Just read this article in Publisher's Weekly. If I was a tradtional publisher I think I'd start to get nervous. This has all the feeling of a small snowball rolling down a mountain side turning into a massive avalenche.
* Boy, your longwinded, meandering, initial post could've used an editor! :)
* There isn't any evidence a $2.99 book is going to outsell a freebie; in fact, the reverse is true with all those freebies at the top of the Amazon best seller lists (see that recent NY Times article)
* Amazon is encouraging the freebies and very low priced books to go away via its newly announced royalty scheme that doubles the royalty rate for books charging at least $2.99
Thanks for the reply, Eric! Yes, my post could certainly have used editing. I didn't actually say that there was evidence that a $2.99 book would outsell a freebie, I said that I have heard it. I know I've read references to the concept from J.A. Konrath. In any case, I suggested putting aside that theory for purposes of my long-winded discussion.
Amazon is certainly discouraging 99 cent books and $1.99 books, but I don't think changing the royalty rate discourages freebies much - 70% of zero is the same as 30% of zero. One could argue that some authors gave stuff away for free because 30% was so low, and now they will be more inclined to charge $2.99 when they can make over $2 a book. I confess that I don't know. There could be some truth to that.
I take no particular joy in envisioning the quality of books diminishing (further), but I do see it as a likely outcome.
Well, it's certainly a brave new world, and we're all just speculating our asses off here. I think, though, that new, direct-to-Kindle authors are going to run into some of the same issues that have always affected self-published writers--lack of vetting, lack of editing, lack of design expertise, lack of critical attention, lack of promotion, lack of support-by-paid-advance. Now obviously the publishing industry doesn't always do those things, and even when it does it doesn't always do them very well--but direct-to-Kindle authors who are just starting out will never have the benefit of professional editing, etc., unless they pay for it out of pocket--and there's really no way to buy critical attention barring an old-fashioned print run in the tens of thousands. What new Kindle-only authors will have access to is free, unlimited distribution, and a more-or-less equal place in the store with best-selling authors--and that in itself is revolutionary. Now, I'm probably atypical as a buyer of ebooks, but it would be my tendency to be deeply skeptical of self-published starter novels being sold for free, or virtually for free. Partly because, to a certain extent, I equate cost with quality (if the author doesn't think it's good enough to charge money for, it probably isn't), and partly because my available reading time is so limited that I don't want to waste it on something that's completely unvetted. But as I say, that may just be me, or it may be a generational thing. Younger people don't have that cost/quality equation in their heads, I don't think.
I agree with Jon on his point about a glut of free books badly composed and badly edited flooding the market. That alone is a guarantee a well edited, well illustrated, book by a professional is going to ultimately win over the competition.
I, for one, believe book covers (even for ebooks) is a fundamental necessity that serparates the grain from the chaff. To get that good cover--and in the book, to acquire a good editing, is going to cost someone some money. It doesn't matter who pays for it--but if its going to be professional someone is going to have to fork over the dough.
someone will have to either fork over the dough or learn how to do it themselves. You can get a professional looking ebook cover for $200-$400 at this point - not an incredible work of art, but certainly at least rising to the median level for a big publishing house. certainly not out of the question for an author to spend.
Regarding your first point, I'm not certain that a "professional" book charging $9.99 (or more) is going to win over competition from a free or $2.99 book without a professional cover. In fact, it doesn't seem likely to me. I do think Jon's point about vetting is the intersection where the unknowns are currently the largest. How do we find the good books, or at least the good enough books? I honestly don't know, but I don't really see any reason why that issue in the long-term is has to be tied to the same entity that does the editing, artwork and distribution. Maybe it will remain so, but quite possibly it will not.
Everyone involved in the business needs to objectively identify their own strengths and how those strengths might become less or more important in the future. And act accordingly. I see a lot of authors beginning to take these steps, recognizing that they need to be more than just writers (and to be fair this is not new, it's the scope of it that's new). Big publishing on the other hand seems convinced that their multiple roles as editors, artists, gatekeepers will be enough to maintain their position. Maybe they're right, but it's a pretty huge gamble.
There's also sals projections to consider. Sure, everyone wants to sell a million copies, but each individual's magic number of sales-that-make-it-worthwhile differs.
As do each publishers. I imagine Random House want to sell more copies than, say, Busted Flush, and I imagine this affects the vetting systems they use.
I used to work in the movies, for a producer who worked for Roger Corman. He said sometimes people would come to him with a great script but he could never raise the money to make it properly. There's not much audience for a low-budget romantic comedy without movie stars, for example. Just like there isn't enough market for a really big budget auteur-driven quirk-fest.
You may be able to buy a cover for $400, but I personally couldn't buy my editor's experience and expertise at any price--she's got best-sellers and Edgar winners galore under her belt, and she knows crime writing backwards and forwards. I'm incredibly lucky to be working with her. I'm not sure I could afford my excellent (and relentless) copy-editor on my own, either--she's invaluable, has copy-edited Pulitzer winners, and again knows a hell of a lot more than I do about the nuts and bolts stuff (and I teach writing for a living). Putting together a professional-quality book is not as simple as shelling out a few bucks to some grad student to check your punctuation: it's about trained and experienced people taking pride in their work, knowing their professional reputations are on the line. When my stuff lands on the bookstore shelves, it's not perfect--but whatever problems it has are not the result of editorial inattention. It's a polished, finished book that's had the benefit of lots of experienced eyeballs. But maybe you're right--maybe for most readers "good enough" really is good enough, and all this revision and editing is a waste of time. Still, I wouldn't want my work out in the world without it.
My agent resists. She wants me to go to CreateSpace (Google self-publishing) first. But that smacks of vanity press and I'm not doing that. Putting a book out electronically, leaves the door open for legitimate print publication later. This, by the way, is not for the series. This is a historical trilogy I'm tired of offering about.
I.J. Createspace is actually Amazon, but I know what you mean about the stigma. I want to be clear that I don't believe publishing with Createspace, which costs nothing, is a bad thing, just that it has the bad "vanity" rap
Anyway, I disagree with the idea that you could do e-publication now and it would keep the door open for legitimate print. See if your agent agrees with me, but IMO that might have been true two years ago but not any more. Publishers want both ebook and print rights. ebooks were 1% of the market in 2008, 3% in 2009 and the trend will only accelerate.
If you sell enough copies of either an ebook or a Createspace book, publishers might pick you up, although ironically enough if you hit it big on kindle, you might be LESS likely to get picked up (after all, kindle readers would know all about you) than if you sell a bunch of paper copies through something other than the main channels.