Archive for January 2012

31 Jan, 2012 | Posted by: st

The Pricing of Ebooks

By Lee Foster

The pricing of ebooks is a critical and controversial issue. Views on what is the appropriate price diverge.

Why have I priced my writing/photography travel literary book Travels in an American Imagination so low at $2.99?

Why has Countryman Press priced each of my travel photo books The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco and The Photographer’s Guide to Washington DC so high at $9.95?

Can both these views be defended?

The comparison is interesting because the three books in question are all comparable books in the printed versions. They all have color photos and texts. They all are nicely printed, about the same total size. All sell as printed books for $14.95. All were printed in Asia in quantities of 3,000 or more to get the manufactured price down to $2-$3. For example, my book cost me $2.21 each when I printed 3,000 copies in China.

One irony in this discussion is that ebooks may be priced quite low, yet may return to the content provider more than occurs with a printed book sale by a traditional publisher.

Countryman pays me a 15% of net sale royalty for my print books with them. The books list for $14.95, but are sold on average at roughly 54% off, so net about $6.87. Of that I get 15% of net or about $1.03 cents. That is a normal print book contract.

When I price my independently-published ebook at $2.99 and run it through BookBaby, I get 100% of the net sale, or $2.09 after Amazon/Apple takes their 30%.

For my ebook I am the publisher and the content provider, with BookBaby as the facilitator into the ebook stores. BookBaby can pay me 100% of the net sale because ebooks are such simple structures, easy to place in a selling system. BookBaby’s business model is to earn from me a $199 fee up front and then a required $19/year fee in years 2, 3, 4, 5 and on to keep my ebook in their system.

That’s where they see their long term profitability, in a longtail fee as a “non- predatory” publisher. (Their parent company, CDBaby, has been doing this for years with musicians.)

Countryman ups my ebook royalty rate to 20% of net sale for ebooks, compared to 15% of net sale for print books.

So, I will earn $1.39 from their net sale at 30% off list price to Amazon/Apple of $6.96, which is 70% of the Countryman $9.95 ebook list price.

When I can publish an ebook myself,
with its simple layout structure,
it becomes problematic to argue the
rationale of working with a publisher
such as Countryman in the future.
Why not take 100% rather than 20%
of the net sale?

With a $0 manufacturing, shipping, storage, and inventory cost, ebooks have some distinct opportunities. Without the need for huge capital to create the book product, one wonders what the traditional publisher is bringing to the transaction. I wish I could say that Countryman and my other boutique royalty book publisher, Globe Pequot, are bringing marketing energy to the transaction.

However, I am not seeing much marketing energy from them. In the modern context, the author needs to personally market the book.

What is the public’s perception of price on ebooks?

I believe the public wants these ebooks sold inexpensively. Because of the major modern developments in ebook-reading devices, today’s ebook marketplace stresses volume and a wide diversity of reading material available at your fingertips for a nominal investment.

When you look at what is selling in ebooks and apps, $2.99 is considered a respectable price. The consumer is beginning to understand that there is no replication cost.
I think my $2.99 book will get some sales. I doubt that Countryman Press will get many sales at $9.95. This $9.95 ebook price is far above the market, in my view.

Scarcity is a factor in price. Perhaps you have noticed that there is no scarcity of ebooks. Quality, value, and brand identity are all factors in price. I think the unit price may be low, but the unit volume of sales may be high.

Countryman would probably argue that I am destroying the market by pricing so low. I feel the market has fundamentally changed with ebooks.

I look forward to re-visiting this subject a year from now to see how the issue of price has evolved.

Who made the wiser price decision in marketing--Countryman Press or me?

Lee Foster has three apps in the Apple iTunes App Store. Search “Lee Foster” and up come the three in the iPhone Apps list below Movies, Albums, and Songs. Two are travel photo guides with a lot of functionality. They are San Francisco Travel Photo Guide (Sutro Media, $1.99) and Washington DC Travel Photo Guide (Sutro Media, $1.99). Lee’s third app is a travel literary book with photos, an ebook-style app titled Travels in an American Imagination: The Spiritual Geography of Our Time (IndiaNIC, $2.99)

Travel writing/photos on 200 destinations for consumers and content buyers at
5,000 hi-res photos searchable and downloadable at http://stockphotos.fostertravel.comTwo new photo travel guidebooks at
Latest thoughts on travel at
Travel Photo Guide app on San Francisco at
Travel Photo Guide app on Washington DC at

03 Jan, 2012 | Posted by: st


Layout Simplicity

If you are a photographer or writer thinking of publishing Ebooks, one of the most important concepts to master is their layout simplicity, compared to print books.

