kindle I have caught a new addiction: I hunt the net for free and bargain eBooks. Thanks to the delightful folks at Mobileread and here at AAR Potpourri Forum, and thanks to special discounts offered by ebookstores like Fictionwise or Kobo, and by publisher sites like Harlequin, Avon or Carina, I pick up loads of books for comparatively little money. Let’s take the last two months: In April, I acquired 66 new eBooks, and altogether I paid $ 70. In May I acquired 171 new eBooks, and I paid $ 210. On average, that’s $ 1.18 per book, and considering I still paid full price for a number of them, you can see how many came completely free. Before I started to gather my numbers, I was going to write that I now bought more books than usual, but paid less for them than I had done with paper books. Faced with the exact numbers now, I must concede that while this is certainly true for April, in May I spent more on books than usual, ending up acquiring far higher numbers than in any other month before.

I made extensive use of Kobo’s delightful € 1 off discount for a lot of books, especially books from Smashwords and Harlequin that were cheap to start with, and with the discount came free, or virtually free. Similarly, in May there were very good discounts and bargain prices offered from Fictionwise and Carina Press. I want to point out that I acquired all of my new books legally, respecting geographical restrictions and never pretending I was from anywhere but Europe. And I want to add that were I a citizen of the United States, I would have had even more books available, and were I prepared to read books on my PC with a Kindle App, even more.

These are the types of books I like to buy cheaply or download for free:

– Recent books by beloved authors that are only available in e-format. Some authors disappear under the radar, most often because they are out of a contract or because the lines they used to write for have disappeared (I’m looking at you, Signet Regencies), and I am always delighted when I come across a recent book they have published. In this instance I discovered that Allison Lane published two new regencies with Belgrave House, and accordingly bought them.

– Books by a well-known author in a different genre. For some reason, I just can’t get into vampire romances. Tried a few, disliked each of them, but I’d heard a lot of good about Colleen Gleason’s writing, for instance. So I was happy to buy the three non-vampire historicals in the Medieval Herb Garden series she seems to have self-published at All Romance eBooks.

– Books in genres I don’t usually read. For instance, I did download a number of inspirationals, especially from Revell/Baker and Bell Bridge, both of which are generous with freebies. I have even read two recently, one of which, Heart of Stone by Jill Marie Landis, led to …

– Follow-up sales. When I’ve downloaded a freebie by a new-to-me author, read it and liked it, I am usually more than happy to try another book by her, this time paying for it. I bought two more novels by Jill Marie Landis, and one by Jenna Black (YA fantasy) for the same reason.

– Books by authors whose online presence I like and books whose covers are cute. This may sound silly, but if the books comes cheap, I am far more likely to try out a new author, even if I wouldn’t have bought my first book by her for the full price. And if I like the book, then I may buy future ones at full price.

The Wildest Heart by Rosemary Rogers. This deserves a special mention, because I hated it with a vengeance when I first read it in German in the late 1980s. When I came across it at a bargain price, I began to wonder whether it was really as awful as I remembered, and hey presto! I had bought it.

– Duplicate copies. Ah, duplicate copies! I acquire them in several subtypes:

** E-duplicates of books I adore. You never now! I might urgently need them (unable to wait until I can lay hands on my paper copy at home) while stuck on the underground, on a holiday, during a break at work! Examples here are Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair, In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming and the first three volumes of the Roselynde series by Roberta Gellis.

** E-duplicates in the right format. My Opus does read PDF, but it’s really good only with ePub. Because they were just available in PDF, I first bought Kate Allan’s Krakow Waltz and Lynne Connolly’s Yorkshire in PDF. Some good discounts later, I have additional ePub copies.

** E-duplicates when I can’t stand waiting for the paper copy. So far, there have only been two books in this category (Carla Kelly’s The Admiral’s Penniless Bride and Naomi Novik’s Tongues of Serpents). In each case, I was so impatient for the book that I used a good bargain offer and bought the ebook before the paper copy arrived – which I still got. Some authors I need in paper.

** A revised edition of a book I like. I really enjoyed Mary Jo Putney’s The Would-Be Widow, but was sceptical about the revised edition The Bargain. (Too often “revised” means “sexed-up” in this context, and if there was a book that didn’t need that, it was The Would-Be Widow.)

While all this bounty makes me feel like a child in a toyshop at Christmastime, in more sober moments I see some drawbacks in spite of the undeniable delight I take in my new books. The first drawback is choice. I acquired more than 230 new books in two months (and okay, some are short stories or novellas. Still). No way do I have the time to look at each, reading the first pages, savoring it, before I settle down with one to read. On a recent train journey that lasted three quarters of an hour, I spent 30 minutes just browsing through the Opus before finally deciding on one story. I keep a list of titles on my PC, and I need it on a regulary basis to check up on what I’ve really got. I forget about some of the books I bought. And I have been so busy hunting the internet for bargains recently that on average, I spent more time getting books than actually reading them, which is not a good development.

A second problem results from my changed expectations in pricing. I am so used now to picking up wonderful books at bargain prices that I get more and more reluctant to pay full price. With several eBook stores, I live in constant happy anticipation of the next special offer and just keep the books I am interested in on the wishlist until it comes around. I just hope the eBook stores and authors can survive this attitude in their customers. No, seriously: I appreciate wide choice in eBooks and eBook retailers, and the constant hunt for bargains worries me. I don’t want any of the stores that I like and that I buy from regularly to disappear from the net because they didn’t properly calculate their power to withstand their own discount policy.

This leads me to my final point: With all these bargains and discounts, as much as I love them, I am afraid books – not just eBooks – will lose in value. You can argue that the market makes prices, and obviously this is the case. But a book has an inherent value: The author wrote it with great effort, often taking months, then there’s editing and formatting. I like well-edited, well-formatted books. So if you take into account all the effort that went into creating a book, it is definitely worth something, an amount that I am rightly required to pay if I want to read it. So when lots of good books go for dumping prices, I am worried readers will forget that it’s only fair they pay an acceptable price. And I am worried authors will feel discouraged when they see their creation sold for so little that they worked so hard for.

So what do you think? By what criteria do you get cheap and bargain eBooks? Regarding pricing, are my concerns too old-fashioned for this digital age, or are we in danger of ruining the book market? Does a book have an inherent value that should demand a certain price? And authors, what’s your take on this?

– Rike Horstmann