Guest Post: Robin Spano, Dead Politician Society & E-Book Pricing

Something a little different for today. Robin Spano, author of Dead Politician Society, is offering her e-book at an incredibly low price ($1.99) for a limited time, December 7-13 (see links below). While promoting this deal, she will be guest posting on various blogs. I invited her to Chrisbookarama because it sounds like a great bargain and I like to promote new Canadian authors. I haven't read Dead Politician Society yet but I plan to. Robin has an interesting perspective on e-book pricing. Lots of food for thought. I'd love to hear what you think!

Robin Spano grew up in Toronto, studied physics in New Brunswick, and dropped out to explore North America on her motorcycle. She met her husband while working as a waitress and helped him run his Toronto pool room until they moved to Vancouver. She writes full time, plotting murder and living vicariously through her undercover protagonist.

Welcome Robin!

How much should an e-book cost? This question has been baffling the industry since e-books first came on the market, and it's coming to a head.

E-books are pushing hard, and their market share is climbing faster than ever. According to Bowker, the book industry's leading statistics source, e-books accounted for 5% of book sales in the first quarter of 2010 – up from 1.5% in 2009.

As a new writer, this excites me, because e-books go a long way toward leveling the playing field. It will be several years – if ever – before my mystery series hits airport stores beside Dan Brown and Patricia Cornwell. But Dead Politician Society is available in an airport waiting lounge to someone with an e-reader browsing online booksellers.

37% of e-book buyers bought their first digital book within the last six months (according to the same first quarter 2010 study). This is also exciting, because when everything's new, it's a time for experimenting – it makes marketing a book feel like an explorer's adventure.

The biggest undecided question is pricing. The industry seems to loosely favor the $10-$12 range for new releases. I don't have an e-reader, but that default makes no sense to me. Because an e-book is intangible, cheaper to produce, and can't be loaned as easily, I would value it at $4.99.

My publisher, ECW Press, thinks the current price range is ideal, and they've priced my e-book at $10.99. It's less than a print book, but not so low that it devalues the reading experience. Their concern is that to charge too little is to say that the book isn't worth much. They also feel that people don't make book purchasing decisions based on price – if the book looks cool, they'll buy it because they want to read it; not because it's cheap.

It's nice that they think my book isn't worthless, but I still think a lower price would be better.

ECW makes the final pricing call, but they're listening to my objections (not telling me to shut up and go away like most publishers would). I think we both recognize that in an industry that's changing so rapidly, an open mind is the way to ride the cutting edge most successfully.

So they've arranged this experiment: For one week, Tues. Dec. 7-Mon. Dec. 13, Dead Politician Society will be $1.99 in the Kindle, Kobo, and iBooks stores. It's a dramatically lower price point than where either of us would price it permanently, but we're looking for dramatic results.

What this week will show us:

If sales don't jump, I'll concede that ECW is right – price is not what sells e-books.

If sales skyrocket, ECW will concede that maybe price IS a factor in e-book sales. They may or may not lower the electronic price of Dead Politician Society permanently (which I'm gunning for), but they'll start to see the industry differently.

Help me show that price matters by either buying a Dead Politician Society e-book for $1.99 this week, OR letting your friends know about this experiment.

Together, we can help push this changing industry in the direction we'd like to see it go.

Dead Politician Society: This book is fun. It's lighthearted crime fiction - maybe Charlie's Angels meets Janet Evanovich - where a young female cop has to pose as a university student to penetrate a secret society who's been claiming credit for the deaths of local politicians. There's some sex and swearing - so maybe don't buy it for your grandma unless she likes that kind of thing. But most readers so far seem to find the book a good, fun read. See what bloggers are saying about Dead Politician Society.

Thanks for visiting Chrisbookarama today, Robin. Good luck with your experiment!


  1. Interesting guest post!

    While reading this I had several thoughts. One is that as a book blogger I'm getting many books from the library or for free from publishers (for review) or giveaways. I also do not have a proper e-reader (iPod and laptop is all).

    So, do I want to spend the full price on a paper book? Not very often. :-) Would I want to spend the equivalent of $10.99 on an e-book? Not very often either! Maybe if it was an emergency and I was totally out of something to read (and I had an e-reader) and this was the first or only book I came across that I'd heard of?

