ferdelanceMerry Christmas, everyone! If you celebrate it, I hope you’re enjoying it; if you don’t, I hope you’re at least enjoying the day off you probably got on account of someone else’s religion.

This year, I gave a number of books to people, including a Nero Wolfe novel to my father. And it got me to thinking about how great it would be to read those books again. A number of years ago, I obtained all 47 of them via means less than completely licit (I was a poor college student in those days), and read through them all. The files have long since vanished through the magic of failing hard drives, and I was thinking that I might like to read them again, paid for legitimately this time.

The thing is, there are 47 of them. Obtaining all 47 would be, as far as I can tell, a matter of going through and buying all of them, one at a time. For $6 each, which would end up running me just short of $300. But I could spend that much for good books. However, it would take an incredible amount of time to buy all 47 of them all one at a time. I suppose if I have to I could simply buy them individually as I read them, but I’d just like to have them all available at hand. And if I’m going to do that, I might as well just check them out from the library and not pay a cent.

A few weeks ago, I happened on a very rare sale price on a Blu-ray set: all 23 James Bond movies for $75. (They’re normally twice that much on Amazon.) Naturally, I snapped it up, and I’ve been having a lot of fun revisiting these movies that I haven’t seen in forever.

And that kind of got me to thinking. Why don’t we have e-book “boxed sets” like that? All the books in a long-running series bundled together at a discount to encourage someone to pay one lump sum to buy them all at once. I’d gladly pay $150 or $200 in one big chunk if I could get all 47 Nero Wolfe e-books in one purchase and just not have to worry about it. And it would be nice to save at least some money when making a big bulk purchase like that.

If the publishers are looking to sell more e-books, they ought to explore selling them in series-size bundles. Even if they split it up into five or six bundles, that would still be less hassle than buying 47 e-books one at a time.

(Update: I’ve been reminded that some books, like the Dresden Files series, are offered in e-book bundles.)


  1. Why? Amazon is why. An ebook set would sell on Amazon like a single ebook and would have to cost $9.99 or under earn 70% royalties (less those huge download charges). Otherwise it earns 35%.

    An author who has ten ebooks selling for $4.95 each would have to sell the set for $9.99, the cost of only two. That ten-for-the-price-of-two is probably more discount that he can afford. Any more than that, and those 35% royalties kick in and make a bundle woefully unprofitable.

    Suppose, for instance, he wanted to sell ebooks in the bundle for $3 rather than $5. That’d be a reasonable discount and would mean that bought as a set the ebooks would cost $30.

    Ah, but now kick in that 35% royalty he’ll be paid. For that $30 bundle, he’d only get $10.50, or only about a dollar per ebook. Since he had been earning $3.50 per sale, He has to take an over 300% cut in income to save his readers a mere 40% ($2 on $5). Most authors can’t afford to be that generous even with loyal fans. And keep in mind that he is only pocketing $10.50 of that bundle. Amazon is banking $19.50, almost twice as much as he for a file download and financial transaction that costs them mere pennies.


    Apple does offer ebook bundles. Here’s the announcement from Smashwords:


    The feature came out months ago with a release of bundles for apps. The geeky tech press, a semi-literate group at best, made no note of that and gushed about app bundles instead. That’s unfortunate. Book bundles are a good idea as you point out.

    Take note of this illustration. I keep pounding on just how bad Amazon’s variable royalty scheme is for both consumers and authors. All it takes to see that is fifth-grade math and common scenarios. Yet no one at Teleread seems to get the message. They write as if Amazon’s greedy and self-serving policies were the only conceivable and most benevolent of policies.

    Like I said, its fifth-grade math, or at least is if you’re not cursed with being taught Common Core math.

  2. And yet, some publishers do offer just that kind of book. (The example of the Dresden files book, above, is $53.) Publishers are able to negotiate different types of deals than individual writers. Perhaps they could negotiate the right to release a certain number of high price titles at the agency rate, for example.

  3. This was an argument Chapman tried making, and its one area he’s mostly right, but Michael falls into the same trap in trying to make his point, using a rarity in the ebook indie publishing world to try and prove a point, the single author 10 book omnibus.

