Toni Weisskopf has posted a series of messages to the Baen Bar indicating major changes in the offing for the Baen Ebooks (nee Webscriptions) store. Baen is finally on the verge of getting its titles placed directly into Amazon (and is negotiating with others such as Barnes & Noble, etc.) The problem is, that comes with pesky contractual obligations.

The changes amount to the following:

“Old” bundles containing books that have already been published will no longer be available for bundle-priced purchase. (Already-purchased ones should still be available for download, though it is possible some books may need to be removed. Some books may need to be removed from the Baen Free Library as well; Toni hopes to get advance notice when such removals are necessary, but recommends backing them up while you can.)

Future Webscription-style e-book bundles will be still be available for purchase as serialized pre-publications only until the official publication date, after which they become single-purchase-only titles (in order not to run afoul of that pesky contractual price-matching). Prices for backlist e-books will be going up, too; instead of $6, e-books of books whose print edition is currently hardcover will be $9.99, trade paperback $8.99, and mass market paperback $6.99.

E-ARCs—the $15 advance-peek advance reader copy e-books Baen offers—will be unaffected; since they will always be sold only through Baen itself and are no longer sold after the book’s official publication, there will be no need to change them.

Toni also writes it is unlikely there will be further Baen CD releases bound into hardcover books. “The CDs were in part to train people up to use ebooks. Mission accomplished, there.” Furthermore, the Fifth Imperium Baen CD archive has removed the directly-browseable versions of the Baen CD files it used to offer, breaking many inbound links (including those from my Honor Harrington reviews here), though it continues (at the moment) to make the contents available as zipped and ISO files (though may remove those at some future time as well).

From Baen’s and the authors’ point of view, I can see how this is a desirable change. After all, many (arguably most) e-book buyers have Kindles or Nooks now, and the average consumer isn’t going to want to go to any extra trouble to buy an e-book he wants. Even going to Baen’s website to buy and email them to the Kindle might be too high of a barrier to entry compared to clicking “buy” on the Kindle.

(Yes, I know you’re probably an early e-book adopter and are puzzled by this assertion, given how easy you’ve always found it. Well, I spend five days a week helping ordinary people hook up their TVs and DVD players over the phone, and consequently I no longer harbor any illusions about how much ability the average person has to do something unfamiliar that is even the teensiest bit complicated.)

One other positive benefit of the change is that Baen authors are getting an e-book royalty bump:

You should also know we are increasing across the board by 25% the ebook royalty rates to the authors, so not only should they get the benefit of what we will really hope will be a significantly larger market, but a larger cut, too.

Thus, this could let Baen sell more e-books, at prices Kindle owners are accustomed to paying, and thus (especially with the addition of the 25% royalty bump) lead to additional royalties and more money for the authors.

On the bright side, Baen still doesn’t have any intention of switching to DRM, and the individual books will still be available DRM-free and multiformat through Baen’s own store for purchase even after they go up on Amazon. And the individual price for backlist titles that are in paperback won’t be going up by that much. It’ll be annoying for newer releases, though—especially ones you don’t find out about until they’re already published.

Some posters to the Baen forums are complaining the publisher has essentially done a deal with the devil and jumped the shark. However, others note that given inflation it was reasonable to expect e-book prices would have to go up sooner or later anyway. (Bundle prices have already risen from $10 to $15 to $18 since the program’s original inception over a decade ago.) And if they have to go up, they might as well do so in a way that will help the authors sell more copies and earn more royalties.

And let’s be honest: we always knew that Baen’s Webscription system couldn’t last forever the way it was. The books were sold so cheaply (or given away) for so long precisely because, prior to the Kindle, e-books were basically a non-starter except to the early adopter crowd. They served mostly to drive more sales of printed copies. Now that people want to buy e-books as their own things, it’s naïve to expect Baen to keep leaving money on the table that could go into the pockets of itself and its authors. As disappointed as we always are when prices of stuff go up, we should probably count our blessings for the extras Baen still is providing.

Meanwhile, better go ahead and buy up and download any bundles that have anything you might want while you still can, grab those Fifth Imperium ISOs, and back up everything.