    For $4.99 I would be more interested and for $1.99 I would definitely download it if the book looked any good to me (I tried, actually!).

  2. A different thing that occurred to me is that this test is no good (sorry, Robin!). As a scientist I can't pass it for the following reasons (and there may be more!):

    1. You are looking at the sales of a $1.99-prized book in a world where most e-books are cost much more. The real experiment is whether e-books would sell more if they were ALL priced at the lower price.

    2. If you compare the sales of your own $1.99 e-book versus that of your own $10.99 e-book then the problem is that you've made much more publicity over the cheaper book (I think) and/or the cheaper book will have the accumulated benefit of earlier publicity and this new publicity.

  3. My final thought: given the interest in downloading free classics (yes, many people with e-readers do this) it seems that price (or lack thereof) does play a major role in downloading books. Whether they actually get read is another matter.

    Good luck with the experiment, Robin! I will put a little post on my blog about this (referring to Chris' post).

  4. "Whether they actually get read is another matter."

    This is true for me. I have downloaded free books and put them on my e-reader. I haven't read half of them. I have so many on my shelf, I forget about the e-books. And when I remember my e-reader battery is dead and I have to plug it in.

  5. I do have an e-reader but rarely use it. I think part of my problem is I want something I can hold for my money.

  6. Hey, cool comments!

    @leeswammes - You're right - this experiment is far from perfect. It's a one-week experiment - a starting point for deeper talks if the results are dramatic.

    @everyone - totally good point about those free classics. I think I'd be the same - if I paid for something, no matter the price, I'd feel more compelled to read it. We actually talked about running a free book giveaway week, but killed it for that reason - Sure, people would download it, but it wouldn't help us understand the industry, and we would have no idea who was actually reading the book.

    @chris - Thanks for hosting! I'm enjoying this experiment. I'll pop back in throughout the week and answer any more comments that come up.

  7. I got my e-reader last year and love it -- if I could afford to load it with every book I borrowed from the library, I would, but at $9.99 - $14.99 that's just too steep.

    The thing about the e-book price debate feels to me like there's an assumption that an e-reader like me is a regular book buyer. I'm not! 99% of my reading is borrowed -- so I do the same with my e-reader. BUT when I saw e-book of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on special for $4.99 -- and I was 61 of 160 people waiting for it from the library -- I bought it. So I find my book buying reflects more of how badly I want to read it and whether I can wait for it at the library or not. If all e-books were priced for impetuous purchasing, I might buy more but right now, if it's the cost of a paperback book, I can't justify it!

    I'll have to check out the iBooks store -- do they do ePub?

  8. Good point, Audra. Is it easy to borrow books with an e-reader? (Seems like an awesome thing in that you wouldn't have to go back to the library to return them, which is the part that always screws me up and the reason I usually buy instead of borrow!)

    iBooks seems to only be for i-products. Kobo does e-pub, but they haven't got the book up yet. (They're scheduled to.) Kindle has reading apps that are compatible with PCs and phones - but who wants to read that way?

    Crazy industry. So difficult in so many ways. So cool in so many others.

  9. Robin -- I don't envy authors these days. Between having to do marketing and now selling of your book, ugh.

    I'm very lucky in that my local library is part of a greater statewide library network that has worked very hard to have a robust ebook (and audiobook) collection. It's all online -- I just enter my library card number and browse and I can have three ebooks for 21 days. New releases and old -- and they update monthly with new books. I don't know how many other library systems can say this -- I suspect because I live in an area with good library funding (Boston) I have access to borrow-able e-books in a way that many others might not.

    Still, borrowing e-books does the same for me as borrowing 'real' books: if I like it enough, I buy it. (I'm a rereader.) I'd buy more e-books sight unseen, so to speak, if it were cheaper.

    I'll keep my eye on the Kobo store because I want to help out your experiment! ;)

  10. Kobo needs to put it up. I only download ePub. That's another thing that makes me nervous about ebooks. Amazon wants to make Kindle the format everyone uses but you need a Kindle to read it! There has to be a universal format. Anyone who remembers betamax or 8-track tapes knows why. No one wants to pay $200 for a machine they can't read anything on.

    My library lends ebooks and audiobooks through Overdrive Media. So far I've only borrowed audio.

  11. Just heard from my publisher that Kobo is having technical uploading issues. Their plan is to have it manually resolved by tonight at the latest. Christina, I'll email you when it goes live.

