Thursday, September 8, 2011

Do You Notice the Publisher? On EBooks, Money, and Publishers

***Just to clarify--I'm not trying to disparage self published authors with this post. The point of my post was to just extend the conversation; I was curious to see YOUR thoughts.

Even though I'm still in my debut year as an author (holy cow, that's insane, no?!), I've been writing for ten years and reading for most of my life. And I'm an avid reader--constantly seeking the next book, with a veritable of TBR books and even more already-read shelves of books.

So: I'm completely aware of books, authors, and--the subject of what I want to talk about today--publishers.

As you can probably guess: I'm a somewhat unusual reader. I definitely pay attention to who publishes what, and I have very clear, distinct opinions on publishers. Through years of reading and paying attention to who published what, I know that some publishers tend to publish books that I will universally like--and some publish books I universally don't. When it comes to buying a book, I first weigh the story: if I love the premise, I buy the book, if not, I put it back down. If I'm on the fence, though, I'll consider the author--if I know him/her (even just through online stuff), I'll buy the book. If not, or if I'm still on the fence, I look at the publisher. If it's from an imprint that I usually like--I buy the book. If not, I don't. There's one imprint in particular--and, merely because I've been paying attention to this stuff for so long--there's one editor in particular at that imprint, whose books I just don't like. It's not that they're bad--it's that this editor and I clearly have very different tastes. There were agents who I didn't query before I signed because I just didn't like the books that thanked that agent in the acknowledgements--and I could safely assume that our tastes were so different that those agents wouldn't have liked my book, either.

But as I've said: I'm an unusual reader. Most people, don't know the editor at a publishing house at all. Most readers, I think, don't even pay attention to who publishes what.

I'm thinking about all this today because of a post Nathan Bransford recently had on his blog.  In reference to ebooks in particular, I think that if readers are not currently looking at who publishes what, they will be soon. Right now, we're in a weird sort of "anything goes" age of epublishing--people are trying new things (different price points, established authors self-pubbing ebooks, interactive content, etc.) to see what will stick and what will be the best method in this new epublishing age.

Not too long ago, there were a lot of fight about what the maximum price an ebook should be. Many publishers and professionals insisted on a $9.99 price point--and Amazon, notably, was in favor of a lower price point. This is me just spit-balling here, but from that debate, it seemed to me that Amazon figured it would make more money with ereaders than with the sale of ebooks.

Recently, Amazon announced that they will be developing a new tablet (think: iPad, but with an Amazon brand name), and I read an article that speculated that the tablets will likely be sold at cost or even at a loss to Amazon in an effort to drive more sales to ebooks--which seems to me to indicate that Amazon now sees ebooks as the driving source of funds, not ereaders.

I think the shift has come from people who are burnt out of the 99-cent price point. Speaking on solely a personal level, I got an ebook reader for Christmas last year. I downloaded a crap-ton of free and 99-cent ebooks...and quickly became really rather disgusted by them. It became a matter, to me, not of how much money I was willing to spend, but how much time. To put it frankly, many of the cheap or free books were not worth the pennies I paid for them. I became the type of ebook reader who would rather take a chance on a $9.99 book than on a 99-cent book: I valued my time in reading the book more than the money I spent to purchase it.

Personally, I think a lot of people are going to end up doing the same. They are going to seek out quality over quantity--rather than buying many cheap books, they'll spend more money on fewer books of quality.

As Nathan points out in his article, one way that people can distinguish quality is through a publisher--it's a type of cachet, a sort of assurance that the book has been vetted in some way. A quality seal.

But of course, that only works if people actually notice who a publisher is.

So, I wanted to turn to you, fair readers: Do you notice who publishes a book?

And, to go along with that: What influences your purchase of an ebook? Please note: I've allowed multiple answers for this one!


Caroline Starr Rose said...

I think for your followers who are writers, we'll be pretty familiar (I hope!) with which company publishes what.

Cherie Reich said...

When I was just a reader, I never looked at the publisher. I picked up a book that looked interesting and read.

