Thursday, April 22, 2010

Limited Editions and E-Books

Cemetery Dance Publications will soon put out a limited edition of a new novella called “Blockade Billy” by Stephen King. Judging from the blurb, the story combines baseball and horror. This news even got a big article in the Baltimore SUN:

Baltimore Sun

This isn’t the first King title Cemetery Dance has published, but it’s the first time they’ve had an “exclusive” on a limited first edition by him. Although I subscribe to CEMETERY DANCE magazine, I’ve never bought one of their books. They produce deluxe, short-run products that are too expensive for me. I’m not a collector; I buy books strictly to read the words, and the idea of spending $25 for a novella makes me go “eek!” and run the other way. Even if it does include extras such as collectible baseball cards. (Thanks to online bookstore discounts, I never spend that much for NOVELS.) But I really, really wanted this novella now instead of many months later when it may get included in a King story collection at standard hardcover prices. To my delight, offered copies of the Cemetery Dance release at a deep discount of $13 and change. So I ordered it.

A few days later, it was announced that Cemetery Dance would not have enough copies (it’s a 10,000-copy run) to fill outside orders. Amazon canceled the availability of the book. Bummer. Then, happily, King’s regular publisher stepped up to the plate (to draw upon the baseball theme). They will release a non-limited edition in May at the reasonable price of about $14. Yay! I put that product in my Amazon shopping cart but did not pre-order. When I discovered today that the Kindle edition, still cheaper, has just been released, I bought it. Instant gratification, no waiting until nearly the end of May.

You may have figured out that I’m chintzy when it comes to shopping. I buy too many books not to seek bargains wherever available. (If my husband ever looked at the statements for the credit card I use at Amazon, he would doubtless say I buy too many books, period.) If I simply must read a new book right now, I buy the hardcover at the Amazon or Barnes and Noble online discount. If there’s a cheaper Kindle edition and it’s not one of the authors I feel I need to have in hard copy, I buy that. If I can wait, I either request the book from the library or buy the paperback later (or both). With older books, I often buy used copies from the online sites, especially if it’s something I’m not sure I’ll be enthusiastic about. As for highly overpriced items such as academic books, in most cases I couldn’t own them at all if not for cheap used copies.

The point of all this rambling—aside from “new Stephen King horror novella, yay!”—is to applaud what a wealth of format and price choices readers have nowadays and what innovative things some publishers and retailers are doing in the book distribution business. Well, some of them; some are trying to expect exorbitant prices for e-books and claiming that $9.99 Kindle editions are underpriced! If major publishers start charging near-hardcover prices for e-books and then act surprised when readers won’t buy them—well, they would be shooting themselves in the foot. The argument that e-books need just as much editing, formatting, etc. as print books, coming from mass market publishers, is disingenuous. When an e-book comes into existence as an additional format of a book that has already been released in print, all that work has already been done. Profits from the e-book should be mainly gravy. Our independent e-publishers (Hard Shell, Amber Quill, Ellora’s Cave, Mundania, etc.) seem to get along just fine pricing e-books at or below mass market paperback rates. Granted, they probably pay their editors a lot less than New York publishers pay theirs. But that difference couldn’t justify pricing e-books equal to (or even near) the print edition of the same book.

On the whole, though, there’s much going on to celebrate. In DIFFERENT SEASONS Stephen King labeled the novella the “banana republic” of fiction, the format nobody wanted. (As in, “Senor, your story is going to be here a long, long time.”) Now, thanks to the Internet, fiction of that length can be published and profitably sold to readers as a stand-alone unit. No longer do we have to hunt for a magazine or anthology willing to give the poor thing a home.

Speaking of anthologies, there’s a new one called WARRIORS that includes stories by three of my SF and fantasy favorite authors. The topic in general, though, doesn’t interest me a bit. I’d love to read those stories, but I’m not willing to pay the cost of a whole hardcover for them. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could buy electronic versions of individual stories out of an anthology, like individual songs off a music album? Actually, the Marion Zimmer Bradley estate is doing that very thing with items from the Darkover and SWORD AND SORCERESS volumes. They’re offering the individual tales separately on, with a generous cut to the authors. I wish more anthology editors would think of doing that.

So many potential opportunities for readers and writers. Truly, we live in frabjous times.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. I agree that electronic editions should cost substantially less than paper ones, but I think the issue is that they cut into the sales of paper ones, and so--while I agree with your larger point--I disagree that the editing is already "paid for" by the paper editions. I wish I had a better sense of how much of a book's price goes into profit, middlemen, markup, raw materials, other overhead, and yes, editors and the like. And then I'd say that whatever goes into raw materials should be discounted from the cost of a book. Obviously the tangible materials cost *something*, and there's no reason we should be paying for that, but I still want authors and everyone else who puts work into bringing me the books I love makes at least as much as they make now.

    I also think it will help if electronic editions come to be a significant and predictable part of the pie--to the point where maybe we don't need to print so many paper copies of books that will just end up getting remaindered anyway. But that brings up another question to my mind: can Amazon go on being the main retailer in electronic editions? That can't be good.