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June 8, 2011

eBooks: An Excuse To Sell You Stuff You'd Never Buy In Print?

The other day I bought How To Write Science Fiction by Paul Di Filippo, tempted by the price (69p) and the prospect of another author's view on writing SF.

It's an interesting read, containing thoughts on what maximalist SF is, how to (attempt to) write it and an essay on the creation of Di Filippo's novel Ciphers. There's a few interesting nuggets there for me to think about (plus, now, a need to read some Pynchon). However it's not very long, not really a book and not really about how to write Science Fiction. It's the sort of text I'd expect to be posted to a blog. It's the sort of text that in physical form would be thin and flimsy, and I probably wouldn't ever buy.

You could argue that the beauty of eBooks is that essays like this can be published and sold for less than a pound, or you could argue that it means that it's an opportunity for a few marketing mis-directions. I can't help feeling that being able to skim a physical book at least gives you an idea of the size and the contents. Amazon and Google's preview online functionality don't really provide the same feature, and not all books have the preview feature.

Will this mean that buyers will tread ever more safely when buying books? Perhaps now people will only trust books from the bestseller top ten or those recommended by a high profile book club? It feels to me right now that the lack of physical form may actually hinder more experimental buying once the blush of the new fangled eBooks dies to the norm, the marketing departments have tried to pull a few fast ones and readers have been bitten by buying some dreadful self-published novels?

Or am I being pessimistic?


No, not pessimistic at all. Under the pressure of volume, I believe people will become more and more discretionary, leading to more and more niche marketing and an emphasis on brands that sell; we'll get tons of say. Grisham (most not even written by Grisham), because it 'sells'.

You couldn't download the sample to get an idea of it's content?

I too was tempted, but I live in France. The special price of $0.99 (valid till June 8 or 10, I don't remember exactly) was supposedly offered on amazon.com, amazon.de and amazon.co.uk. On the German and UK sites, I was told to go to amazon.com, and there the price for me was $3.99. Now, this is not a huge amount of money, but I was really annoyed by this discrimination. Why a special offer for only Americans, Germans and Brits and not people living in other countries? If the book had been offered on some other platform, Fictionwise, Weightless Books, for example, it would have been DRM free and available everywhere. And I certainly would have purchased it at the special price.

Anyway, now the price for this item has gone up to £2.09 in the UK, 2.35 euros on amazon.de, and... $5.74 on amazon.com!!! Possibly a "special price" for people coming from non US countries. Maybe the price is different for US residents. Can someone verify this?

But thanks to this post, I'm not sorry not to have bought it.

Fun times ahead...


There is a French Amazon site: amazon.fr. It sells many English language books. I have no problems buying paper books from any amazon site. The problem seems to be only with ebooks. Amazon.fr doesn't have this particular ebook at all. Neither does amazon.it (the Italian Amazon). No idea why.

There are a number of other large French online bookstores, but I think they sell only French language books and ebooks.

So, there is the question of what is being published as ebooks; there is also the question of their distribution and pricing.

I don't know-- I do know that my willingness to toss a buck at a purchase has gone up-- I myself am thinking of trying some 10,000 word stories for .99 cents...but equally especially with the rise of Kindle Spam, many 99 cent books out there are just collections of wiki pages, or renamed content from other authors. I think that building up a following-- an independent following of people who know you will become vital in the future.