Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

Which Brings Me To…

My last post could have been a monster, if I’d tried to tackle all the issues relating to eBooks, piracy and the future of books and authors. I was responding to two things, Robert’s post and the two old blokes I met at a party. Robert’s post was in response to the idea that ‘one of the core conceits behind the notion of “hot new models,” namely that authors will find some way other than royalties from books actually sold to make their livings, and that these opportunities will abound’ (an elephant stamp to everyone who read the post!) Now, I don’t think that authors will have to say goodbye to royalties and start charging $30 a pop for autographs (and you can’t sign an eBook), as is the accepted practise in other industries. But I saw in Robert’s post many points that agreed with my own fear that the quality of books is going to head downward, and I brought up the Two Old Pirates (arrrrh!) to lead into the same idea about book quality.

I was curious to see what reaction I’d get from commenters. So now here are a few answers and thoughts in response to them.

Are Books Too Expensive in Australia?
Maybe. But I am not surprised that they are more expensive. Firstly, we’re a small market off the beaten track, and transporting smaller amounts of anything usually costs more. Secondly, the rising costs of paper and fuel have probably made books more costly (and sometimes the exchange rate makes Aussie books look a lot more expensive than os books than they really are). Thirdly, I’ll go back to the quality issue. When I first received the US edition of The Magicians’ Guild I was surprised at how much smaller it was and how awful the paper was. I set it on display and within two weeks the paper had turned a tea-brown colour. The UK paperbacks are much thicker, the paper is nice and they only go a teensy bit discoloured after some years. The Australian edition is close to the UK one, though they don’t hold up quite as well.

Do you want your books to turn brown? Do you care if they fall apart? Maybe you don’t, but if you do, you might not get much choice if book prices are forced downward. You could try ordering online – but how will you be able to tell how good the paper and binding is until it arrives?

Libraries, Second-Hand Books & Lending Books to Friends – Is Piracy Any Different?
Libraries, the second-hand market and sharing books are things have been in place for years – centuries, even – and authors and publishing has survived despite them. Ebook piracy is new, and despite all the ‘we/I don’t think it’ll have any effect’ claims I hear from readers and optimists all the time, nobody really knows what the effect will be. We’re all guessing.

In Australia we have a system called ELR and PLR that compensate authors a little for having their books in libraries. I don’t know if this exists elsewhere. I have never resented the library system, second-hand bookshops or people borrowing books from friends and family. In fact, I’m all for it. You see, like many authors, there was a time when I earned very little money. Even when I was writing my fifth or sixth book I was earning less than the minimum wage. Borrowing or buying second-hand was the only way I could support my reading hobby, though I always supported authors I knew or really liked by buying new books – from the independent booksellers who supported me.

The low quality of the US books bothers me because they won’t last as long, and that’s wasteful. Personally, I’d rather books were more expensive and shared than cheaper and thrown away, even if that meant I’d earn less in the long run.

The main difference between a library, second-hand or borrowed-from-a-friend book and a pirated book that the former was bought at least once. And piracy just doesn’t have the same warm and fuzzy, community spirit thing going as sharing does. One involves taking, the other involves giving.

I’m very intrigued by the response of the booksellers. Surely eBooks are a threat to your industry, since you are the ‘middlemen’ they will eliminate? Still, I don’t think paper books will ever be completely replaced by electronic – well, until the day paper’s scarcity makes it too expensive, and I reckon a paper substitute will be found before that happens.

How much is a book worth?
This is the thorny issue, isn’t it? People assume that if you get rid of printing and transportation costs, books should be a lot cheaper. But most people don’t know what’s involved in making a book, let alone how much each stage costs. That’s a subject for another post – probably by someone who knows more about the numbers than I do. However, printing for most books is done by low paid workers, and with electronic books you replace them with higher paid tech workers, new technology and the costs of trying to thwart piracy.

And then there’s another added cost. In every product you buy in a shop, a certain amount is added to the price to compensate for theft. Even with paper books, theft is amazingly prevalent. The same will have to apply with electronic books. If piracy is easier with eBooks, then it’ll happen more often and the price has to go up even more.