    10 book single author omnibus’s don’t sell. There’s no demand for them. How do we know this? Because there are plenty of authors out there in the very popular genres with single ebook prices in the 99 to 3.99 range, and none of them are selling 10 book omnibus’, even at the $9.99 price point. What they are selling is trilogies and 5 book series. Why? because readers are accustomed to trilogies. Movie trilogies like Star Wars, the Eastwood spaghetti westerns, the Godfather movies,the Bergman trilogy; or book trilogies like the Divergent series, or Hunger Games, or Lord of the Rings, the Gormenghast trilogy, Steig Larsens Millennium series, and so on. Consumer know trilogies, they like them.

    If you have 10 books, you’re better off releasing them in two 3 book and one 4 book series. At 4.99 each, your price could be 6.99 to 8.99 for the 3 book series, and 7.99 to 9.99 for the 4 book series. You’d move more copies and bank more money than trying to sell a single 10 book series in todays market.

    Larger omnibus work best as multi author marketing tools: Buy 10 Zombie Apocalypse books from these ten different authors for $2.99 sort of thing). They sell because there’s multiple authors in a single, usually very popular, niche/genre, and if put together smartly will have links to authors additional works and the like built in.

    The one large single author ebook omnibus I’ve seen/read recently is Jospeh Lewis Aetherium series, which is 8 books, but his average single book cost for the books in that series is $2.99, and by pricing his series for $9.99, he’s not undercutting himself too badly on the series price. Having read the series, I can see why he went the 8 book route. But the Amazon sales rank is in the 300K. BV Larson could release the first 10 books in his Star Force series as a 10 book omnibus, but he’d be better off selling 3 three book trilogies, and releasing a fourth trilogy when he releases book 12.

    To make trilogies even more enticing an author could include things like “Hey, here’s a free short story available only in this trilogy” sort of thing as a marketing tool. There’s a bit more flexibility in smaller series, especially in the same universe.

    Bundles/series don’t sell too well on iBooks. Last I checked, in the general top 200 best sellers, there are none. In romance and Sci-Fi there are one each, and the romance one was in the lower 190’s. Could be more than one reason behind that.

    Could something similar to Agency with regards to series on Amazon be enacted.? Say I have 5 books in a series I sell individually for 4.99. If I offer them in a 5 book omnibus at say, 14.99, I get 35%, at 12.99 I get 50%, at 9.99 I get the standard 70%. A formula where the number of books times the sales price minus the “discount given” for series with a pricing above 9.99 changes the royalty rate could work. Something to the effect of “If your potential customer is saving X% per book, your rate is 70%, if they are saving Y% your rate is 50%, if they are saving Z% your rate is 35%” could work.

    And that Dresden file omnibus is horrible. You could purchase those six individual titles as ebooks for less than the $53 sales price there.


  4. The Dresden set doesn’t appear to be much of a deal at all.

    I’ve seen other authors bundle up the 3 books of a series and offer it from prices from 99 cents to $5.99 (I’m assuming that’s to draw in new readers, but if it gets them purchasing books 4 though 8 at regular price).

    If authors wanted to keep in that under $9.99 price because of the commissions, they could offer 3-4 books bundled together for the target price. I don’t really want to be navigating a 47 volume book on my eReader anyways. It’s hard enough managing large trilogies in one volume.

    The bundled iBooks sets (linked above) appear to be multiple-books in one “bound” volume (many wouldn’t load for me, but the ones that did were just one book); the app store bundles literally get you different apps, not one big super app.

  5. No. Bundles of Nora Roberts books are at full price x number of book, both under her own name and as J.D. Robb.

    You are assuming totally out of thin air that the pricing/commission structure is the same for single books and for book bundles.

  6. @Michael:

    The book bundles promotion from Apple is quite a bit different from the app bundles feature. With app bundles, one can go into iTunes Connect and take separate individual apps and offer them as a bundle with no extra work beyond choosing which ones and setting the price. The book bundles in Apple’s promotion are just existing anthologies where the author or publisher bundled multiple titles into a single ebook prior to upload. I’m hoping we’ll see a true analog to the app bundles feature at some point.

  7. Multi(generally 3)book omnibus volumes have long been common in Science Fiction and Fantasy genre publishing, even before ebooks became a thing and even for series that are longer than trilogies (where the series is split up into multiple omnibus volumes).

    Of the ones that I’ve actually looked at buying, the prices have been competitive (offering a substantial, if not an insane, discount on single-title prices).

    This strikes me as being a good way for an author or publisher to mine their back catalog and at the same time offer longstanding fans an attractive way of converting their pre-existing dead-tree collections into ebooks.

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