Print books, especially if heavy with graphics, requires a fixed layout, which is a special skill.

A type font must be chosen.
The layout of text and photos for every page must be determined.
Photos must be sized.
The layout arts require perhaps a $2,000 investment for a book, such as my The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco (Countryman Press/Norton, $14.95) and its parallel The Photographer’s Guide to Washington DC.

By contrast, an ebook layout must be simple. An ebook must flow, with text and photos responding to the user’s needs rather than the publisher’s desires.

A standard font, such as Times Roman, should be chosen because the user may select a different font style. The user may choose the size of font desired for viewing.

Some viewing systems, such as Amazon Kindle, will have their own chosen font. Photos will appear sequentially, where directed, between blocks of text.

Text will not “wrap around” the photo. The viewer may be viewing the ebook on a small iPhone screen or on a larger tablet, such as an iPad or a Kindle Fire, or perhaps on a regular computer screen.

Because so few design choices can be made for an ebook, a simple Word file with photos inserted is the way many Ebooks are delivered to the e-publisher.

If a print book is set up in InDesign, it may be submitted in InDesign, but very little of the functionality of InDesign is actually used.

I remember the day that Ebooks of my two photo books finally appeared in the Amazon Kindle store and in the Apple iBook store.

I had been urging the publisher for two years to publish my print books as Ebooks, but the company was slow and reluctant to do so. They were heavily invested in the concept of print books and not too interested in Ebooks.
I bought a Kindle version of my San Francisco book the day it came out and looked at it on my computer screen. I was struck with its layout simplicity. I could see they had used the InDesign final version for the conversion to ebook, but I didn’t see this as preferable to a simple Word file.

When it came time, soon thereafter, to set up my independently published travel literary book Travels in an American Imagination (Foster Travel Publishing, $14.95) as an ebook, I was able to address some of the issues. I decided to present my book to the e-publisher, BookBaby, as a Word file in Times Roman font.

For example, I noticed that Countryman had kept in the ebook at the same size some of the photos that were quite small in the print book.

But why publish photos small in an ebook? In an ebook there is infinite space. Why not make each photo as large as a full page? I did that in my independent book. I inserted the photos in the Word file at the maximum size that BookBaby said would work, allowing for a caption. My vertical photos were about 600 pixels high.

There are some aesthetic choices to
be made in an ebook layout.

For example, do you want the paragraphs to begin with a few spaces indent in long blocks of type, as in most traditional print book layouts?
Probably this concept evolved so as not to waste valuable space in conventional print book layouts.

- - - - - - - - - - -
If ebook layout is so simple, and access to the market is so easy, why is a traditional publisher needed?
- - - - - - - - - - - -

Today, when I read the New York Times online, I see blocks of type, with the paragraph beginning flush left, and a line break space allowed between paragraphs.

That white space is restful to my eyes. Though purists will say this is non-standard for books, this is what I chose for my ebook, partly because reading an ebook on a small screen device, as some will read the book, can be wearing on the eye without a line space between paragraphs.


So, think simplicity when you are considering an ebook layout. And do think of an ebook for your photographic content. With the iPhone showing color and tablets such as the iPad, Kindle Fire, Sony Reader, THRIVE, and Nook now all showing color, why not publish color photo books as ebooks?

Also, if ebook layout is so simple, and access to the market is so easy, why is a traditional publisher needed?

I remember the joyous day when my Travels in an American Imagination book came out in the Amazon Kindle store and in the Apple iBook shop. I downloaded a copy from both. My ebook looked good.

The next step is pricing. Why am I selling my travel literary book at $2.99 and Countryman is selling my two travel photo guides at $9.99 each. Is someone making a pricing mistake? I’ll take up the subject of ebook pricing next month.

Lee Foster
Foster Travel Publishing
PO Box 5715
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 549-2202

Travel writing/photos on 200 destinations for consumers and content buyers at
5,000 hi-res photos searchable and downloadable at
Two new photo travel guidebooks at
Latest thoughts on travel at
Travel photo guide app on San Francisco at
Travel photo guide app on Washington DC at
Travel guide app on Berkeley, CA at