As a writer, I do look a little more, but I usually pick up a book that looks good to me or I've heard people talk about. Then after I've gotten the book, I'll take note of the publisher, if there is one.

I suppose I still try to judge books for the books themselves and not how they were published, but I have gotten where I'll read a sample before I consider buying anything I'm iffy on.

chrysoula said...

I definitely pay attention to the publisher of ebooks by unfamiliar authors. But I also consider 99 cents for a full-length novel a nearly certain sign of a book I won't appreciate.

Shanyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shanyn said...

I definitely pay attention to who is publishing a book - mainly because I am a book blogger. That being said, I also have noticed certain publishers charging more for ebooks than others - and that puts me off. I love both ebooks and hard copies, but am much more willing to impulse buy a book from a publisher/author I MIGHT like if it is a reasonably priced ebook - Harper and Little, Brown are notorious for roping me in with their $2.99 promotions on books that are quite popular that I haven't read (Firelight, Beautiful Creatures, Twenty Boy Summer). I do not much appreciate when the price of the book brand new on release day is less than the ebook - in my opinion, they should - at the very least - be the same price. I cannot share my ebook version, so paying more for a brand new book in electronic form is not something I would generally do.

I am not sure I have ever purchased a .99 ebook. The publisher means a lot to me as I, like you, know what publishers I mesh with and which I do not. I have too many books I want to read to start buying random .99 ebooks to find I don't like them.

Jaime Morrow said...

I don't so much look at Publishers but probably should. As for ebooks, I don't want to spend a whole lot on them for two reasons: 1) if it's a book I end up loving, I buy it in paper format (still love the feel of real books), and 2) if it's not that great in the end, I don't want to feel bad for spending so much. I have an e-reader but it still bothers me that I own one. I hate the idea of doing ANYTHING that could encourage the eventual demise of paper books.

1000th.monkey said...

I have an enormous Amazon *wish list* which is essentially my TBR pile.

How I determine which to buy in paper and which to buy in ebook depends on 2 factors.

1. If it's a reference book, comic book, or some other type of book with lots of images or I will flip through (not necessarily read all the way through), I buy in paper.

2. I buy most fiction in ebook 'cause I'm a voracious reader and it's more convenient that carrying around a stack of books... BUT, I always check the ebook price versus the print... and if they are the same price, that annoys me and I often demote that book on my wishlist because I think it's ridiculous to ask the same price for a print book verses ebook when you consider there's no cost for materials/etc.

Most ebooks I buy tend to be in the $8.99-$12.99 range. I think the cheapest one I bought (outside the few free classics) was $5.99 or $6.99.

Phoebe North said...

As an aspiring, I pay lots of attention to publishers (and as a reviewer, I've definitely noticed patterns among them!). But I also pay attention because I've been "fooled" by self-pubbed titles who slipped by by creating their own "publisher." Drives me nuts. It's not that a self-pubbed book can't be good--it's that I want to know whether a book has been vigorously edited, etc., before I decide how much I want to spend on it.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I think very much that publishers matter, but I also think that in the long run of an author's career their writing and quality of work will outshine anything else. Many authors I know have been with small publishers and moved to bigger more well-known publishers. Also, some authors I know started out self-publishing and just moved on up. I think everyone's path is different so I try not to judge a book too much based on the publisher - but I do always find the publisher an interesting part of the book.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm cheap and prefer to borrow books from the library. But, if the library doesn't have it or the text is too small, I'll often buy the e-book (assuming it's less than $9.99) based not solely on author (and I NEVER notice the publisher) but on the recommendations of friends and the Goodreads community. I actually feel that charging more than $9.99 for an e-book is a crime. There are no materials that cost the publisher anything so how can they justify selling anything higher than that? But, to purchase an e-book at all, it has to either be by an author I already like or be highly recommended by my friends/community.

--Amy in Atlanta (yes, the one from DragonCon who carved the stamp)

Kristie Cook said...