To Sum Up
As I said in the last post, I’m neither an optimist or a pessimist. I don’t believe doomsday predictions that say publishing and books will die. I don’t think there’ll be no effect at all. I think the market will decide. If it costs more to produce a book than it can be sold for, then either the price will rise or the production costs will be cut. These days customers have the expectation that they have a right to demand ever lower prices, without ever considering that this might come back to bite them.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

27 Responses »

  1. I really never thought about how much time and money was put into transcribing e-books before. The little bit of insight is great, just thinking about that makes the paper books more appealing. I suppose if there were a greater demand for paper books, then the prices would go down, up until the point that there is a paper shortage and the protesters start rolling out.
    There are always downfalls for any format then, and I guess we’ll have to find a balance between the two. But I find society to be so fast-paced nowadays, and not too many people have the time for leisure. Just thinking about a paper book makes me think up lying in the grass in the sun reading, and e-books make me think of uncomfortable chairs and strained eyes.
    Overly expensive books because of the region I’m in have never been a problem, so maybe I don’t understand the problem from all angles. And I’ve also never thought about the quality of the book. But maybe e-books are tempting because everyone gets the same quality at the same price. I would probably buy the least expensive books available in a bookstore because it would have the same contents. But of course, if there ever was the opportunity to get one autographed, when I had a notion as to when it would be, I’d buy a more expensive copy and wait my time in line. Books are like keepsakes to me, and even if I do buy the least expensive one available in my area, it never is a problem because I’m quite careful with any book I own.
    It really makes a book a more memorable experience if you have it in your hands and you can turn the pages, but the quality of the book never struck me as important, unless of course the books were printed on the same pages as Bibles, then we’re really stretching it.
    I guess it would depend on preference and if you want to keep up to date on the most popular books or if you want to optimize the enjoyment of a story. I really do like your stories and I’ve pre-ordered your next one. I can’t wait to find out what happens with Lorkin. And despite the discouragement from piraters, please do keep writing because there are still many of us who would like to read your books the old-fashioned way.

  2. As a fairly new fan of yours trudi, whilst the Piracy issue is becoming more prominent in any area where there is the possibility of the outputted medium can be copied into a computerized format, I think that there are some fairly rudimentary trains of thought in place by Pirates.
    Firstly and foremost, (I am speaking from direct contact with people here also) any person who delights in every aspect of Piracy, be it music, books or films, could almost be guaranteed to never actually go out and purchase any of these mediums in their day to day life, thats is likely to mean that until they grow out of it, (or not ), that they are unlikely to ever represent a possible source to purchase your books.
    Secondly, comes the average middle classed person ( if such a thing exists ) and I think I fit into this category, that happens across something from time to time and willingly and knowingly takes an opportunity for a Freebie. I am sure this comment may well spark debate, but I know a large range of people and they range from Police officers all the way to people of slightly less Dubious nature 😉 all of whom fit into the second category.
    Where does that leave you, well I now have 6 of your books on my bookshelf where there was none before and all because of a read of something that maybe I shouldn’t have.
    Not sure how this will make you feel, but I am a fan, and the thought of having your books on my book shelf is greater than the thought of saving a few English pounds to be able to read written word how it was meant to be. I am older in years though and maybe the reals question is not what happens now, but in the generations of our children who have been brought up with a small concept that if you can find it for nothing, then it is ok to keep it.

    Please keep writing, and a little faster too please as I am running out of your books 🙂


    • I really like your point about the next generation’s attitude. While Old Guy #1 & #2 were aware that they were doing something dodgy, I suspect their grandkids will grow up thinking that’s being able to pirate stuff isn’t bad, but their right. Thanks so much for buying the books!

  3. I had a look at the Ibook app on the Iphone since my brother has my copy of Preistess of the white at the moment and I wanted to read it again during my break at work. Unfortunately the only Trudi Canavan book I could find on there was Ambassador’s Mission and it was actualy more expensive than the physical book which I bought as soon as it was avaliable to me. So I don’t think the time of proper books has passed, I thought I’d mention this since many people seem to be saying that all the e-books/Ibooks are cheaper and actualy there not at the moment.

    Personaly while I do enjoy reading from a proper book it is far easier for me if I am on a break at work or am on the train to get my Phone out and read that way, it’s just more compact and lightweight. When I’m at home then I much prefer proper books as long periods looking at a tiny screen is annoying.

