same or higher price than their mass market paperbacks.
At the same time, Amazon, once they lost the right to discount traditionally published ebooks, started discounting traditionally published print books. This made the print editions of traditionally published books more attractive than ebook editions to many customers.
What publishers didn’t anticipate was that this simply drove more people to buy their print books online (when their stated goal for pricing ebooks high had been to help brick and mortar books stores stay competitive.) Ah, the problems of unintended consequences.
And what traditional publishers seem willfully to misunderstand is that many of their customers didn’t just shift to the print edition of a book, many of them decided not to buy that traditionally published book at all, but to take a chance on an indie authored book.
I found my buying patterns quite representative of these trends in consumer buying.
Let’s first look at my buying patterns before ebooks, which followed a very predictable pattern.
First, for authors who I had read and liked, I routinely bought their books as hardbacks as soon as the book came out. I justified this because I knew there was a very good chance I would reread those books often multiple times, so the higher price (and longevity) of the hardback seemed worth it.
Besides I didn’t want to wait for the year or more for the book to come out in paperback. Of course this is why traditional publishers were very reluctant to start issuing ebook editions of their books for at least a year…hoping that impatient readers wouldn’t wait.
Second, I found new authors primarily at the public library, and I would often go every couple of weeks and just browse, picking up books based on the cover and blurb.
Third, if I really liked one of these books I got at the library, I would then go to a bookstore and look for less expensive paperback editions of the author’s work, particularly looking for earlier books in their series. If I found myself rereading this these paperbacks…I might then shift to buying the author’s newest books in hardback as the were published.
So, I got books by new untested author for free, bought backlist books as inexpensive paperbacks, and bought the newest books by my favorite authors as expensive hardbacks (although at one point I also joined a mystery book club where I could get those hardbacks at a discount.)
So how do I act now that I read mostly ebooks?
Some basic data. Twenty percent of the books I bought (not downloaded for free) were .99 cents, and an equal percentage were over $9.99, leaving sixty percent between the price of $2.99 and $9.99. This is the price range that Amazon recommends (and encourages indie authors to set by giving them better royalties for books priced in that range.)
Again, not figuring in free books, the average price I paid for an ebook in 2016 was $7.90. And I spent over $500 on ebooks.
What surprised me was that my pattern book buying was very similar to the pattern I followed before ebooks—although I probably paid more on average for books back then.
The ebooks in the higher price category (above $9.99) were either bundles or box sets—which meant I was actually getting a whole lot of stories or books for the higher price––or they were newly published books by my favorite authors. Except for the existence of bundles and box sets—which I never bought before—this followed my usual pattern before ebooks.
Yet, there are a good number of formerly “favorite authors” whose new books I decided not to buy last year when I saw the high price of their ebooks. And, unlike the consumer that the traditional publishing houses celebrated, I was unwilling to shift to buying these authors’ books in paperback—even if the paperbacks were cheaper.
I can name at least 8 authors whose books I consciously decided not to buy that fall into that category. And the only time I bought print books this past year were either children’s books for my grandchildren, a couple of books for research that weren’t in ebook form, and several used paperbacks of books by a favorite author that were both out of print and not reissued as ebooks.
I am clearly one of those consumers who’s reaction to the higher priced ebooks by traditional authors was turn to start looking for books by different authors.
As in the past, I still preferred to try a new author if their book didn’t cost me anything. But instead getting these books at a library, I discovered them in promotional emails or browsing in Kindle Unlimited. Interestingly, the books I was most likely to start and then not finish were those I got through Kindle Unlimited. I think that this is because I am really thinking of them as “borrowed,” very much like the books I used to get from the library. They hang around in my to read pile, in case I get moved to pick them up again, until it is time to return them so I can try another unknown.
This doesn’t mean I don’t read books I get from KU, just that I seem more willing to risk getting something completely unknown if it is free, and the chances of one of those books not panning out is therefore higher. Yet, if the author I just took a chance on pans out…I will go on and buy other books by them.
So that brings us to the 99 cent price point. These are the kind of books I used to buy as paperbacks. Most of the 99 cent books were books I saw discounted in some sort of promotion. And while a couple of them were by new authors I was taking a chance on, most of them were older books by authors I had already read and knew I liked. Many of them represented the books I talked about at the start of this post—books I owned in print but wanted in ebook editions and jumped at the chance to snap them up when they went on sale.
Then there are the books I paid between $2.99 and $9.99 for.
These were by the authors I’d discovered at a low price point (free or 99 cents) and gone on and bought all of their books in the series or bought the author’s newest book that was just released. By in large these were books by indie authors, and these were the authors who had replaced my formerly favorite authors published by traditional publishers whose ebook prices were just to steep for me.
I feel some sympathy for those authors—the one’s who rightfully feel the new world of traditional publishing (with smaller advances, more competition for less shelf space in bookstores, and lower yearly royalties) are not serving them well. But it is their publishers’ decisions on pricing that created this new reality for them. It is their publishers who have chosen to believe that readers like me will be so loyal that they will limit the number of books they can buy a month in order to pay the higher price for a specific author’s book.