I only started paying attention to publishers once I thought about becoming a published author. Now that I'm published, I'm back to hardly paying any attention to the publisher. My decisions are not about price or publisher, but about the premise and the author and, sometimes, after reading a sample. That said, I hardly ever buy an ebook over $4.99 and only then when it's a later installment in a series and I'm hooked. As of right now, I've NEVER paid $9.99 or more for an ebook. As soon as I see that high price, that book falls down in the priority list. I have way too many books on my TBR list that are far below $10 a book. Generally, if I'm going to spend that much, I want the print version. But I say as of right now because that can always change. My level of curiosity in the book is what rules. Which makes me wonder - how many book purchases are spontaneous buys?

Nicole Settle said...

As a writer I always look at the publisher when buying a book but I know other people who are book lovers and they couldn't name you more than a couple publishers and don't really care. As for buying ebooks, it usually comes down to price. I don't go looking for ebooks. I go looking for novels. And then from there I decide which format (ebook, hardback, paperback...) I want to buy depending on price and how I'll be using the book.

E.J. Wesley said...

The only name on a book that truly matters to me is the author's. Price rarely factors in unless I'm trying to decided the best value (between paper and electronic). Although, I've found myself buying the electronic version even when it is nearly the same price, something I never used to do.

The word of readers makes much more of a difference to me. If a book is getting good buzz from readers (that I know aren't being influenced by publisher money, friendships, etc.) I'm much more likely to give it a shot. For instance, if there are 100 Amazon reviews and they average 3 stars I'd probably give it a shot if it were a genre I enjoyed. If there were only 3 reviews and all were 5 stars, I'd probably wait for more feedback.

I assume if a book is good, I'll hear about it through blog friends, family, etc. I'm rarely the first person in my circle to have read something, which either means I'm a slow reader or my TBR list is way too long. Probably a combination of both. :-)

My personal feeling is that price isn't a good indication of quality (as I see so many people trying to insinuate). I've purchased a $2 copy of Harry Potter from a bargain bin, after all. The reputation of the author, the genre/description and buzz are all much more important. As for publisher, I couldn't tell you who published Twilight, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter unless it were a multiple choice exam.

Cents and Sensibility said...

Great topic!

Knowing your publishers is a great way to find books you normally wouldn't pick up. Most imprints have a genre, so if you like one of their books, chances are you'll like other books from that imprint. :) Razorbill is an amazing imprint and I almost always enjoy any book they publish! :)

Jess (The Cozy Reader) said...

DOH! I was signed into the wrong blogger account! Cents and Sensibility is me!

M.P. McDonald said...

I don't quite know where to begin. I've been following your blog for over a year, bought your book and plugged it in the Amazon Kindle forum, but now reading this, it's like a slap in the face to indie authors like me. While I know reading your book and me being an indie author are totally unrelated, but it's kind of like being a walk-on football player who made the team and looked up to the star players, and then finding out that the star players think only those who received scholarships should be allowed on the team.

My first book has been priced from free to $2.99. My second book has been at $2.99 since I published it at the end of January. I didn't try to 'sneak in' my books with a fake publishing company name, and I didn't have any publishing company pushing my book, and yet I was able to break the top 20 on Amazon Kindle back in June. I have plenty of reviews and mail from readers who didn't think they got suckered into a low quality book.

Just like you, I set out to write the best damn book that I could.I shopped it around to agents, but for whatever reason, nobody wanted it. I had faith that given a chance, some people would like it. As Indie authors, we do not sit down to write and say, "Gee, I think I'll write a crappy 99 cent book now."

barmybex said...

I've always looked at who publishes it. It's like part of reading the blurb to me. I have companies I love and I know I will enjoy there books, others I have reservations about and am less likely to take a chance on - these I tend to get from the library first, then if I like it I will buy it. I don't have any publishers or agents that I don't like, but I have some that I'm on the fence with.
Maybe I'm just nosy or curious but I like to know where the book has come from.

Chloe said...