    Overall I don’t think you have to worry about e-books taking over, you can see from what everyone is posting up here that most people who enjoy reading don’t wish to give up real books, and you already have a huge fan base Trudi who would never wish to rip you off by downloading pirate copies of your books.

    Please keep writing full time and I eagerly look forward to the Rogue.

  4. I’d say if the dreaded ebook revolution happened, then books would become a more specialized item. You know crafted covers, spines and illustrations. Probably more than paper to make the cover and pages really stand out. (As you can see i have no clue what they’d do:P)
    As to the quality. Now that’s a stranged thing. There wouldn’t be the physichal browsing through the bookstore (which i’ll miss), but the best quality books will rise above, while the wors quality books will sink below the radar. Which would you buy quicker if you were in a bookstore: A book you heard good revies about, or a book you’ve never heard of before? Although a lot more will need to go into marketing. If the publishing industry get more of a grasp on it there would be more incentive for authors to try to sighn up to the publishing brand name than self publish. Thruthfully you can self publish now, you just know you wnt get far. There are exception (Eragon), but thye only really set off fully when they sighned on to a publishing company.
    wow i had another point but i’ve completly forgot it.

  5. The price of books is something that’s always worried me, as I’m coming from a background under the poverty line and it’s not getting much better, but I’ve never resented it. In a way I didn’t even notice it was happening. A few years ago I’d be paying £5.99 for a paperback as standard were as in the last two years it’s gone to £7.99, but it wasn’t until I was putting money aside for the next Abarat book by Clive Barker that I realized it was getting higher. I’d paid £20 for a hardback copy of the first in his series (which is full of photograph quality paper and full colour artwork) but was now expecting to pay AT LEAST £25 for the next without the price even being published yet.

    But still I didn’t mind because in a book there is the smell, the satisfying weight in your hand, a sense of delight you can take from finishing a hefty tomb never mind the convenience of just picking one up and off you go, or the ability to take one anywhere without the worry of batteries (or damage to an expensive piece of kit such as the Kindle). Plus even the most expensive books are still cheaper than most video games or Blueray or the latest computer software and last much longer if you consider (some) films will no doubt be remade, software becomes outdated, tech can be damaged beyond repair by dust on the motherborad. It would take a lot of dust to kill a book. I’ve also – as an aspiring writer – a brief (very brief) knowledge of the publishing world and its many many layers so can understand the prices involved.

    However in my opinion eBooks are soulless. Which I know sounds over the top, but they are linier, sterilized things. Though I can understand the appeal of hundreds of books in one thin package, and the back lightening etc, they really haven’t grown on me in anyway. And costs will be less. Yes they have to paid more for the tech and tech help, but it won’t match the costs of paper, ink, labour, reprinting, distribution.

    (One point were eBooks could lose publishers money though is OS distribution. There will be no need to sell the USA or UK or Australian rights if people can just go online and download from the host country)

    What frightens me is the idea that publishing houses may keep the prices high for eBooks because people don’t know what they are actually paying for in the construction of a hardcopy and will accept it as what they have always paid; BUT not spread the extra revenue to the authors.

    I just really enjoy books. One of my dreams is my own library with club chairs, stained glass windows and wall to wall books (in some dreams it doesn’t even need a house attached, just a bathroom over to one side and a hot plate). I hope that the industry survives these hard times without too much change.

    Sorry for rambling.


  6. Hi,

    In Germany, where I’m living (so excuse me, if my english is not the best), there is also a system to compensate the writers for books that are read but not bought – like in a library.

    I think the main problem in this piracy discussion as a whole is that it becomes more and more radicalized. And that counts for both sides. The more the industry tries to label every one who has downloaded just one song as a criminal, the more enthusiastic the pirates become in defending there “freedom” and fighting the big bad media companies. In the extreme, the end product of this visious circle are people like Old Guy #1 – and in my experience, an increasing percentage of young people and students have this atitude.

