Omnibus e-books and clever pricing

How publishers combine e-books into bundles and boxed sets to increase sales and introduce readers to their series'.

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E-books differ from their paper counterparts in a number of ways, some good, some bad (nobody mention smell). In many situations e-books, especially DRM-free ones, bear more similarities to digital music files, such as MP3s, than to their paper counterparts.

Their format allows for greater flexibility in the way they can be promoted and sold, especially when combining books into omnibus or collected editions.

Omnibus Editions

Many publishers, and self-publishing authors, combine multiple books from a series into omnibus editions.

These editions usually coincide with the launch of the latest book in a series, and provide an easy way for new readers to catch up with the story so far. The savvy author or publisher will ensure that the omnibus edition provides a healthy discount for customers, compared to buying each individual book in a series.

Take the recent example of The Lays of Anuskaya by Bradley P. Beaulieu. This edition not only combines the three books in the complete series, but he also throws in two novellas that are set in the same world.

The omnibus costs $9.95 (£7.37). Buying each individual book would cost a total $14.83 (roughly £10.98). That's a saving of $4.88 (£3.61)!

But wouldn't the author get more money selling them individually? Maybe. But that's the key thing here: maybe. Combining products into a single purchase can increase profit while giving the customer a discount. It's called Product Bundling.


By selling a bundle of products at a discounted price compared to their combined individual prices, publishers not only make it attractive to potential customers, but also end up selling multiple products where they might normally only sell one.

This sales tactic uses a method called mixed bundling, where the books are also available to buy individually, as well as in the bundle. Mixed bundling helps demonstrate the savings to customers and is especially effective when this saving is clearly illustrated and promoted. This is the method that usually gets me to click the Buy button - saving money on an entire. Series. Of. Books.

The other method, pure bundling, is where products are only available as part of a bundle, and not individually. This is likely how most readers experience DRM-free e-books - in bundle sales, like StoryBundle or Humble Book Bundles. The books may be on sale through other outlets, but not through the same place as the bundle. Sometimes these bundles are the only opportunity to buy certain books in a DRM-free format, making it a one-off, unique, and very attractive proposition.

Great deals and wonderful introductions

Here are some omnibus editions that have recently caught my eye.

The Psalms of Isaak Series by Ken Scholes

The Psalms of Isaak Series cover.This edition contains the first four books in the eponymous series. Published by Tor books, the series is currently at book five, so this omnibus will help interested readers get up to speed and save the price of a book.

It's basically: Buy 3 get one free!

A number of publishers have found great success by making the first book in a series available for free (remember, this is specifically about e-books). It acts as a trailer of sorts, getting readers excited about the series. Along with bundles (also called 'box sets') Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, names the 'free series starter' as one of the key things an author should do to promote their books.

The Fall of the Gaslit Empire by Rod Duncan

The Fall of the Gaslit Empire cover.I have only read the first book in the series of Elizabeth Barnabus' adventures, published by Angry Robot Books. Buying the others as a boxed set is a great deal.

If you have enjoyed the first book in a series, it makes sense to investigate whether the rest of the series is available as a bundle. You could save the price of the book you've already bought and ensure you have all the others lined up to read in a single e-book file. That's what I'll likely do when I get set to read the rest of Rod Duncan's series. This particular boxed set also includes appendices that flesh out his wonderful steampunk world.

Angry Robot are doing a lot of 'bundling' these days. They have two other boxed sets available in their shop:

Individually, Angry Robot e-books sell for £5.49, while the boxed sets of four books each sell for £12.99. A saving of £9!

The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack by Nate Crowley

The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack cover.Then there's Rebellion Publishing with Nate Crowley's Schneider Wrack books. Combining the two original books (The Sea Hates a Coward and Grand Amazon) into a single edition called The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack was clever. But what was more interesting to me was their removal from sale of the individual editions. They turned what would have been a mixed bundle into a pure bundle.

But even that's not correct. Since they had the flexibility to produce whatever books they want, Rebellion actually combined two books into a single new book. Nate Crowley's two maritime zombie books are now stitched together into a new creature. But it's still at a nice, sensible e-book price. I've already bought and read the first book, so this sensible price means I don't feel bad about buying this new merged version instead of the sequel alone. It would cost me the same.

Getting hooked

It's important to remember that e-books have a different cost/price relationship compared to physical books.

Each e-book is a copy of the original file, not a manufactured good in its own right. Authors and publishers put a huge amount of work into producing a book. The true value of an e-book isn't in the paper, card cover, printing and binding; but in the writing, the story, and the craft of the author and everyone else behind the scenes.

A paper book has a manufacturing cost that e-books don't. That means e-book prices can be a bit more flexible. Publishers can experiment with the price and how to sell it in the best possible way to produce the income authors, illustrators, and publishers deserve. Take a deeper look at the 2017 Smashwords Survey to see how authors are trying new ideas to make an income from their titles.

E-book pricing is a mess at the moment. The big publishers are overpricing their digital books and when they don't sell, claim that e-books are dead. Small publishers, however, seem to get that they shouldn't be applying paper book pricing models to e-books. That doing so can actually damage sales.

Of course, an experimental approach doesn't suit every author or publisher. But when the smaller publishers and self-publishing authors are trying new pricing models based on solid data, surely there's some sense there.

I love reading, and I regularly get hooked on a book series. Take a look at my reading activity to see how I devour entire fantasy series' at a time. I am the exact kind of customer that boxed sets or bundles are designed for. It's easy for me to suggest that authors fiddle with their prices and maybe apply a discount to their books, but I hope that they recognise that it can lead to increased sales and more customers. Customers who eventually become fans that will buy every single thing they write.

When large publishers are screwing up the industry with their dodgy pricing, consider not going down with the ship.

Here's to more bundles from well-paid authors.


Book bundle photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash


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