So, here I am, still getting books by untried authors for free (or 99 cents), getting backlist books from authors I’d discovered in this fashion for moderate prices, and only paying the highest prices for my very favorite authors. The only difference is they are all ebooks, they are all bought online, and more and more of my favorites are indie authors.
So, what are your buying patterns for recreational reading? And have they changed with the introduction of ebooks, online stores, and social media promotions?
M. Louisa Locke, March 10, 2017
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11 Replies to “What I learned from my Recreational Reading: Part Two”
You didn’t mention another prime reason for purchasing eBooks: namely, space. I own a house. All book cases, tables, et al are full! My Kindle and iPad probably have at least 1,000 books on them that take no space.
Thank you for an interesting blog post. I have never analysed my purchasing patterns like that but it was fun to read about what you learned from your’s.
I find I tend to hesitate to buy ebooks for prices I used to pay for paperbacks. At least weekly I used to visit the Top 10 paperback rack at my local grocery store and stock up on books I thought I’d like, at least 2 or 3, and paid about $5 to $7 for each. Now I hesitate to pay over $2 for an ebook. Since obviously the publisher’s cost is much lower with ebooks–no paper, no printer, no shipping expenses, no display cases to provide for every grocery, pharmacy, Walmart, and book store in the country, no need to pay someone to fill the book stands, no unbought books they have to throw away! Ebooks should be saving them a ton of money, so why should I pay the same for an ebook as a hard copy or paperback? There are enough low cost ebooks to satisfy my needs and it won’t be a problem for me if I don’t get to read their $9.99 or more ebook.
One of my pet peeves is the 99 cent ebook that is 40 to 60 pages long. That’s not a book, that’s an article. My cut off is a penny a page. If it is less than 99 pages long and the price is over 99 cents, I won’t buy it.
Thank you for a thoughtful post. I was intrigued that you did not mention used books. For $4 and under, they are a great bargain and they “recycle” well. I send mine on to the local bookseller fundraisers. For those of us who have trouble holding books open, HIghtower makes multiple sizes of a book cover that also holds books open hands-free. I have them in all sizes and couldn’t read paperbacks or hardbacks without them.
I primarily read ebooks now, because they take up less space, I can adjust the font, and most of them are free or very reasonably priced.
Very informative. Thank you for sharing this information, Mary Louisa.
I wanted to give you a reading recommendation of a book. It is a novel about before the California gold rush and San Francisco in the 30’s. It called The Brothers Coin by Don Beaton. He seemed to do his research of the time periods. It is his first book and lived in the Bay Area for many years. It is available on kindle for a reasonable price.
I really enjoyed your Maids of Misfortune series. I got the first one free and then was hooked and bought the rest of the series, loving San Francisco and history.
I worked in librararies to put myself through college and never thought I would go digital but my kindle paperwhite is my best friend, besides my husband and Doxie of course. My husband and I travel a lot in our fifth wheel and the space saver is a blessing. I also read in bed a lot and it doesn’t bother my sleeping husband.
Please check out The Brothers Coin, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
My reading patterns have changed also. There are several authors that I now follow after having read one of their ebooks for free. Some of them I’ve purchased books from and others I get to read their new books for free in exchange for posting a review. I rarely purchase paperbacks or hard cover books unless there is a give away tied to the book. For paperbacks, the last time I purchased more than one it was at a discount store for $1/book.
I refuse to pay high prices for ebooks from the more well known name authors. I read too many books and I’m finding too many good authors out there.
Yes, I understand that it is much cheaper to make books available through eBooks and that it is space friendly, however, many of us still prefer paper books as the iPad or tablet screen is very hard on our eyes and difficult to navigate when you want to go back to read something you missed. I personally don’t take any electronic devices to bed. Many scientists agree that using electronic devices before sleep disturbs sleep and my eye doctor says that any electronic device dries the eyes when reading. So I hope the books will be available in both formats….as eBooks as well as paperbacks. We don’t mind paying more for paperbacks
I think you will find that most successful authors provide print copies as well as ebooks…it is just that where we make the money is ebooks because as an indie author, I need to raise the price of a print book so high to cover production costs (if they are on the long side as my historical fiction is) that the prices the books are too much for most readers. As a result, I seldom make more than a $100 a month on my print sales.
However, the benefit of the new online access and print on demand is that I’m not stuck with boxes of books that didn’t sell, nor does the fact that most bookstores won’t carry indie authored books mean no one can find them since they are there to buy on Amazon for those readers such as yourself who prefer print.
Many authors are also trying to find a way to get their books into audio book form as well, which is the fastest growing format for fiction.
My husband listens to audio books all the time, particularly when walking the dog, while I personally feel uncomfortable multitasking in the way many audiobook lovers do (while driving, walking, doing chores), so I never listen to audio books. And I don’t read fiction on a screen either, but on my Kindle paper white, which I actually find easier on my eyes than print. But again, the wonderful aspect of publishing today, is that as readers we now have so many options.
Thanks for weighing in,
I prefer hardcovers for this reason – they hold up better with time.
Mary Louisa, thank you for this informative discussion on both indie publishing and the changing needs of the reading (and listening!) public. You’ve given me lots to think about.
Best to your continued success!