Monday, February 13, 2012

How Much Is An E-book Worth?

Until now, only a handful of e-books have been made available, and no one has burdened me with their sales information. So, anyone actually know the answer? Is there a 'price point' that makes e-books tempting? How would an e-book differ (offer additional value) compared to a free website? Is there money to be made?

Here's some thoughts though. When one of my books sells, I get about $3 royalty. If I sold an e-book for $5 and it cost me $2 to host the book (that's what Blurb is charging), I could make the same amount of money, and at $5, it could easily be an impulse purchase. Currently there doesn't seem to be a way to find e-books on Blurb and of course the vast majority of the books won't be of 'publishable' quality, but let's say that Ansel were still alive, kicking and photographing, and that for the heck of it, he did an e-book.

Now, lest my publisher read this and have a fit, yes, I know my contract with the publisher gives them the electronic rights to publish, not me, but were I to do a new book..., one of my images (which they have said isn't practical in paper - and I agree)...

How many people would rush out, and how much would they pay, to get hold of an Ansel Adams book on their iPad? After all, Ansel did calendars and posters and Yosemite sold and continues to sell prints of his images, so pretty good chance he'd be up for it.

What if someone were becoming a serious fine art photographer, and for $5 each, they could pick up some 50 images, with some interesting text, by a well respected photographer, and further more, could do so from dozens of famous photographers. $100 would see you well on the way to making a wonderful library of images, all happily fitting on your iPad, and ready to learn from.

I see that William Neil now sells his e-books for $10. Landscapes Of The Spirit is a real book I own, and enjoy, and paid considerably more for. I note on his website that the price was $15, and I'm not sure that it wasn't more than that when he first made his publication available in electronic form. Keep in mind, this is a real book, of 120 pages and 79 images, not some hashed together portfolio with a few words that someone with delusions of grandeur decides to call a book.

Does that make the 'right price' $10, or does the price reflect the reputation of the photographer. Is Ansel's e-book worth more than that of one of his accolytes? Or does popularity and therefore number of sales determine success. After all, that's how it is in music. The price for a Feist song is the same as one by Fred Blogs, and only the number of sales determines the difference. Is that the way it should be?

Occasionally I splurge and pick up a Blurb book from someone I know or think might have interesting images - but by the time I pay frieght (it comes from downtown right here in Calgary), it adds $10 to the cost of a $37.00 book, which means I don't do it that often. Once Blurb starts promoting their e-books I might well pick up more, and if reasonably priced (ie. iTunes equivalent) for lots of famous photographers, well, I know I'd be buying left right and centre.

Since the publication of my first book, I have had a standing offer of any four prints, 8.5X11, $100 including shipping. I get a request every couple of months - hardly a money maker, and probably more trouble than it's worth. Perhaps and especially with the next generation high res iPad, purchasing small prints will be unnecessary and only large prints will be purchased, at prices that compensate the photographer for the shipping and handling, so that he or she can turn a reasonable profit margin. However, don't forget that all of this article is discussing electronic books, not portfolios - though the same arguments apply.

Will I give up the printed book, or the printed image for that matter? Very unlikely. But is the e-book in our future, as photographers as well as purchasers. Damn right!


Dave said...

I personally love the ebooks. The iPad has revolutionized my feelings on reading from electronic media and I now actually prefer it to paper copies of books and magazines. With that in mind, I feel that given the lower costs of publishing and printing etc they should be priced below traditional print books. I believe in the $5-$10 price range, as nicely filled by the Craft and Vision series.

Frank Field said...

Thinking about fine art photography books, I much prefer eBooks to physical books printed at "average" quality. For very fine quality printing (books typically selling at $75 and up), I still prefer printed books. The rumored coming of the iPad 3 with doubled linear resolution may well tip the balance to eBooks all the time.

A key advantage of eBooks for me is accessibility. They are easy to carry around a perfect take a break with over a cup of coffee. They obviously travel well and provide me an opportunity to continue my study of photography while on otherwise mind-numbing long flights.

I am highly in favor of dealing directly with the photographer. Let's face it, a $3 income from each physical book sold is not much. Judging from some of the lack of editing quality (growing number of obvious typos, for instance) I've seen of late in books from even the best of mainstream publishers, it is hard to see much value added coming from publishers these days.

Thinking about pricing of eBooks, I suspect one is into the old trade-off between unit volume and price. I know that I'd more readily buy at $10 than at $20 per eBook license. While I do like the Craft and Vision pricing, I'm not sure that it creates a real win for the photographer. Pricing closer to the $10 level seems to offer a win-win for artist and buyer. Yes, I would be willing to pay more for fine eBooks from established artists.

Roger wandless said...

I love the printed book. I have self published 3 books now and the biggest challenge is distribution and marketing. In theory e books can reach a larger audience but in practice you still have to get traffic to your website, so selling a low margin product makes me nervous as it relies on high volumes which may or may not materialise.
My wider concern for photographers is a sense that our work is being sold cheaply and hence devalued.
I don't have the answers but I would like to suggest that we price our work such that it reflects it's worth, thne the purchaser will value it also.

One last thing- I worry about the longevity of electronic media. A book I can touch feel pick up whenever and trust that , barring fire etc it will last almost forever.

PS George. Love your blog and work!