...And This Changed Too!
Everyone connected in any way to publishing, from publishers, editors, agents, printers and distributors to writers, booksellers, librarians and readers, knows that this industry has altered dramatically over the last couple of decades. The then and now differences have been discussed ad museam...except for this...
Back when my first novel Near Death was published by Pocket Books in 1994, I was sent 30 'authors copies' to do with as I wanted. These were not meant for reviewers, because the publisher was happy to send reviewers copies, but if I came across a reviewer or interviewer I met face to face, I had a copy to give them. But the 30 not-for-sale author's copies were for me personally to hold onto as a hedge against retirement one day (Ha! Joke! Like that will happen!), but really to give to friends or fans and people in the industry. I did that with those copies and when I ran out, I just had to ask for more and my editor had them shipped to me for free.
Gradually the number of free copies diminished. By 2004 when St. Martin's published The goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined, I received 20 copies of the book. I asked for more and had to pay for them, plus shipping.
The last anthology I had out was co-edited with Caro Soles, nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery & the Macabre 2015, from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. My co-editor and I received 2 copies each. Edge is a small publisher, but I'd been editing books for them since 2009, and for every previous anthology I had received 10 free copies. The publisher did send a box of 30 specifically to get into the hands of the 26 contributors plus the 2 copies for each for us. As we were touring heavily for this book, we asked the publisher for and received 15 copies to hand to reviewers or interviewers or others who might help the book along and did receive those.
Now it's 2017 and I have a new novel out, Revenge of the Vampir King, from Crossroad Press, and I believe 1 free copy might come my way. Why? Read on:
I used to give copies to many of my friends and supporters, including other writers, plus reviewers I'd meet or interviewers when I did radio or TV interviews, and other writers did the same. I have many books signed decades ago by writer friends.
At conventions, back in the day, publishers held huge parties and had tons of copies of books in the room for anyone to take. I recall my World Fantasy Convention--New Orleans 1994 launch of Near Death--the publisher had sent boxes and boxes of books and everyone got a free copy. That was common. Today, the largest publishers have launches at conventions and there are two copies on a side table, if that and not just a poster of the cover, and no one in the crowded room feels at liberty to take one of the those copies.
Over the years I had to become highly selective until now it's a matter of giving a 'gift' of a print book to friends who, for example, have hosted me in their home. It's a gift I pay for. I've not asked but I suspect friends wonder why they no longer get a copy of my newest book.
Here's the skinny:
A publisher giving an author books is a cheap perk because a print run is a low cost for the book, the size of the run depending, and the size of the publisher and the quantity of books they do with a particular printer depending. The cost could be as low as $3. to $5. for a book that sells for $12. or $15. But many books now are done by POD--print on demand. This is a good option for a book that won't be a best-seller. Anyone-publishers large and small and self-published authors--can use POD, it's just a set-up fee for the files and then when books are ordered, the number printed and shipped. But the cost is significantly higher than a print run. That same book selling for $12 or $15 might cost $7 to $9 as a POD. Obviously, POD printing 10 or 50 or 150 or 1500 copies this way is a lot more expensive than printing 25,000 or 50,000 books via a web-press printer.
But what's happening with POD is that if an author wants copies of his/her own book to give away, they must buy them. This greatly diminishes the number of books one can give away.
And of course, sometimes authors will go to events where they can sell their books and have always had to buy copies for those events. Normally authors get a discount when buying from a publisher, around 45% or 50%, depending. Paying 50% less off the retail price for a $15 book means it costs the author $7.50 per copy. Factor in shipping, plus tax, and if crossing a border, duty, and if the book is published in another country (say, US and Canada crossing), the exchange rate is in there too, the cost goes up significantly by about $3. to $4. per copy. Now the book costs the author $10.50 or $11.50 and it sells for $15, so the author will make $4.50 or $3.50 for each book she or he sells at a convention or expo for $15. And at these events, buyers expect to pay less than they would pay in a store, so if the author sells the book for $13.00...you can do the math.
Does this matter, whether or not the author makes any money by selling their own book directly to the public? After all, the author reaches new fans, and that's important for future book sales, and often gets at least a little promo in the media. But how many people in another business would spend 30 hours over 4 days plus set up/tear down/travel time to/from and in some cases the cost of travelling to and staying in another city for $0 $$s? Not many. And given that while prices of production and retailing of print books has escallated, advances to the author have for most mid-list writers dropped; many writers have counted on earning something at direct sales events, at least enough to pay for the drinks the introverts have to knock back afterwards to cope with such overwhelming extravaganzas!
All this to say that these days, what I offer friends is an ebook. I know a lot of people who prefer print books and will say that, and in many ways, I do as well. Print is easier on the eyes than reading on a screen, especially for those who work on computers. And there is nothing like the look and feel and smell of a print book--it's comforting. But ebooks have benefits: ereaders are much lighter to hold than print books. The new screens on, for example, the Kindle Paperwhite do not strain the eyes like a computer screen. And the bottom line for the writer is that publishers will usually give the writer copies of their book in electronic format, so one has epub, mobi and pdf to give to friends and to any reviewers stumbled across, or to interviewers who have been kind enough to focus on the writer.
I suppose it's a little like the old days where publishers gave writers 30 plus copies of their print book to do with as they liked. A little like that. But I miss all the free copies and handing a book to a friend, or reviewer or interviewer I'd run across at an event. It feels a tad more personal than getting a business card with an email address and jotting down the preferred format. At least to me.