Tuesday, 27 March 2012


On this morning’s television show of The Wright Stuff, best-selling author Jodi Picoult gave her views on the current debate about the pricing of eBooks, pointing out that the main reason that readers do not believe they should pay as much for an eBook as they would for a print book is because `it’s not a book – it’s just a `file' transmitted to the buyer’s eReader.

`But what readers don’t realise,’ Jodi went on, `is when they buy a book, it’s not pulped paper they are buying – it’s a work regarded by law as the author’s `intellectual property’. Just as real in law as any bricks-and-mortar property. Hence, the copyright notices on all editions – just as real in law as the deeds to your house.

On the same panel, ex-MP’s wife, Christine Hamilton, opined, `Yes, but there is nothing quite like holding a book.’

Is that really what readers are paying for – to hold a heavy wad of paper? I always thought the same main rule for Hollywood applied also to books – `What’s the story?’

When I first started reading books as a youngster, the wad of paper I was holding meant nothing – the story was all. The story took me into other lands and other times and each book was like a holiday away from it all.

Of course I did not realise way back then, that all my little holidays away from it all were due to the talent and hard work of the authors who had written the books. All my appreciation went to the local Library who let me read them for free.

Okay, eBooks are just  ‘a file’ transmitted onto an eReader – so let’s look at the actual cost of both. The last traditionally printed novel I had published cost £2,500 for the first 2000 print run and every 1000 copies printed after that cost 23 pence a copy.

In the bookstore the buyer paid £7.99p, of which the bookstore took 50% of the selling price – the publisher took 42.5% – and the creator of the product (the author) got 7.5% of the publisher’s cut  = 26 pence. And out of that 26 pence per book, the author’s agent takes a further cut.

No wonder 90% of all authors struggle to make a living from their work – although for decades they have been making a very good living for publishers, bookstores and agents who live off the sweats of their work.

Then along came the techno experts and changed the world in so many ways, including the world of books. Now, thanks to those geniuses, the ‘content provider’ of the book (author) can sell directly to the ‘content consumer’ (reader) without having to support all those ‘main beneficiaries’ in-between.

Everyone is moaning and complaining these days about how publishers rip off authors, but hey – why is nobody complaining about the disgraceful way bookstores – especially the chain bookstores – are ripping off both publishers AND authors?

Some chains are now demanding 55% - 60% of the selling price from publishers, some even demand more than that. And worse, they also demand the right to return all copies of books they do not sell.

So publishers and authors are filling the shelves of their stores at no financial risk to the bookstore. If it doesn’t sell after 6 months – they can just fling it back to the publisher. In most cases, the cover is just torn off and sent back, because the books have been handled by book browsers and are no longer in the new and pristine condition sent by the publisher.

In what other business would this be allowed? Hey, fill your shop with my designer clothes and any you don’t sell you can fling back.

In any other business?  No way!

Bookstores have though, in the last few years, attempted to remedy the situation to some extent – by bringing back apartheid to the world of books.

Now they will only stock best-selling brand-named authors on their shelves. The top 10% that are pushed and publicised to the hilt, no matter how bad their latest novels have become; and the other 90% can go and stand forever outside the huge gates locked to them.

The reader, of course, is not given a chance to discover anything new, although they don’t yet realise that their choice has long been censored by the bookstores.

What many of us book-lovers are now wondering, if this no-risk strategy of bookstores continues – where is the new generation of brand-name authors going to come from? Or is it their plan to occasionally open the locked gates a fraction and let the odd apartheid author inside in order to help build up the stock?

No wonder book chains like Borders have crumbled and died, and others will follow – the blind leading the blind over the cliff to doom.

But back to eBooks. They really are going to be the best way of reading in the future. I learned this just a few months ago while in Australia and got pneumonia and was confined to bed for over a week. The sun outside was blazing and my husband and son had gone off sightseeing, but I was stuck in bed. I tried to read a novel but it was heavy, and at the beginning I needed two hands to hold the first pages back, so I threw it down, too weak to be bothered.

Then my daughter handed me her new Kindle and told me to order any book of my choice from Amazon. I ordered `The Help` and the story was there for me in less than a minute, and the Kindle was so light I had no problem lying back and reading the story with one hand.

And `The Help` was everything a novel should be – it took me to another country and another time and was so engrossing and so entertaining I actually got better while reading it!

For me now, eBooks are my new way of reading – but a problem still remains: which brings me back to Jody Picoult’s comment on TV this morning that readers feel they should not have to pay as much for a transmitted `file’ as opposed to a paper book.

I agree with the readers – they should not have to pay as much for an eBook edition, because the costs for travelling Publisher’s reps and greedy bookstores has been cut out – but it is also unfair for readers to expect the price of eBooks to be dirt cheap.

After all, readers are getting the same novel, the same intellectual property belonging to the author, as they would in a print book, and authors of books are just as entitled to be paid a fair rate for their work as they are in any other profession.

Sadly though, some people think writing a book is as easy as reading one. And that dumb bunch of people seems to also include a lot of publishers who make their living from the work of authors.

The eBook has to go through the same formatting and editing processes; a cover still has to be designed and made; and the technology of uploading an eBook is not that much different to the same process used by traditional printers.

So, readers are getting the same stories to read, but in a different container to the hallowed wad of pulped paper – and those piles of pulped paper do seem a bit outmoded in this congested and lack-of-space world most of us now live in.

Bookstores have been riding on the King’s white horse for too long. Amazon and others have opened the gates and put an end to their system of discriminatory and literary apartheid. The ‘content provider’ and the ‘content consumer’ of books have a free road with no gatekeepers blocking the way or censoring their choice.

But to believe that eBooks must be dirt cheap in comparison to the print edition? Cheaper than a cup of coffee?  Well, that’s just being mean!

So eBook or paper, whichever you choose, happy reading.


Ghosts In Sunlight
Gretta Curran Browne
Available for download now

Saturday, 3 March 2012

MY TIME TO SAY HELLO: Gretta– An Independent SpiritOne thing I love abo...

Gretta – An Independent Spirit

One thing I love about having my own blog and website is that I can now connect directly with my readers, and thank them sincerely for all the lovely letters I have received over the years about my books.

I’m also delighted to now have my novels published as eBooks, so all those readers who have written to me from Australia, New Zealand and the US will not have to wait for weeks for delivery by snail-mail, but will get them as fast as a click on a button – and snap – there it is! Those great techno experts have changed the world.

I’m also looking forward to the reprinting of all my books in paperback, because I’m seeing a lot of ludicrous prices being asked for “used” copies out there on various web sites – $150 to $329 – one of my “used” paperbacks sold a few weeks ago for $999 ! Only a true fan would pay that, but I reckon all readers should have to pay no more than a reasonable price for a book.
As you will see, I have written two “tie-in” books for a movie and a TV series, both commissioned by their production companies, and I hope to do more; but now I am excitedly preparing for the publication later this year of my new Historical novel, By Eastern Windows.

Bye for now.