Little, Brown c.e.o. Ursula Mackenzie was among those speaking out against low-priced e-books at an impassioned debate on the subject held at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate on Friday (20th July).
Participating in a panel discussion with authors Stephen Leather and Steve Mosby, agent Philip Patterson and bookseller Patrick Neale, Ursula Mackenzie—who is also president of the Publishers Association—said: “We’ve got to stop free and 20p books" to a round of hearty applause from the floor.
Meanwhile author Mark Billingham, speaking from the floor, branded the selling of e-books at "less than half the price of a cup of tea” as "disgraceful".
Neale, of Jaffé and Neale Bookshop in Chipping Norton, said that customers would happily pay £4 for a greeting card, but would try to haggle over the price of a £6.99 paperback on the basis they would be able to get it cheaper on Amazon. “These take authors a year of their lives,” he pointed out.
But Stephen Leather, who self-publishes online, defended selling his digital-only stories at low prices. “I will spend four days writing a 7,000 word short story and sell it online for 70p,” Leather said. “That’s 20p for me. If it was sold in a supermarket I might get 7% of the sale, but e-books are [up to] 70%.”
Amazon and Sony have been selling a range of e-book titles, including Peter James' Perfect Strangers and Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child, at 20p, causing warnings from authors and their representatives that books are being devalued to the point of "disaster".