Buying a book? Getting the best bang for your buck

It occurred to me the other day I’ve now self-published/independently published more books than I’ve traditionally published through my small press publisher.  And one of the main draw-cards of being an independent author is having more controls over things like… the book cover design, the information uploaded on the book’s product page at the retailer, and the price.

My independently published eBooks are priced pretty much the same worldwide and across multiple retailers, (making allowances for currency exchange based on the original US$ price of course). But the prices for my traditionally published eBbooks often vary widely… which has led to a reader expressing her disappointment at the price she paid for one of my books.

Let me make it very clear she was supportive of me as an author. But….

  • She had an expectation built around the prices I’ve set for my self-published, full-length novels, so it’s not hard to see why she was expecting something between 75 – 95,000 words for that price. But what she got was a 25,000 word novella. Frankly, I’d be disappointed, too!
  • She blamed the retailer for the pricing. (I know if I walk into a retail store and buy a product, only to discover it’s more expensive there than at a bunch of other places, I’m gonna be snarking about the retailer, too!)
  • Understandably, she rated the book on the low side to reflect her disappointment and in her comments blamed the entity she perceived to be at fault: the online retailer.

Now it would be easy to comment she hadn’t done due diligence before making the purchase — caveat emptor, and all that. It would be easy to say she should have known it was a traditionally published book and been aware that neither author nor online retailer had a say over the price set for this novella, or were responsible for the lack of information on the book’s product page. It would be easy to protest, “If she’d contacted me, I’d have told her it was much cheaper to buy the book from direct from the publisher!” But I don’t think that’s fair.

Unfortunately I can’t address her disappointments directly without leaving the information in the review section on the retailer’s product page… which forces me to rate my own book — soooo not ethical!  (I mean, do I give it one star? Three? Five? Let’s not go there.)

All readers are looking for is a good book to read at a decent price! It shouldn’t be this hard, right?

Well… no. But with the myriad of ways authors can publish these days, and so many people “doing it their way”, the information readers want isn’t always going to be at their fingertips.

So here’s what I think book-buyers should be aware of so they get the best bang for their buck.

Self-published authors (also known as independently published authors, or indie-pubbed authors) generally split into those who publish under their own names, and those who’ve formed a company and publish under their company name (in which case it’s tricky to pinpoint whether the “press” is actually a small press publisher or an author publishing under her company name). But if a book’s product information indicates the author and publisher names are the same (e.g. Seer’s Hope by Maree Anderson / Publisher: Maree Anderson) then readers can be 99.99% certain the author and the publisher are one and the same.

Why is it beneficial for readers to know this?

Because if the author is also the publisher, then the author is responsible for the following:

  • The eBook’s cover, editing, layout and formatting
  • Assigning genre categories that make the eBook visible when readers search a particular category
  • Formats available for sale (e.g. PDF, epub, mobi)
  • Whether the book is sold with or without DRM (Digital Rights Management designed to restrict readers from copying eBooks, but that also restricts readers from transferring eBooks they’ve legitimately purchased to another eReader device the reader might own.)
  • Availability of the eBook at various retailers (e.g. exclusively on Amazon, available only in certain world territories, or available at a whole bunch of retailers worldwide)
  • The eBook’s Product Page information
  • Pricing
But if the author has sold her book to a publisher, then the publisher handles all of the above.

Sometimes, depending upon the size of the publisher (and the availability of experienced, dedicated staff to handle any of the above), the publisher will outsource steps to an independent company or contractor. For example, uploading the various eBook formats to retailers along with the eBook’s product information. And this is often where crucial information that would help readers make informed choices gets neglected.

And the publisher sets the price.

The pricing is out of the author’s control; she can’t discount it or put it on sale. She can’t tweak the price to bring it in line with other eBooks in the same genre with similar word counts. Her hands are tied. And depending on the deal the publisher has negotiated with the individual retailer, the retailer’s hands might well be tied, too. They may not be able to discount, or price-match other retailers to ensure readers get the lowest price.

(Though let’s face it: sometimes, there’s just no figuring out the logic behind pricing. Hence why one the price of my small press published eBooks ranges from US$3.50 direct from the publisher, to US$6.50 at some retailers.  Caveat emptor indeed!)

So how does a reader make sure she’s getting the best bang for her buck?

What if her preferred online retailer’s product page lacks the information she needs, or the price seems way too high?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Google the book’s title and scan the prices that pop up

2. Google the author’s website for book information & buy links
Most author’s these days have websites. And most will provide — at the very least — the genre, a short blurb, excerpt, and a bunch of buy links for of their books at various retailers. Often the author will provide links to the publisher’s website, and if that publisher has direct-to-reader sales, the price may be cheaper than at your preferred retailer.

3. Check the book’s cover for the publisher’s logo or name, and Google it
If the publisher has a website with direct-to-the-public sales, as I’ve already mentioned it may be cheaper to buy direct from the publisher than pay the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) at a retailer. Publishers often offer a variety of formats which you can select from and then side-load to an eReader. Sure, the process is trickier than, say, Amazon’s One-Click button and an immediate download to your Kindle device, but the extra couple of steps involved may save you a few bucks.

3a. If the book’s cover doesn’t show the publisher, check the front matter/copyright info inside the eBook (via the retailer’s Look Inside function if it’s available)

4. Contact the author via her website contact form and ask for the information you need
The majority of authors will be thrilled you asked, and go out of their way to provide any information lacking, as well as cluing you in on the best place to buy their book.

5. Contact the retailer directly
And here’s hoping they have a great customer  service team and will get back to you in a timely fashion… like, before you give up and buy something else from somewhere else. But remember, if the information hasn’t been provided to them in the first place, they won’t be able to help.

Finally, if you are disappointed with the price you paid for your purchase, I’d ask that you reconsider rating the book poorly in the reviews section to air your disappointment. In my humble opinion, ratings are an indication of what you thought of the book – the characters, the writing etc. By all means mention the issues you have with the price — that’s immensely valuable to other potential readers! But rating it poorly potentially hurts the author… who may not have any control over the price her publisher has set.

Happy reading!




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