Big Changes at Baen: Some Good, Some Not (Hint: Buy Ebook Bundles Now)

by PocketGoddess on December 10, 2012

I have long been a fan of Baen’s rather enlightened ebook policies–reasonable cost, money-saving monthly bundles, DRM free, and formatting options to work with every ereader platform. So I was saddened yesterday to learn that change is in the air. The company has recently signed a major distribution deal with (and is presumably working on similar deals with other outlets). While the deal has not yet been announced on Baen’s site, it is being discussed at Baen’s Bar, the company’s online forum (free registration required to view the source link).

The good news is that Baen ebooks will be available directly from Amazon, making it easier than ever for new readers to discover some fantastic fantasy and science fiction. No longer will you have to log in, purchase books, and then transfer them via USB or have Baen email them directly to your Kindle. The process was simple enough for the technically inclined, but not quite simple enough for your grandpa.

The bad news is that those fantastic bundle deals will no longer be available once the distribution agreement takes effect, which will be in just a few days. If there is anything you’ve been thinking about getting, now is the time to do it. The early bundles (starting way back in 1999) are the best deal; as little as $10 for four full length novels, many of them omnibus editions that actually comprise 2-4 novels each. Prices gradually increased over the years, so current bundles are now $18 each and generally include seven full length novels.

Future monthly bundles will still be available, but the catch is that you have to purchase them in the three month window *before* the books are actually published, taking advantage of a loophole for serialized publications. Once the books are in print, you can download your monthly bundle purchase in your choice of formats, just as you have always been able to do, and impatient readers will be able to read the first quarter, half, or three-quarters of upcoming books during the pre-publication window. If you absolutely, positively can’t wait for the next book in the series from your favorite author, you can also purchase eARC (electronic advance reading copies) that will be available exclusively from Baen.

Individual ebook prices will also be going up from the now standard $6, based on each title’s place in the print cycle. Newly published books that are only available in hardcover will be $9.99, trade paperbacks will be $8.99, and mass market paperbacks will be $6.99. This is one of the most disappointing portions of the deal; $6 was a price point low enough to tempt one into taking a chance on new authors. Newer books are still more expensive, leaving readers with the choice of waiting for a book to come out of hardcover several months to a year later, or pay almost twice as much for books from their favorite authors.

Sadder still, it is “unlikely” that future Baen hardcovers will come with those wonderful CDs absolutely stuffed with free content, including plenty of full length novels, that were perfect for sampling new authors and sharing with your friends and family. If you’re quick, you can still download the full CDs from the Fifth Imperium, but don’t delay too long–the easily browsed CD directories have already been removed from the site. Your only chance to get them at this point is to download the full CD zip files or ISOs. Baen’s popular free library has diminished significantly as well, with only a few books, short story collections, and reading guides currently available.

While other wholesale changes are not expected, it would be an excellent idea to back up all of your previous Baen purchases, just in case individual books might have to be removed from the Baen web site. In other words, don’t panic, but now is the time to take action if you’re interested in the sort of books Baen publishes, and you want to save yourself some money. I also can’t help but wonder about the timing, since eReader and Fictionwise recently closed up shop, forcing existing customers to take immediate action to protect their ebook investments by downloading/backing up their books and converting their accounts to Barnes & Noble Nook format or lose access to previous purchases.

You could say we live in interesting times–exactly as that fortune cookie curse warned us.

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