    This is bad. For the media companys, for the artists, for the economy and in the end for the consumers. But on the other hand i think, that there is a solution for this problem. There is just no media company (not in music, nor in games, nor in books) that had the courage to make this system work:

    We live in a globalized world – and the internet gives us the opportunity to get every content. At any time. At any moment. On the other hand there are legal restrictions everywhere – if I want to watch a TV Series in English (as I do most of the time), I have to order a Pay TV channel (and there program rarely reflects my interests), or I have to wait until the series is localiced (normally 9-12 month if ever) and then another 3-6 month ’till the DVD’s are out. And they are really expensive here in Germany and I don’t have that much money… You get the idea.

    If, on the other hand, someone found a system to make content (music, video or ebooks for that matter) available shortly after they have aired (video, tv series) or published (music, ebooks etc.) for everyone, everywhere and anytime – for a reasonable price (!!!), then I think a lot of people that download most of their content would rather pay the price. If they get enough for their money. In quality, in service, in usability (let’s be fair: searching for a downloadable copy of something thats not that popular is doable but I don’t have any fun doing it. And then I have to wait hours or days, until it is downloaded….).

    Because pirated content comes to a cost for the user: either in quality or in time you spent waiting for the download to finish. And that’s where a new market for paid content could emerge.

    But I don’t think that the last book will be printed any time soon. Too many readers are rather old fashioned or just love the look, smell and feel of a book. And of course: there are many situations, where I rather have a printed book than an IPad, Kindle etc.
    At the beach, my own bathtub, on the bus, you name it.

    On a completely different note: I really love all your books! I own one copy of every one that was published in Germany and just preordered The Rogue. Thank you for all the joyful hours I spent reading them!

    • It seems unfair that you should have to wait or pay to get things we get for free so i recommend going to surf the channel which links to streaming channels (quite like youtube) so you can watch tv shows and things and as far as im aware its not illegal (i think)

      • Not illegal but usually it has IP restrictions. For example it is not possible to watch a show on Hulu from outside the US. You can get around this by using a proxy server but that is a lot of hassle for something you can more easily download.

        • I’m trying to find a usable proxy server in the US for Hulu – but with no luck so far.

          Which leaves me with the options of waiting, downloading or using the illegal streaming sites (which are also linked via surf the channel).

          My problem is not that I don’t know how to see my shows in time.

          My problem is that I cannot see them legally without waiting over a year or importing the DVD’s from the US.
          With that, most DVD Players and programs for the pc do produce problems because of the localisation codes (which can be changed on the PC, but only a handful of times – and the 4 year old daughter of my girlfriend doesn’t want to watch in english…).

          I WOULD pay for these shows. I WANT to pay for these shows. But the legal restrictions prevent me from doing so!
          PS: Even on iTunes you get the shows after they have aired in Germany…

  7. On the subject of borrowing, I first read The Magicians Guild when a friend reccomended it to me and I borrowed his copy to read (I was a broke student back then rather than a broke bookseller), but having read it and enjoyed it, I went on to buy the rest of the series myself.

  8. Interesting post.

    As far as I know, at least 2 countries in Europe have the same library policy: authors get a small fee for having their books in the libraries, although I think it only applies to the domestic authors. in Estonia (where I’m from), the fee is based on how many times that author’s book was given out. Not sure how it is in the Netherlands (where I live now), although I do think that the authors get some compensation.

    Books and ebooks. For me it’s a question of how much do I want that book and is it in public domain yet. For example I have no qualms at all about downloading Jane Austen’s or Alexandre Dumas’ works. Why should I pay all that money just to the publishers when the author is long dead and can’t enjoy the cash? Especially considering that the classics are not cheaper than the contemporary books. But if I see a Beautiful Book… I once saw a brand new edition, beautiful bindings, excellent quality, wonderful (original) illustrations of Goethe’s “Faust”. I wanted that book. I wanted it very much. Alas, I was a poor student and had no money, so it was not to be and by now they’ve sold out.

    Another point that you sort of referred to and I’m elaborating: the US editions of books tend to break apart easily, even though I like to think that I take good care of my books. But read a paperback 2 or 3 times… US ones start losing pages the 2nd read-through. I do not feel that I should be made to pay the money more than once just because the book disintegrated. Unlike any other purchase, you can’t bring a book back to the shop and say “it broke” and have it fixed or get a swap.

    • Most classics are old enough to be out of copyright. I have a couple on my iTouch to read if I’m ever stuck somewhere and I get sick of playing Scrabble!