  12. I just bought it. I will definitely try out books when they are cheap.

  13. Hi Robin,

    Your book seems very interesting but I'm guessing that your experiment will give the wrong results.
    Are people downloading the cheaper version because of the price or because of the additional coverage it got through this blogpost (and all the comment and links)?

    A better way to reflect a more true answer would perhaps be accomplished if you instead raised the price. Would that cause people not to buy or would it be the same?

    Anyway - the price discussion is an american (maybe english) problem. In the rest of the world the problem revolves around getting your hands on ebooks. The cost is secondary (or maybe not even important at all).
    And to be honest: $9.99, $10.99 or $14.99 for a novel is peanuts.

    Bringing in library books in the price discussion seems a bit silly to me actually. Not to mention classics.
    When was the last time anybody read the classics and made a big fuzz about it?

    It's the new book we're interested in. The one I've been waiting for since summer. The one coming out next spring. The new one by author this-and-that. Not a free one, not a classic, not a cheap one ...

    I'll be downloading your novel tonight and if it's as good as I think it is I'll be waiting for your next one.
    And the price of that won't be important.

    Just my 2 cents

    Book store owner -
    Billingska Bokhandeln -
    from Sweden

  14. Magnus- "When was the last time anybody read the classics and made a big fuzz about it?"

    Oprah just picked 2 of Dickens books for her book club.

    I read classics all the time. Bringing them up in a discussion is not silly to me.

  15. @Chrisbookarama
    And a good read they are too. (Dickens that is)
    But my point was more about availability. The classics are available for free and have been for 10, if not 20 years.

    The discussion and the main quistion had to do about price. $10.99 or $4.99?
    As an experiment, let's try $1.99. Right?

    My concern is availabilty.
    And here's the real kicker - I still can't get Robin Spanos novel "Dead Politician Society"!

    At any price!

    Here's what Kobobooks says:

    This content is not available internationally.

    Unfortunately, this content is only available in select countries, and we do not currently have the rights to offer this content for browsing or purchasing in Sweden. For more information on our geographic availability, please click here.

    So while a lot of people debate over a price that is really low in the first place and want it even lower - the question the rest of the world is asking: Where´s the ebooks? How do we get them? When can we get them? Why can't we get them?

    Take care,

  16. Magnus- Well, that's a pain. I wonder why international publishers and booksellers are hesitant to sell them? Could it be they are waiting to see who the 'winners' are in the e-book reader war? They're falling behind and missing out.

    Maybe it's worth asking ECW Press what their plans are for the book internationally.

    (I loved Great Expectations but still haven't read Tale of Two Cities. I probably should do that soon. If it wasn't for Project Gutenberg, I don't think we'd have the availability that we do have; thank goodness for those volunteers!)

  17. Hey these are some great discussions.

    @Magnus - You're right, this is an inexact science. We're trying an extreme discount for a short time, and if results surprise us, maybe they'll go for a lower regular price (ultimately a more long-term experiment). ECW expects no dramatic change in sales - they've tried this before and had no increase whatsoever. So I'm trying to show them that price really does matter - and so far I think it's working. Results aren't dramatic, but they're starting to be visible.

    Thanks for trying to download the book (and for liking Clare on Facebook!). The international thing is a rights issue - I think it's insane that these things apply to ebooks when the internet is by definition international - but since ECW only has North American rights, they're just following their deal by not allowing the ebook out of the country. (Though I've heard Kindle lets you lie about your address.) Maybe I should look into doing something internationally myself - will def update the Facebook page if that happens.

    @Chris - You are an awesome host. Thanks. I'll make sure to check in more often - this is one of the best discussions going on the topic!

    @kenpen - Thanks! I hope you enjoy the read.

    @Audra - Yeah, know what you mean about having to market. Sucks initially, but I guess it's like any business - there are parts you have to suck up in order to do what you love. I find as long as I get some fiction writing in each day, I can maintain my equilibrium and even enjoy the other stuff.

  18. I've been working a ton so I haven't been able to keep up with anyone's blogs and particularly this discussion! Robin and I just had an exchange on the same topic, and I had no idea this one and others had happened! I'll be posting our conversation, too, on my blog.

    I love these comments here: fantastic discussion!!


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