What price Technical Authors?

Kevin Kelly has predicted on his blog that ebooks will drop in price to 99 cents:

I am having trouble convincing myself why digital books will not cost 99 cents within 5 years. All books, on average. Just as the price of music does not in general change on the length or quality.Here’s a reason why they’ll be as inexpensive as music. The other day Joe Konrath, a genre writer, and avid self-publisher of ebooks, said:

Eighteen days ago, I dropped the price of my ebook, The List, from $2.99 to 99 cents on Amazon. I was selling 40 copies a day prior to that. Currently, The List is #37 in the Top 100 Bestsellers on the Kindle. It’s selling 620 copies a day on Amazon.

Do the math:

$2.99 x 40 = $119.60

$0.99 x 620 = $613.8

I don’t think publishers are ready for how low book prices will go. It seems insane, dangerous, life threatening, but inevitable. I predict we’ll be there in 5 years, (before the marginal price drops to zero, but that is another story.)

Also, as others have noted, $1 is near to the royalty payment that an author will receive on, say, a paperback trade book. So in terms of sales, whether an author sells 1,000 copies themselves directly, or via a traditional publishing house, they will make the same amount of money.

If this does happen, will this affect the rates that Technical Authors will be able to charge for the work they do? When a 100,000 word book costs less than a dollar, will clients expect all forms of writing to be cheap?

Obviously we’re comparing apples and oranges. The number of people who might read a Help guide or a manual depends on the number of people who purchase the software; the cost of writing the guide is a fixed cost – the writer isn’t paid on the amount of readers. Indeed, Technical Authors are also doing more than just writing – they’re using specialist software applications to present the information, amongst other things.

On a more optimistic viewpoint, it could mean that this indicates there’s a huge growth in the number of people reading. This may elevate the status and perceived value of text over other mediums.

However, if the value of books does drop to 99 cents, will this distinction still be recognised? Again the challenge for Technical Authors will be to demonstrate their value.

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