    • Just about the downloading Jane Austin even if you not supporting that author by buying her books are you not supporting the industry some one out there put work in to get that book on the shelf. No? and by supporting the industry you make it more likely that investors will support new authors.

      Every one was a new author at some point (J.K. Rowling was by her publisher that she would never make any money of childrens books what if he hadn’t invested in her because the industry was that bit worse?)

      Should you not support the industry if you like the book even if the author is dead.

      BTW loved the can’t bring it back to the shop thing. Brilliant

      • Like I said, it depends on the edition. If we’re talking about a really good binding, good quality paper and good typeset, new redaction – the works, then I don’t mind spending the money on a classic. Or if it’s an antique book. But let’s face it, publishers tend to ride the same redaction of a classic for decades, simply churning out new prints on inferior quality paper and ink that smears the moment you touch the page. Why would I buy something like that when it’s perfectly legal to get the same redaction for free in a much better transportable and readable format?

  9. Hi,

    Well, I know what you’re saying about piracy making the price of ebooks go up and that it isn’t as good as actually ‘having’ the book…but surely it’s better for authors because the books are actually sold at the R.P, rather than at discounted deals so surely you get more?

    Perhaps ebooks aren’t worth the jobs they destroy/change/devalue, but are they worth it for the planet? I don’t know…the readers are good, and it is so incredible to be able to carry all your favourite books around with you.

    And for those of you worried that ebooks are going to take over? They aren’t. Well, not completely anyway. Look at the way the music industry has gone; you can buy songs & albums over the internet, but most people still buy C.D’s.

    Hmm. I’m not sure that what I said makes sense…sorry! 😀

  10. Personally I am against eBooks. I tried many times reading from a laptop or an iPad but I am loosing my patience quicly, and I get dizy after a while. Also you need all the time something to power up your device if you are on the road. And also as the ”Old Guy’ that Trudi mentioned, I like to feel the book, the pages, the smell and having it in a bookshelf.
    A second thought is that eBook will not have a terrific impact in the books world. But who knows for sure? I am 23 years old but I like classic and simple things.
    Third I want to give thanks to Trudi for a great work that she has done. I read Magician Apprentice and now I am waiting to receive the Black Magician trilogy and Age of The Five. I simple love them.
    I can’t afford to buy all the books I want but when I truly like something I don’t look at the money. I don’t think the books are too expensive. When I see the price I am thinking about the hard work the author has done and the expenses to print the book and other fees.
    I am sorry for my bad English but I am not a native speaker and I learned English by myself from games, movies and books.
    Wish you the best.

  11. Hi Trudy,

    I’m a huge SciFi/Fantasy fan (working my way through The High Lord as I write this) and love to read old fashioned books so I’m not that interested in eBooks. But Skip makes a great point on DRM and that it prevents me as the owner of the eBook to do whatever I want to do with the eBook. Usually DRM will force me to read it on a specific device but that might not be the device I’m using.

    The music industry is now abandoning DRM and since that I’ve bought some music online instead of a CD. I hope the publishing industry will learn from the DRM mistakes of the music industry and abandon DRM as soon as possible.

    BTW, adding additional information about who bought an eBook (or music track) is something I consider a valid option to see who is copying things but it shouldn’t interfere with the free use of the eBook (or music track).

  12. i think pwople should be more worried about how much we all depend on technology already.
    definitely pro paper.

  13. Wonderful blog post – it’s really nice to read the views of an author on these issues. I don’t think books are threatened with the arrival of eBooks however. I think of them more as a compliment – in some circumstances eBooks are more convenient, and in those situations they’re welcome.

    I was surprised by how ubiquitous pirating books seems. I think it must be my own personally attachment, but when you are a fan of a particular author, pirating their books seems particularly cruel. You can hardly blame the publishing companies when there is somebodies name on the cover!

    I think we’re in a time of shift, more and more mediums are shifting digitally and companies need to adapt. While some retail methods work equally well with digital content, in many ways trying to emulate physical retail is holding back the possibilities of the digital age. I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the future of pretty much all digital media. Though either way, I think there will always be a place for great authors and either way, people will be willing to pay for the hours of enjoyment that can be taken from a novel.