I've just recently begun to notice publishers who I read a lot of, or who I like. For example, I'll say Harlequin Teen. I tend to like their books but I've noticed they usually err toward the not-as-substantial subject matter, and the writing typically isn't very complex. Sometimes I feel like reading that, other times I don't. I haven't gone so far as to look at agents or editors, but that's a cool idea, I may start doing that now.

KM said...

I definitely have favorite publishers/imprints in regards to the amount of books that they publish that I like. For example, I really love HarperTeen. I'm much more likely to take a chance on one of their books.

As to ebooks, I'm a bit more leniant. I'll take a chance on a free book if it's an author I like or if it's a classics. But usually, I just use my Kindle for e-galleys.

beth said...

Hey all! For the record, I'm not trying to disparage self published writers or writers who set a lower price-point. I've emailed MP privately, but I didn't want anyone to think that I was just ignoring comments :)

Christina Farley said...

This is such a great discussion. I think this is an exciting time for the publishing industry but also lots of growing pains. In the end, I really do believe a good product will be what sells. Just like when I'm buying my chocolate or even cleaning supplies. Same goes with a good book.

Katie said...

Thanks for adding the note that you aren't trying to disparage indies, because when I first started reading I was definitely thinking along the lines of MP's comment, and I was a little distressed. I appreciate the clarification!!

I did want to add that some of the best books I've read this year were indie books under $5. Just because something is 99 cents does not mean it's guaranteed to be crap, which is great for me since I won't usually spend over $5 on an ebook. If it's more expensive than that, I'll either buy a print copy or (more likely) get it at the library or borrow from a friend. I have a pretty low book-buying budget right now.

As far as imprints/publishers go ... I really like the Speak imprint (Penguin) and the Greenwillow imprint (HarperCollins) because I've found a lot of favorites through them in the past. Otherwise, though, I pay more attention to either author or subject matter when choosing what books to read.

Laura Pauling said...

With traditionally published books I don't look at the publisher and don't really care. I look at the writing and the premise.

if you just download a bunch of 99 cent or free books b/c of the price then you'll probably be disappointed. I buy self published books the same way I do trad. pub. I download a sample and I read first. The 99 cent books I have purchased, I have been very happy with. As a reader and a writer, I can tell within a sample.

As with all books, both trad. published and self pubbed, I'm not always glad I made the purchase. Plenty of books on both sides I have forced myself to finish. And when that happens, I just don't buy the sequel.

Fascinating subject and up to much disagreement depending on experience.

Anne Riley said...


I often review books via NetGalley, and I am with you--I have noticed that I prefer books from HarperTeen over almost anything else. HOWEVER, I have read several others from other houses/imprints that I love. I also have one publisher that hardly ever prints something I enjoy. Like you said, it's not that the book is bad; I just don't have the same taste.

Anonymous said...

I pay some attention to publishers, as an un-agented writer, because I know one day I'll be happy to have some understanding of what certain publishers tend to rep/who's who in editing.

But as a reader, I buy books not at all based on the publisher but based on a compilation of a few things:

1) Plot. If the plot of the book interests me, that is what makes me want to buy it -- period. The only exception to that rule is if I read someones blog regularly, I'll often buy their book even if it doesn't interest me right off the bat. Yanno, showing support and whatnot :)

2) Author. There are some authors whose material I will always be interested in, and others whose material I will never be interested in. Unknown authors get the benefit of the doubt, if the story is interesting.

3) Goodreads. I'm a huge fan of reading reviews, and if a book gets particularly great reviews, it's likely I'll be interested in checking it out even if it didn't initially appeal to me.

There are other factors. Price, for instance, is definitely a part of the equation. There are several YA new releases I've held back from buying because I'm currently on a strict budget and have to wait for sales, or at LEAST for them to be released in paperback.

I'm strange in that I often buy books only because I read the author's blog, and often *refuse* to buy books by those whose blogs rubbed me the wrong way. If an author is overly cocky/big-headed relative to their small success, sexist, rude, etc... I'm not interested in what they have to say in any form. But I think I'm alone there.

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