Like everybody else involved with writing and publishing, the subject of e-books has been on my mind. Kindle was the best selling Christmas product on Amazon and more and more people I know seem to be buying e-readers of one sort or another. It's not something I plan to do myself. Mainly because I like proper books. A book for me is a treasure, to be kept for a lifetime and cherished, picked up and read at leisure. Some of them are works of art. It gives me pleasure to own books. I don't see owning a computer file on Kindle ever coming close to that feeling.
On the other hand, books, all kinds of books, are my future, so there's no way I'm going to be able to ignore what's happening.
It was brought home to me when I got my last review for Hero of Rome on Amazon. The reviewer loved the book, but he gave it only four stars because he thought the price was too high on Kindle. Just to ram the point home he got it out of the library instead and tagged it as a lost sale.
I took a look at the comments after some learned American was pontificating on his blog the other day about the future of publishing and if writers could ever be good publishers. His answer seemed to be a resounding No. It seemed a fair question to ask, and a reasonable answer, but just about every comment was on the subject of rip-off pricing of e-books.
Hero of Rome retails at £9.30 on Kindle. Caligula and Claudius just below a fiver. Now, you could argue, fairly, that the price differential is justified because Hero is pretty new and the others have been out for a couple of years. What's more difficult to justify is the differential between the e-book and the print version. A huge amount of investment goes into the printed edition (printing costs, cover design, paper etc.) whereas, and please don't quote me on this, as I understand it an e-book is about a 1MB file that is uploaded and needs a bit of editing. Then again, I doubt that the publishers make much of a profit from each copy of the print version, so there's also an argument that they're perfectly entitled to make a bit more on the electronic version.
The e-book anarchist movement seems to be of the opinion that no e-book should cost more than £1, and you'll find that most of those in the Kindle top 20 are in that price range, many of them by self-published authors who are doing a great job of marketing their books and are getting the lion's share of the price back in profit. That's fine and I don't grudge any writer a penny of what they earn. What worries me is that if Corgi or Bantam are forced to reduce the prices of my books to £1 or less and e-books take over the world, they won't make a profit, there'll be no decent advances, which are already few and far between, and fewer high quality, properly edited, really good books. - oh, and I won't make a living.
So what's the answer? Some sort of compromise probably. But the honest one is that I've no idea. The problem is that neither has anyone else.