    Thanks again for conveying your thoughts and I’m very much looking forward to The Rogue!

  14. Ipads, e-books, Kindle etc… there’s too much focus on the devices per se and not on the human factor

  15. I din’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t like the idea of eBooks. I like reading on paper, because it feels like a bit of an accomplishment to read a book then place it on your bookshelf, well that and paper just seems … better, if that makes sense. I also don’t like the idea of eBooks because of the way it will affect jobs for the workers. Yes, the workers who make the books get a low wage, but at least it takes more of them to print one book, and by introducing eBooks more and more these workers will lose there jobs and in the current economical climates (at least here in Britain, not sure about the rest of the world) people simply can’t afford to lose their jobs, regardless of how much that pay in. Anyway, those are my views on eBooks. If they were presented a little bit of a mish-mash of random thoughts, I apologise

  16. I’d first of all like to give a big thanks to Trudi for taking a personal interest in her site and commenting back ( i have seen politicians less interested in elections)

    i would also like to say thanks for writing the books, i am atm have way through ‘The Novice’ and its absolutely brilliant.

    i also really should have seen the old guy thing seems very obvious now lol.

    But is the library thing about bought once not true of the pirated version how did the original up loader get a copy without buying or lending it?

    also is there not a community spirit behind pirates as well many people are proud to be pirates and most (well the ones i have met) believe that the are supporting the content they up load by making it available to the masses so that their favorite movies, music or in this case books gain a larger fan base


    • Point taken on someone having to have bought the eBook in order to have put it online. It’s the numbers that count here, isn’t it? A book sold second hand or loaned to friends and family isn’t going to reach thousands of others. A library book might, but we get compensated for that. (At least we do in Australia.)

      Funny thing about community spirit. It can be quite exploitative of those outside the community. I’d much rather a community that was supportive of the makers of books as well as the readers of them. A larger fan base isn’t of much use to an author if they’re too broke to write!

  17. I don’t really want to get into the whole piracy thing, but I did want to comment on one small part of this. You said, “However, printing for most books is done by low paid workers, and with electronic books you replace them with higher paid tech workers, new technology and the costs of trying to thwart piracy.”

    There’s a few things here. One is that the higher-paid tech work is a one-time cost, as opposed to a cost paid on every printing run. So the tech work doesn’t affect the marginal cost, but merely the up-front cost, and as ebook volumes go up this cost really should be negligible. New technology? Sure, there is some cost there, and training, but once again that should go away over time.

    Now, the costs of trying to thwart piracy? That was wasted money, thrown down a rathole, or burned up in a fire. All of the anti-consumer DRM does nothing, because it’s all easily broken by anyone with access to Google. So when a publisher pays licensing to Adobe for secure epub, or to Amazon for secure mobi (or implicitly with kindle or nook), he has just cut his profits with no actual anti-piracy benefit from it. It would be one thing if any of these schemes actually worked. But none so far do and it will be very difficult to do so in a way that won’t completely kill the consumer demand.

    As an aside, what would work? Sending down works a few pages at a time, with one-time keys, and only to devices that allow no user code to run on them, and only letting you read if you’re connected. That would be difficult (but not impossible) to crack. It’s also a device I wouldn’t buy, nor would most folks.

    As for where things are going? My own prediction is that ebooks are eventually going to basically replace paperbacks, at something around the paperback price point. Presumably with some sort of a price premium for getting it before the paperback would have been out. Bookstores? I would not want to be in the big box Barnes and Noble, etc., business right now. Look what the movie purchase/rental places have done. They’re all basically going out of business. Blockbuster is being delisted on the NYSE this week, most of the other chains are similarly dying. That’s where the big box booksellers are going to be in 5 years.

    • I don’t think eBooks will replace paperbacks until people are forced to make the change. I can’t remember the exact statistics and examples off the top of my head, but indications are that most readers still prefer the convenience and comfort of paper books. I’m also a little skeptical of the readers. Unless there’s a standard format, as there is for cd players, I reckon ebooks are in danger of just being a fad – like multimedia cds were in the 90s. They were supposed to be the Next Big Thing, and a lot of companies wasted a lot of money only to have people chuck them in the bin or use them as coasters.